“So far this winter I have done quite a lot of failing”. These were the words of my friend Jade after trying – and failing – to bivvy at Little Almscliff. There’s two things you need to know about this situation: the first, that Little Almscliff is an exposed rocky outcrop plonked on a windswept moor in North Yorkshire and two, it was minus five. And snowing.
Jade is clearly made of tough stuff. But even she had to resort to a teeth chattering call to her other half at midnight begging that he come and get her before hypothermia did.
She tried, and she failed. But did she? Jade suffers from what I would call “go big, or go home” – the sensation that every outing must be an extreme adventure in order to be worthwhile. If there is no adversity, no pain – then what’s the point? Bivvying at Little Almscliff on a balmy July evening with a ukulele and a bbq would be, for most people, the more appealing option. But Jade opted for snow precisely because it is (let’s face it) - shit.
This is not a criticism. Far from it – those of us who enjoy getting out into wild places understand that adventure is the biggest drug of all. It starts with our first feral foray into the woods with the bike, the tent and the ukulele. We awake all aglow in the morning dew high on what we’ve just done: I spent the night here and I survived! But before long the woods aren’t enough. They’re too easy. What’s needed, we decide, is to go bigger, harder, better. In short, we’re hooked.
This is all very admirable. Where would be without adventure? The call of the wild is a panacea for many things, especially coronavirus, and it induces us to surpass our limits. In battling that hill climb, fording that river, or surviving that bone-rattlelingly cold bivvy, we learn we’re made of. We’re satisfied, we’re achieving, and we’re living our best lives. And this is important. The road less travelled is often the hardest and the most unforgiving, but it’s what we’ll remember when we’re old and grey and nodding by the fire and all we have is poetry.
But there’s one big problem with Go Big or Go Home. It sort of spoils things. Like any drug, you need a bigger hit to get high and the magic of that first miraculous foray into the local woods is soon a distant memory. Now your only feeling of fulfilment comes from sleeping naked in a Kazakh desert whilst being whipped by local sheep herders (not just me, right?). For Jade, Go Big or Go Home led her to the snow bivvy, and to disappointment when it went wrong.
So what’s the answer? Sure, we don’t want to rest on our laurels, hang up our saddle bags, and just cycle to the local teashop every weekend. But there is a middle ground between a toasted teacake and a Kazakh whipping and it lies in remembering where it all started and rediscovering that first magic of the local woods. For there is value in the more gentle and mundane, the simple and the unchallenging. You know this – because you used to feel it too.
Lockdown has kept many of us closer to home and away from what we’d class as true adventure. But if there’s one thing that all this being cooped up shows, it’s the importance of getting outside, just for an hour, and riding for the hell of it. And, more importantly, enjoying it. If every ride becomes a feat of endurance we can only fail. And where’s the fun in that?
Do you suffer from Go Big or Go Home?
- You have a secret minimum distance for every ride otherwise it’s just not worth putting your lycra on. You’d rather watch another episode of Downtown Abbey than bother to leave the house for under sixty miles.
- You plot, and re-plot, routes when the elevation isn’t sufficient. Today was meant to be a hilly ride, and if you can’t get 8000 feet of climbing into 40 miles then, really, what’s the point?
- You feel a sense of inner glee when you set off into a hurricane, safe in the knowledge that everyone else is crying off. You’re a much better human. And you’re actually quite enjoying this sideways rain. Aren’t you? Aren’t you??
Trevor Worsley : Gran Fondo Magazine
Steven LeHyaric : @stevenlehyaric
Adam Wright : @adam_a_wright