They say you’re never too old to learn something new, but there are certain things that it pays to attempt when you are still young and stupid and delightfully ignorant of your human fragility. Learning German, for example, contemporary dance, childbirth or most forms of physical activity.
A few weekends ago, when the week of rain ceased and we were casting around for a worthy way to celebrate, I suggested a walk in the Rotorua Redwoods. I could wear something floaty and summery and it would be like the nice bits of Lord of the Rings, where no-one was trying to kill anybody else.
But one coffee with friends later, and we were over at theirs collecting the mountain bikes they’d generously agreed to lend us.
It had been almost twenty years since I’d last been on a bike that wasn’t bolted to the floor, so I was more than a little apprehensive. Particularly as it turns out you can forget how to ride one – as I discovered on our journey home.
“You do know I’ve never been mountain biking before, right?” I said to C, later that afternoon.
“Yes, I figured as much…” he replied, tactfully omitting to say why that had become so abundantly clear to him.
Later, in an act of arse-covering genius that senior civil servants would be proud of, he offers me a way out:
“I know this wasn’t quite what you had in mind, and we don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.”
I ceased whimpering and untucked my head from the foetal position long enough to reassure him that I was fine and that I was sure it would be an interesting experience – which anyone who has ever been in a relationship with a woman knows is roughly translatable as: Why do you hate me when I love you so much?
We did agree though that I could hire a bike that was a bit more height-friendly for my hobbit-length legs, which the nice chaps at MTB Rotorua were obliging enough to sort out (helmet included, of course), along with advice on which trails would be least likely to kill me.
After a few circuits of the kids loop I felt relatively confident enough to graduate to their grade 1 track, where I managed to hit the only tree root on the trail and fall off my bike. With no blood and minimal additional bruising, we continued on our way and made the erroneous decision to attempt their grade 2 track. It had a deceivingly scenic name like “the lake trail” or somesuch, but I suppose calling it the Path to the Underbelly of Hell might have attracted the wrong sort of riders. This time, I put a bit more effort into my attempt to annihilate myself, and was duly rewarded with a lasting suspicion of downhill gradients. I have been in bus crashes less traumatic than the remainder of that track.
“My current boyfriend owes me so much ice cream now”, I said to the man we returned the instrument of torture to. He was a little confused as to why that was the chosen currency of our relationship, which confirmed what I had suspected. Hanging around mountain bikes can impair your mental functioning. Don’t do it kids. (But if you’re going to, the Rotorua Redwoods is a sweet enough place for it).
We went for a pleasant limp in the Redwoods after that, and it was everything I had hoped for. Not an Orc or an axe in sight, and the piney scent of the forests of home.