Courageous in a rough reality

Bring it on: Riding on the Wild Side

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet: 'Paris, on the second day of Christmas, 1908' ; Jay Griffiths, Wild; Film: Bring It On; photographs by Andy Babington and Mike Blenkinsop; Lou Reed still in the background!

Posted by Kevin Flint on Jan 19, 2018

08.15: Sunday morning. 14 January 2018. It was a beautiful morning. 

There was already a buzz of activity in the hut, with people organising clothing and other resources for their day, and others variously preparing their breakfast. On our walk, back around Lyn Ogwen the previous afternoon, with Andy, Clive, Chris and Mike, we had already confirmed earlier discussions, prior to our weekend’s activities.  On our second day of our Midlands Association of Mountaineering [MAM], ‘Bring it on’ weekend, we would head towards Betws y Coed, for some mountain biking.

*The grid reference for this photograph according to the global 'What3words' system has been recorded here. 

In marketing-speak, in Gwydyr Forest can be found a man-made trail in this ‘Mecca’ of mountain biking, ‘buried right in the heart of Snowdonia’, alongside Betwys y Coed, ‘the outdoor adventure capital of Wales’. 

It’s ‘Mecca’ status, it would appear, came from the time when the ‘first Muddy Fox’s[i] rolled into town’. In speaking of ‘legendary routes, the marketeers paint an obviously attractive backdrop to the stage set for mountain biking in Gwydyr Forest – ‘cascading waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, awe-inspiring mountain vistas and forgotten river valleys’ are all including in the mix for the ‘stunning scenic backdrop’.

But, their language of re-presentation doesn’t address itself to what might unfold in the lives of any one human being, or even to groups of human beings visiting the Forest trail! Of necessity, in accord with standard grammars and ‘the principle of reason’[ii], their language addresses itself to various re-presentations of ‘YOU’ – the mountain-bike rider, the visitor, the tourist, the walker, the explorer…

Moreover, in the context of my earlier blog about wild earth from the walk over Tryfan on Day 1 of the MAM ‘Bring-it-on’-weekend, beyond being available for use by trail riders our ‘mother earth’ is neatly excluded from such grammars in accord with standard forms of reasoning centring upon rhetorical representations of ‘YOU’. It’s no accident, of course, that such re-presentations accord with popular images of ‘you’, the mountain-biker, featured on the many different websites.

Where, then, can be found Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘rough reality’ of ourselves as human beings involved in riding these mountain trails?

It’s no accident that trails are graded. The one we followed that morning was graded ‘red’ with ‘black’ being the most technically demanding and blue the least demanding, in the same way that pistes at Ski resorts are graded. As real people living our lives; in going onto that ‘red’ mountain bike trail, each of the five us required more skills and resources at our disposal than would be required for this abstract figure of reason, the ‘YOU’ in possession of the necessary skills and techniques required to deal successfully and safely with ‘the single-track’ in the woodland, which ‘varies from very tight, technical and rocky to wonderfully open and flowing, from dark forest to exposed ridgelines’ and includes some steep narrow descents.

Let’s now take a little time for a tricky step in this argument!

Rather than the representation of some abstract figure, ‘YOU’, let’s now view the ride through the eyes of the woodland trail. We are now taking a decentred view of the ride.  Logically, in the rough reality of the real person who’s riding, the red run trail requires the person to be in possession of more skills and techniques than is demanded of this abstract figure, YOU. Logically, too, once set up, the mountain bike trail in effect views each rider as if they are available for use on that trail.

It’s no accident that mountain-bike riders become driven by the need to do ever-more rides – partly, and most obviously, such desire arises from the exhilaration of riding successfully up and down technical tracks that snake through the woodland.  Partly, it arises from the need for the body of the real person to keep up its technical expertise to the level required in-order-to negotiate the tracks safely. What has been suggested already, from the decentred perspective, is that the trails created in the forest make demands upon each body, requiring it to have the capacity to draw from a store of energy, skills and techniques that make possible a safe passage along the trails.

Partly, too, and most fundamentally, the desire to undertake mountain biking arises from an existential perspective; that is, from consideration given to our relationship with being -  the ‘is’ ever-unfolding in every one of the verbalisations and nominalisations in our language.

Earlier in referring to the figure of the forest trails, really what had been at stake in this ‘figure’ was the powerful driving force of being upon each of us, individually and collectively, arising in this case from the setting up of what is and remains a mountain bike trail through the forest – yes, the sublime powers of being come into force in each of these highlighted words.

But, it was obvious, too, that Mike and myself were largely out of our comfort zone in riding in the forest. We had much less on-going experience of mountain-biking than the others in group; our skill levels were obviously a long way short of the great excess required for a safe passage. Fortunately, in this case, Andy, Chris and Clive each took their roles, brilliantly, in supporting and encouraging each of us so that we, too, could get into the flow of the action at times along the trail. And, when Andy found he had a flat tyre, we all contributed to assisting him in replacing the old inner tube, ensuring the inside of the tyre surface was completely clean, and finally fitting a completely new inner tube.

At the end of each section of the trail we all waited for others who were moving a little more slowly.

It had not been a race. We were out to enjoy the forest, the hills and the sights of the Snowdon range through the trees.

What’s the big deal, then, about this stuff involving our relationship with being? Surely, many involved might argue, it’s simply adding unnecessary and somewhat difficult to comprehend complexity to a great day on the bikes – and, it doesn’t add anything to the day, anyway. Why not just relax and have fun!

I’m not at all against having fun on the bikes. Even with my own relatively limited level of skill, it felt brilliant, sometimes, on the trail to get into the flow of things and even to take flight a little on the bike once we had warmed up a little. Bring it on!

But, just as in Day 1 of the MAM ‘Bring it on’ weekend, my blog had sought to uncover and to open reflection upon things that we’re all at least tacitly aware of, but often we do not get to talk about. So, in Day 2, with recourse to new language, often not associated or practiced within everyday mountain biking, which I have sought to begin to introduce here, doesn’t one open space for effraction [?] – the very practice of breaking into things, events, ideas… with new idioms; spawning other perspectives, reflections, thoughts, ideas… so, opening the im-possibility of new practices/thinking about/revising our everyday practices.

For one of the leading and, perhaps, most controversial European philosophers of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, who had been concerned about our relationship with being his entire life - he wrote more than 100 books on the subject [!] - there's always the danger in all walks of our modern lives of 'being' setting upon us [!] and, counter-intuitively, driving us in all our practices. For him, at issue had been the matter of the naming force and gathering powers of being. 

But, in being with Andy, Clive, Chris, and Mike on that day, and in remaining with the spirit of our many conversations together, now, as I write these words, differences in the many formal and informal signs we variously exchanged, deferred from our earlier play on the day, make im-possible the fulfilment of any identity. For example, in being inspired to write in this way by the others - though never intended, the identity, 'mountain-bike trail', and the identity 'mountain-biking', clearly remain impossible ever to become totalised in their fulfilment and plenitude as identities. 

It's in this play of différance, surely, that earth, our very mother according to Polish language, could also be brought back into any consideration of mountain-biking. Until the last couple of decades or so our collective effects as a body of 8 billion people and growing on this planet had hardly been noticed by many. But, with the manifest effects of deforestation, the extinction of so many species of plants and animals with each year that passes, along with the now ever more palpable effects of global warming around the planet, earth, too, in its own way is getting its own voice. Its sublime powers, its forces of nature, too, require mediation. 

Given that the manifest effects of global warming are being felt most obviously in many parts of the world with the least resources to cope, and given, too, such regions and their people tend to have the very lowest carbon footprint of any larger groups living on this planet [iii], is it not time for forested areas which attract visitors with mountain trails to make connections with other regions of the globe that are not so fortunate?

So, thanks to Andy, Clive, Chris, and Mike for their inspiration and a brilliant day. And, thanks to the other, more generally, in always remaining in play with any identity, so taking away the grounds for any powers of being. 

We hope you have enjoyed this blog. Any thoughts, suggestions, commentary etc., would be most welcome. 

We look forward to hearing from you. 

Kevin, Andy, Clive, Chris and Mike. 

Endnotes provides a system of unique references for each place on earth, which has been divided up into 3 metre squares. 

[i] Muddy Fox being the name of one engineering design for a mountain bike, particularly suited to the fast, single-track, downhill mountain tracks through the forest.

[ii] Nothing is without reason. 

[iii] George Monbiot [2016] 'Global warming will hit poorer countries hardest, research finds', Guardian, 27 May.

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