the internet can be a wonderful thing and i'm not even talking free porn here. the internet makes the planet smaller as we interact easily with people from all over the earth in real time. It also makes it easier to just resort to face timeing/messegering/whatsapping people etc and not actually meeting people. in fact probably 75% of my facebook "friends" i have never been in the same room with!
So. when Andy Carter added me to a group on Facebook called "not very far, slowly MTBing" i was determined to turn up to one of the rides and interact in real life with these people i'd only seen pictures of!
i told my OH where i was going and what i was intending to do so in the event of me disappearing after meeting people off the internet she'd have a good idea where to direct the scene of crime offers to to dig up my body.
typically there was no traffic on the M5//M6 and i got to the meet point about an hour early, at least i could check the area for potential ambush sites and escape routes. the carpark was at the side of an industrial estate. i suspect this carpark gets a lot busier at night with lots of flashing headlights and discarded profylactives! there were only two other cars, both fully of dodgy looking blokes who all exited their cars en mass and proceeded to all look in the boot of one. were they about to produce shot guns and raid the factories? drag out a body to hide in the woods to punish some misdemeanour a foolish gang member had perpetrated? well actually no, they pulled out a remote control aircraft and walked past me to presumably fly it on the heath.....or maybe fly drugs into somewhere with their "drone"? ok my imagination and nerves may be getting ahead of me.
Ok, so my self preservation gland might have been secreting directly into my blood stream but i'd never met these guys before or maybe it was butterfles and nervousness of meeting people for the first time who might be much fitter and much more skilled on a bike than me.
Thankfully a car drew up next to me with a driver who looked very much like the tiny profile picture i'd looked at of Andy. he got out and i immediately realised that preconceptions of pictures on the internet do come into play. Andy was a lot shorter and more wirey than i was expecting and this just renewed my performance shortfall butterflies. At least he looked like his picture and he didn't turn out to be a completely different person using a false picture to trap victims! (ok, i've heard and read tales like that on the internet) thankfully Andy seemed to be a sound guy and we did the sensible thing when two blokes meet far too early for the others to have arrived and are in close proximity of a cafe, we shook hands and went for a cup of tea.
Small talk ensued and tea drunk we headed back out as the other two guys Nick and Tim were messaging in to say they were about to arrive. we dragged bikes out of cars and assembled them as the other cars pulled up and the guys went through the same process of getting ready.
I'll let you into a secret, I've met Tim before, i've still got a bike frame i bought off him around 12 years ago (a pre Halfords involvement Voodoo Wanga fact fans) but this didn't make me less nervous as I knew he'd lost loads of weight and had trained a lot for 24hr races last summer. It also didn't help that he said he'd been for a run and swim the night before, the guy looked like a trim racing machine!
Car park faffing over and we headed for some trails. the local guy who said he could direct us hadn't turned up so we followed our nose (and some tyre tracks) the in the general direction of the way marked routes. It soon became apparent that Tim and Andy were quick even when on their fat bikes and i had to dig in to keep up the pace. Nick had a bad cold but even so wasn't too shabby in the fitness dept either. his malfunctioning bike was more a hindrance than his breathing.
But this pace (and i suspect they slowed it for me) was just what i needed. I've ridden a lot on my own lately and you do develop your own cadence, don't push too hard on the climbs and become lazy.
it was a lot drier than i expected after lots of heavy rain, the puddle in the picture may have been the only one.
you could tell the chaps were unsure of the new guy as when i hit a hidden stump and hit the ground like a sack of spuds they didn't rag the piss out of me, at least not to my face! and they didn't complain when i got us lost and subjected us to a greasy steep climb in the middle of nowhere. luckily my shortcut ended on a great descent. I passed Tim on the next descent, his glassy eyed stare indicated he'd taken the Black technical route and luckily made it through alive but would need to check his pants for unforced emissions.
the final climb back to the car took everything that remained in my legs and they were a bit wobbly as i packed the bike away and walked to the cafe with the others for post ride replenishment (beans on toast if you must know).
so i survived meeting strangers off the internet, got to ride stuff new to me and if Strava is true go a lot faster around Cannock than i've ever been before (28 new records for me apparently) trying to hang on to someone making it look effortless is really good for this and in a perverse way is a lot of fun
Thanks to Andy, Tim and Nick for letting me tag along and making me feel welcome and, well, for not murdering me :-)