I was invited to Cardiff to give a talk on "The Existence of God." It's a topic that is long overdue for a post, but this won't be it.
Somewhere in the mist of time I decided that while I was traveling around the country giving talks and lectures I should take a bit of time to see something of this sceptered isle upon which I dwelt. The mists of time for me by the way is anything more that two to three weeks ago. Time starts getting misty, or distinctly foggy and events and things that might mark as features in a persons life become obscured for me and seem rather like one whole lump called "The Past."
One of things that motivated me to embark upon this this Discovery of Britain was that I was becoming fatter and fatter. Sitting in a car, driving around, surviving on crisps chocolate and coffee was talking its toll. I had transformed from a 13 stone lad to 18 stone mullah. Now of course weight itself is not a problem, if it is all muscle, which it wasn't. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone. Get some exercise and see the sites and landscapes of our Island. At first it was walks through scenic and historic sites and landscapes, but then I got a mountain bike. Without doubt the mountain bike is the USA's best and single most important contribution to civilization. Mountain biking manages to combine the pleasure of the country side (the great outdoors), with adrenaline surging excitement, skill and balance honing and a great workout all in one. You can do it all alone of with a group of friends or family, you can follow way marked trails or take a map and compass and plot your own route through the country side, or follow a previous pioneers routs. Britain is criss crossed with thousands of bridleways, byways, and RUPP's (Roads used a public paths) that you are legally entitled to ride a bike on.
So whenever and where ever I traveled around the country I tried to take my bike with me. The Chilterns, Epping Forest, Bracknell, Thetford Forest, the Ridgway, North Downs, South Downs, Yorkshire Dales and Lake District, the Forest of Dean, Brecon Beacons, the Gower Peninsula and the man made trails of Wales and Scotland saw the tracks of my tyres. I really have seen a fair bit of this land on the saddle of my MTB. Some of those rides are etched in my mind. Epics of endurance, awesome vistas, killer climbs and hold on for dear life descents!
Then there was the Saturday rides, with a posse of brothers who like me had caught on the MTB bug, or I had infected them! Amongst them was my son Abdullah, who conquered the Red Bull run in Coedybrenin when he was just eight years old! Sun, rain or snow, nothing stopped us! Then the posse all went their different ways, abroad to work, to Uni or whatever and I began work at the London Central Mosque and it had to end. I just didn't have the time to take the bike for the fewer lectures I was giving around the UK. I was riding to work most days so I didn't have the energy or quite the enthusiasm to get out and ride. But I still dream of better trails and better bikes, and occasionally I get to ride. So when I got the invite to Cardiff I knew I couldn't resist!
Only twenty minutes from Cardiff is Cwr Carn, the latest of a series of man-made trails that have been hewed through the forests and across the hills of Wales (and Scotland). They are great fun, involve no map reading and are a great quick fix MTB experience.
This particular trail starts with a climb that is technically hard, steep and long. I'm not given to swearing, but some expletives issued forth as my chain kept getting caught in the granny ring (its called chain suck) and my lungs could not provide enough air and my legs not enough power. I was forced to get off and push. After a while I seriously thought of turning around, giving up and heading back. The thing was I didn't have much time, and so had to cover to 15km in a maximum of two hours in order to get to the talk in time.
The nice thing about this ride is that once you are at the top it really is nearly down hill all the way. At least whatever ups and downs follow it is nothing compared to the initial slog. In fact the descent was a Zen like experience as trail, bike and body flowed as one without the time or need to think. Eyes ahead, let them scan the train, your brain registers, let your bike and body take over. Trust it. The bike skips and jumps as it hits the rocks and boulders, just a little more speed, close to loosing it and crashing, but just hanging on within the limits of one's skills. Near the end the trail opens out from the woods to a hillside with a sharp drop below and a view of Newport Bay that is so stunning you are torn between looking at in and concentrating on staying on the trail, any major diversion from which will cause a painful, perhaps fatal plunge down.
There you have it. Life compressed into a bike ride.
How often is it that whatever you want to achieve almost always demands a long hard struggle. You feel you can't make it, you want to give up, and time is running out! Yet once you get over that initial hurdle the difficulties you have to face always seem small in comparison, and the pay off is worth it. Then, just when you are about to reach the goal, hurtling full speed towards success, at that moment when it is most dangerous to fail something wonderful comes to distract you and nearly throws you off!
I made it down the trail in about an hour and a half and a big grin on my face.