In this valley, you can hear the rain approaching from the far ridge. It comes as a rush of static, thrumming on broad tropical leaves, while you stand under the sky perfectly dry. After a pause, you will see the veil of rain draping itself across the valley until finally the fat drops explode in patches of wetness around your feet.
Here, the single track starts in the garden but, during rain, the slope and soft mud and slick leaves will work together to drag you inexorably back into the gullies. How much do you want it? That is the question. Some people just don’t ride in the rainy season. A day riding in the forest under falling rain has made me cry before, tears of sheer frustration and exhaustion. When you’ve tried to get traction and fallen six times in a row and now your hands are shaking and you doubt that you can do it again. The only thing worse than that, is not being here. Not being out on an enduro bike. Not having a friend standing at the top of the hill telling you it’s easy. Not having roost in your eyebrows from helping to push the other bikes. Not feeling that burn in your triceps, which is the only thing keeping you warm.
If you’d told me this on a particular moment on a particular Friday afternoon while I retched uncontrollably into the bushes, I might not have agreed entirely.
I’d taken a slow speed fall over the handlebars earlier that day – steep hill, deep washout, slight error and over I went – I faceplanted the ground. Chin bar to earth. My heavy O’Neal helmet protected my face while transferring the force to my whole head in a more efficient way than I would have hoped. I imagined my brain sloshing inside my skull. Then I hung upside down in the bamboo for a little while, because I’d somehow continued to fall off the track, head first down the side of the hill.
Hanging upside down was kind of comfortable. A welcome rest.
After a little while I felt sorry for the bike. It was probably leaking fuel. Sorry bike. After two attempts, I managed to get myself back up the right way, and used the bamboo as handholds to climb back onto the track. Everything was silent in the jungle; even the rain was too misty to make a sound.
The bike was indeed losing fuel, so I tried to right it, but it was lying on the downhill side and my muscles weren’t cooperating. I wondered for a moment where my friend had gotten to. He wasn’t here; he wasn’t riding, because I couldn’t hear the nang of the two stroke; and unlike myself, he was extremely unlikely to have fallen off a hill.
I tried to drag the front wheel around so that the bars would be on the uphill side, but I couldn’t get the front wheel out of the washout. Confused, I didn’t think about dragging the backwheel down and around. Instead, I sat down for a little rest.
I had a bit of a headache. I drank some water.
I sat some more.
Eventually, my friend came back. He’d been waiting at the bottom of the hill, just out of sight. Wondering where I’d gotten to.
“I’m okay,” I said. “I hit my head,” I said.
He picked up the bike and we carried on, tracing the spine of the ridge.
It wasn’t until the next difficult hillclimb that the vomiting kicked in. I was halfway up, stymied by roots and mud and sliding leaves. I had the bike upright but no matter how gently I feathered the clutch, I couldn’t seem to get traction. The rear tyre just spun and skewed sideways. Like my head. I was feeling a little woozy.
Usually, you’ll find me on the side of a hill close to tears of frustration, still yelling “No help! No help!” But this time, my stubbornness was melting along with the corners of my vision. “Okay, okay,” I said gracelessly, “You ride it up, okay.”
And then, when my friend had wrestled the bike up the section in a spray of mud, I doubled over a vine and vomited down the hill.
“I’m okay,” I said, when I’d finished, and then I went and vomited again.
At some point I walked to the top of the slope, and vomited there too. Why so woozy? There was nothing left in my stomach. I wasn’t feeling very attractive.
Photos: Before… and after.
I kept getting up to retch subtly off the side of the mountain but my friend kept pulling me back, worried that I was going to fall right off. He wasn’t far wrong; I fell over a couple of times, tumbling in my enduro boots that seemed to be made of lead.
Still, the rain had stopped. We rested for half an hour in the beautiful jungle, interspersed by spasms of spewing. I apologised. My friend wondered if the dodgy unrefrigerated soup we’d bought from the market was sitting badly in my foreign stomach, but I didn’t think that was it. “I hit my head,” I said. He looked a little worried. It was after 4pm; we’d start losing daylight soon. I had to ride out of the jungle, there was no other way out.
“I’m fine to ride,” I said. “I just have to stop every now and then.”
Earlier in the day we’d passed some local people on foot, looking for mushrooms in the jungle. They’d told us about a shortcut to a nearby village. It was clear that we needed to bail from the ridge track, so we did just that, riding straight back down the slope we’d expended so much energy getting up. The shortcut snaked off to the right, pretty single track, but we’d passed the turn off before we saw it. I needed to turn the bike around. There was plenty of space. I couldn’t remember how to do it.
My friend went off to check that the new track was clear and passable, and I just looked at the EC300, wondering how you turn it around. The whole notion was perplexing. I sat down. My friend came back. I asked him to turn my bike around.
“I’m fine,” I said, and got on it, and rode it down the single track. It was fine, fine, fine – oops, gotta spew. OMG HELMET. I clenched my teeth and clawed at the strap. I made it in time.
Soon, I was spewing on some poor lady’s coffee bushes as we neared the village, then beside the bitumen road as passing farmers craned their heads. By the time we were halfway to the house, the nausea had subsided.
Our friends were waiting at the front gate. “Hiiiiiii….” I said woozily, covered in mud. Eventually I remembered to go into the house and lie down. I still had a headache.
“I hit my head,” I mumbled. “Don’t worry,” said my friends. “You look okay. Here, have a beer.”
“I don’t know if I should,” I mumbled, “Concussion?” I mumbled.
“Have a beer,” they assured me. “You’ll feel better.”
Everyone agreed it must have been the soup.
Resistance seemed effortful. I swallowed some ibuprofen and drank the beer.
I wonder how many IQ points I lost that day.