OK, so I’ve included quite a few deliberate mistakes in this one. I can’t afford to have my in box filled with replies, so, as an exception to the normal rules, please post your answers to the thread.
It’s been a productive and relaxing week at work. New systems introduced by the management have been well thought through, properly resourced and implemented after sufficient training for all the staff. It’s been a major success, so I was feeling in fine form on Saturday morning, and ready for a unicycle ride.
I drove up towards Sherwood Pines car park, making excellent time as there were no roadworks along the way, and, by chance, all the traffic lights were in my favour. I arrived at the car park to find it fairly empty, except for about fifty motorcycles of all shapes and sizes. There were Italian and Japanese supersports bikes, Harley cruisers, Japanese cruisers, off roaders and a few long distance tourers like BMWs and Goldwings. The riders were mixing freely and chatting, happy to learn something from each other about the particular benefits and appeal of the different sorts of bikes and styles of dress.
After a few minutes’ chatting with the bikers, I mounted the MUni and set off into the forest along well remembered tracks. The ground was firm and dry for the first mile or so, and I had plenty of time to warm up and get my balance in before I turned off the main forest road and up the steep section of single track that leads up to the watchtower. I was slogging my way up here when I heard the click and tinkle of derailleur gears behind me. I was about to pull off the path to one side when a cheery voice shouted, “Don’t worry, we can get past.” The next moment, a small group of mountainbikers overtook me, going off the main path into the mud and dirt at the side to give me plenty of room.
As I carried on up the hill, I could hear them ahead of me as I followed the constant rattle and click as they ran up and down though their gears, making full use of them as the terrain varied to ensure that they were riding at a suitable cadence to travel fast but comfortably.
When I reached the top of the hill, I paused for a breather. An old man sitting on a bench nearby beckoned me over and moved to one side to make space for me to sit. We chatted for a few minutes, me struggling at times to understand his heavily accented Mediterranean accent. It turned out he’d come up here to sit quietly for a few minutes on Remembrance Day, to think of his time in the Italian underground - the pizza resistance - during the war.
As 11:00 approached, I left him to his private thoughts and remounted and started the steep descent through the pine forest. Here, there were roots across my way, and occasional patches of deep mud. There was not much room for manoeuvre, and I was concerned when I heard the sound of two stroke trailbikes chugging steadily up the hill towards me. As I went round the next bend, I saw three of the motorbikes, and the riders quickly pulled to one side and switched off their engines.
I thanked them as I passed. “No worries, mate,” replied the girl on the front motorbike, her voice slightly muffled by her full face helmet, “We know we shouldn’t really be here, so we try to be discreet and show a bit courtesy. Have a nice ride.” The two boys behind her nodded and waved a friendly greeting. They waited until I was out of site before restarting their engines and continuing slowly on their way.
A few minutes later, I found myself on the BMX course, where large groups of kids were taking it in turns to jump from some of the steeper ramps. A couple of the older lads were checking that the landing area was clear before waving the next rider on. Another was sitting near to the landing area with a first aid box, treating one of the lads who’d had a minor fall.
As they saw me approach, one of the older youths put up his hand to stop the BMXers. “Wait a minute, lads. Let’s let this gentleman through on the unicycle. It can’t be easy for him riding that with all this noise and confusion going on around him. Anyway, it makes a nice change for us to see something different.” He waved me forwards, and I rode my usual route over the obstacles to polite applause.
As I finished my circuit, I could hear one of the boys singing the dreaded "Dit dit diddle iddle dit dit dah dah, " of the circus tune. I was about to mutter under my breath when one of the older lads said sternly to him, “I should imagine this gentleman on the unicycle is heartily sick of hearing that tune. Keep quiet.”
“Sorry, Wayne,” replied the younger boy. “I didn’t make the connection. Now I think about it, I realise that a relatively small number of clowns and other circus performers ride unicycles, and I can see how I might have given the wrong impression. I didn’t make the connection with this gentleman on his unicycle as he is clearly a hard core extreme sports enthusiast. I was only singing the tune because I’ve been practising it for my grade 8 clarinet. I have my exam next week. In fact, that reminds me, I can’t stop out here too long because I ought to get some practise in. I’ll be off soon.” He turned to me and apologised for any misunderstanding.
I smiled my acceptance of his apology and I turned and rode the same obstacles in the opposite direction, then turned to one side and did a quick 10 foot drop off some of the north shore woodwork just to show off. I thanked the group for giving me a break, then carried on my way, their cheers ringing in my ears.
The next section of the ride was through quiet oak and beech forest, where I saw squirrels, woodpeckers, jays, badgers, muntjack, two foxes, adders and, briefly, a small herd of red deer, which made my day. I was still smiling when I arrived at the picnic area. All the tables were taken, but a group of four middle aged men made a point of moving their bags out of my way and inviting me to join them. I got out my Soreen malt loaf and my flask of Blue Mountain, and, keeping myself to myself, took my refreshments.
It turned out that the four men were a Catholic priest, a rabbi, an Imam and a methodist minister. Like any group of people from the same industry, their conversation soon turned to “talking shop”. They appeared to be in broad agreement that each of their religions was an equally valid route to spirituality, and that the Bible and the Koran should only be taken as moral guidance, the stories in them often being meant to be taken figuratively rather than literally.
The Imam could see that I was half listening and he politely invited my opinion. Not wanting to cause offence, I muttered quietly that I was ill-placed to comment as an atheist. They laughed and the Rabbi said, “Don’t worry. As the famous Guru, Peshwari Nan Singh said, religion has no monopoly on virtue. We might all be wrong in our beliefs, which are, after all, only based on cultural tradition and faith.” I smiled my assent, and the Imam passed me his hip flask. “15 year old Laphroaig. I don’t touch it myself, of course, but I carry it to be hospitable.”
My heart and body warmed by this experience, I remounted the unicycle and set off on my way, passing through a forest clearing where the winter sun beat down with surprising warmth. I stopped for a moment, removing my Camelbak and my T shirt, and using the dry patch in the middle of the back of the T shirt to mop my brow. I then put on a fresh dry T shirt and carried on my way. I had now done 35 miles, and it was time to be thinking of turning back towards the car.
The very last section was steep uphill single track and, to be fair, I was struggling a little when I met a small group of pedestrians coming down the hill. The leader appeared to be the head of the family, a big bald headed chap with a red face and tattoos, and his wife and kids were all in tow behind. The father stopped and saw me, his face registering surprise and perhaps a momentary flicker of amusement.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I wonder if you’d mind stopping for a moment. I’ve never seen a unicycle in the forest before, and I’m interested.”
I stopped, secretly glad of the chance to rest. He paused for a moment, clearly gathering his thoughts before speaking.
“When I first saw you, my first spontaneous reaction was one of surprise and amusement. That was probably the result of social conditioning, the way that the unicycle is often depicted in greetings cards and so on, and to be honest, I nearly blurted out some daft comment. Then I realised that if you were good enough to be riding one up a hill like this, there was probably nothing I could say that you hadn’t heard a thousand times before, and anyway, it would have been very rude of me to presume that I could make jokes at the expense of a stranger. In fact, I’m grateful that you were willing to stop, because I can see that it’s a difficult and challenging sport that you take very seriously, and I’d be interested if you could tell me a little about it.”
Flattered, I chatted with him for half an hour or so. We ended by exchanging contact details, and I was thrilled this morning to hear by email that he had ordered a unicycle from unicycle dot com, and was looking forward to meeting me again once he could ride it. Roger has promised me a generous commission, which I will donate to the local church.
After we parted, I had only a half mile or so to go before I was back at the car park. There was quite a lot of bustle going on near the car, and I was alarmed to see a large group of kids in baseball caps and hoodies, surrounding an elderly lady. I rode over, expecting a confrontation. The old lady was speaking, “Thanks lads. It was really good of you to follow me all this way to give me back my purse that I’d dropped. I’d have been sunk without my pension, you know.”