Sunday, August 23, 2009

Full circle.

The Joux Plan is over the hils on the right
Yesterday I cycled the Col de Joux Plan. The road climbs from Morzine, past the chalets and farms on the lower slopes of the Pic de Nyon, before hairpining through dense pine forests to the summit at 1800 meters. The Col is a regular on the Tour de France, classified as haute category; we once stood on its slopes for six hours to watch Lance Armstrong cruise past us in seconds.
I last rode the Col with Michael, my middle son and a precociously talented cyclist. I remember advising him on his climbing technique, reminding him to save his energy, to drink and to eat regularly. He paid little regard, and as the road steepened, he gradually pulled away. All my experience counted for nothing against this slim boy, cruising each harpin with effortless grace. By the time I reached the top he'd been resting for fifteen minutes.
I took a photo of him by the summit plaque before we began the descent (I have a copy on my office wall). 'Be careful,' I warned him, 'and don't go too far ahead.' He didn't want to listen; he was sick of me telling him how to ride, he said - he wanted to do it his way.
And I remember, as I watched his blue jersey streak ahead, being suddenly overwhelmed with fear. Not of him crashing - he was too good a rider to worry about that - but of losing him. Quite to what I was losing him, I didn't know. But I was desperate to catch him; descending as fast as I dared, each turn more reckless than the next - and all the while the wind drying my eyes. 'Not yet,' I kept telling myself, 'Not quite yet...'
That was three years ago. Michael raced over forty times that summer and only once came second; by the end of the season he topped the national rankings. Cycling was a huge part of our lives then, but from that day onward he increasingly rode on his own terms. He's more relaxed now, and interested in other things besides bikes, (a good thing too) but he remains a wonderful rider.
Climbing the Col yesterday we rode our mountain bikes; big lumbering things, not suited for taking hairpins with effortless grace. I am fitter too and could stay with him longer; he grumbled about the heat, which made me smile. But by the second half of the climb he had pulled away. Groups of tanned riders passed me with ease, but I watched them stamping on their pedals to catch the young boy up the road. For despite his talent, and the three summers since we rode here, he is still a young boy in body and at heart.
I reached the summit only five minutes behind - progress of sorts. No photos this time; he dropped over the lip and within seconds was two hairpins ahead. No risk taking too; I'd go down at my own pace.
He was waiting for me at the half-way chalet. I snatched at my brakes and almost skidded off the road. 'Are you all right?' he asked, passing me a water bottle and a handful of Haribo.
'I'm fine,' I replied. 'Just doing it my way.'
'That's cool,' he said. 'For a moment, I was worried I'd lost you.'


  1. Awwww, that's a lovely story!!

    C x

  2. Very good. I find myself looking at my children sometimes and secretly thanking god or whatever for my life.

  3. My father is fascinated by the Tour de France. I would certainly like to watch it in the flesh and it must be a wonderful feeling to be an excellent cyclist.

  4. That is really lovely Mark, especially the ending.
    I will try Flat Earth News, thanks for the recommendation.

  5. I agree with Cait about the story... as for the comment left on my blog... a goujon is a large catfish apparently, but there is a school of thought which says GOUJON has been derived from GUDGEON which means 'small fry', which is what a goujon is, isn't it? Actually, in my case it was a posh way of saying I made home made fish fingers... whatever name you give them, they were Yummy!

  6. Lovely blog and know just what you mean about losing one's children to adulthood. And yet they don't go really, or if they do, they don't go far, if you're lucky.

  7. I'm so impressed you can cycle up those sort of hills/plains. I can't even ride a bike (I've got a trike).

  8. This reminds me of a rather different sort of bike ride I did with my daughters in the village towards the end of last term. We went on bikes to pick youngest up from village school (others already broken up) and went cycling along the lane. There was an uphill and a corner at the point I said 'OK girls, turn round now and let's go back'. At which middle daughter says she just wants to ride up and round the corner to sweep back down it. Ok. Then oulittlest pipes up that she wants to do likewise. I say 'no' as her cycling skills are rudimentary to say the least! She ignores me, of course. I sigh and wait. Should have followed her. Next I know she comes hurtling round the corner on the wrong side of the road, handlebars wobbling horrendously, little hands nowhere near brakes, sheer terror on her face. You can imagine the fact my legs still go wobbly and the blood drains out of me everytime I think about it! She still has the scars on her elbow - but, frankly, came out of a horrendous bouncing crash onto tarmac very, very lightly.

    My memories of this, and the sense of the child's vulnerability but ultimately being out of your control means your piece has strong resonances for me. (It also reminds me of the time we got to the top of a Swiss col - in our cars - and met a young guy who was about to skateboard the whole way down - in the dark with a torch on his head!) Sometimes wonder if he's still alive...

    Congrats to your son by the way - you must be so proud :)