An Ode to Mike Hall
The day Mike Hall died, my first ever saddle bag arrived.
I am turning 50 very soon. We all pass milestones, I guess that is a good thing, but this one has been playing on me. It’s not a middle age crisis, as some of my lifestyle choices would make hitting 100 unlikely, but it was a crisis of sorts.
I guess like most people, I was following the bouncy ball of life and was good at it, I couldn’t see anything else, you keep chasing the ball. There is so much to consume you in daily living, that you rarely get the chance to change perspective. And my cycling, in a way, had become a bouncy ball, at times I wasn’t even sure why I did it, apart from the self-justification that I was earning extra beer vouchers through miles pedalled. (I’m not giving up that philosophy).
Everyone talks about the big birthdays, the trips to New York or Paris, those once in a life time trips to commemorate the milestone. Having done corporate life, travel with too much booze and food just sounded like work. I wanted adventure, not a single adventure, but to start living small adventures, as often as I could.
When I was 11, my brother and I rode 100km on 10 speeds to a damp and cold camping ground south of Auckland, camped overnight, badly, then rode home tired and impoverished. To this day, I still remember the absolute sense of adventure and freedom of that epic excursion. I wanted to have these adventures on my bike again, everyday small adventures, working towards bigger ones.
I was slowly rolling out my strategy, I was mountain biking more, looking at gravel bike purchases and scouring google maps. Then, a WTF moment, Cycling Maven quit work, to ride across Australia. I should have known more, but I didn’t, this Indian Pacific craziness was all news to me. Adventures on a bike hooked the cycling nation, there was more to life than watt bombs and Strava.
I was introduced to Mike Hall as a very fast-moving dot. I liked Mike because he was English, a classic English Randonneur. Over the years I raced in the UK, I was always jealous of the folk that saddle bagged up a heavy iron stead and rode 50 miles to a country pub for a Ploughman’s Lunch, before donning the bicycle clips and tweed cheese cutter for the return journey. I longed for their less neurotic take on our shared passion.
For me, my favourite fast moving dot, took me back to all the romance of the adventure cyclist. The pleasure of the ride, the challenges of weather, the journey over just getting the distance done, all at a sensible pace with the pride of self-sufficiency. To carry what you need as the journey distance is never a barrier and simply adds to the magnitude of the adventure.
Thanks to these dots, no longer was the Randonneur the crazy cyclist who was a loner adrift from the cycling pack. A new age of the adventure cyclist and weekend rambler was dawning, I wanted in.
I didn’t know Mike, but somehow, he had managed to pull together 35 years of my cycling, the perceptions and misconceptions of the Randonneur, and for me, become the sum of all these experiences. Where he was from, the way he chose to live and how he went about it inspired me. Cycling felt new again, innocent and fresh. I was excited about my own adventures by living vicariously through his, you are never too old to have a hero.
Then Mikes dot stopped.
Last week I bought a gravel bike, and today I unpacked my saddle bag. Like most people, I have an exterior I use to protect, to shield what I really feel, but if I’m honest, I haven’t found it easy. I can’t simply continue as if nothing has changed, so much has. Everyone has their own feelings on a tragedy such as what unfolded that day, and I certainly don’t want to belittle or rank any of them. For me the greatest feeling of loss, was the innocence of adventure, the sense of freedom, the breaking down of everyday living, and the purity of cycling. The escape from the bouncing ball, to pack a saddle bag, roll down a long winding road and reconnect. Like most, I never wanted this to be about the conflict on our roads.
Hopefully I can generate some great memories as I did 39 years ago riding my first Randonneur adventure. Each time I do, I am going to try to emulate my hero Mike Hall, it will always feel poignant. I’m taking out the gravel bike this weekend, a small adventure.