I think I may have blacked out. There was a ringing in my ears and the strange feeling of being ejected out of my body after it had been jolted into the air and bounced on the dusty track before coming to rest a few metres away from my wheels, one of which was now looking decidedly un-round. If ever there was a mountain biking baptism, this must have been it. I picked myself up and shook myself free of dust and instantly became aware of the pain just below my right shoulder. But it was a bright beautiful morning and I had had a beautiful and physically taxing ride up the slope of the valley to Montalba and the field where I’d greeted the friendly horses before setting off back down the hill and trying my first ‘bunny hop’ on the bike.
I carefully pushed it back up toward the village of Montalba where I knew my wife Kate was having coffee with her friend Nelly. Once I had recovered my sense of who and where I was, I had called her briefly and mentioned that I might need a lift back home in the car as I’d had a ‘slight’ accident but I told her not to worry.
On arrival at Nelly’s house, I was greeted by her menagerie of dogs, and then I made my way up the slowly up the steps where I was invited in for coffee and biscuits and asked what happened. I thought the coffee would revive me but Nelly became alarmed as she noticed my face turned several shades paler and I looked like I might slip out of my chair. It was decided that a trip to the local hospital A&E might not be a bad idea and Kate drove me there not completely without sympathy but internally cursing the demon god who drove over-confident middle-age men onto pedals of clay.
Fortunately, the treatment I received at the Clinique St. Michel in Prades was exemplary and early the following morning they operated on my broken collar bone (the most commonly broken bone for any cyclist), and a few days later I was back home and while not quite able to join my builder friend in lifting an RSJ beam into a 2nd floor studio we were renovating, I at least was still just about in one piece.
This all happened in February 2015 and although later that summer I broke the same collar bone on a road bike accident, I do maintain cycling is largely good for one’s health, provided one stays on board, which I have endeavoured to do on most of the rides I have undertaken since then. This brief précis of my accidental life as a cyclist shows I hope, that I have become a little less gung-ho and more conscious of life and limb whenever I head out into the hills.
My mountain biking routes are I think, much safer then most aspirant athletes would choose. I tend to avoid the steep little ‘sentiers’ that are at least as accustomed to wild boars dashing over the rocks and through the undergrowth as cyclists. I largely stick to the relative safety of the ‘pistes’ used in the event of bush-fires which are in fact also accessible by 4x4 vehicles, and not truly mountain biking trails. But, after my accidents, they are good enough for me.
When I first started mountain biking here, what I loved was the insight it gave me into what lay between the main roads. While it was not the fastest way of getting from A to B, the full beauty of the scenery could be appreciated from many more different angles, and it is really this immersion in the landscape which keeps drawing me back to the hills.
The shortest ride I do is a quick circuit of the hills visible directly in front of Mas St. Joseph. I head off down the track to the road and head towards Corbere, taking the second exit at the roundabout. After a few hundred metres I take the small side road signposted to Chapelle St. Maurice which takes me up a slight rise through the fields and woods. I then turn sharp right at the next sign towards Chapelle St. Maurice and head up the steep rise past a few houses. When the road forks I take the left side and head down and then a steep ascent on a bit of damaged tar road which brings me up to the car park for Corbere chateau. Often cars are parked here where people offload their bikes.
There is then a long ascent up a dirt track with a couple of hairpin bends and stunning views on the left hand side. Eventually one arrives at the ‘reservoir’ in fact an old red tank semi-circular in shape or rather a cylinder half buried in the ground. There is kind of crossroads here where if you carry straight it makes for a shorter ride but if you take the track which ascends further you get some great panoramic views all the way to the coast, the Albere mountains and to Spain. As you round the corner on the south side, Canigou comes into view as well.