In non-Covid times, if you rode with a regular bunch of riding buddies week in week out then chances are there was someone like me in your bunch. It may even be you.
Every riding group has their captain. Someone who is “in charge” of the ride. The person who chooses the day’s destination. The person who knows where the route goes (or is supposed to anyway). The person whose fault it all is if goes wrong. Captains can be many different types of personality. Encouraging friend, bossy barker, overly cheery Scoutmaster, aloof iconoclast. These traits can often be found within the one person, sometimes even during the course of a single ride. From Captain Scarlet through to Captain Birdseye, we all have a different approach at different times.
I like to think of myself as a combination of Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Captain Scott of the Antarctic. In actual fact I strongly suspect that I’m much more like a combination of Captain Ahab and Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army. Captain Ahab? I’m forever chasing the elusive and self-destructive “white whale” obsession of unridden mountain singletrack. I must have it and I don’t care who I destroy on my mission to find it. Captain Mainwaring? I never admit anything is wrong. I keep overly po faced amidst even the most shambolic buffoonery of foolish explorations.
Like a lot of us captains, I didn’t actually want to be the captain. I started out as a reluctant leader. I ended up with the role through a combination of experience and map ownership. Basically I was the one who had been mountain biking the longest. And I was seemingly the only person in my bunch who owned any maps.
The only time captains hear anything from their team about their leadership prowess is when things are going tits up. “Whose bloody idea was this ride anyway?” “Do you have any idea where the hell we are?” “Does this ride ever go downhill at all?”
Yet after a while the onus of captaincy becomes something you relish. It’s nice to have control over where and how you ride. It’s nice to have that strange kind of respect that captains get, even if it is a respect that never gets spoken out loud. The fact that people keep coming out on “your” rides is the unspoken appreciation of your role. We may be the ones who are vaingloriously leading out ahead of the group whilst the rest of the bunch mutter (or holler) their complaints at us but we know you love us really.
I’ve been the captain on many, many disastrous missions. Most of them occurred during the first era of our group’s riding timeline. In the 1990’s I dragged my crew through many a dank, windswept slog across various parts of North Yorkshire. And I still get it wrong to this day, only last month I was stubbornly struggling a group (well, me and another rider) up a supposed bridleway in the South Pennines which turned out to be a gorse lined stream/bog.
So why do I still do it? Why haven’t I handed in my badge and gun? Why will my crew still turn up on a Sunday morning post-Lockdown? Because every now and then I’ll strike gold. Every now and then I’ll lead my party on a route, or even just a section of trail, that they would have never found without me “in charge”. As a member of the crew, you then instantly forget all the captain’s mistakes. And as a captain, to see the joy on the faces of your team after riding a great new trail is just as much a reward as the trail itself.
Aye aye skipper!