In sickness and in health – to be really into a hobby is a form of sickness that keeps you healthy. It’s undeniable that time spent outdoors climbing, walking and riding is healthy. But then there’s the sickness that comes with it; a condition that my wife has been amicably tolerating (mostly) and reluctantly nursing me through for many years.
Richer or Poorer – Equipment
A perfect illustration of this sickness is to be found upon opening our wardrobe. Hanging proudly is her wedding dress, a gleaming, sequined reminder of our wonderful day and the commitment we’ve made to each other.
Unfortunately, it gets somewhat lost amongst the commitment my wallet and I have made to outdoor activities. The gear scattered around the dress conjures up an image of a beautiful bride abseiling down the aisle wearing mountaineering boots, with coils of rope adorning her sweetheart neckline, a harness desperately squeezed over the large skirt with trad gear hanging off every gear-loop and ruffle, all topped off with a Tilley hat and winter mitts to boot.
The fun doesn’t stop in the bedroom (ahem) as three bikes line the frustratingly narrow hallways (one for business, one for pleasure, one for speed – bikes that is, not hallways). The gentle and jovial tinkling of a bell accompanies the exact opposite emotions every time she walks into the handlebars on the way to the kitchen.
Until Death Do Us Part? – Worry
My wife’s least favourite phone calls with me always start with “Now I don’t want you to panic, but …” After the inevitable panic, these calls are followed by extended spells in A&E where I’m told I don’t have blood in my piss, the bruising will go down in a few weeks and that I was bloody lucky.
This closes the door on that unfortunate chapter for me, but that door always remains ajar for her so long as I continue to climb and ride. We all learn from our mistakes, but saying that I’ve altered my descending technique on the bike to improve my centre of gravity, or that ice screws really do work, doesn’t provide much comfort for her as she nurses me in the bath at 3am.
To Have and to Hold – Time Spent Away
Until we move away, or Mount London erupts out of the non-existent fault line under the city, my trips will involve travel and time spent away from home.
I get lonely and start clawing at the furniture when Abbé is away for an afternoon, so presuming she values my company as much as I do hers, the weeks away I routinely put her through can’t be pleasant.
Whilst she claims to sleep better without my persistent nocturnal movements, her diet certainly takes a nosedive. The outdoors are my playground but the kitchen is my kingdom, a realm which is strange and unwelcoming to her as she approaches starvation awaiting my return.
Promise to Obey – Forced Participation
Nobody believes me when I tell them that it initially didn’t cross my mind that the Paris-Roubaix cycle race would pass near Lille – on the very weekend I booked for us to spend our anniversary there. I wish to state for the record that despite spending our anniversary weekend in a field getting sunburnt as I transcended normal adult behaviour in freaking out over a bike race, Abbé actually enjoyed herself.
Whilst I got her to attend pro races, I fell short of getting Abbé to enjoy riding a bike. So next on the forced participation agenda was rock climbing. I learned to belay indoors, safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t about to be bitten by a rattlesnake. The same couldn’t be said for Abbé as we rocked up at a crag in Texas and I showed her the ropes. I’d already demonstrated my best, if unintentional, backward somersault as I climbed un-roped and fell victim to some loose rock. She was effectively blackmailed into belaying me.
When it comes to walking, “Just a little further” is one of my favourite phrases, both in response to “How long left?” and “When do we turn back?” I stress that Abbé does enjoy walking with me. This activity doesn’t require much coercion on my behalf. But many of us also like playing fetch with a dog, or peek-a-boo with a baby – the problem is, like me on a walk, they enjoy it much more and will not be the one to run out of steam and call it a day.
To the Exclusion of All Others – Attention, or Lack Thereof
There was a time when upon gazing lovingly at my pensive expression and asking “What are you thinking?”, the answer would be something deep and romantic. Sometimes, it still is. But more often than not the answer is more like “I was wondering what gear ratios I should use in the Pyrenees next month – if I’ve got a compact chainset on the front I could probably get away with a 28 tooth sprocket on the back.” Heartwarming, no?
Just as I have learnt that the correct answer to a question is unlikely to be “I dunno, but do you want to to see my new cams?” or “About HVS 5a,” she has learnt not to ask me anything when I am engrossed, particularly when it comes to cycling on TV. The majority of Julys in my life are lost to the Tour de France, and for many afternoons in the year the Eurosport commentators are my significant others.
From This Day Forward …
This information may leave many people wondering how I am still married, or how I ever convinced another human being to commit to spending their entire life with me. But as all people who have shacked up with someone to avoid the prospect of dying alone will know, successful relationships are complex and often seem to defy logic.
The untold parts of this story are the 99% of the rest of our lives: the stuff that makes us a tighter unit than a team time trial, stronger than a bomber hex backed up with a massive cam, and more in-sync than the closest of climbing partners (don’t worry, Matt, I still love you too).
My love for mountains and my wife can appear similar: I love spending time with them, I love the feeling they give me, their shape and beauty, and their many moods. But when it comes down to choosing one over the other, the choice is obvious.