When the oral history of the great shutdown passes into the collective memory there will be fond nods to days spent rediscovering the local forests, beaches, and parks. Precious hours when both mind and body could wander free.
Pictures of traffic snaking their way up hills to remote beauty spots have been superseded by TV shots of hordes, heedless of social distancing, flocking to beaches and promenades but Greg Callaghan will be sticking with the woods and the trails.
The Dubliner spent as much of his teenage years as possible tearing through the arteries through Ticknock and up the slopes of Three Rock on his mountain bike. With the Enduro World Series on pause, it was some of these old haunts to which he retreated this last few months.
It was no hardship. If anything the enforced stoppage allowed more time to familiarise himself with his new wheels after bringing five years with Cube Bikes to an end and signing up with the Unior Devinci outfit who sent him out two frames to break in over the off-season.
Callaghan could spend up to eight, punishing hours on his bike on a given race day. “That’s absolutely on the limit, red-lining yourself,” the Red Bull athlete explained. Events in the Alps can span 60km. That’s offroad, not some smooth, precision-engineered stretch of Swiss tarmac, so it’s non-negotiable that the bike should feel like an extension of the rider.
“The bike is beefed up. It has more suspension, 170mm of suspension maybe, big tyres and big wheels, 29-inch wheels. Big, hydraulic disc brakes as well so you know it is built to take the abuse that we are throwing at it.
“Technology has evolved so much the last few years that it makes the rider’s job a lot easier. They can cover so much terrain without input from the rider.”
Maybe but they still need guiding and cajoling and braking.
Injuries are a given when you barrel anything on wheels down the side of a Tasmanian or a Colombian mountain with one eye on the clock and Callaghan has broken his fair share of bones and bruised his ego plenty of times by now.
The trick is knowing where the edge is and understanding when you can flirt with it and even inch beyond it. Learning how to crash, like a parachutist who knows how to tuck the knees in and roll on landing, and just knowing the art of how to “get off” the bike is another fundamental.
All told, he’s learned better than most.
Callaghan is from the third generation of a family enthralled by motorbikes and all other modes on two wheels and he detoured away from a course in mechanical engineering in his late teens to pursue a career in Enduro racing after a time spent pursuing the Downhill branch of the mountain biking path.
Due reward for a man who had to balance work as a courier driver during the winter with life on the road which was navigated in a crudely customised Ford Transit Jumbo van that doubled up as transport and home from home.
If anyone could do the route from Cherbourg to the Alps blindfolded then it’s him.
“It was the cheapest way to get to the races and, to be honest, they were some of the best years I had. We were free between the races. You would pick a valley you like and go training there for the week and carry on to the next race.
“Those are the times that can be really hard too but they stand to you.”
He’s ready to go again now.
To test himself and his new equipment on a circuit that throws up something different from one week to the next.
He raced in Chile last year and on a track with so little vegetation that it looked like the moon. Days later and he was cocooned by humid, green jungle in Colombia.
The 2020 season has been bumped off course but six of the eight races are still due to go ahead. Pandemic permitting, it will start in late August with the new opener in Zermatt, Switzerland under the shadow of the famous Matterhorn which has stood for so long as the ultimate challenge for thrill-seekers on European slopes.
Callaghan can hardly wait.
“It’s just such a buzz and a thrill. It is an adrenalin rush. When you are racing you are trying to get as close as possible to that edge without crossing it and having a crash. There are so many moments where you might get a little bit beyond that edge but get away with it. There’s nothing else like that for me. There’s nothing that compares. It’s addictive.
“Anyone who races in any type of sport will tell you that.”