Not too tired of a cliché in cycling writing circles, eh? But I, like many I think, just seem to get all introspective and admittedly a little cliché-like at end of year. And what a year? The same global capitalist empire that brings us the best 2000 dollar mountain bikes one could ever imagine also brought itself nearly to its knees – tragically many billionaires are now half as billionaire as they used to be. Many people lost homes too big for them and most of us will now retire in our 80’s. And while the news makers and the world continues to blaze seemingly on the brink my quiet house continues to distract me enough from the day-to-day. Again I say, what a year? From a totally cycling perspective an observer might say, a pretty crappy year for you Mr. Man. My wives growing marathoning success, a vasectomy – pardon? - and a month in the arctic circle conspired to make any true attempt at improving cycling fitness this year a fools errand. That observer, overly focused on fitness, saddle time and the ticking of life’s clock may have missed the seemingly obvious. Obvious, that every stolen moment on the bike this year was pure heaven. Early in the year I attained a zen like understanding of what the bike was going to mean to me this year. I was not going to ride regularly, was going to be freakishly busy and in all likelihood get a tich fatter and more out of shape. At the end of the year and looking back – all true. But nicely the weight gain came with a tiny bit of muscle and all is not lost. And the rides, oh the rides. I absolutely fell back, head over heals, in love with mountain biking. Became obsessed with the idea of simplicity while jonesing on my old steel hard-tail and almost dropped a couple of grand we don’t have on a steel 29’er single speed. That obsession completely died the moment I resurrected my beaten but unbowed aluminum hard-tail with four inches in the front and fresh meat front and rear. Technology, even nine year’s old, is a wonderful thing – as are gears and suspension. The two grand long gone, I find myself strangely content to flog the old beauty until the frame does snap. Given my slower pace, shorter rides and realistic goals it fits the bill perfectly. Adding to my renewed, depressured love of my mountain bike has been the return of my house to dog ownership. We had had a tough couple of years, dog wise. Chester, our first baby, got all wrong in the head in his final days and at 13, having not wandered in literally eight years, got hit on a road outside our house. We grieved and then dove back in and rescued another Chesapeake Bay Retriever from a wonderful lady in Maine who has a Chessie specific shelter. And Willow turned out to be the best dog one could ever imagine – a real lady and lover of the woods. Tragically she developed autoimmune haemolytic anaemia and was dead within three days of diagnosis after only having been with us for less then eight months. That one kicked us hard in the guts and we waited a fair bit before jumping back in. But we did. So now we have a Chessie puppy just rolling through his sixth month that our boys named Gimli. And for every moment that I think, ‘wow, puppies really do chew a lot of shit,’ there are 10 that make me giggle. He is a monster, no doubt about it, but he is already a wicked trail dog. I had forgotten how cool it was to have that companion on rides and even cooler how perfect a house is with a ride-tuckered dog curled up and snoring in the kitchen. He’s not a year, so no crazy epic’s or pace. Last Sunday, way too cold and windy out, and struggling to haul my bulk up a woods road hill, the little bugger chugged by me, tongue lolling, keen eyes staring and I swear a smile on his face. Instantly I was transported from hating my back fat, hills, cold and wind to loving my dog, my bike, and a life that affords me the luxury of playing in the woods every now and again. All in all the year passing was filled with new experiences, successes and failures, death and life, everything a year is supposed to bring I guess. Sure I rode less, grew rounder, but the bike still provides escape, balance and new opportunities to re-learn those forgotten life truths: kids grow too fast, father’s who ride are patient and loving, and dogs, well, dogs belong on rides in woods.