Monday, 27 April 2009



Dave was off racing at the weekend. SXC round 2 at Aberfoyle; 2 hours of maximum-intensity riding where you explode out from the start line like luridly-dressed greyhounds, except not chasing a rabbit. I had intended to be there too and Dave and I would ride together, slugging it out in the Veterans race (I've only ever done one of these races, so I'm not sure I'm really a veteran, other than by virtue of not being all that young anymore). However, a day's vigorous gardening, removing concreted-in washing poles and hacking at tree roots with a shovel, immediately following the Kinlochleven ride had caused my war-wound to flare up. Unlike The Major in Fawlty Towers, this isn't a white-hot shard of burning shrapnel embedded in my flesh, but a bit of a sore wrist caused by nothing so heroic as the defence of the realm, rather a hapless scaphoid fracture caused by falling off first a bus shelter and, later, a bike.

Riding to work last week was giving me a lot of pain, even though most of it was on smooth roads, so I baled out of the race. Not that I'd baled in in the first place, but the intention had been there. I decided on a weekend of long, gentle-paced rides. Saturday evening was a 2-hour local ride, taking in the best of West Fife's mythical singletrack. Everything is dry. So dry, in fact, that the climb up to Craigluscar Hill is actually rideable without stopping, sliding or vomiting. The gorse smells fantastic and the air is full of birdsong. The sun shines and a light breeze fans my brow as I zip along twisting, narrow trails over roots and rocks, dodging between trees and riding like a God. Even The Dean is dusty and the mud is parched and cracked, although I steer clear of the Heart of Darkness in case the spell is broken. In my exultation I compose paragraphs and paragraphs of utter pish for the blog.

On Sunday I pick Chris up and we drive to Peebles. It's breezy but sunny and I only put a jacket in my pack after a debate. We head out of town onto the John Buchan Way while Chris expounds on the Imperialist sympathies of the eponymous author. The trail takes us over Cademuir Hill with a lovely descent down towards the Manor Valley. We ride past Dave's house, stopping to admire his shed, before climbing into the forest and up to the reassuringly-named Dead Wife's Grave. There's a very fast, white-knuckle descent back to the Tweed Valley then a long drag up the road into the strengthening wind. Some off-road tracks lead us through fields alive with the calls of lapwings before getting back to the road. We shelter behind a hedge to eat some lunch and escape the worst of the effects of the fresh air.

I'm blithely ignorant of what is to follow. We ride on up the road past the (defunct) art-deco Crook Inn and then turn left. The track winds up through a farm and on into another plantation. Suddenly it rears upwards and climbs from 200m up to the summit of Broad Law at 840m. It's a remarkable climb which simply doesn't let up in all its 4km. I get into a low gear and sit at a comfortable cadence with my heart rate at around 140. I feel good, as though I could do this all day. Things steepen a bit through some switchbacks to reach the forest boundary and I stop to wait for Chris. Obviously it has started to rain and the wind is intensifying from that most cardinal of compass points, the side. There is one section where I have to stop and push because it's just too damn steep and rubbly, but after that I ride to the top and it feels OK. We eat some more and get colder and colder.

Our route from Broad Law follows the line of a fence over some bleak Borders hills. The riding is less than enthralling and before long we're reduced to pushing with cold hands and feet as the rain lashes us and drains any vestiges of warmth from our bodies. What started as a pleasant Sunday ride has suddenly turned into a gruesome death-march which makes me want to sell all my bikes and spend the rest of my life sitting on the sofa eating crisps and watching shite programmes on a 98-inch plasma TV. And so it continues over Dollar Law and onto Pykestone Hill. I've been here before, back in December, with Dave; we were cold then too. Darkness at Noon.

Weather can determine moods and when the sun comes out and the malevolent clouds clear we're at the start of the fabled 4-mile downhill back to Peebles. Dave and I failed to find this back in December, but today it is revealed to us like the path of the righteous. It takes a wee bit of navigation as well as a bit of faith, but it's there as long as you believe. It is sublime in places; a tenuous and almost invisible line through the heather. We ride as fast as we dare in the late afternoon sun. The lapwings and oystercatchers have emerged once more to herald our exultant return to warmth and light and... Peebles.

My wrist hurts from too much typing. Just stats next time.

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