Turning the wheels
In Scotland we are lucky, yep the weather can be a bit wet, the wind a bit strong and the snow and midges frustrating. However we have mountain biking. We have the best cross-country mountain biking in the world. It’s a fact that France and Australia have the biggest down hill trails, and the USA has Moab and the Colorado trails but for sheer quality and design we have the best.
The centrepiece of these developments has to be Glen Tress, just south of Edinburgh. It is arguably the most successful mountain bike “resort” in the UK. I started riding seriously in 1996 after I bought my first bike with suspension in Canada during a filming trip with Chris Bonington. This was the start of a new obsession. The nice thing about biking in Scotland especially when time is at a premium (Kids, Job, etc) is that you can get the fix of exercise and adrenaline in a relatively short space of time. I am not sure how many times I have ridden the “red route” in Glen Tress but I have a mental picture of every tree root, every rock and every corner. Knowing the line so well allows it to become a friend for an hour and a bit.
Travelling in a favourite place regularly allows me to gage every mood, fibre and rhythm of my system. By the time I have reached the first car park, I know if I am bike fit. By the time I have finished the first descent I can gage if my riding will flow and be smooth or if I am tense and tentative. Climbing to the top of the route, riding up hill hair-pins at relative speed will either be a lung busting painful push or a power push. Oddly enough in the very dry, the riding is often sketchy, the loose gravel breaks out of the surface causing a hopefully predicable speed drift on the corners. In the full rain it can be grippy too, the oily sheen found on humid days cleansed from the rocks. Dropping into the descent, is a decision of commitment. Am I going to blast this? Go fast and try and rail every corner or drift and enjoy the breeze.
Like many things that are familiar, it has the ability to transcend into a metaphysical experience, focus and concentration merge into performance. In fast action, time seems to slow a little, awareness of every tree, pebble, root becomes heightened, vision is clear and distant. Here you can be riding very close to the limit, but if you are in the “zone” the flow is addictive. It brings you to the moment; harmony of action, body and mind, and for brief moments meditative. Then there are moments where there is a surprise. A rock in the trail, a new exposed tree route, the rouge thought, penetrating the mind. They come at you quickly, precipitating immediate and instinctive action. At their worst, its like an on coming car crash, they shoot a spasm of painful energy from your hands in to your shoulders, precipitating action or complete control. But I am simply riding a bike, on a trail, in a forest, one that thousands of others have done. For me, Glen Tress is all of these things, humiliating, exciting, testing and wonderful. Surly the essence of an Adventure sport is all of these things, mixing skill, excitement and a risk in a great place. Count your self-lucky that you live close by.