In Contin, near Dingwall lies a big forest sitting just above the Rogie Falls. For years I have been walking have been riding in these beautiful woods, it’s a plantation but interspersed with nice silver birch and some older bigger Scots pines. The wood is full of little bike trails, ducking in and out of the trees on and off the forestry track. It’s special to me as the trails as mostly natural. What I mean, is that they are unsurfaced, crisscrossed with routes fallen trees and rock slabs and boulders. The bike trails have been ridden in by many wheels over the years, riders hunting though the forest, looking for those special features provided by nature and interpreted by the biking artist. When they are dry, the roots require a lightness of handling which is the lovely balance of natural trail riding. When wet, as they are today is an exceptional challenge requiring hyperaware reactions, gritty determination and some power thugery when climbing the slippery unpredictable surface.
Today I am riding alone, a rare chance to take the time required to smell the trees, touch the earth and to take a sly rest without the ribbing normally imposed on the trail slacker.
On the first technical climb, this vision of quite MTB contemplation is rudely slammed to the ground, literally. A transverse polished tree root precipitating the shoulder charge into the world, it’s a jarring thud, a sucker punch into the depths on my molars. Already filthy wet and covered in forest track mud, the addition of pine needles and moss adds to the acknowledgment that winter riding is dirty business. Dirt however in this case is good, very rarely do we, if like the majority, we live in an hermitically sealed urban environment, get the chance to play in mud without fear of embarrassment or disproving critical gazes. In a culture which values appearance and first impressions and substance, a mud smear on work trousers, a puddle splash on clean shoes worn for a meeting is an unwelcome additional code from which many of us rarely stray. Now coated in a veneer of dirt, the climb to top of the hill grinds away. No talking, just the sounds of me trying to breathe in rhythm with the pedal strokes and the gentle grating of the dirt filled disk brakes and mud coated gears. A roe deer darts across the trail, it pauses momentarily to gasp in fright at the ever darkening figure, a moving, dripping, panting vision of mountain biking contentment. On the descent the bike skips and slides its way down the rutted and muddy trail. Its great fun, a slow dance between bike rider and trail. It’s a day to be “on it” what neurons that still function, pull the bike and my body into a synergic conversation, (at least I think this is happening). Cold mud and ice water cover my face, drops force themselves into my mouth, the grittiness grinding away between my teeth.
Once embraced is liberating in the extreme. Contin, admittedly is pretty rural, and there is nobody to cast a judging glance, but today is a small and wet reminder, that its time to embrace the inner child and play in the mud.