Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Action Man 38

I am thrashing about the house looking for a AA battery but its just and excuse though to keep me off the road bike. I think I need it to I can chart my progress on the on bike computer. This amazing little tool acts as both disincentive and a mini mr motivator. Its been a while since I squeezed my self into the lycra suit, but it has to be done, an hour on the road bike is the best way I have found to burn it off the waist. The clothes code for road biking is quite strict as well. The baggy short is out, the wind drag is noticeable and the flapping on a fast decent unacceptable. The shirt also has a multitude of functions, is a banana holder, energy gel store and a fashion statement. Its also an inducator of allegiance. The French classics, PMU Team, Credit Agricole, sit aside US Postal Service, but choosing the right shirt is a code and a set of indicators about how commited you are to the sport. When the US Postal Service dumped the team amid scandal and the subsequent claims of wide spread drug use during the Tour De France and beyond, the shirts became a statement of anti establishment support, an instant classic. Wearing one in France is a real reminder to alpine riders that an upstart American, arguably the greatest ever rider in the world, just beat them at their own game. In the bottom of the drawer is my chosen shirt for the ride, it’s a Grateful Dead, “dead head” shirt, the statement is more reefer than EPO and that will do me.

Helmet or no helmet today, no helmet I decide, I pick up the bike, it still amazes me how light it is how fine the frame, how this the super hard tires are. I plug in my iPhone select the track and clip into the pedals. Locked onto the machine I slowly turn the pedals until the bike computer shows 18 miles and hour and 90 – 110 revolutions per minute. The rolling resistance is steady and fluid and I settle down into a steady rhythm, It’s a familiar cadence the swish of the wheels a necessary indicator of the leg pain which will soon arrive. I visualise that I am chasing a group or riders ahead of me and flick the gears into a harder and smaller chain set on the rear. I am sweating now and drips are running down my forehead into my eyes, the strains of Kings of Leon thrash around in my head, but I hardly notice the music as the sound of my breathing fills my consciousness. The hills flash by. After 50 mins I decide the torture and the reward are well matched. With a degree of relief and self-satisfaction I bring the wheels to a slow warm down stop.

I unclip from the bike and step off onto the living room carpet, the peloton instantly evaporates into a vision of soft furnishings and domestic detritus; the rain outside is turning to sleet and its pitch black. I fold up the turbo trainer and take the bike out of the room into the hall. All I have to do now is have a shower and explain away the damp patch on the carpet.

Action Man 37

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.

Action Man 36

Opps! autumn has slipped away, the last big wind has stripped the few remaining dashes of colour from the trees. They now stand bare, like stark skeletons, naked and shivering in the late autumn sunlight. Its time for the squirrels to hide there nuts, seal up the granary and cap the den, ready for hibernation. It’s a time for me to start enjoying the rugby on the TV and a few mid week champions league matches, after all “they do play very attractive football”. Its also time now, however to review the warm days of the year and prepare for the winter hardness and focus on what is required, in order to fire up the body on the powder snow mornings and the ice climbing walk-ins

Summer and the crispy mornings in Autumn, are easy; saunter up to the crag, hopefully in the sun and spend the days coiling and uncoiling ropes, repairing burst MTB tyres and walking up the odd Monroe. Winter for me is an all to different story, dark snow shovelling mornings, at times with temperatures into the big minus regions.

Temperatures where damp hands will stick to cold metal, it’s a time of head torch batteries and avalanche beacon checks in the lift queue, or in the car park pre a skinning up a mountain trip. It’s a time of bastard metal files, edging tools (for skis and snowboards), hot wax irons and cold fingers. Hot aches and cold toes, lukewarm flask coffee and rock hard energy bars. It’s a time of early mornings, frost encrusted cars and careful driving, snow tyres and salt, frozen windscreen washers and beanie hats.

I love the run up to full on winter and in Scotland if we have one, I am one of the few who do not complain about the super cold winds, the dark mornings of city slush. For I know if it’s a bit miserable in town is dumping its crowning white glory on the hills. The list of kit to unearth from the depths of the garage is huge. It ranges from the spiky ice axe to the soft spare set of gloves, harsh metal hedgehog crampons and the clothes tearing ice screw. They have lain dormant for over 9 months, a pregnant pause in their respective roles to accompany me on my winter adventures, lost behind kids bikes, burst paddling pools and garden tools.

There are also the forgotten skills, those essential tools that you hope will never really have to be used in anger. Deep white out navigation, the 100-meter pacing count, (67 on the flat) used to navigate at a critical mountain juncture, avalanche transceiver drill, and the essential Scottish winter skill of the eternal optimist. Not for me 2010, the worst winter in 30 years, it was the best. Bring on the dump, the ice and the dark, for it should hopefully transform our dreary autumn dampness, into a hard edged winter,counter pointed by the beat of axe against ice, and the melody of ski on snow.

Friday, 3 December 2010

La Source in the press

La Source will be in the Saturday Guardian 4th Dec recommended as one of the top venues in the Alps. Could well be in the Observer on Sunday as well.....