It’s always difficult to get out of bed when you can actually hear the rain and wind battering your bedroom windows. Friday morning was no exception to this rule. Awaking early for my planned ride I thought, ‘it’s June, it can’t be that cold outside.’ Spoiler alert: it was pretty cold.
Not only was it unseasonably chilly, but cycling the strong northerly wind forecasted was also an ominous sign. I would be heading northwards back to Braemar after being dropped off in rural Perthshire.
Eventually hauling myself outside and into the car later than planned, my raynaud’s was already starting to kick in. On reaching the summit of Britain’s highest A-road I noticed with some anxiety that the temperature reading was hovering around a balmy 3 °C.
After being dropped off I was soon on my way. The first section of the 30 mile ride was deceptively easy. Me and my sexy lycra were sheltered from the wind with a kindly gradient to boot.
Even the first climb was relatively simple. I started to convince myself that it was going to take no time at all to cycle home as I powered up the incline like a heavy set Nairo Quintana. That being if the Colombian regularly barely digested three soggy Weetabix before a Tour de France stage. This was going to be a piece of piss.
On reaching a less sheltered section of the road this arrogance was deservedly dashed by a strong northerly wind rearing which finally reared its ugly head. I enjoy a cool breeze on a hot June day as much as the next guy. When its cold and I’m trying to ride a bike however, I’m not as much of a fan.
The long and winding road to Spittal of Glenshee ascends and descends repetitively and it was on these small bumps that I realised I should of sorted my lazy lockdown sleep pattern out. For all intent and purpose my legs felt like they were still snoozing.
Passing the remote village across the modern looking McThomas Bridge the ride became tougher still. On the approach to the steep Cairnwell Pass, a section of road known locally as the ‘Slide’ for the direct route it takes to the valley floor, there was now no shelter at all from the incessant headwind.
The road over this hill used to be infamous for being one of the toughest routes in Britain. The now retired Devil’s Elbow included a double hairpin which unsurprisingly proved a challenge for many motorists before a newer road was completed in the 1960s.
Looking down at the hillside below where this sensational road formerly lay, I grinded away in my smallest ring like a persistent snail, trying to ignore the lactate acid screaming murder in my cold legs.
It was on this pain inducing incline that I began to do some thinking. Not an unusual pastime for me, but not a particular strong point of mine when there is a distraction such as palpable lower leg pain.
I started to draw some clumsy comparisons between life and my sudden realisation at that precise moment there was only one objective which I wanted to achieve. All I wanted to do in that moment was to keep turning the pedals. That was of a crucial importance if I wanted to reach the Ski Centre two kilometres up the road without coming to an anti- climatic halt.
Keeping it relatively brief, there are two clear trains of thought which entered my head as I traversed the hillside in the rain and wind. The first is that life can be a real grind.
That patience and a persistent effort is likely to be key in achieving personal goals and finding a fulfilling happiness in your lifestyle, even if the process towards succeeding in these areas can be slow. This can also definitely be discovered in another person’s happiness.
Secondly, I considered how it takes a sustained and often slowly building effort to change your views. To educate yourself or others. To constantly bat away any ignorant or outdated views that you may have held for a while, perhaps years.
As an individual and a wider society we should always aim to make progress. Even if that progress is difficult, painful and slow, perhaps often frustratingly so. There is always progress to be made.
Weaving across the now 10% gradient road I considered this second point especially and thought about how weak the old arguments of ‘how it wasn’t like that in my day’ are. Similar worn-out excuses equating to the mentality that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Everyone, no matter their age or experiences has the ability to change their views. Everyone should have the ability to arrive at a different less thought out conclusion than they have previously reached. Even a huge amount of patience, humility and effort.
Bike on the bike, it took me all but 17 minutes to reach the summit. My reward? The king of all eye hurting headwinds combined with icy rain. Cycling past the empty chairlifts of the ski centre I could barely keep my eyes open as icy rain blasted my frozen facial features.
Eventually I completed the descent into Braemar and this was where I experienced my highlight of the day, maybe the week. Earlier in the ride I’d been passed by a Co-op lorry and before entering the village I met the same green vehicle again, heading southbound this time.
The driver promptly flashed his lights at me, giving me a heart warming thumbs up as he sped past. This gesture was the perfect remedy to a life which has often recently felt similar to being in a social bubble, sporadically interrupted by a pandemonic social media feed.
During the current events an innocuous glance at my multiple digital feeds presents many voices in favour of positive change. However, many others seem to enjoy disregarding or shutting down the important debate and issues which have almost became all encompassing right now.
Obviously, these negative voices can often drown out the helpful and pragmatic voices of the moment. I guess, perhaps naively, that driver’s simple gesture helped restore some faith on humanity on a visual level. If that makes sense?
Black Lives Matter – https://blacklivesmatter.com/