Scotland. Or more accurately Roy Bridge March 2013. I have just returned from the four most fabulous Scottish days away. Every year since time began (or more accurately again, since the internet forums took off) there has been a UK climbing forums winter climbing meet up in Scotland. It’s my third year of attending, but never with any true intention of actually climbing on terrifying frozen waterfalls and general icy horrors. The first year was a tentative walking and biking year, the second year I was overcome with illness and pain (discovery that I have a condition called temporomandibular jaw disorder which if unmanaged brings on trigeminal neuralgia), so this year looked really promising as I began my preparations with a temporary filling ...
Over the years, groups within groups have formed themselves at the “climbing” meet. There are an ever increasing number of us middle aged mountain bikers, and we don’t restrict ourselves to a once a year meet up any more but encounter each other with regularity through the seasons. There’s a shared love of the more wild trails, the long ones, those with climbs best described as “interesting” or indeed “unrideable”. Of the leaders we don’t have, the leading light of the group is known as Horse in honour of his initials of GG (you figure it out ...). He will do anything to get a reasonable technical descent in but not of the downhiller extreme variety, just interesting, gnarly, protracted and above all fun. He has dreams and suggestions and charisma and he carries us along with him. It’s GG who has coined the phrase Team Stoopid for these days out. Because we probably do try things which are not entirely conventional even within the mountain biking fraternity, and for sure not amongst the middle aged.
I’ve never felt I’ve properly earned my place in #TeamStoopid until this weekend. I’ve always hovered on the outskirts, doing some of the dafter rides. It’s a funny thing to aspire to. If he’d termed it Mad or Crazy I would have avoided it like the plague because I hate the pretension of people who describe themselves in those terms. I’m conventional, and safe and thoughtful and happy with that.
Friday saw #TeamStoopid or indeed a carefully selected trio of participants get in my van with three bikes and drive to Fersit. Van abandoned, we were on our way. Off we went to Corrour Station, somewhere in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We had several plans. One of them was the option of catching the 3:15 train back to Roy Bridge. The trip to the station took us through woodland, through marsh, bog, fire road, rocky descents, a long single track moorland climb, every variety of mountain biking you could imagine. Opening out onto the fire road where we anticipated a swift and easy ride, the wind took us somewhat by surprise. The kind of surprise which can blow you sideways 12 feet and when encountered head on stop you dead in your tracks. Funny what you can adjust to, though, and with the right gear, perseverance and an embracing of resistance training, we spread out and traversed to the station. 2:30 and we’d only covered 13 miles.
The station cafe saw a serious conference taking place over soup and nachos. The sensible options were discussed (the train), but Horse’s lower lip wobbled (well, as much as a 51 year old bloke’s face displays emotion) as he explained he’d always wanted to do the next section. Faced with disappointing our glorious leader, how could we reach any other decision. We were going to complete the ride. Maps were consulted; soaking wet shoes were put back on, bikes mounted and at 3:15 #TeamStoopid set off, with a symbolic watching of the escape route train departing Corrour for Roy Bridge. We had 25 miles to ride.
Once again into the hoolie TeamStoopid rode. And the route continued to climb, taking us up bridleway, up into the moorland, wading through peak bogs. Our glorious leader encouraged high team morale by finding us targets every few kilometres. It was 3K to the bothy or 3K to the summit or 3K to the next bothy. The first bothy stop saw acceptance. We accepted at 5pm that this was going to be a ride through the late evening. Lights were brought out of bags in a pre-emptive strike against the coming of the night. In true team spirit we shared. Karl, the 25 mile time trialler on his 14 year old mountain bike taking one of my two night lights. And we set off on a bit of a hike-a-bike up hill. Finally the summit was achieved, with some excitement from GG who had been looking forward to the descent. We were up in the highlands, miles from anywhere, in the snow, in the dark and we were on mountain bikes. At this point, Karl announced that he was packing Jaffa Cakes and that these would be made available at the next bothy. We set off.
The single track descent turned out a disappointment to Horse, and there was much cursing of the numerous snow patches which interrupted the flow. But I grinned the entire way. The bothy was reached and the promised jaffa cake goodness embraced. But there was still much riding to be done. The lovely thing about the next section was that I remembered having walked it two years ago, there was a familiarity both of route and of terrain, and down we zoom zoom zoomed. Pausing at a deer fence to update those back at the accommodation on our progress, or lack thereof. Because there at 8:15pm we did team work on inner tube replacement for Horse’s puncture. Finally we wore some of the spare clothing we’d all been carrying – the ride for all of us had included an upgrade from a 15litre or thereabouts riding rucksack to the full on walking daysacks.
A return along the road took us back to the dinner which had been saved for us. Ten hours later, 9:15 at night, 60K journey complete. Oh. Now, where’s that campervan ... oh yes, Fersit. Where am I? Oh yes, Roy Bridge ...
My quotes of the day were from Karl – “don’t you ever stop smiling”. Answer “why would I, I’m alive and having fun”. “can’t you just get a little bit angry. Or even swear?”. Oh. Sorry. I was having fun. And from Horse "oh hello, looks like Alison's got the suit zipped up today." (Man suit).