Saturday morning. 6am. Ouch. Dry mouth. Pain behind my eyes. Groggy. Whisky night. A monthly gathering of mates, which starts as a relatively reserved catch up, with food and sampling some of Scotland’s finest single malts. Inevitably it descends into bad jokes, wild plans and “just one more dram”. Brilliant.
I get up. Empty out the cold, damp grinds from the Moka pot and refill with fresh. Listen to the click, click, roar of the gas hob lighting. Carrying enough espresso to wake a heavy-sleeper from a coma, I sit down in the armchair. Look at the new bike, directly opposite me. Look at the smoothness of the satin finish on the carbon. Immaculate. It will never be this clean again. I imagine myself riding. Stretched out, big-ringing along wide bridleways. Powering up climbs, hands on bar-ends (bar-ends! I’ve not had those since the 90s!).
The pre-ride faffing process is longer than normal. It looks very cold out. Most of my bike kit ends up on the bed. Much of it is left there, to be put away when I get home. That Helly Hansen that is so old it has horizontal stripes on the sleeves (none of that “modern” diagonal business) is left. As is the thick softshell that is perfect for sub-zero road rides, but always too warm on the mountain bike. Decisions made, I leave the front door. The car will stay outside the house today. I’m aware that it is very cold. The retained warmth inside my jacket and cap doesn’t take long to begin to fade. I swing a leg over the bike and pedal down the road. I stop after 10metres. Move the seatpost up by a few mm. And set off. The sun is still low in the sky, but is bright. There isn’t a cloud to be seen.
10 minutes later I’m in Leeds city centre. Shit. I’ve left my ipod at home. The ever present company on solo rides. I could go back, but today, I’ll be absolutely by myself. Another 10 minutes later and I have a coffee in my hand and am walking towards the train along a quiet platform.
The journey is broken up by chatting to a guy who is off to Rochdale to collect a van. He’s travelled up from Ipswich this morning. And then two young lads with stunt-scooter things. We compared notes. How much? Is it any good? Can you do wheelies? How long are you going to be out for? How far can you ride? How many bikes have you got? Can I have a go?
We disembark at Hebden Bridge and I pedal up and out, towards Peckett Well. Turning pedals feels great. Warmth creeps through my body, despite cold air filling my lungs. I notice a glossy finish to the stone walls. Literally as though someone had varnished everywhere… ice.
The first descent proves interesting. That’s interesting as in sheet ice and slippery as hell. Slip. Bruised forearm.
I climb Midgehole Rd. Ice. Slip. No crash, but all of a sudden I’m pointing back down the hill. How did that happen? Walk.
I get to Widdop reservoir. Inch thick ice across the top of the dam. The reservoir itself is frozen. I’m using the studs at the front of my SPDs as crampon front-points. Kick, step. Kick, step. Things only get worse as I start to climb out on the Pennine Bridleway. It’s a good job this new bike is light.
None of this matters. I’m in my own world. Absorbing the environment. No thought in my actions, just moving forward. The sky has changed. No longer is it blue. It has the milky nature of an artist’s jam-jar.
Push, push. Straddle bike. Ride. Slip, wiggle snake hips, stay upright. I’m absolutely aware of every miniscule change in gradient across the trail. I drift to the lowest point as tyres slide down, like a bowling ball dropping into the gully at the side of the lane. Slip, wiggle snake hips, stay upright. SLAM. Bruised hip. Up. Slip, wiggle snake hips, stay upright. SLAM. Bruised palm.
Discretion is the better part of valor, I think is the saying. Time to head home. More slipping, more tumbles. Then a road descent to chill me to my core. The waiting room at Hebden Bridge station warms me, and I share tales with a group of pensioners who were equally enthused by their epic day out on the icy hills. “We slid down the steps on our bottoms!”
I do like being out there.