Glentress, Peebles, Scotland.
The last time I used my mountain bike was back in 2014 when we created the UK’s highest SUP Club. Since then my sight has deteriorated and the bike has sat in the garage gathering dust, and to be honest, I was thinking that it may be time to get rid of it.
Then Patrick and I came up with a challenge for 2019, which will include approximately 250km of road biking. The bike was given a reprieve, dusted off, and Rhona and I were now getting out 2-3 times a week, on a very quiet road near our house.
Occasionally we would pass a dog walker or a jogger, and Rhona would shout instructions for me to “keep right”, or “keep left”. Sometimes the walker/jogger thought Rho was shouting at them, and Rho received some strange looks. We decided we needed to have a “white stick”.
The first white stick kept getting caught in my front wheel, so we needed another solution!
When snowboarding in New Zealand, in 2001, one of the resorts insisted that I wear a bib saying “BLIND SKIER”. Reluctantly I wore it, but soon realised the benefits. When people saw the bib, a shout of “blind skier” would go out, and everyone got out the way!! (Courtesy, or self-preservation, who knows?)
A few days after we bought the bibs, Rho and I met up with a bunch of friends at a campsite at Glentress, near Peebles in the Scottish Borders. Glentress is also part of the 7Stanes mountain bike trail, (world-class mountain biking centres that span the south of Scotland).
Unfortunately 2 of the group, Allistair and Alison had to call off the bike ride due to a 3 year out of date sticky toffee pudding they had eaten the day before.
This blue route took us on a long, steep climb through the woods, hitting switchback after switchback, tree roots, rocks, and other fun obstacles. All the while, Rho was just ahead of me shouting out instructions and information. Rho would shout “u-bend, left”, and I would repeat it back to her. If I didn’t reply then she knew I hadn’t heard her, and she would have to repeat it. Our pace uphill was slow and steady, so there was no real rush with the instructions.
As well as listening to Rho, I also spent the majority of my time looking for her back wheel, or her yellow bib to follow.
We seemed to climb for quite some time, until we came out into a clearing. Here was a big car park, where we were joined by Rosie and Adam.
Letting the rest of the group go ahead, Rho did an awesome job of guiding me down through the trees, at what felt like break-neck speed, but probably wasn’t that fast for a fully sighted rider.
The instructions were coming thick and fast now, and on several occasions, I hadn’t had a chance to repeat them to Rho before I felt us hitting them. Up, down, left, right, tree roots, steps, the shouts kept coming.
One second I would be standing up on my pedals, the bike shuddering below me as I sped over exposed tree roots. The next my knees would bend as the bike came up to meet me as I went up a bump, before dropping away from me as I flew down the other side. All of this at speeds faster than my eyes can function.
I was no longer able to see Rho’s back wheel, and was now just trying to keep her yellow top somewhere in sight, between the many blind spots that cover my eyes.
Every now and then, I would hear our group who had stopped to wait for us and take some pics. We would zoom past them, only for them to fly past us a few minutes later.
On one very dark section, I was trying to take in the instructions, when Rho shouted “bridge”. We’d already gone over a few of these, and they felt to be a couple of metres long, by about a metre wide, and flat. But this one was different.
As we hit it, Rho shouted “up”, I heard rumbling under my wheels which told me we were on some wooden decking, and could feel the slight incline. Then Rho shouted “down”, “big down”! At this point I felt my bike reach the top of this wee bridge and start to go downhill. What made things more confusing was that I could hear the rest of our group shouting things to us, but they all seemed to be below me.
Someone shouted for me to get myself to the back of my bike, behind the saddle. It was only now that I realised I was at the top of a very steep hill, and I had passed the point of no return. If I hit the brakes now and at this speed, I would most likely go over the handlebars. All I could do was keep searching for the yellow, and follow it.
At the bottom of this section we came to a big track where we all re-grouped. Everyone was talking about the bridge and the drop-off, and saying how funny I looked as I went over the top. But all I could do was hope that I hadn’t messed myself!
For the next 20 minutes we kept dropping down, through trees, around bends, over rocks, and eventually on to the road at the bottom.
By the time we reached the end of the trail, I was just happy I hadn’t fallen off my bike, or hit a tree. Rho’s instructions were awesome, and I guess this means I won’t be getting rid of my bike just yet.
This was definitely a team effort. Thanks folks!