Take one moderately depressed woman with little energy or motivation and put her reluctantly in the saddle of a new mountain bike. Ensure she has a map of the area. And a banana. Point in the general direction of an off road trail. Insist that she pedals hard and not come back until a minimum of 20 miles have been covered. Sit back and watch.
Seemed like a good idea; exercise is meant to be good for the mood and all that. Last weekend I followed a fantastic course that friends recommended for mountain biking, and not being in the frame of mind to invent a new one I thought I’d just amble over the same trails again. Maybe with the odd detour thrown in. If I could be arsed. I really wanted to get out (the prospect of yet another day in my own company loomed), but the thought of actually expending any effort on a bike seemed like a Sisyphean task. Hard. And maybe not worth the bother.
So I set off in a very cheery mood towards the local Mining Trails, a network of connected tracks that wander through a ravaged 18th and 19th century industrial landscape littered with old engine houses and mine workings. They have an imposing presence that even a miserable old bag like me can’t deny.
Back wheel sliding across loose stones and dust I feel an eerie quiet that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Things can seem pretty barren around here, life given over to only the toughest of plants that can survive the contamination of arsenic and god knows what other heavy metals. I go for miles without seeing a soul, just the odd manky-looking stray dog exploring the badlands along with me. I’m beginning to loosen up and grudgingly admit to myself this bike ride wasn’t such a bad idea.
Now I should point out that these photos were taken last weekend on a hot summer’s day. Today was overcast and a bit muggy. I longed for the sunshine again at which point I told myself impatiently to stop thinking and just feel. Be mindful. I could feel my calves screaming from a 2.5m jog earlier in the week, taste the flies I was eating that weren’t kamikaze-ing on my cheeks, feel the limp breeze on my arms and the gentle rumble of hunger welling in my belly. Being mindful wasn’t really on the cards.
What I really wanted was energy. I wanted to eat the hills, and not like a gummy pensioner with her teeth out. I began lamenting my ability and became reckless biking the downhills as usual, picking up speed and not caring if I came to a crashing halt (again). What’s another set of bruises?
“Just accept it, you have no technical skills at all and you’re too old and too poor to learn any”, I was telling myself when I came to an abrupt stop and a pedal smashed my already sore calf. Fuck it, the chain had come off for the third time today. When oh when am I going to learn to get the bike in a low gear before I hit a sudden, sharp incline? Even if it is one out of sight round the corner that I have no idea is there.
I gently try to pull the chain back on to the chainring. It doesn’t move. I pull harder. It won’t move. It’s wedged between the chainring and the crank. I turn the bike upside down in the grassy verge and as I pull at the chain I notice the very bent and buckled smallest cog. And a lot of scratched paintwork. A wave of despair ripples through me and my eyes fill with tears. Well that’s it then, a 12 mile walk home and a bloody expensive repair bill. Why do I bother? There’s not a soul in sight and I just crumple as the options of which bike shop is nearest float through my head. Then I realise that if I can at least get the chain out I’ll be able to ride it. Depression takes everything out of me, I’m not normally this feeble and defeatist am I? I struggle with the chain for another 10 minutes and eventually it comes free. I decide to walk up the remainder of the short hill, passing some very dodgy looking caravans as quickly as possible.
It’s getting on for 4 o’clock, no point in trying to rush back to get to the bike shop in Truro. I might as well just continue with no low gears, walk the hills if I have to. Just keep plodding on. Going forwards. With a bit of effort I manage the hills, less effort than it takes to remember not to absent mindedly click down a gear or two. The mining trails had given way to a few miles on not very pleasant roads, so I decide to take a detour into Tehidy woods with it’s long shady trails and promising spots to sit and eat the banana.
The trails are well signposted, but they just don’t make any sense to me without a map so I happily cycle round in circles for a good few miles until I come across the ‘spiral beech tree’, a favourite place for a snack. This huge old tree has literally grown up towards the light in a spiral and today I can see the nuts just beginning to form under the sharp green canopy. I’d love to have a photo for you, but true to form my phone battery had run out. Banana eaten, I realise I’m parched and want coffee. I contemplate my original plan of riding west along the cliffs to Hell’s Mouth cafe, look at the time and decide I won’t make it and head for the cafe in the woods instead.
I spent a bit of time sitting at the tables outside enjoying the cappuccino and a pot of Kelly’s ice-cream, eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. ”Her hair’s as stiff as she is!” “What was she wearing?” “Oh that’s her ‘occasion’ dress” “I can only think of one occasion where you’d wear that!” I suddenly realise the ache of loneliness and contemplate why it is I’m always out on my own and that the only way to stop feeling it is to keep moving.
I emerge through the dense woods onto the cliff road with its big sky and fantastic views out to sea. I freewheel eastwards down to Porteath, where I pick up the coast to coast cycle path and head home.
It’s a fairly easy journey now following an old tram road from here. There are a couple of bike hire places along the 11 mile track so you come across a few families out for a holiday meander, but I don’t really notice them and just plough on worrying about the cost of bike repairs and watching the heavy black clouds accumulating ahead of me. I feel a couple of spots of rain but they blow over and I’m only a few miles from home now anyway.
At about 2 miles from my door the heavens open. Not just rain, but a sudden, absolute downpour. I was drenched in seconds. I turned onto the main road uphill to home and felt the sharp pain of stinging rain on my bare arms, legs and face. The road had turned into a fast flowing river. The rivers of water running down my face tasted of salt, my shoes would take a month to dry out and I was so, so cold. On another day I might’ve found this funny. Or refreshing. Today I was just miserable. Miserable as sin. The only upside I could think of was that I wouldn’t have to wash the bike. Or myself for that matter. The only reason to jump in the shower was to get warm.
Dried off, coffee inside me and finally warm I plot my route: 30 miles. 4 hours outdoors, 30 miles, 1 broken bike and a few more bruises. I just curl up and fall asleep.
Leave your moderately depressed woman in a warm environment for a minimum of 17 hours. Allow her to sleep heavily for at least 10 of them. Don’t worry if the cat sleeps across her neck, it will do no harm for a while. Allow her to wake slowly and notice how yesterday’s events have become a rewarding adventure. Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.