Lessons on mountain biking or How Not to get to a bothy

Everything has just gone pear shaped. I hit the ground with an emphatic thud.  My legs float skywards and I can see the clouds passing my boots.  My mountain bike is laying on the track a few feet away, its wheels still spinning as though in some vain attempt to escape.  I try to get up but my rucksack pulls me back down to the ground and, if all this wasn’t bad enough, I’m being laughed at by dogs.  A few moments ago cycled past some terriers who barked at me through the bars of their kennels.  As I rode away they went quiet but, since I hit the ground they’ve been making quite a noise, more like yelps than barks now, the unmistakable sound of canine laughter.  I’ve made their day.loch

I collapse backwards under the weight of my sack once more, as I look up skyward, I think to myself, this must be where the expression,  “it all went tits up,” comes from.

I bought a mountain bike to ease my travel in to distant bothies last year but, for all those sort of annoying reasons like never getting the right weather at the wrong time, I never used it.  In retrospect, leaping on my untried mountain bike for the very first time carrying and 30lb rucksack in attempt to cycle into Carnmore, a bothy in the Fisherfield wilderness, was perhaps jumping in at the deep end.  I should probably have taken things a little more slowly, dipped my toe in so to speak, by learning to ride the bike and figuring out the gears and stuff in the local park.  Enthusiasm, as they say got the better of me.


I’ve been spending the last few weeks frantically working on my one man play about George Mallory for the Fringe and so I’d promised myself a few days away before the preparation for the show starts in earnest.  Suddenly the weather looked good and the bike looked shinny and well you know the rest, here I am upside down in the road with dogs laughing at me.

Check out my play at the Fringe https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/mallory-beyond-everest

There are two paths from the little Highland village of Poolewe that join at a farm called Kernsary.  One is an easy cycle track, the other is an assault course, I didn’t know this, I only found out an hour ago when I was threshing my way through the assault course, carrying my bike and my rucksack in the sweltering heat.  How did I find out I should have gone the other way you might wonder.  The answer is that each of the four people I met on that route from hell thought it their lifelong duty to point out to me that if I’d gone the other way I’d be there by now.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed them telling me that.


The track wound its way round the side of a small loch, went down into ditches and up over headlands for no reason I could think of other than to make me suffer. The bike developed a mind of its own and tried to take off in the wrong direction at every available opportunity. The pedals got stuck in the heather, the handlebars swung round and punched me in the groin, the gears tore my trousers.  I began to hate the bike with a vengeance. After all it was supposed to carry me, not the other way round.  I should be floating along the track effortlessly not engaged in the closest thing I’ve ever encountered to the military field gun race when teams of grunting soldiers race to transport an artillery piece across an imaginary ravine.  I got an overpowering urge to hurl the two wheeled monster into the loch.

After fighting with the bloody machine for almost two hours I eventually emerge on the “Oh you should be on that track over there it’s really easy,” route.  Climb on my bike, cycle a few hundred yards, past the dogs, change into the wrong gear, hit a rock, hit the ground, loud thud, much swearing. I wonder if the little tablet in my pack has survived the collision and then realise that I have, cleverly, managed to protect my rucksack by absorbing the impact of the fall with my body.

Eventually I scramble to my feet and remount the bike.  I don’t look back at the dogs, refusing to give them the satisfaction.  I then head on off up the ever steepening track in the ever rising heat as the sun emerges from the clouds and decides to add to my suffering.  It’s a long time since I tried to ride a mountain bike up a steep hill with a heavy rucksack and it’s not long before the heat, the hill and my previous exertions begin to take their toll.  I have to get off the bike and push.  There is a downside to mountain biking I’d not anticipated.  Once you have to get off and push you have the weight of the bike and your pack to get up the hill.  Eventually I find myself, gasping for breath dripping sweat and decide that, discretion being the better part of valour, it’s time to give in, turn the bike around, head for home and leave Carnmore for another day.

Poolewe at rush hour

Poolewe at rush hour

It’s then that it happens, going downhill the bike transforms into something incredible. Soon I’m flying down the track with a cool breeze in my face revelling in the speed and ease of movement.  The views surprise me and I remember what a beautiful place this is.  Small lochans appear picked out in blue amongst the green heather and beyond that the sea gleams across the horizon.  Now I’m enjoying myself.  Once the struggle is over I’m able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the place and the smell of the grass and the trees.

In an embarrassingly short time I’m back in Poolewe enjoying an ice cream.  I vow to return, the route won’t beat me a second time and I realise that, despite all I’ve said about the machine, I’m hooked on mountain biking.


2 responses to “Lessons on mountain biking or How Not to get to a bothy

  1. Yeah, it’s usually like that – torture on the way out but you’re ever so grateful on the return. Another amusing tale – shame you got the wrong track. Can’t you get some panniers for it? I use them on the fold-up bike and it saves having a pack on your back and is really easy to push even with them fully loaded. You’re also more stable on the rough tracks with panniers.

    Due to the very low ground clearance on the fold-up, I hit my pedals on the side of the track a lot of I don’t watch it.

    And as to ‘tits up’ – when I fell off my motorbike once, I was ‘tits down’ – much better – keeps your face off the floor as you slide! 😉

  2. The golden rule is always to put as much weight on the bike and as little on your back as you can. The words, top heavy come to mind. I am glad that you enjoyed the downhill. I am such a coward that mountain biking doesn’t appeal to me at all.

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