Online Feature: The Opportunist

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From Issue 87, Dom Perry takes a chance – any chance – to sneak out for a ride.

Make all the excuses you like – sometimes the only thing that’s stopping you riding is you.

Words by Dom Perry.

Pete Herbert Relaxes

It’s windy out. No, that’s an understatement: it’s very windy out, the sort of gusting, swirling, snatching, grabbing mass of air that weather forecasters tend to refer to as ‘potentially damaging’. As another streak of sea spume goes whirling away over my head and I narrowly avoid being blown into the undergrowth for what feels like the hundredth time in the last 20 minutes, gorse bushes whipping across my hands, I ponder the wisdom of riding in this weather.

Even if I miss the pointy rocks, lycra doesn’t offer much in the way of thermal insulation when faced with typical UK sea temperatures.

It’s not simply the energy-sapping nature of the exercise, or, for that matter, the futile experience frequently endured on a singlespeed of whirling the cranks at 100rpm and seeming to travel virtually nowhere. No, what’s really bothering me is the substantial drop to one side, ending in a chaos of foam-tipped waves. Sure, the view is lovely – feel the elemental power of unchecked nature in full fury and all that – but it’s a long way down into a lead-coloured ocean. Even if I miss the pointy rocks, lycra doesn’t offer much in the way of thermal insulation when faced with typical UK sea temperatures.

…home, where the holy trinity of sofa, coffee pot and a slice of moist fruit cake await…

But as the dissenting voices attempt to argue me away from the precipice and back into the comforts of home, where the holy trinity of sofa, coffee pot and a slice of moist fruit cake await, a streak of rare stubbornness is found. It forcefully reminds me of the overloaded luggage trolley in the airport which overturned three times – once in a crowded lift – thanks mostly to my unwieldy bike bag, and notes that it was only after I whined and wheedled about getting some exercise on what is otherwise a family holiday that I was allowed to bring the bike with me in the first place.

Thereafter, of course, the narrative has been much as you’d expect.

Aside from a brief ten-minute flurry of unpacking and rebuilding – during which I discover a pair of disc rotors bent in transit have bestowed on the bike a sound not unlike that of a slowing tube train – I don’t touch the singlespeed for the next five days. There it sits, unused, in my father-in-law’s garage, blocking access to various domestic appliances and gathering dust. My plans to head out for trail time are scuppered by the usual whirlwind of family visits, the joy that is a teething infant and the sort of conditions that even ducks might reject as a little too damp. It is, all told, a ridiculous waste of time and money. I even begin to forget why I decided it was a good idea to bring the sodding thing in the first place.

But as the situation becomes more embarrassing – and the comments become increasingly pointed (“Do you think we can move your bike out of the way if you’re not going to use it?”) – I decide that it really is time to stop the self-pitying and do something about it. Which is how I come to be scudding along the coast path in the relatively bleak (for which, read ‘not built on’) north-west corner of Jersey, a small island close to France.

It has been an odd ride thus far. Aside from the aforementioned crosswind/cliff path exposure issue, there have been moments of childlike delight. Find Jersey on a map and trace your finger westwards from the curving expanse of St Ouen’s bay and the next thing you hit is Newfoundland. With nothing save thousands of miles of empty ocean to temper the breeze, it tends to be a bit prone to the odd gust on this side of the island. For me that means the otherwise tedious, albeit deeply scenic, five-mile-long stretch of flat road that follows the arc of the bay is rendered bearable. Actually more than bearable; as the wind is blowing a steady 30mph from the south-west I’m getting shoved by an invisible hand on my back and having to do nothing save put in the occasional pedal stroke. It’s fun, in an odd sort of way.

Lungs full of briny air, legs suitably brutalised and knuckles bristling with gorse spines I can return to the house contented.

But that stops as I shoulder my bike up the railway sleeper steps from L’Etacq and the wind attempts to tug the machine from my hands. I know there will be a little more pain to come as I traverse this part of the coast, but equally this is where the good stuff starts. Don’t get me wrong, this five- by nine-mile lump of granite is never going to become a mountain bike destination of choice, but this particular point is my favourite corner. It’s a combination of remoteness – or at least the sensation of it, given that nothing on such a small speck of rock is terribly far away – combined with stunning scenery and the odd World War II German howitzer emplacement (a touchy subject with the island’s older generation, the occupation, but one that left enough machine gun nests and concrete fortifications to bring out your inner Action Man). Oh yes, and the trails are really, really fun. Well drained, with great slabs of solid granite bedrock poking through every so often, usually just around a blind corner, and a gradient that is, by and large, suitable for anyone with an insufficiency of gears. It is, in parts, thoroughly ace and with a tailwind, you can consider the fun doubled.

Although, as I rush pell-mell into an unseen but particularly steep, rocky section with twice the speed I had envisaged, tyres scrunching for grip on the sharp-edged stones, I reflect that this may not be entirely a good thing. Still, I rattle through, a stupid smile plastered across my face that even the next interminable set of sleeper steps cannot erase. And although my route now drags me away from the coastline to toil endlessly into that hateful headwind again, I know that I made the right choice. Lungs full of briny air, legs suitably brutalised and knuckles bristling with gorse spines I can return to the house contented.

And better yet, that cake will still be waiting for me when I get in.

Hannah Dobson

Hannah came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. Having worked in policy and project management roles at the Scottish Parliament and in local government, Hannah had organisational skills that SIngletrack needed. She also likes bikes, and likes to write.

Hannah likes all bikes, but especially unusual ones. If it’s a bit odd, or a bit niche, or made of metal, she’s probably going to get excited. If it gets her down some steep stuff, all the better. She’ll give most things a go once, she tries not to say no to anything on a bike, unless she really thinks it’s going to hurt. She’s pretty good with steri-strips.

More than bikes, Hannah likes what bikes do. She thinks that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments.

Hannah tries to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

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