Singletrack Magazine issue 124 : Last Word

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Will following half-heard directions in the woods lead to peril? Or pleasure?

I’m following directions that are little more than a rumour: ‘Through the horse gate, turn right at the fallen tree, push up past the puddle, to the top, where two trails start at the same point’. It’s steep, and it’s sweaty, and it better be worth it. I hope that was the right fallen tree. Upwards, onwards, past ferns, bracken, probably ticks. Definitely flies. Will this be the route back down? Is this the right route up? Or there, that drop, will I end up there?

This had better be good.

Diversion. Spotted: a chute is too good to miss, it must be ridden, now, in case whatever I find doesn’t end up here. Push up some more, more scramble than walk. Bike becomes ice axe as I creep my way up and over the blind summit. Breathing heavily, I’m up, and whatever is here, I must ride down. I’m not even sure walking down is an option, mentally or physically.

But from here, it is higher than from down there. Roots beckon, witches’ fingers surely ready to grab me. Think it through: roll, brake, let go, keep the faith. Then in, for real. Will it go, or will I? Roll, slither, keep it light, stay loose…and breathe out in a whoop as it works. Now the quandry: to ride again, or to seek out the promise of whatever starts still further above. One more time, there’s time, and this time it’s smoother, faster, easier. Then back to the main climb, slightly surer that this is going to work out.

This is going to be worth it.

Pedal, push, sweat, swear. Alert. Where is the top? Is there a turn? Is that the trail, or a badger run? Vague memories of instructions return: to the top, by the tree (ha, it’s a forest) with the view on all sides. So, more up, then a ridge. Left and right, right and left, don’t look down. Keep rolling, forward, past the vertigo, and there: many views, two trails. Now to pick one.

Left or right, steep or berm? Berms speak of effort, love and attention. Not just a slice through the undergrowth, there’s more promise in this labour of love. In, over the rocky entry and caught perfectly by loam, slung forward to be caught again. Off the brakes, steer with your arse, swoop, switch, swoop then peek over into oblivion but keep rolling, rolling, trust it through to the other end, grinning.

This is good.

Riding blind, pick a fork, pot luck. What luck! Skip over roots, thanking the weather gods, remember to breathe, relax, find that zone. Faster, pushing the risk just a little, and a bit more. Dab. Hold it. Get it back. Dial it back, just a notch. 

Keep it good.

Keep it going. My brain dares to tingle with the thought that this feels amazing. When was the last time I rode like this? Blind, concentrated, fluid, fluent. But focussed – ignore the brain tingle – keep in the now. Process everything – plan, execute, celebrate – overlapping, keep planning, keep executing. Keep –

Pull up. Stop.

Think. Look. Think. Mime. That drop, that line, not that rock, not that root. Is speed my friend, or foe? What could I hurt? Where is the point of no return? Ready? Yes, er, no. Think. Reason. Visualise. Ready. Roll.

No going back, don’tgrabthebrake, feather, gentle, finesse, gulp. Off plan, off line, improvising not visualising. Cling on, stay on, holycrapIstayedon! Bring it on! What’s next?


Damn. That was good. Time to do it again.

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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