When opportunities stare you straight in the face, grab them, hold them and make the most of them. This is what I told myself as I was sat driving up the M1 at 5am, setting off from Milton Keynes for the Lake District.
I had arranged with my buddy Pete to guide me on my first hike-a-bike experience. The concept is simple, sling a mountain bike on shoulder, hike to the top of something tall and ride off. Wiping sleep from eyes as my headlights pierced the night’s sky, I had many hours to contemplate what the outcome of the day could be. For one, would the weather thwart our attempts for adventure?
Overcast surroundings made way for clear breaks as I passed Blencathra on the 66, but it was clear that there would be changing conditions greeting us. Getting suited and booted in Whinlatter, this was to be a day of many firsts.
My first hike-a-bike, ride in the Lakes, off road in SPDs, ride on mountain caked in snow and ice….. What could possibly go wrong?
Setting off up the first fire road, my previous weeks of limited activity due to illness were all too apparent, as I struggled to hold conversation over my lungs gasping for air and my quads screaming. But being in the mountains, this paled into insignificance. I can’t say running in the mountains has ever been a pain free experience, but that’s half the appeal…. At least for me.
Lifting my steed over my head, we started the climb up Grizedale Pike, bike rested on my shoulders, legs working like pistons looking for traction and propelling me forward. I was grateful the bike had a carbon frame at this point, I wouldn’t have fancied lugging something heavier up the fell. Grass and mud made way for small snow crystals, which gradually became larger, loosely covering a layer of thick ice.
The higher we climbed, the more the weather came in. Winds increased, spindrift started to bite into our unprotected limbs and buffs were pulled up to protect faces. Looking South East, ominous clouds full of misery drifted in our direction at a steady pace. Close to the summit we called it time, contouring round, as small slabs of snow broke off beneath foot and tyre.
“Let’s get out of here” Pete yelled, his voice being captured and thrown down the fell by the every rising wind. Clipping in this was it. My first descent on a Lakeland fell, in winter, 30mph+ winds and limited visibility. But I was beaming!
Gingerly releasing the brakes, rolling down the ice wrapped slopes, avoiding large holes and rock features, my speed grew rapidly as did my realisation I was headed on a random bearing with little say in my steering. “As long as I stop before the edge I’ll be fine” I told myself, as Pete expertly dragged his rear wheel, flicking his bike down switch backs. Stopping, changing my heading, I was back on track, soaking up the shocks as the bike skipped over the rocks beneath.
Hitting a snow bank, I took my first fall of the day, landing in a cold cushion. This was the first off many, either through forgetting to unclip or taking bad line choices. The highlight of which was falling into a bog, having enough time to look Pete in the eyes before sliding deep into the slop. With the bike attached to my feet, one half of my body buried and my pose resembling a scorpion, it was pure comedy watching me trying to escape the hold of the sludge.
That last act summed up the day, I was out of my comfort zone, put my skill set to the test and laughed throughout. We can become obsessed with how others view what we do in the outdoors, but provided we aren’t being reckless and respect the land and those around us, we should be able to enjoy our own adventures, whether that’s walking around a tarn or competing in an ultra.
To prove this point, I met up with friends the following day and spent 4 hours on the bike again on other mountains. Was I the slowest? Yes. The least skilled? Yes. Did I care? No.
I found a new way to engage with the mountains, a new community of outdoor users and made new friends. It is all too easy to pigeonhole yourself and become self-critical when faced with others with a higher level of skill. Always remember, we all have to start from somewhere and who knows what the future may hold.
I had two epics days hiking a bike in the Lakeland Fells all because I stepped outside of my comfort zone.