“He wants to come across as a humorous, somewhat bumbling, everyman.”
So wrote a recent reviewer on Amazon when describing yours truly. He couldn’t be more wrong. I want to come across as a “lithe, superhuman, devastatingly fast climber with world class organisational skills, a model of efficiency and dedication”. The problem is that I can’t, as I’m basically a “somewhat bumbling everyman”. I could attempt to mask the bumbling-ness in my writing, but all that would be left is a few descriptive paragraphs about some trees coupled with some cycling statistics that the morbidly obese may find slightly impressive. I’d love to be able to leave the bumbling-ness behind, it drives me insane as its presence is felt in almost all of my cycling expeditions. And whilst it may seem endearing to readers, I spend a large portion of my life cursing the little things that I always seem to get wrong.
This fact was waved firmly in my face over the past week as I headed north in an attempt to tick off a large amount of the photography necessary for my next book. Circumstance dictated an extremely hasty packing exercise. I returned from a weekend with the family in Devon with only a few hours to unpack and then repack the car for Scotland. I needed to squeeze two bikes, my camera gear, some camping stuff and a few clothes into the car. This sounds straightforward and for an organised person it would be. However, I seem to have dodged the “organised” gene, sidestepping it for a messy dangle of DNA designed to manifest itself into a messy tangle of personal effects belonging to the owner.
For starters there’s cables and chargers. Many years ago the only cable packed was for an electric razor. This two pin wonder worked everywhere and with a bit of brute force could even be persuaded into a three pin plug. These days I have to pack gadgets for phone charging, GPS charging, camera charging, laptop powering, kindle charging and bike light charging. One of the reasons for avoiding the latest cycling fad of electronic gear changing is that I’ll undoubtedly need another small black box that doesn’t work with anything else. My gadget bag looked like the human genome after all that lot was stuffed within.
Further complications arose as I packed the bikes. A night stop in central Glasgow meant they needed to be locked in the boot out of view. This required bike dismantling, which in turn required that specialist tools be used, and crucially, packed for subsequent reassembly. I found this really frustrating as I attempted to tessellate wheels, frames, saddles and suspension forks into a rectangular boot. They almost fitted about five times. During the sixth attempt to get them in I fetched a lump hammer. Only the combined cost of the two bikes prevented their remodelling.
As usual Helen bore the brunt of my packing frustration. The tally of “Where the f**k is my…” outbursts quickly shot into double figures as I stalked the house attempting to track down cycling accoutrements, guidebooks and things generally right in front of my face. The car filled to comedy proportions. How can a single man have so much stuff? Where does it all come from and what is it for? I’m genuinely envious of prehistoric man and their simple needs. A pointy rock, some fur and a couple of coconut shells in case they encounter Rachel Welsh.
The whole exercise was curtailed by exhaustion rather than completion. Sometime close to midnight there appeared to be more stuff in the car than the house so I assumed everything was in. An assumption I would regret a few days later. Monday morning I trundled out of Swindon and made my way up to the Peak District. My friend Andy had agreed to model for me for a few days and as a result we managed to get some decent shots on the Cat and Fiddle climb. Andy pulled out his best northerner smile for the occasion which southerners like me often mistake for “daggers” but Andy assures me it is a look of glee once one passes the Watford Gap. He’s clearly the Mona Lisa of cycling photography.
The next day we optimistically headed for the Lakes and nailed a few more shots in between dodging deluges of rain. So far things were almost going to plan. The weather could have been kinder, but a decent wind was shuffling the clouds/showers along so we were blessed with sporadic patches of sunshine into which Andy would be despatched. Somewhere close to 4pm we parted and I headed East to Northumberland. I’d decided to use the evening light to compose a few arty self portraits high on Chapel Fell. A 7.30pm sunset meant this was achievable without caning my poor overladen car.
An hour later I was ambling up Hartside when I came upon a lone cyclist pushing his bike up the hill. His head was down, as was his rear tyre. The devil on my left shoulder advised that it was his fault. The light was fading, I didn’t have much time and he should have set out better prepared. Maybe he was fatigued by the climb and had deflated his rear tyre as a visual excuse? I nearly sped past until the angel on my right shoulder made me wind down the window and enquire “Allrightmate?”
The answer was “No”. The lone traveller was a coast-to-coast rider who’d used up all of his patches on a nasty pinch flat. I parked up and we inspected the damage. He’d attempted to plug the hole in his tube with a self adhesive patch combined with puncture repair glue. The tube had somehow been doubled over into the tyre and it all looked a right mess. Empathy flowed as I remembered the years I’d spent bodging puncture repairs. So I offered to replace the tube with one of my spares. I carefully checked his tyre for thorns, carefully set the tube within the tyre, carefully inflated it to 100psi and immediately deflated it as I managed to unscrew the valve inner whilst removing the track pump. Out came the hammer and ten minutes later he was on his way.
A cursory “thanks” along with no offer of compensation for the brand new tube was offered. Clearly motoring samaritans are ten-a-penny in the north. However, the glow of helping a fellow cyclist was payment enough until I summited Chapel Fell just in time to watch the sun line climb up the hill and disappear over the other side. The evening light was gone, I’d missed it by minutes.
So, tail between my legs I skulked off to Scotland. This included a brief diversion to Kirroughtree, a mountain bike trail centre that replete with a mini-Moab section of rocky trail. I’d wanted to ride this for years after experiencing the real thing several times on the Slickrock trail. Rain and severe lack of talent detracted from the experience a little. After dabbing for the hundredth time I was thankful for the lack of other riders able to witness this perfect display of formation mountain bike mincing. I rounded the ride off with a wrong turni down a mile long climb before heading out to Glentrool on a forty mile fire road epic more suitable to my ability.
One day later I reached my most northerly point. Lochinver. Conditions were perfect for cycling photography as late afternoon sunshine threw broody shadows across the rocky Asynt landscape. I parked below Stac Pollaidh, set the camera upon its tripod, attached the remote release sensor and reached for the cable required to attach it to the camera. My hand closed upon empty space. Meanwhile the cable cuddled up to a cute little USB printer connector back in Swindon.
Bumbling isn’t the word for this packing omission. Downright utter incompetence gets closer but is not really strong enough for me. Everything else was in place, the scenery, the light, a functioning bicycle, tripod, the correct cycling attire and a complete lack of motorists to ruin the shots. All I needed was a small thin cable, no longer than six inches in length to relay a message from the sensor to the camera basically saying “NOW”. I made a half hearted attempt to get the shots using the camera self-timer, but Nikon in their infinite wisdom set this to a maximum length of ten seconds. After four shots of my arse heading away from the camera, I gave up and took panoramas instead. The evening was spent alone in a hotel room chanting “You stupid bloody pillock” over and over again.
Things were made worse by the weather forecast. I’d hoped for a week’s worth of Indian summer which would allow me to get pictures done in at least four more locations. But the jet stream had other ideas leaving me with one final day of reliable sun. I decided to nip over to Torridon and ride the Applecross peninsular with my compact camera. This has a thirty second delay on the self-timer, slightly more conducive to arty self portrait. The sunshine obliged once again so I stopped several times using a mini-tripod to catch myself in cycling action. Things seemed to be going well and from what I could see the pictures had turned out OK. I stopped at Applecross for a quick drink and reviewed the pictures I’d taken so far.
All was looking good. Composition seemed fine, nice colours, blue sky and a lovely orange date stamp on the bottom right hand corner. This was taking bumbling to new levels. I’d moved beyond the simple omission of a necessary item, gone through poor weather planning straight into complete inability to operate a necessary work item coupled with total lack of review of output results. I’m currently classed as self employed so took immediate action by dismissing myself on the spot. I subsequently took myself to an industrial tribunal and lost as befits my bumbling nature. The camera sat nervously during this process, unsure whether it was destined to be hurled into the sea. I convinced myself that Photoshop would have a “Remove date stamp from image” menu item and thus set off up the Pass of the Cattle.
Occasionally anger can serve a valid purpose. I used it to beat the climb into submission. The ascent from Applecross to the Bealach Na Ba is 2000 feet high and not very long. It’s a demanding ride, one of the toughest in the UK but the severity passed me by on Saturday. I set about it like an idiot who has just fucked up his photos and soon found myself in the rhythm of a bumbling cyclist determined to at least get one thing right. The metres began to fall as I forgot the poisons left in my legs from the previous day’s ride. The climb gets ever more serious as the height is gained culminating in a long steep twenty percent ramp that leads to a false summit. It didn’t bother me. I just rode at the bloody thing, unleashing frustration upon it, determined to keep a high pace that would see me burst rather than grovel onto the the summit.
Thirty six minutes later, it was done. I reached the summit with all traces of bumbling left beside the road. This was a decent climb, the second best according to Strava and the perfect tonic for a man starting to wonder if anything was destined to go right. I coasted down the other side and returned to the car ready for the long journey back home. On the way I rationalised the bumbling into a positive. I’m not a bad plumber these days mainly because I have made very possible plumbing mistake once. From improperly fluxed solder joints to over tightening compression joints, I’ve done the lot.
It’s the same with my cycling and writing as well. Looking back over the past few days, I may have forgotten some important stuff and cocked up the camera settings but hopefully that won’t happen again. I am a veteran of poorly executed puncture repairs and these days can usually fix anything quickly and effectively. These bumblings must serve some sort of purpose to make me a better cyclist, writer, photographer or person in general. The key is to accept them a little more gracefully than I currently do. Looking at each minor bumble as a learning experience rather than a reason to dig deep into my sack of profanity. I’d just about come to terms with this when I reversed the car into a large rock in a service station car park.
Dave, 23rd September 2012