Raindrops on trailers and toddlers in mittens
It’s a long time since I pulled a toddler in a trailer up a hill, but the sensation hasn’t changed. It’s just as painful a business as ever, both mentally and physically. The only difference is it’s not my kid in the trailer today; it’s my 3 year old niece.
She’s having a lovely time though, warm, dry and asleep with her blankie in the back. Hannah and I, on the other hand, are on the tandem, pulling her up Lythe Fell. And we’re cold, wet and tiring of climbing, climbing, climbing.
A mini expedition cycling the Trough of Bowland
Cameron, Hannah and I are on a 3 day mini biking expedition with my sister and her two young kids. It’s familiar and unfamiliar; a family adventure of a different kind – a biking cousin fest. Me, my sister and two kids from each family, cycling the Trough of Bowland. Kirstie and Matthew are away in Spain and my sister’s husband has vowed never to cycle tour with toddlers again.
But it’s not quite the relaxing, sunny cycling experience we envisaged. The Forest of Bowland in North Lancashire is beautiful, in fact it’s recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but I just don’t seem able to take it in, not with the weather and terrain challenging us as they are.
When will it end?
“When is this hill going to end Dad?” asks Hannah,from behind me on the tandem.
I can’t think of anything encouraging to say. I can feel her tiredness; the absence of power from a stoker is very obvious to a tired captain. But there’s no point complaining. Not while she’s not complaining about the cold and the rain. This was supposed to be an early summer ride but conditions are more like they were for our winter walk in the Lakes, and the gloves and coats are back out.
A journey back in time
It’s funny to have a toddler in a trailer at the back again. Makes me realise how things have changed for us in our family. My niece is the age Cameron was when we cycled across New Zealand with our two in trailers. Sometimes I wonder how we ever did that, or if we really did. Travel is so transient. For all the wonder and intensity of the experience at the time, it’s soon just a memory. Although it does seem like the greater the pain, the stronger the memory.
I’ll probably remember this little outing for a while then. Cameron is up ahead of me, forging up the hill on his own new bike, proudly proving he’s ready to give up the tandem and go solo this summer. I gave him the heavy panniers this morning to try and slow him down but it’s made little difference to his performance. He’s impressive, mentally and physically, and it makes me feel old.
Feel my pain
I can feel the strain and some pain in my knees. It’s the first time I’ve noticed that and it plays on my mind. Is it the start of the end of my cycling career? In the wind and rain I struggle to keep negative thoughts at bay; “How long will this go on? Why is the weather so depressing? Why did we come this way? What is the point of this anyway? Why can’t I be the one in the trailer? Why doesn’t Hannah put some effort in?”
This was supposed to be a training ride for Cameron, a chance for me to check out if he’s up to riding solo on our Balkans expedition this summer, but turns out it has me questioning my own readiness. If I’m struggling with the tandem and trailer on a few fells in Lancashire how will I cope with the heat and the hills in the Dinaric Alps? And do I really want to? And why is it always me pulling the heaviest load and carrying the passengers?
Can the pleasure erase the pain?
The older I get the less I think our cycling journeys are actually about cycling. That’s just a clean, green and special way of experiencing the world and getting to interesting places. Perhaps that’s why when the cycling feels too hard or gets boring I find myself irritated by it. Or am I just becoming a grumpy old man?
It’s a wild ride up and over the top of Lythe fell and a fast descent down to Bentham and onto Ingleton. It’s only a 16 mile ride but it’s taking us all day. Still my spirit is lifted as we coast downhill to the sound of the curlew’s soulful song. We stop to play in green meadows and stir up splashes of buttercup yellow. We take vintage tea in an old English Tea Shop with pink knitted tea cosies and Gran’s finest china. How quickly a few simple pleasures can erase a little pain.
So sometimes it rains and sometimes the wind blows. Sometimes we go up and sometimes we go down. Sometimes the sun comes out and sometimes I feel almost positively me again. That’s England. That’s cycle touring. That’s life.