My husband picked up his bike and hooked it over his head, across his shoulders.
Oh dear lord, this was not going to be pretty! He loves cycling uphill, the gnarlier the better!
We’d set off on the hottest, most humid day of the year so far (I’d been told that the warm winds we were having hailed from the Sahara Desert). Even the gentle road section to get here was an energy sapping epic in this heat. Now we’d arrived at the base of Walna Scar Road….the Duddon end.
A guy on the campsite had told me that the bottom part of this lane was a loose, chossy pile of rocks…..and that I’d be “going some” if I managed to cycle up without putting a foot down. Funny that! Looking at the big loose rocks, it never even entered my mind to stay on my bike.
Some time later (it felt like hours), still pushing my bike, I was not feeling my best.
My clothes were a damp, sticky mass of material. My hair was plastered to my face, which incidentally was the colour of a ripe raspberry. The heat meant that I needed to stop for a breather every few minutes. My arms and legs were aching from the effort of pushing my bike over what was becoming an endless trudge. To add insult to injury, my husband was merrily plodding away, seamlessly without effort, some distance ahead.
I spied 2 walkers up ahead, coming towards me. I steeled myself.
The greeting that such a situation usually generates is something along the lines of:
“won’t he wait for you?”
“you’ve nearly caught him”
“you’re doing well”
“you’re nearly there”
“that looks tough”
“can’t you catch him”
All washed down with a little laugh. In my kinder moments, I know that the comments are well-meant, intending to motivate, encourage and make me laugh. However, being generally slow uphill (and incidentally being ok about my husband going at his pace and letting me get on with my own), I constantly hear such quips and so they often come across as pitying, patronising and frankly irritating. However, I usually just smile sweetly (grimace) and let them go on their way.
So, fully expecting some similarly motivating words, I plastered my “hello, I’m really ok, there’s no need to feel sorry for me” smile on my face in readiness to swallow my flagging pride at being so unfit that even when pushing my bike I was lagging behind.
The response I received was one so utterly different that I could have hugged the man, right there and then, sweaty clothes be damned!
All he said was a simple “I love your smile”
That was it!
No patronising words of encouragement, or humorous exchange over being left behind. No friendly conversation over the intense heat and humidity. No bland exchange of platitudes about the wonderful scenery.
Just 4 simple words, which brought an even bigger (and genuine) smile to my face, giving me more motivation to keep pushing my bike up that hill than almost anything else he could have said. Ok, I grant you, the promise of a teapot of the finest tea and a cool ice cream just around the corner might have had slightly more effect.
So I made it to the top of Walna Scar Road, feeling physically spent but basking in the loveliness of a stranger.
After such a lousy start, I expected the rest of the ride in contrast to be a joyful, undulating, amazing off-road experience. Sadly, on that day, it was not to be.
The route description suggested “occasional bogs” on several sections. Bearing in mind the amount of dry weather we’d been having, we were surprised to come across big muddy wet sections. We were forced to re-interpret “occasional bogs” to read “always boggy unless there is a long period of drought”.
Another section was classed as a downhill, with the statement “does the joy never end”. Having failed to understand why it could be classed as a downhill section when pedaling uphill, we aptly (imho) re-worded the statement to “does the joy ever begin”, essentially summing up the whole ride for me in that one sentence.
By the time we returned to the campsite, I was tired, overheated, sore and disappointed. I am humble enough to admit that the heat and humidity may have adversely affected my enjoyment, or that I was just having an off-day, but still it is not a route I plan to repeat any time soon.
The highlight of the day was throwing myself in the river at the end of the ride to cool off. Pure bliss for my sore legs in the frigid jacuzzi waterfall.
That, and the walker who commented on my smile.
Thank you that man, whoever you are.
You made my day!