Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A View Well Earned

I do not subscribe to the notion of "earning" things on the bike. You know - like the idea that you earn a descent by climbing, or you earn a cafe stop by doing a strenuous club ride. Sure it can be rewarding to experience sensual luxuries after bouts of effortful pedaling. But framing things in this way implies there are aspects of cycling that are a chore, only to be done for a reward. I prefer to think of every part of the pedaling experience as rewarding in its own right. There is beauty and pleasure to be gleaned from climbing, even without a breathtaking view at the top. There is satisfaction in pushing against a headwind even without the anticipation of a good hot meal after. That is just my way of thinking. And it has kept me in love with cycling through thick and thin.

Nevertheless... There are times when the cycling gods throw a curveball and even my zennish approach proves insufficient to put a positive spin on things.

I had plotted a route that began in the city of Derry and meandered along quiet back roads of County Donegal just over the border. It was a route I had already done on my own and found nice enough - one small mountain to cross, but nothing too difficult. However on the day I'd first tried it, a fog had set in, obscuring the views of the Foyle and Swilly valleys I had expected to see and making the ride rather bland. So when my Companion expressed an interest in joining me on a repeat attempt one clear afternoon, I took him up on the offer.

"Hmm those look like some tiny wee roads in the middle of nowhere!" he said, having glanced at my map before we set off.

"Oh don't worry, I've vetted this route. It's fine!"

We rode along the scenic bicycle trail on the river Foyle as it led us across the border, then pedaled past flowering fields and through the village of Carrigans, where we stopped for provisions. Finally we were on the sort of empty, endless, lonesome-looking country roads where a dwelling is not to be seen for miles. A couple of sharp turns, and the mountain was upon us, panoramic views awaiting at the top.

We began to climb, the tarmac - the consistency of chipseal at the best of times - feeling rough and loose beneath our narrow tires. It was a tight, narrow climb, of the sort where the lane twists and you do not know what's around the bend until you are there. But more often than not, what awaits you around the bend is an ever-steepening pitch, the gray crumply road, nearly vertical, resembling a castle wall to be scaled.

But the climb was finite. And the pitch, in our lowest gears, was manageable. And with each bend we came around, we knew that we were getting nearer to the top.

It did worry me slightly that I did not recognise my surroundings from having done the same route earlier. I have a very strong visual memory, and usually a sense of familiarity will accompany a climb I'd done before - as if the strain in my legs and the switching of gears become affixed to certain markers in the landscape that I later come to recognise. This time no such recognition was happening. But these mountain backroads can be bland and unmemorable. And besides the last time I was here in a fog.

Somewhere in the distance I could hear the barking of dogs, which surely meant there were farms nearby. Maybe seeing them would jog my memory.

But around the next bend was a scene that I definitely did not recall from my previous journey. Here some half dozen houses were scattered along a near-vertical stretch of the road, separated from one another by what looked to be scrapyards. Surrounded by tall chainlink fences, their rusty gates opened onto the road.

It was then that two realisations hit me simultaneously. First, that whatever this place was, we were not supposed to be there. And second, that the sounds of the barking dogs had been coming from here. And they weren't harmless farm dogs.

No sooner did this thought enter my mind than I saw the unmistakable figures of rottweilers. Entire flocks of them, like crows, were emerging from the depths of the scrap yards, and, practically choking on their own bark and foam, rushing toward the open gates. And that was when the atmosphere of the ride changed from that of a relaxed meander to an all out "fight or flight" adrenaline fest.

Externally, I managed to stay matter-of-fact just long enough to warn my companion some paces behind me - Much in the way I would yell "Car up!" I now yelled "Dooooogs!" while keeping my line of travel steady.

And then it was as if someone had attached a motor to my saddle. Switching into a higher, then again higher, gear, and without any sensation of pain or even strain in my legs, I pedaled up that mountain so fast the blood began to drain out of my head - the sounds of crazed barking, of a mad rattling of chains, and of hefty violent dog bodies being flung against rusty chainlinks spurring me onward.

Faintly I could hear a voice behind me shouting something about the dogs being chained, or trained. "Pay them dogs no heed, only don't stop!"

As if there was any danger of my stopping. I could see plainly that not all of the dogs were chained. And while it's true that something - either training or an invisible fence - must have been holding them back from attacking - it would only take one rottweiler free of such constraints to do serious damage. Nothing has ever encouraged me to cycle up a hill "at pace" faster and with more enthusiasm than this thought, accompanied by glimpses of the creatures' twitching jaws in my peripheral vision.

In this manner I pedaled and pedaled and did not stop, until I'd gone well past the nightmarish little settlement and even the barking itself was no longer audible. Only then did I finally take a breather and turn around.

Some distance behind, my companion was grinding his way up the incline, red in the face from strain and from laughing. "By god, you took off up that hill like a rocket!"

Recovering from escaping the dogs and from being laughed at, I busied myself with studying my GPS map. It was then I discovered we had somehow managed to go off course. Somewhere near the base of the mountain we missed a left turn and were now climbing it a different way than planned (naturally, a longer and steeper way!). The business with the dogs had distracted me from noticing this sooner, and now we were quite a ways up the hill in the wrong direction.

"Sure we'll just retrace our steps then?"

"No way am I going back to those dogs!!!"

My genuine moment of panic was met with the sort of laughter that might be unique to Irish men, for whom teasing women is a form of sport.

We continued pedaling to the top, planning to then descend the mountain and navigate back to a familiar point on the route. I had finally calmed down and was capable of chatting again, and we speculated on the nature of that strange settlement we had stumbled into. A travelers' camp? A "provos" hideout? Our imaginations grew fruitful.

Then at length we reached the peak. And when we saw over the crest, we fell silent. In front of us was a view stunning not just in its beauty but in its sheer unexpectedness. It was not the Foyle and Swilly valleys, but an altogether more distant view: We were looking at the west coast of Donegal, its entire Derryveagh mountain range spread out before us, as if delivered on a platter like some peace offering. There stood the daunting Muckish, with its unmistakeable flat-top shape. And there stood the pointy Errigal, its characteristic strips of quartz near the peak giving it an Alpine, snow-capped appearance. We had not realised we'd get high enough, or close enough, to glimpse this lovely, iconic mountain range in the course of this journey. But the "wrong" road up the mountain led us straight to it.

For some time we stood there - just gazing at the view, nothing else, letting the glory and the vastness of it permeate us before leaving it behind with the inevitable descent. The surprise reveal felt like a well-earned reward. And for once I was okay with thinking of it that way.

26 comments:

  1. Well, certainly there's the fact that bicycling earns one the right to tell their stories. I bore my kids with something after every ride and do it with enthusiasm, or so I think, but in usually ends with 'you had to be there'……It's while I like bikes.

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    1. Oh god. I've been reading older novels. So had to process "bore my kids after every ride" several times before my brain finally readjusted and I stopped picturing you giving birth apres-velo. (Now that would be some story!)

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    2. Oh no - that would be too horrid to imagine :(

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  2. Utterly terrifying, why do people have that kind of dog, let alone a pack. I think you did well not to panic and freeze when confronted by all those Rottweilers. Ugghh!

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    1. I imagine they have that kind of dog precisely in order to terrify : ((

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    2. People keep rottweilers as pets because nature - genetics - grants that dog breed the ability to have a stocky, muscular, and heavy frame. Nurture - how they're treated by people from the time that they're born up through adulthood - determines their temperament. Evidently the dogs in that camp were raised to be very aggressive towards people. I've known many rottweilers in my time working at a local animal shelter, and some of them have exhibited very aggressive behavior, and some of them were the absolute sweetest dogs, friendly to everyone they meet. It's all to do with how they're raised. I've also seen other dog breeds show extreme aggression towards people. Just last night, in fact, walking through the supermarket parking lot, there was a larger dog (maybe a german shepherd) who acted much like the ones in Velouria's story. Fortunately it was restrained by it's owners (though only barely).

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  3. In my youth loose dogs where the bane of any cyclists life, thankfully roads are free of dogs now, one of the few real improvements...

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  4. Wow, that is scary. Especially since, unless you had a great start, likely not to outrun them if loose! That's a thought that makes for sleepless nights.

    Running in countryside past grazing cattle one time; all of a sudden this huge black Brahma bull to my incredulous eyes takes off running directly at me. Talk about picking up the pace. City limits sign never looked so good! Thanks! Jim Duncan

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    1. Did he get loose, or do they not tend to keep them penned up where you live (a terrifying possibility!) ?...

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    2. I had a similar experiencing like this while mountain biking. A large bull came rushing, full speed, down the hill towards a me and a friend while climbing up a gravel road. It was public land that was used for grazing. I somehow went from grinding slowly up in my climbing gear to the big ring and pedaled off up the hill with ease. I wish I could tap into that adrenaline at will.

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    3. Sort of a happenstance thing with shoddy fence maintenance. In this instance, part of fence was down.

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    4. Wish I could tap into it at will as well. But it's nice to know at least that our evolutionary programming is working!

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  5. I am glad you had a safe and even pleasant outcome to this adventure. I think it is good you had someone with you - isolated areas can yield the unexpected - I would have been absolutely terrified in that situation :( Did you ever find out the purpose of that little settlement and the horde of dogs kept there?

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    1. I didn't, and I am still kind of curious. Part of me wants to g back there and take evocative photos of the place. Thankfully another part tells that part to not be stupid and stay the heck away!

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    2. Yes - please stay away - some things are not for knowing. I think you are already a brave young woman, relocating across the world and cycling solo in remote areas - but that place sounds absolutely dreadful.

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  6. Your companion was right. The best way to deal with guard dogs is to ignore them (and their property) make no sudden moves and carry on. Glad this story had a happy ending.

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  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5y3NO8YSow

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  8. And what pray tell are "provos"?

    This story nearly had me in a cold sweat recalling my own encounter with a couple of poorly trained German Shepherds! I evaded them, but only barely. This and a few other incidents were enough to sour my love for quiet country roads.

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    1. Members of the Provisional IRA (alleged to have hideouts in remote locations just over the border).

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    2. Other illegal paramilitary organisations are also available.

      All sorts of dodgy things may be going on in remote locations around the border... fuel laundering, smuggling, counterfeit goods, "chop shops" for stolen cars... The people involved with these activities may also have links to the paramilitaries.

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  9. "I prefer to think of every part of the pedaling experience as rewarding in its own right. There is beauty and pleasure to be gleaned from climbing, even without a breathtaking view at the top. There is satisfaction in pushing against a headwind even without the anticipation of a good hot meal after. That is just my way of thinking. And it has kept me in love with cycling through thick and thin."

    Possibly my favorite paragraph ever read on this blog.

    Pat

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    1. Of course, this is the mantra heard over and over. That said, man, I've so much enjoyed the view from the top after a long climb, or to pause in a headwind and appreciate what I'm up against, or to jump in a stream midday and cool off when the opportunity presents itself, and the best is that meal at the end of the day! Let's celebrate it all, it is, after all a gift. Btw, I've escaped many dogs but a dear friend did not. Many surgeries and years have passed and she's still unable to navigate our surface as she once was. LIfe is a gift, enjoy it and share it.

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  10. "Provos" are Provisional IRA members ... or, the citizens of a city in Utah.

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    1. Just looked it up, and apparently it is also a Dutch (ironically) anarchic movement.

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  11. Saw this today and thought of your post: http://gearjunkie.com/donut-rant

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