A bike ride in the Scottish countryside.
There was a football match on. I could tell because the train was packed. When I arrived at Glasgow Central, it was even crazier.
Fans cheered as they poured off of the trains, while wary station attendants shepherded the crowds through makeshift one-way lanes, trying in vain to prevent traffic jams. I pushed my bike through the crowd, moving against the tide.
My train, which was apparently traveling away from the stadium, was quiet. Quieter still as we rolled out of the city and into the pastoral hills south of Glasgow. After 45 minutes, I disembarked at a station called Dalry. I don’t know anything about Dalry, except that it’s the highest town on the Glasgow–Ayr rail line, and it’s also on the National Cycle Route. From there, it’s largely downhill back to Glasgow.
It took about a minute to get out of the town of Dalry, before I was on a dirt path riding between an abandoned building and the River Garnock. For the next ten minutes, I had a steep climb up to the highest spot on the route — a point on the map labeled Highfield.
There was no town when I got to Highfield, just sweeping views. The trains looked like toys as they rolled through the valley below. I climbed up on a fence and sat down for lunch.
I suppose I’m a little addicted to this feeling. I drive Claire crazy, because every time I see a hill or a staircase I want to climb it. I’m like a dog with a squirrel. I love the view. But, more than that, I love the feeling. I’ve always been chasing that feeling. It’s the feeling like you’re on top of the world; or at the edge of the world. Like you’re at the end of things.
I was happy while I ate my lunch, sitting on top of a fencepost on top of a hill. Then I got back on my bike. The next section of the ride was mostly downhill on one-track roads. It reminded me of dreamy catalogues my sister used to order for expensive European cycling tours when we were kids. I felt like I was pedaling through the pages of one of those catalogues all on my own.
After about a half-hour, I got off of the country road and onto a paved cycling path through Clyde Muirshiel Park. At this point, the route leveled off as I rode along an old rail bed that passed a series of lochs.
This is where the ride started to get hard. Riding on level ground for hours is more challenging that I expected. I didn’t get sore, but I started to feel the tedium.
I stopped regularly to take in the scenery. But rainclouds gathered as I rode. My weather app constantly reported rain starting in the next 30 minutes or so, and I was harried by patches of drizzle. I had brought gloves with me, but at some point I had dropped them, so now I pressed on with bare hands. At about two-thirds of the way through the ride, I passed through a small village. On the map, I saw a tea room and bakeshop, and I considered stopping to rest and recover. But the rain clouds warned me that if I delayed I would ride home in a downpour. If I pushed forward, I might stay ahead of the rain. So I kept going.
After winding through the the final traces of forest, the path disgorged me onto a city street in Paisley, next to Glasgow. Leaving the path onto the gravelly roadway, I took a wide turn to avoid a jogger. Oh fuck I said as I felt my wheels slip on the gravel and slide out from under me.
I hit the ground, landing on my hands first. I laid on the ground like it was on purpose. I knew I was okay, but I wanted to rest here for a minute. You okay? the jogger called as he bound over. Yeah I’m fine. I said. He reached out his hand and I accepted it, a little resentful that I had to get up. As I reached out, we both looked at my palms, caked with blood and gravel. You gonna be alright? he asked. Yeah, I’m just gonna find somewhere to get myself cleaned up.
My hands looked bad, but my mind felt fine. I locked my bike up outside a steakhouse, where the hostess let me use the bathroom. I scrubbed my hands for about ten minutes to get as much of the gravel out of my scrapes as possible. The bathroom only had an air dryer, so I had no paper towel or plasters to stop the bleeding.
Paisley has a train station, so I had reached a juncture. I could keep pedaling for the remaining hour of the ride, or I could just hop on a train back to Glasgow Central and then transfer to the train home, which would also take an hour. I wanted to keep going.
I gripped my handlebars with my thumb and fingers to protect my abraded palms, and I proceeded through Paisley. To my surprise, the path road right through the train station. As I crossed the platform on my bike, I looked at the departure board. The next train to Glasgow Central left in five minutes. No, I thought. I’m going to finish this ride.
After the train station, the path rode up a steep hill through a park, and then down into the leafy suburbs between Glasgow and Paisley. I was only a few minutes past the train station when my legs started complaining. All of a sudden, I couldn’t ride uphill. Every time the path inclined, I had to get off my bike and walk. A little later, flat ground became almost impossible. My legs hurt when they weren’t even moving. I had to keep them slowly rotating on the pedals.
Signposts guided me toward Pollok Park, which is next to my house — only, instead of helping, they taunted me with nonsensical milestones. Pollok Park 3 miles, a sign would say. Two minutes later, Pollok Park 2 miles, and I would grin with relief. Ten minute later, Pollok Park 1.5 miles, and I would moan with despair. Pollok Park 1 mile, a sign would say, beckoning me forward. Pollok Park 2 miles, the next one proclaimed, gaslighting me.
This was a terrible idea I thought to myself. I’m never going to want to get on my bike again.
At Pollok Park, I gave up on cycling. I took my time walking through the park, and then through the residential streets back to my apartment, occasionally getting back on my bike to pedal for a moment before surrendering again.
I hoisted my bike up the stairs to my apartment and dropped my backpack and jacket on the floor. I ran the bath. I boiled the kettle. I ate a whole packet of crackers with store-bought hummus. My faithful legs carried me through these motions, trembling and groaning. This is it. I thought. This is the end of the world.
I went into the bathroom, where the steaming bathtub was now half-full. I stepped in, gripped the edges, and lowered myself in. The bubble bath baptized me, and I was born again. The pain in my legs disappeared. My exhaustion evaporated. I laid my head against the rim of the tub and laughed out loud to myself. That was amazing I thought, getting high on a flood of endorphins. I can’t wait to do it again.