“It’ll be a bit tight,” he said, his forefinger and thumb thoughtfully playing with the micro goatee nestling in yesterday’s 5 o’clock shadow on his chin.
“You need to allow an hour and a half for the north shore so if you get to the dam by 2pm you’d be better returning that way if you want to have lunch and then be back here by half 4,” he went on, referring to his watch.
“Oh,” I replied, “I’d hoped we could do the whole circuit in that time, right round the reservoir.”
His fingers went back to the goatee and he pursed his lips, sucking in a sharp breath over his teeth.
“No,” he said, shaking his head, “the south shore is much longer. You won’t manage it in time.”
I wasn’t quite sure how he could predict this, standing as I was in full cycling kit in front of him. Maybe I came into his category of a woman with “All the gear, no idea”?
“Oh,” I repeated, a little crestfallen. I’d persuaded Jonathan to come along for an afternoon of mountain biking along the lakeshore path at Kielder and the plan had been to go all the way round with lunch enroute.
“Don’t worry Mum,” Jonathan interrupted. “We’ll get to the dam and then just return the same way. It’ll be fine.”
I nodded an OK and, as we now had the clock ticking, looked expectantly at Goatee Man to point us in the direction of the bikes we had hired from his shop. He didn’t take the cue, preferring to give us a detailed guided tour of the map of the North Shore and the various sculptures we could see on the way. He finally walked us out to the bikes, got the seats adjusted and then embarked on relaying tales of his recent mountain bike trip along the West Highland Way.
“Yes,” he said proudly, “We did 60km one day. I think that’s why my knee is complaining today.” He rubbed it ruefully.
I wasn’t convinced that we would see even 6km at this stage, still standing as we were, outside the bike hire shop. We were finally allowed to leave and, after picking up final bits of our kit at the car, we headed downhill past Kielder Castle in search of the North Lakeshore Path.
I haven’t been near my own 2 wheels for a while and I can’t recall the last time I was on a mountain bike. It took a while to get used to feet that weren’t clipped to pedals as well as having arms stretched wide across the straight handlebars. The cycling equivalent of being thrown in at the deep end, I clicked up and down gears and did little more than breathe on the intensely sharp disc brakes to slow down as the path wound generally upwards with some twists and turns thrown in for good measure. Jonathan grumbled his way along in front of me, the gym’s green grass being eminently preferably to our biking side of the fence. He set quite a pace as a result; the dam and lunch in his sights as we ate up the hilly miles under clearing blue skies.
After ten miles of gravel track, we flew across the dam road, thick tyres thrumming on the tarmac and refuelled at the Tower Knowe centre. We had got to the dam in good time and I had already decided that I didn’t wish to return by the same route; it was way too much effort!
Lunch, and that lime and courgette cake, had its usual transformative effect on our energy and motivation levels and I explained to Jonathan that, whilst the South Shore may be a few miles longer, it was relatively flatter.
By this time too, I had warmed up. It takes an hour or so in the saddle, to persuade my muscles to cooperate fully and it is my lower back that invariably complains the loudest, especially on any climb. After around 10 miles, it and I have usually come to an arrangement and I am then free to cycle as far as I wish.
We settled to the easier path and skimmed over the tracks, the tyres returning to their comforting snap, crackle and pop sound of milk on Rice Krispies. The views came and went, iridescent blues tableclothing yacht cruet sets. The tail end of the morning’s cloud disappeared eastwards, unveiling a washed sapphire sky canopying the emerald, jade and tourmeline forest below. We rode at speed, in and out of shadows, up zigzag inclines, over bridges, past chocolate and doggy treats stashes at charity walk refreshment points and over sunlit summits. We hailed and thanked walkers as we eased by on the shared use paths and glared at any dogs considering leaping under our wheels.
A chap stood in the middle of the path, his camera lens pointing into the forest. His partner sat silently to one side, resting on her bike. I was intrigued by two things; what was he looking at and why was he on an e-bike. Jonathan and I had noticed that, of all the couples and families we had seen cycling around the reservoir, it was the man who had an electric bicycle while women and children bowled along on standard hard tail mountain bikes.
“What have you noticed?” I asked the chap, who was now looking at the image he had just captured on the screen at the back of his Canon.
“I follow a professional photographers group Facebook page,” he explained, “It’s just for inspiration really. I’m only an amateur. The shots of sun through trees are always popular but I’ve never been anywhere where I could take a similar photo. Until now”.
He gestured towards the sunshine playing through the canopy onto the mossy woodland floor. The light was beautiful. I agreed with him that it was a perfect spot to capture.
“So, I’m curious,” I went on, “why aren’t you both on e-bikes?”
His partner had the slightly dishevelled look and glow of a woman who had been putting in some effort whereas he clearly hadn’t broken sweat.
“Oh, I’m not a cyclist,” he said, “it’s not my thing at all. I did promise to cycle without the battery but I’ll be honest, I’ve used it a couple of times.”
Glowing Lady and I exchanged a despairing look and smiled. However, lipstick still intact, she looked radiant and it was fairly obvious why he was giving it his best shot.
“Well, I’m delighted that you’re having a go anyway,” I responded to Canon Man, “It’s a wonderful way to see the forest and you’ve got a long-awaited photo too. Can’t be bad!”
By this time, Jonathan had returned to find me, aware that I was no longer on his tail. It was time to go so we left the couple packing up the camera and headed off along the last section of our route.
“It appears that the e-bike is the difference between cycling and not cycling,” I explained to my son.
“Ah, so they’re not wet wipes then? Good effort.” he wryly admired.
I had wondered if it had been financially prudent to hire bikes when we both had our own suitable cycles. However, as our legs muttered about the final hill past the castle on our mud encrusted steeds, I felt that the rental cost had been worth every cleaning penny. We arrived at the bike shop earlier than planned but Goatee Man made no comment nor did he enquire after our day. Jonathan and I wore satisfied smiles up to the car and eased tired limbs out of our proudly acquired brown spattered kit.
It transpired later that I had nailed the quickest and only women’s time round the 24 mile reservoir route and sat in 6th place overall out of 33 riders. At 34 mins behind the fastest man set in November 2015, I think Jonathan could have taken that crown too if I’d let him off the sociable biking reins. It was an unexpected surprise and the icing on the proverbial cake of a sunny day.
Thank you, Jonathan, for reluctantly agreeing to a last minute random biking idea. I had a lovely time. But, having watched you swiftly empty my fridge in the previous 48 hours, I’d say it was a fair trade.