I got back on a bike after an absence of over a decade just last year. I don't get the chance to ride as much as I'd like, and when I do it's a gentle pootle rather than full-on time attack.
"The mountain bike version of a short stroll? That's the ticket! Yes please!"
But I'd always fancied the Big Country Ride around the Galloway Forest, billed as an all-day ride.
It's an area of the world I love, and promised some stunning scenery. It also promised some serious hours in - and out of - the saddle. From the 7 Stanes website:
"Don’t be misled by the absence of technical singletrack, as this is a challenging day in the saddle, with testing climbs and big descents."
Yeah, they weren't kidding.
With nothing more than a healthy dose of optimism, and an all-time off-road maximum of ten-miles-in-one-day, yesterday was the day I decided, foolhardily, to give it a go. I'd never contemplated anything this difficult before; my much fitter friend's advice, delivered on drive down to Glentrool, that I should mentally prepare myself was perhaps a little more chilling than he meant it to be.
The weather was glorious, and the first 20 km was relaxed, easy, and fast, as we spun along merrily before a juice stop and the opportunity for Chris to have a fiddle with his wheels (the boy loves to fiddle).
The very definition of false sense of security; the world suddenly got steeper.
We climbed and climbed, until it felt like there was no more 'up' to go. Then whizzed down avoiding sheep and logging trucks. Then more climbing. Then more whizzing.
We took a lunch break at the side of the Black Loch, after a missed turning that - unbeknownst to your hapless blogger at the time - added an extra 5 km to the route, but did let us wave hello to some wild goats who were plainly more at ease in the hills than I.
We lunched in the shadow of 'The Eye' - a pointy tile structure sitting on the banks of the loch; the spy hole at its base didn't reveal any hidden mystical truths, at least not to me.
After snacking on fruit, water and a Cadbury's Mini Egg nest, we got back on our trusty aluminium steeds and climbed. Slowly. We were overtaken by a camper van, and I thought for a second about grabbing onto the ladder at the back for a cheeky tow.
And so it went on. Pain in my legs, thighs burning so even the downhills hurt. Pain in my ass, that oh-so-important and tender contact point.
But I wasn't going to give up. Not that I could; my chauffeur had the day off and my private helicopter was getting serviced. I had to keep going, and I was rewarded with some simply stunning scenery that I would never otherwise see.
I snapped a few photos that simply don't do justice to the views we witnessed, like the image of Loch Dee (top picture). I bagged my second Stane, the Giant's Axe Head Stane, pictured right (read about my first Stane, too).
This 1.5 ton sculpture overlooks Loch Dee and resembles neolithic stone axes found in the area.
The runic text inscribed onto its top surface I quickly translated as "Bet your legs hurt, GeekBoy. What were you thinking of? Oh, and by the way, the website lied, there's loads more climbing to do."
Finally, I was greeted with the welcome sight of my car where I'd left it six hours and a lifetime ago. With the ride complete I'm quite proud of myself. Five and a half hours for over 62 km (nearly forty miles) mostly off road. And I didn't fall off (which I do a lot), and didn't puncture (which I do even more).
Yes, it's been done faster, and yes, I pushed some of the horrible final hills, but this was a personal challenge for a nearly-forty-something long-time couch-dweller.
It was a day out on my mountain bike, doing what I wanted to do and, for a short while, I was master of my own pain-filled destiny. And that, dear readers, will always be a good thing.