Perfect Days, Perfect RidesFrom The Field
A Fori-Fuelled Microadventure
Words and Photography: Tom Hill
It was only 09.00 and my bike was already wearing a groove across the top of my back and shoulders. I paused for breath, and to allow the lactic acid to flush from my legs. Leaving the bike hanging where it was – the effort of placing it down and then picking it back up again being greater than that of leaving it be – I stood up straight, raised my head and scanned the thin but distinct line that we would be taking to the summit of Goat Fell. The highest point on the Isle of Arran hits above its diminutive height in terms of visual impact. I carefully turned around, allowing the change of gradient under my feet to stretch out my calf muscles. The view behind me was no less spectacular.
The day had dawned clear and cold, with frost creeping across shady grass. It was late March, though, and the sun brought with it real heat, causing a soft mist to form above the sea from which we had started our climb. Meanwhile the sky remained the purest of azure blue. Days like these are rare. My stomach rumbled; our early breakfast now felt like a long time ago. It was time to stop properly, enjoy being in this amazing place and load up on some much-needed fuel.
24 hours ago, I was still sitting at my desk, trying to concentrate on finishing off those work tasks that couldn’t possibly wait until after the weekend. But my mind was already elsewhere. After leaving the trusty AdventureVan at Ardrossan harbour, we boarded the first Caledonian MacBrayne ferry of Saturday morning with little more than a change of clothes and our bikes. The ferry journey not only gave us the opportunity to stock up on really bad coffee and lorne sausage butties, but also granted us the perfect vantage point to view our day’s objective: from the harbour town of Brodick to the forests that flank Goat Fell, then the open mountain above. A light covering of snow remained on the tops and in gullies, another reminder that we were still in early spring.
Arriving before the few cafés and shops on Arran had opened, there seemed little point hanging around. Time to saddle up and head up; but not before we followed the coast road north to the start of our trail. As we paused to bask in the sunshine, we found ourselves accompanied by a couple of seals doing likewise, a few metres offshore. It would have been oh-so-easy to sit there and watch them all day. It was the first time this year that we had felt true warmth from the sun and it was an overwhelming pleasure not to feel the need to keep moving to maintain body heat. The stresses and strains of the week had already evaporated and the ride had barely begun. Nonetheless, we were there to ride and after another few minutes enjoying the calm of our new playground we moved on, pointing tyres at dirt and climbing away from the shore.
It didn’t take long for the climb to become steep enough to make pedalling impossible. Lifting bikes across shoulders, we began the slow plod uphill, accepting the inevitable hard work in the knowledge that we were in a beautiful place and our toil would be repaid in the hours to come. There is a definite art to hike-a-bike. First, one must find the right technique. Modern full-suspension bikes do not allow for the classic arm-through-the-frame-and-casually-slung-across-a-shoulder-like-a-jacket technique. It was never very good anyway; the bike swings around too much and ends up applying a lot of pressure to a single shoulder. Much better is to lift the bike up and over your head, with the downtube resting across both shoulders (or even the top of your riding pack) as if you were squatting a barbell. Done well, the weight is spread and the bike is stable enough to remove both hands. Ultimately, though, bikes are not made to be carried. After a while, the frame will niggle, the weight will become more noticeable and legs will tire. Hike-a-bike sucks.
Slow and steady progress is still progress. We left the sea behind, making our way up a tight trail through grass still brown and grey after a long winter, easily stepping around or over occasional patches of snow – but it was clear that soon we would be kicking through the white stuff. It was time to pause, turn and take in the view, and eat some food. In normal circumstances, I’d have been reaching for a packet of sweets purchased from the petrol station the day before, or if I’d been a little more organised, maybe some chorizo, nuts or cheese. There was a time that I’d munch on energy bars, but over the years I’ve stopped enjoying most – preferring either a quick sugar hit, or savoury ‘real food’. Today, I was trying something a little different. Fori Bars are savoury snack bars, combining free-range meat and egg whites with seeds and spices. The end result sits somewhere between chorizo, jerky and a savoury granola bar. There’s some logic to the formula. A focus on protein means that the bars are a slow-burn fuel, without the spikes and troughs of energy that a handful of jelly babies can give. This makes real sense for long, low-intensity days in the mountains. Even better, the execution is good. The bars are perfect for leaving in a pack ready for when you need them.
Fuelled up and with the summit ridge in sight, we trudged up the final steep ramp. We made quicker progress by kicking steps in soft snow and seeking the dry rock poking beyond the rapidly melting blanket. Our reward was the sweeping majesty of the north Arran mountains. Rocky and craggy, they appeared more alpine than I’d expected and I yearned to play on the innumerable faces and pinnacles. Another time. We still had a summit to find, and a descent to revel in. Despite only 100m of height still to be gained, it took us almost as long as the climb so far. Scrambling over and around snow-covered rocks was challenging enough, but bikes made it significantly harder and riskier. Cleated riding shoes felt precarious; we had to move slowly and carefully. There were occasions when we resorted to abandoning our two-wheeled anchors, scoping a line of weakness, to then return and pass bicycles between us, over boulders and above precipitous drops. Fortunately the sky remained clear, the sun warm and there was not a breath of wind, despite the complete lack of shelter.
Movement wasn’t easy, but we made progress. Finally standing on the summit, treated to 360º views of the island and beyond, we could pause once again and simply enjoy being in this wonderful place. Others joined us for the first time all day, and we took pleasure in their incredulity at our bikes. Sometimes we forget that we enjoy the mountains in different ways. We were all enjoying our chosen form of play, though, making the most of the perfect conditions and seemingly endless day.
Sitting above our route off the mountain and once again filling stomachs in preparation for the way down, we could trace the sinuous descent all the way back to Brodick and a cold bottle of Arran Brewery beer. We lost ourselves in the thrills that were to come, made sweeter by the effort needed to attain them. Perfect days are rare. Perfect rides are rarer. Somehow, the two had coincided and it was time to make the most of it.
Fori Bars are a meat-based savoury alternative to over-processed and sweet-tasting snack bars. High in protein and paleo inspired, they’re made from the finest grass-fed or free-range meat, dried fruit and seeds, using age-old techniques to provide superior sustenance. Currently available to buy in four flavours from www.fori.co.uk and get 20% off any order using the code SIDE20 (expires 01/06/17).