Words by #TeamRutland member Clare Connelly
#TeamRutland ambassadors Clare & Antoine reside in Scottish Highlands, with a host of top trails on their doorstep! See Clare's first steps into MTB riding below aboard her Trek Remedy
I have long been a die-hard road biker. Ever since an unfortunate flying-over-the-handlebars incident resulting in broken bones aged 8 I have struggled to see the appeal of mountain biking. Dangerous, muddy and slow I had written it off completely as a sport. So imagine my horror when, on the second day of a three month 'road cycling' tour, the tarmac abruptly stopped not to be seen again for several weeks. There were tears, tantrums and almost daily threats of flying home from the next airport (thankfully this was always far enough of a detour to be prohibitive). I was completely unprepared for off-road cycling - I had no technique, no confidence and absolutely no suspension. But luckily my other half and trip companion is a very talented mountain biker and managed to muster heroic levels of patience and encouragement in spite of tough conditions, sleep deprivation and the companion from Hell. He taught me simple techniques- probably so simple that you would laugh at me for not knowing- but even just knowing I could stick my foot out ready to catch me if I fell while descending was a revelation.
Slowly I began to see an improvement. It was very slow in fact, and I still had melt-downs most afternoons as the cumulative fatigue of the cycling and the incessant concentration caught up with me, but I was definitely getting better. I fell most days, and I cried most of those times- mostly out of self-pity and a sense of injustice. But each time I fell I think I realised a little more that it wasn't really that bad. I had bruises on top of bruises, and my panier bags were smashed to pieces, but I had no serious injuries. On top of that I was beginning to have more highs, more moments when I realised that we were literally lost in the mountains- we crossed dirt roads that were still closed to cars because of the snow, we went for days without seeing another living soul and we were constantly surrounded by stunning mountain vistas. We had found the wildness and solitude that I had been yearning for, and I could never have done it on a road bike.
The moment I realised I had fallen in love with mountain biking (or off-road biking I guess, since I wasn't actually on a mountain bike) was in a lost valley in the north of Pakistan. We had come through the West of China on glorious tarmac roads and I guess my spirit had restored itself after the first (long!) stretch of gruelling off-road. We turned off the pristine surface of the Pakistani half of the Karakoram Highway onto a bumpy, rocky dirt road and suddenly I felt... excited. I enjoyed the challenge of going down the difficult descents. I didn't fall, and most amazingly that late-afternoon crisis never came. It was a three day out and back tour, with a break for some hiking in the middle) and I almost matched Antoine's speed up and down. I enjoyed every moment of it and suddenly I found myself asking Antoine if he would take me mountain biking when we got home.
Thanks to Rutland who sorted us out with two great Trek bikes, we hit the trails as soon as we got home and I fell in love. The short, sharp climbs that get your heart racing; the new turning technique that felt nearly as good as carving down the slopes but most of all the freedom to go wherever you desire. I've come late to the sport, I have a lot to learn but I am converted. I am a mountain biker now through-and-through and I can only apologise to my new-found love for all those terrible misconceptions that I carried around for all those years.
Want to see more from Clare and Antoine? Click here to see their bikepacking trip through Central Asia & Pakistan
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