In 1932, Amelia Earhart ignored social convention and strong northerly winds to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean as a feeble female.
In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay battled freezing conditions and the need for oxygen, conquering Everest for the first time in recorded human history.
In 2013, 9000 people cycled bravely over 47 miles from Glasgow to Edinburgh, narrowly avoiding potholes, dog walkers and early onset haemorrhoids.
Now, I’m not trying to equate some of the world’s finest and bravest expeditions with a 75 kilometre cycle on a sunny September morning, but stick with me here because it’s all about adventure.
Adventure: you know, the thing that made you climb that rickety ladder or jump out of a plane with little regard for safety – your own or the poor buggers’ on the ground.
I’m utterly convinced that, for humans, a sense of adventure is a given. We’re born with it: it’s how we learn, evolve, and end up with coins up our nose and singed fingers as curious toddlers. Without it, we wouldn’t travel to interesting places, we wouldn’t eat anything from street vendors, and we certainly wouldn’t perch atop a vindictively hard saddle for an entire day to battle the Central Belt’s unforgiving hills and even-less-forgiving traffic.
I’m a very inexperienced cyclist. I sat on a bike for the first time less than a year ago and fell off about a second later. I’ve pretty much been working the same pattern ever since. But when Cycling Scotland first broached the subject of Paula Must Try Pedal for Scotland, optimism smothered logic with a bag full of sunshine, and I carelessly agreed. As the event rolled ever closer though, and my cycling progress trundled to a halt, logic made a strong recovery and I was forced to consider the challenge I’d hastily accepted. After about five minutes of consideration and a handful of Kalms, I pushed concern aside, bought some heavily-padded cycling trews and filled in the next of kin form.
I believe that’s how all good adventures begin.
On Sunday 8th September then, Gerry and I donned helmets and packed plasters, and headed fearlessly into the world of road cycling with a horde of pros, enthusiasts and fellow beginners. Okay, scratch ‘fearlessly’, I don’t think I breathed out for the first four miles but, in my defence, I’d only ever ventured two-wheeled onto the terror that is our road network twice before – with varying success. Entering into the spirit of the occasion – and realising that we couldn’t fit two bikes into a car – we even cycled from home to the Glasgow Green start line, using mainly back streets and park pathways to avoid the inevitable Sunday morning drivers meandering forth with all the care and attention of a rabid chinchilla. Between their blissful ignorance and my erratic manoeuvres, distance seemed like the best solution.
On arrival at the Lycra-heavy Green, it was instantly clear that my starting and stopping issues could be problematic. I should explain: I’m wobbly at the most stable of occasions – put me on a jumble of wheels and gears and I’m like Mr. Soft on a bouncy castle. Add in thousands of excited velophiles and there’s no telling what could happen but, at a guess, it will probably include calamity.
Luckily, the kind people at Cycling Scotland foresaw this potential showstopper and signed us up for the Corporate Challenge. Now, I’m not normally a queue jumper. I stand in the longest of lines, muttering under exasperated breath like every other repressed Scot. But, to my shame, not this time. I’m not going to lie, the carb-loaded lunch, free transport home and promise of a shower and wardrobe change on sweaty arrival in Edinburgh were greatly appreciated, but it was the benefit of a priority start that really saved my skin that day – and the skin of every other cyclist who would have landed in a heap around my mangled carcass had I not been allowed to skirt the crowds and shoogle across the start line in my own inimitable fashion.
And off we went, on our own quest among a swarm of fellow explorers, waging war against the pitted tarmac and mountainous terrain. An unlikely battalion were we: our weapons lightweight frames and skinny tyres, our defences plastic headgear and luminous waterproofs. But on we surged, through city sprawl and rural splendour, pausing only at the four organised feed stations to stretch wearied legs, reshape square bums and relieve ourselves of the electrolyte-based fluids coursing through our systems.
By the time we reached the glorious finish point, pitch-side in Murrayfield Stadium, around eight hours later, we were weary, hungry and carrying a few war wounds. But somehow, the only emotion filtering from brain to surface was pride. Sure, I clambered off my bike a few times to tackle particularly steep hills on foot, and, yes, I almost hit a stationary vehicle at one point, only narrowly escaping the taste of windscreen, but I also travelled 47 whole miles under my own steam using a skill that I’ve held for barely two percent of my life.
Pedal for Scotland epitomises that low level adventure in which anyone can take part – old, young, disabled and able-bodied alike. Even a plucky beginner with less balance than a squid on a seesaw can pin a number to her chest and feel like Columbus for the day.
Adventure is out there, lurking just beneath the crippling minutiae of life. Whether it be swimming with manatees, breaking the tiger-tickling record or traversing the Upper Shire road with a band of merry dwarves for companionship, everyone’s adventure is different. Just don’t pass up on yours when it leaves its mark on your front door.