After a winter of commuting torpor, the lighter evenings thankfully mean that I’m able to ride my bike into work again a couple of times each week, and I’m trying to do it whatever the weather.
That’s the plan – but a bleary eyed look out of the window yesterday morning was almost enough to send me back under the covers. Dartmoor was again serving up it’s regional speciality of horizontal drizzle with a side order of icy fog. Lovely.
After some cajoling from my better half who (rather unfairly) prescribed a double dose of MTFU, I stuck on some extra clothing layers and jumped on the bike anyway. I took the longest, steepest route to the office and arrived there 40 minutes later freezing cold, caked in mud from head to toe, but with a huge grin on my face and feeling ready to face the day, despite having ground my disk brake pads down to the bare metal in the frankly ridiculous riding conditions.
It’s been a hectic week work-wise, and this was definitely the highlight, and it set me thinking that it was another one of those memories defined by the inclement weather.
See, the fact is that when I think back to some of our adventures over the years, very few of my fondest memories play out under a cloudless blue sky and some of my best experiences of the outdoors have been in less than perfect weather.
There was the bike tour of the Western Isles where he had to pedal downhill on heavily laden bikes, such was the force of the gale we were riding into on the Isle of Harris… and the 40 minute paddle out at Llangennith in storm surf only to catch a single wave, which remains in my memory to this day as one of the best I’ve ever ridden.
There are the countless walks in Snowdonia and the Lakes in less than optimum conditions, including a three hour vertical trudge through snow drifts to encounter foot-long horizontal icicles at the summit of Glyder Fawr one memorable Boxing Day.
Further afield, there was the time on our honeymoon in Malaysia, when we were caught out in a tropical storm during a walk through a monkey and snake-infested strip of coastal jungle to a remote beach, and had to flag down a passing fishing boat to get us safely back to our hotel.
I love the romance in sheltering from a storm – I fondly remember a pre-parenthood night spent in our camper van in a Welsh forest in a gale after a walk on Snowdon. The van rocking from the force of the storm outside whilst we cooked up a pot of pasta and drank red wine whilst watching The Godfather on a portable DVD. In a similar vein I remember hunkering down in front of the fire, whisky in hand amidst a fug of drying Goretex in the Clachaig Inn – an infamous climber’s haunt in Glencoe – after an abortive attempt at summiting Buchaille Etive Mor in biblical conditions.
What links all these experiences is that they weren’t great despite the weather. They were great because of the weather.
Here on Dartmoor, we are the first bit of high ground on a small rock in the North Atlantic at the same latitude as Labrador. We face four-square into the teeth of prevailing south westerly storm systems so quite frankly you’d be completely daft to live here and NOT embrace the drama of it’s fickle weather and celebrate the fact that it’s this same constantly changing weather which has shaped the landscape over millennia and made it such a stunning place to live and work today.
I’m a firm advocate of Alfred Wainwright’s assertion that “there is no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing”, and as anyone who has ever spent any time in the Lake District can confirm, it’s certain that he knew a thing or two about rain.
So my advice is this – suitably equipped, you’ll never regret heading out in bad weather, just follow one basic health and safety rule – don’t be daft – and if you’re wavering, remember this – nothing, literally nothing tastes better on this earth than the first pint after a walk, ride or surf in crap weather.