Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tai Mo Shan

Orange 66

Today I got up, bright and early and without my hoped-for shoes, and hopped in a van heading up to Tai Mo Shan. Because I've been diligently studying Cantonese for the last three years (cough cough), I can tell you that means 'Big something Mountain'. And although it's not a mountain on the scale of Everest or Mont Blanc, neither of them have a road conveniently taking you to the top, where you can then ride down.

I've not been on a bike for six months, almost to the day, and although last week I went to the gym once and lifted some weights, that wasn't really adequate preparation for throwing myself down a series of steep, rocky, root-lined slopes. I've ridden in the Rockies, in the Lake District, and in Wales, and Tai Mo Shan has some trails that are at least as difficult. And when I was riding downhill race courses in the Alps, I didn't have to worry about going round a corner and colliding with a dozen Hong Kong hikers, all dressed in plastic capes (there was a spot or two of rain today, not a life-threatening downpour). The hill is nothing but roots and rocks for the first few hundred yards, and then it's just rocks, rocks and more rocks all the way. Bang bang bang bang bang. Fortunately the trail is very narrow and there's always a sheer drop on one side, and thus my natural uncoordination and fear of heights are never a problem. Alert readers may consider the meaning of that last sentence and draw their own conclusion about my experiences.

The first time down the hill I had a terrible time of it, incapable of keeping my feet on the bike and skidding everywhere, while being battered by everything I ran into. After we'd got to the bottom and been loaded back into the van to go up to the top, I did a bit better: my bike will go through most things without complaint, but to make it do that you have to attack everything hard, and when you're desperately struggling to hold onto the bike, that's not so easy. But hopefully with a few more weekends I should get some of my old strength back and be able to ride a bit more and walk a bit less.

Because there were other people on the trail, I also had the embarrassment of sliding precariously along, while a crowd of people looked at my bike and said things like 'Orange' and 'downhiller'. I was doing my level best to convince them that I didn't deserve the bike I was riding - perhaps they'll all go home tonight and tell their friends about the guy with all the gear and no idea. Then again, that probably doesn't rhyme in Cantonese, so perhaps I'm not being talked about. Phew.

We rode from 9 until 1, and then took the same van back to Tsim Sha Tsui for lunch, a robustly squalid affair in Ebenezers, one of a chain of kebab/pizza/curry restaurants that are spread across Hong Kong. I'm not sure that it's wise to combine those three food groups (either in a meal or for a restaurant) but since it's aimed mainly at post-pub clientele, nutritional considerations probably aren't too high on the agenda. With that task achieved, we sped back to the Star Ferry, and thence to Wan Chai for a leisurely/soul-sapping ride back home.

As I coasted through the back streets of Causeway Bay, through the crowds of Sunday afternoon shoppers, I saw a wig discarded on the street, next to an ice-cream van. At least, I hope it was a wig, and not that somebody had actually lost their head today. You can never be sure on the weekend of the rugby Sevens. Strange that it would not have been cleared away, and strange that somebody might lose their wig like that. Perhaps I should ruminate on that further, and imagine some explanation for this hairy apparition.

But not for the moment. Now, my hands are aching, my backside is sore and I feel tired enough that I might as well be dead. A good day, I suppose.


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