My favourite place in the world is a sea of purple heather lapping gently against the dry-stone walls above Little Hayfield. Locally it's known as the Shooting Cabin, a twisting snake of smooth, fast and sometimes rubbled moorland singletrack that links the fierce, sporadic, petrol-fuelled rushing of the Glossop to Chapel road to epic views of Kinder Scout and the Downfall and burning, red-charcoaled sunsets.
It's a lovely piece of trail that changes through the year. From dry, loose and sketchy in summer when the surface falls apart and before the debris has been hurled sideways by passing wheels, to the gritty sludge fest of winter. And, last January, I think, briefly, a diamond white toboggan run of unexpectedly gritty fresh snow tamped down just enough for bike tyres to hiss sizzling hot along the surface and slide gently along the fine line between grip and slip.
It's the place I go when I need to reaffirm my faith in the world. The place I've only ever really shared with a handfull of people, who I knew would 'get it'. A place where I know every rock and line like an old friend.
Rode it the other day. In a slow, troubled sort of way. Legs not quite firing. Brain as sluggish as a winter Peak trail. Bike feeling badly set up and out of sorts. Cruised the flat-out 'just pedal' ribboned smoothness to the ford, then, rode the steps and balked at the crossing through line indecision, thinking too hard.
Slow, cautious pedal-strokes then the five or six hard ones that take you over the lip onto the flat, smooth plateau section where, in proper late summer style, the line has smoothed and flattened and twists through clumps of heather and petrified grit mud ridges. But I didn't notice that. Because I was gawping, meerkat style, at the purpleness of the heather. Funny how views can just sneak up unannounced then smack you in the face.
And I rode the rest of the trail - the fast, furious, loose descent to the road - slowly and gently, soaking in the views and the details, noticing the small steps I'd normally scream past in a cloud of dust or a spray of sludge, scanning the smooth line that's formed through the looseness. And than, at the bottom, I rode the narrow bridge on auto-pilot, with no bouncing handlebar ends on wood and just the right gear for the kick off the end and up to the track.
So many times. And people. And days. Thinking too hard in a place where often I don't think at all. And just do. Miles? God only knows. Time? Enough to remember. Heart rate? Yes, it was beating. Just.