July 20, 2005: Moab, Kamloops, . . . Perthshire?

I started the day off doing a few "Person on the street" interviews in Pitlochry (Pit-lock-ree), in the Perthshire district of central Scotland, which, not coincidentally, is also home to the Gleneagles Resort. I was hoping to get lucky and maybe uncover an eyewitness or something. As a fallback, I also intended to get the locals' opinions on Bush's mountain biking skills.

Cannonball didn't look so hot for his early-morning interviews
Paved cycling seems to get short shrift in Scotland

The results were unequivocal and immediately obvious: Nobody saw nuthin', and the Scottish people couldn't give a rats arse about Bush the biker. They seemed a little more preoccupied with the whole "we're fighting them over there so we won't have to fight them here" thought process, and with global warming.

"Yeah-yeah" I'd usually cut them off, "but do you think Bush even carries his own water on rides or what?" What? It's a relevant question. Just because the Scots are more concerned with geopolitical realities than combat marketing and show-business politics doesn't mean I can't try to squeeze a little black pudding out of that warm salad.

Whatever. I did pick up a couple of good leads on some mountain bike rides in Perthshire, including one starting from Blair Atholl, just five miles up the road. While I continued to agitate the local citizenry with leading questions about coverups and shadowy cycling conspiracies, JB whipped out her cell phone and fired up the Sweep the Blog, Johnny! corporate platinum card. She was getting into the spirit of this whole field assignment thing too, and had recognized this "deep background" opportunity when she'd seen it. By the time I was beating a hasty retreat back to our three-cylinder 1964 Vauxhall Limpdicke, JB had arranged bikes and gear for a ride tomorrow into the Grampian Mountains.

We have three for this one:
1. Leaving no, uh, cannonball unturned in pursuit of the truth
2. Here's looking up your old breech block
3. Cannonball: a pretty dim bulb

On the drive from Pitlochry to our B&B room in Moulin, my eyes wandered up every ridgeline, into every shaded glen, and down every cart path and sheep trail in sight. It occurred to me that this country has incredible mountain biking potential.

There are many reasons why this country could be a new mountain biking destination location. For one, outside of the two main cities (Edinburgh, Glasgow), Scotland is sparsely populated, meaning there is lots and lots of open space. Also, Scotland is a nation of trekkers. These people love to walk, so the countryside is honeycombed with a robust network of single- and doubletrack trails. The kicker though, and the potential dark horse reason that mountain biking opportunities in America and Scotland are moving in completely opposite directions: the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Oh yeah, let me just throw you a couple of bones from the old Mag-nay Car-tay*, baby:

  • "Everyone has the right to be on most land and inland water for recreation, education, and for going from place to place providing they act responsibly."
  • "Access rights cover many activities, including for example: . . . walking, cycling, riding, canoeing, and wild camping."
  • "If you're a farmer, landowner, or someone else managing the outdoors, you need to think about the needs of people enjoying the outdoors. You need to . . . respect access rights -- access rights extend to most of Scotland so don't unreasonably obstruct people on your land or water. Only lock gates when it's essential for animal health or safety and don't put a fence across a path without putting in a gate to allow access. Providing paths and tracks is a good way of integrating access and land management."

Blows your mind, doesn't it. Landowners and recreationists living together in relative harmony built on personal responsibility and mutual respect. No wonder that shit doesn't fly in America.

The code says Scottish lands are open to everybody . . .
. . . even the loonies

While the mountain biking future looks bonnie for Scotland, the road-riding scene is a little less promising. Among the many things Scots appear not to believe in -- for example, iced beverages, low-carb foods, and second-hand smoke -- are road shoulders. Often, on extremely narrow country lanes, the vegetation comes right up to the asphalt and even crowds into the roadway. There are no road shoulders. Nobody stays on their side of the road. Sometimes stone walls line the edge of the asphalt for miles. People park anywhere and everywhere. In a great part of the rural outlands, the roads are one-laners. Drivers overtake (pass) with wild abandon. It's freakin' thunderdome out there.

I guess there is something to be said for pork-barrel American politics when it leads to massive transportation bills that sponsor the endless creation of smooth, wide-shouldered roads just for the sake of lining the pockets of major campaign donors. The benefits of political cronyism and economic elitism really do trickle down.

In general, road riding in Scotland looks pretty sketchy, but the point may be moot. Chris Hoy aside, the Scots do not appear to be a nation of road riders.

Tomorrow we ride!

*"Scottish Outdoor Access Code: Know the code before you go." Scottish Natural Heritage. 2005.


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