Duncan McCallum: It's great fun, a slow dance between rider and trail

In Contin, near Dingwall, lies a big beautiful forest just above the Rogie Falls where I have been walking and riding for years. It's a plantation, but interspersed with silver birch and some older, bigger Scots pines and full of little bike trails, ducking in and out of the trees on and off the forestry track.

It's special to me as the trails are mostly natural, unsurfaced, crisscrossed with fallen trees, rock slabs and boulders. They have seen many wheels over the years, riders hunting through the forest, looking for those special features provided by nature and interpreted by the biking artist. When they are dry, the roots require a lightness of handling which is the lovely balance of natural trail riding. When wet, as they are today, it is an exceptional challenge requiring hyper-aware reactions, gritty determination and some power thuggery when climbing the slippery, unpredictable surface.

Today I am riding alone, a rare chance to take time to smell the trees, touch the earth and take a sly rest without the ribbing normally imposed on the trail slacker. On the first technical climb, this vision of quiet mountain biking contemplation is rudely slammed to the ground - a transverse polished tree root precipitating a shoulder charge, a jarring thud and a sucker punch into the depths on my molars.

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Already filthy, wet and covered in forest track mud, the addition of pine needles and moss adds to the acknowledgment that winter riding is a dirty business. Dirt, however, in this case is good. If we live in an hermetically sealed urban environment we rarely get the chance to play in mud without fear of embarrassment or disproving gazes. In a culture that values appearance and first impressions, a mud smear on work trousers or a puddle splash on clean shoes worn for a meeting is unwelcome.

Now, coated in a veneer of dirt, the climb to the top of the hill grinds away. No talking, just the sounds of me trying to breathe in rhythm with the pedal strokes and the gentle grating of the dirt-filled disk brakes and mud-coated gears. A roe deer darts across the trail, pauses momentarily to gasp in fright at the ever darkening figure, a moving, dripping, panting vision of mountain biking contentment.

On the descent the bike skips and slides its way down the rutted and muddy trail. It's great fun, a slow dance between rider and track. It's a day to be "on it", whatever neurons that still function pull the bike and my body. Cold mud and icy water cover my face, drops force themselves into my mouth, the grit grinding between my teeth.

Once embraced, this is liberating in the extreme. Contin, admittedly, is pretty rural, and there is nobody to cast a judging glance, but today is a small and wet reminder that there's always time to embrace the inner child and play in the mud. n

This article was first published in the Scotland on Sunday on December 5, 2010