A wave of the wind became louder as it approached across the top of the forest like the sea rushing towards a beach. A rushing noise getting ever closer echoing in the valley. I pushed the pedals hard to get up the incline that ran on the rubble path through the cutting. Pine trees so dense that pitch-black darkness fell in just a few metres to my side. The middle of a Sunday afternoon of February that just got colder as I climbed in altitude.
There were very little people along this forest path. Only the couple on their romantic walk that I had passed a few minutes ago and the rest that had filled the carpark had gone the other side of the forest. I clicked down a gear again but it was no good. I just couldn’t go any further. The incline had got the better of me; actually it was a mental issue, looking at the length of path in front of me before any sign of levelling out, that had done it. That and the air that was getting colder in the branches of my lungs.
I stopped for a moment to catch my breath and looked back across the clearing in the trees that revealed hilly green fields and wiry oaks dotted in spaces around a farm house in the distance. I looked down at my three quarter length capri trousers and promised those several-inches of legs that I wouldn’t let them get scratched by thorns and sticky-out branches today to be left healing for a few weeks – again.
I walked a few yards on the white gravel pathway and then jumped back on my bike and continued to the top of the forest. I hadn’t been at this part before. It was quieter with what looked like a dry cutting of stream running between a gap in the trees and leaving roots showing bare above the earth. They were bumpy to ride over throwing the handle bars left and right but I pushed on to get to the final bit of day light and a metal gate. For all this pastoral in the distance and wilds of the forest it had become still and solitary.
I unlatched the small metal gate and pulled the bike through. I was free of the darkness of pine but now greeted by cobbles of natural rock running along the barbed wire fence and tufts of grass land before another forest that crept even higher and ever more difficult. The rocks and mud turned to flowing water from a natural spring and now my legs that were one of the few uncovered parts weren’t thanking me for long thin slices of mud dashing my skin.
As the water gave way to a dryer, harder grassy pathway I had finally found myself at the peak. I turned and looked to my side. A bitterly cold hard wind hit me from another valley brushing the tops of the hills harsh where I stood and plunging a wind-chill temperature into minus figures. I turned to the other side, my ponytail now flowing forwards along the side of my face. I saw the land pour downwards until it reached the bottom of the other valley, onwards for several miles and then to a distance grey coastline of England over the sea.
I struggled my bike over a stile into the next field and rode towards the edge of the steep flow and downwards a little out of the hillside to stop for a moment out of the wind. Without the wind the land fell completely silent. Not a single noise. No traffic or birds. Just an open land.
I looked at my calf. A scratch. Great. Alway happens. Always some twig or thorn. I rolled my leg around and examined it. ‘oh and another.’ It could have been worse, I could have really had a nasty fall when I almost lost my balance on those stones coming up that last path. It could have been worse. I had cancelled my next gender clinic appointment just a few days before. But despite the disappointment in myself I thought, well, that could have been worse. The truth was I had so much on my mind at the moment, worrying about money and employment. It wasn’t just about not being able to afford the stupidly long three hundred mile round trip to what is really just a doctors appointment to put it in pigeon holed terms, it was becoming about survival and what next for my life.
Sometimes there really is more to life than the whole gender thing and really, thinking about it, I don’t think I would have achieved much going there this month with everything on my mind. I took a simple selfie last time I was there. Just before the appointment while I was waiting in the park just down the road. I had time to kill and the weather was okay. I took it as a moment for me. It was a significant moment even if it really wasn’t. A silly contradiction that needed some evidence. I would either keep it to remind myself of how far I have come or just delete it. It was only for me.
I came across it the other day by accident and it was coincidence and fait that I found it around the time I was cancelling an appointment. It couldn’t have been better because I had phoned the gender clinic to tell them but the person told me to write-in and gave me an obscured ‘donotreply’ type e-mail address that didn’t inspire confidence in the message getting through, and we all know what happens to a referral if you don’t show without cancelling. I took the side of caution and wrote a letter explaining why I wouldn’t be able to make it and to ask for an appointment later in the year.
I had dropped it at the post office with a recorded delivery, which past experience had taught me well, but had still worried about whether they would take issue with my cancelling. Funding and time is ever so precious to that clinic but that photo – the selfie from last time – it reminded me that this was about me. Not about them or red tape, forms, procedure, box ticking. That might well be the case for them, and I would always do the courtesy of keeping them informed, but this is my life and I have to do things in my time when it suits me, my family, my situation, my everything.
I don’t think it was just that photo that showed me how far I had come. It was also remembering how I felt at that moment. How there was no pretence. It was a serious natural matter I was dealing with and at that moment I was confident about knowing who I was and what my problems were and might well be.
The silence broke with the cry of a Sparrow Hawk. I couldn’t see it but the sound was enough. It was the dusting on a cappuccino. The shards of chocolate on a tiramisu. Up here on the top of the hill that to me was a mountain, these problems just seem so small and down there at home so big. At least at this moment I could enjoy who I was and remember that this was free and the ride back would all be downhill at least.
Until next time.