Tunnel love – The dark side of mountains

Cycling mountain tunnelA tunnel. Cold and dark, scary yet soothing, entry to another world. A rewarding moment of quiet and calm, the cool relief much welcome after climbing a mountain for mile upon mile, toasted beneath the mid-summer sun.

Darkness. The world turns black. A quick mental check to see if you’ve passed out, the effort finally taking its toll. Still moving, your eyes fail to adjust. Gravel crunches beneath your tyres at the road’s fringes, the small white dot at the end of the tunnel your only focus.

Coldness. The sweat from the climb instantly chills you as it cools. Ice cold water drips on your head from above. Brrr. The distant white dot grows and your eyes begin to adjust, vague shadows of a road beneath your wheels. Wolves, bears and gargoyles lie in wait. Brick by brick the tunnel emerges.

Silence. The crushing headwind cannot find you here. You remember to breathe. Freewheeling momentarily not for rest but to hear a noise, finding comfort in the soft echo of your click, click, clicking freewheel.

Reflection. Who built this? Hundreds of men armed with pickaxes and dynamite, struggling to breathe as they chiselled away at the mountain in potentially fatal working conditions. Can you see the soldiers marching to war, crossing borders unseen, walking through the heart of darkness?

Some tunnels are fully enclosed, others open to one side, great pillars of concrete lining the road, windows framing a view, the road light, dark, light, dark, the impression of speed even when climbing. The flickering light brings to mind the glamour of famous car races like the Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo blurring by outside, or in this case, mountains.

There’s few tunnels to ride here in the UK. We have short subways, urine soaked underpasses and small railway bridges plastered with graffiti. Tunnels are in short supply, hence their exotic allure, the promise of a journey into another land.

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