It was going to be a boring morning. As usual, he had got up early, earlier than me. He had guzzled down his breakfast and had absentmindedly skipped his way through a dozen YouTube videos. Eventually he decided that jumping around the house to wake everyone up was the most stimulating activity he could think of. He was like a kangaroo but with more energy, a cockerel but with a louder crow, an alarm clock but more incessant (and without a snooze button). It was time for me to get up and help him to burn some of his energy.
I taught my brother how to ride a bike a couple of years ago; it took a Herculean effort and is probably worth an essay of its own, but unfortunately his autism means that we can't trust him to safely cycle on main roads. Enter the tandem: a clumsy hulk of aluminium, weighing a whopping 22kg (twice the weight of a regular bike), with my brother (over four times the weight of a regular bike) chilling out on the back. As we set off that morning, I was glad of the extra pedalling power he reluctantly provided. But it used to be a lot harder with my brother watching the world go by while his subordinate chauffeur (me) grinded it out on the front.
I had planned a 60-mile loop for today, the longest we had ever done on the tandem, which firstly involved the ascent of Glen Lyon and then over the hills on a steep mountain track to Loch Rannoch. The mountain track was a struggle. Mustering all the power from my legs, I just about managed to keep the wheels turning as they slipped and spun on the loose rocks as if I was riding on ice. I could sense my brother getting fed up with the slow progress. I longed to be on my own bike, to ditch the bag of spare layers, to not have to worry about delays making my passenger angry that he wouldn't get to lunch on time. Why was I doing this?
My brother has significant communication difficulties and over the years of doing outdoor activities with him I have found it to be a great way to enjoy spending time together without the need to talk to one another. I suppose it must seem quite strange to other people, to be able to go out for hours, sometimes a full day, without ever talking more than just to ask my brother if he is hungry, that he is having fun or another of the very limited range of questions he is able to respond to. We're like a team, there to get the job done, to enjoy the ride, easily able to beat a couple of verbose friends distracted as they yap away about the pros and cons of Brexit.
To me, he is as good a companion as any; he allows me to put my head down and focus on the ride; he never argues with me over my choice of lunch stop, a decision which is often problematic on group cycles; and he almost never complains. He is just happy to be there, to take in the scenery and to get whatever sweets he wants from the shop – often the highlight of long cycle rides.
Of course, there are days on which he isn't the best company, days where he throws a tantrum because I forgot to pack the Coca-Cola, or days where he accidentally steps in a puddle and it's the end of the world. But as we are engulfed by nature on a long cycle ride, all his usual mood extremities are long forgotten as his remaining anxiety gets blown away by the wind and lost in the dazzling scenery.
If my brother wasn't so keen to cycle, then I would never have cycled 60 miles that day. He has taken me on amazing cycle rides, from the undulating, wild roads of the Perthshire countryside, to the adventurer's highway of the West Highland Way, and although he's the one at the back of the tandem, he's the one leading the way, pushing me onwards and preventing me from giving up. He motivates me in a way that makes it impossible to be unmotivated. He gives me energy when I have no energy left, and the amazing thing is that he does all this without saying a word. It's magical.
Many people see helping other people as a sacrifice, a burden, something that they must give up their time for, but it needn't be. What people don't understand is that if you do it right, helping other people is very much a mutual thing. When you help other people, it helps you, and by this I don't mean I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine; I mean, if I scratch your back it will make me feel better. Everyone has someone they can help, whether it be a grandparent, sibling, friend or even a homeless person on the street. So next time you're struggling to make your own life better, make a habit of improving someone else's. You may find it makes yours go better too.
The final descent from the steep sides of Schiehallion passed in an exhilarating rush of speed and concentration and then we were home. It was done: 60 miles. I was proud of this feat, but I was prouder of my brother. This trip marked the first time that he had really tired himself out on the back of the tandem which is a tribute to the amount of effort he put into his pedalling. For the first time, we seemed not only like a team, but a winning team, a team capable of great feats far beyond 60 miles. It inspired me to push not only my own cycling but my brother's and see how far we could get and the great things we could do.
For my brother, that's the beauty of cycling: It's not only something he can do, but something he is good at and something he loves doing. And I love doing it with him; I love that he's always keen to take me along for the ride; I love that he enjoys spending time with me and, most of all, I love him as my brother, because he truly is the kindest of carers.