See that, right there? It’s a flat 2-D depiction of something rather more awesome. And that’s the word used in its correct context before the whatsapp generation graduated in semantic mutilation, and recast many of my favourite nouns as shadow players on the vocabulary stage. Tots Amaz for Evs, apparently.*
My eldest offspring regularly responds to parental extortions that outside has many fantastic opportunities, with ‘tried that – the graphics are crap and there’s no Internet connection‘. Apparently there are important cats on the web that don’t get tumbler’d all on their own.
So both living in a world largely uninhabited by those who are about to inherit it**, and a a relic from a generation where playing outside was actually some kind of privilege, a cross section of the ‘getting old and a bit wrinkly’ loaded vans in darkness, and crunched ice under dashboard lit traction control panic before heading tentatively to ride in a mid Wales landscape largely sculpted by our forefathers.
Birmingham has a lot to answer for. Really, quite a lot, but on the upside it kept me employed for many months, and – close to a hundred years earlier – was the thirsty symptom causing an epic dam building programme in the Elan valley. 6 were commissioned, 4 completed, one submerged with the final one never completed. All constructed in the dying arc of a philanthropist Victorian era taking great pride in public works.
Water was a constant companion on a day of much frozen, some trapped in snow and a brooding sky-full precipitously close to dumping more of the wet stuff on our tiring bodies. Not at first tho, as we crunched out of the car park wondering if at any point fingers, toes and noses might find a way back to other fully-blooded and properly insulated body parts.
A long – and long remembered – climb fixed that problem while throwing up another one, mainly that everything under tyre appeared to be formed from organic glass. No matter, when the going gets tough, the tough get pushing – once appropriately heroic photographs captured much gurning up a first off-road climb.
Good practice for a track, which having disappeared into a tussocky mess, reemerged as an ice-cold stream bed. Bikes on shoulders, far peak selected, we grunted our way through a pristine white-on-blue landscape filled with many amazing things and no people. Just the way we like it.
Unsurprisingly this ended with a trudge to the highest point followed by a navigation conference best summarised as ‘you can’t get from here‘. No matter, snow under tyre is always funny as all sorts of lines and techniques dropped us into one valley, before pushing us out of the next one.
First proper descent. Steep and deep ice filled ruts, mildly amusing drop to one side, somewhat more terrifying hidden rocks under a snow carpet. Nuance everything – brakes, weight shift, lean and steer. More grip than you think, a bit less than you need. Arrive at the summer crux which is a committed wall ride through a steep gully. A gully today full of ice and potential damage.
We’ll walk it, most of us thought. Except for Cez who opted for a line best thought of as ‘would you like grapes with that?’. We grabbed cameras so the local hospital had some kind of baseline to reassemble traumatically misplaced body parts. ‘He’s only fucking ridden it’ was the cry as Cez dropped onto the steepest pitch, while I mostly fell down it.
Rode the next bit tho. Not quite sure how. Was ready to abandon bike where Haydn breezily suggested trying something quite so craven was likely to end in a rock facial. Fairly sure I closed my eyes at that point.
Which Ian must have been doing as he ‘rear ended’ an innocent rider on the next road section. Poor bugger never even had time to brace. Still the views were fab, and continued to be so as we got entangled with some kind of organised ride with all sorts of map boards and abilities. Some pushing was involved. Then some more through soft snow stealing effort.
Descending through snow is always fantastic fun until someone catches an edge and pings off to silhouete an impromptu snow angel. To be fair, it’s still bloody good fun especially when that’s happening to someone else. We all had a go over the next couple of hours, between carrying, pushing and cursing at bikes somewhat ruining a fantastic walk.
Ah but what a day to be outside. It’s not epic really but it feels that way. Even with the weather closing in and another massive valley to push out of. The first section was eminently ridable and unrelentingly stunning. The second – which we’d breezed up in early Autumn the year before – was a calf-burning slog which went on for really quite a long time.
Not that I cared. Being out even in mini-mountains when snow transforms the landscape, and just riding within it feels like an adventure ticking all the boxes for a proper day out. Other than beer, and that was one more road climb and a fun descent away.
Fun near the bottom. A bit more challenging further up where this 4×4 track was hub deep in 10 metre, ice-filled puddles. Although puddle really doesn’t do the frequent plunge into foot-freezing water justice. Some of them were tidal.
Gradient finally replaced ice smashing by wheel and pedal seeing us sweep past a Landrover party, to feel real bedrock rather than something proxied by hard-set ice. Recalibration is what Winter is about; forget hard packed trails and embrace the mud, assume zero grip rather than tyre shredding adhesion, look at a wet off-camber root and think ‘you know what, that’s WAY better than the ice I just turned on’.
Big grins at the van. A winterscape of white wonderlands viewed from steamed up windows. Internal playback of that first descent, trying to wrench your eyes from the big skies back to the ten metres of trail in front of you, laughing at shit jokes, stealing sugary sweets from your mates and standing – just standing – in the best IMAX cinema in the whole damn world.
Wide eyed with amazement at the panorama. Cynical about everything except this. Desperate to find the next place which makes you feel something even close. And yet so many people don’t venture outside in Winter because it’s cold and wet.
Have you any idea at all what you might be missing?
* I’m not quite that much of a lexical curmudgeon, because I know language must evolve or die, and every generation adds a richness entirely missing from their tutting parents. I do get that. But Tots Amazballs? Really? I’m off to buy something beige.
** Younger offspring, on being collected from school the other day, was most put out that one of her teachers had essentially summed up the problems of our plant-raping and fuck ups with this simple message: ‘Yep that was us, but we’ll not be around to sort it out. That’s your job‘. Teaching has come on a long way since my day.