Not the kind of high places populated by the supposedly elite and inappropriately privileged. My proximity with those social groups could only take one of two possible forms; either serving the drinks, or laying about myself with the rough end of a Chesterfield*
The kind of rarified atmosphere I have shared with my proper friends are to be found in riding above the tree lines, desperately seeking shelter on bleak summits or carrying bikes towards distant peaks. Companionship forged under endless skies surveying people-less vistas. No fair weather friends here – these individuals take one look at sub-zero snow being flung at the window before grinning. The unspoken ‘are we riding?’ question never needs to be asked.
Nige is one of those people. We’ve been often wet, mostly lost and endlessly cold in all sorts of situations containing mild peril. So I could not pass up the opportunity to bypass social convention regarding family gatherings, instead rocking up in a muddy Surrey Hills car park to ride with my old pal.
To find Nige, I first had to navigate through the thicket of ‘#soenduro’ bikes and pilots mostly strapped to the back of new-plate Audi’s. If there’s ever any doubt where all the worlds suppliers of carbon weave and orange paint has disappeared to, I can divulge the exact epicentre of the prime suspects.
Me and the Nigester were rocking heritage wheels (him 26, me 29), well campaigned gear and – in his case – straight steerer tubes and non bolt through rear ends. Amazing the whole thing didn’t explode on exit from his car as would be the expectation set by keyboard-warrior MTB Forums.
We headed up hill unscathed other than Nige blowing a bit on the not unreasonable grounds his riding has been curtailed by a proper job and family commitments – a set of circumstances entirely missing from my previous three months. The ‘All-Mountain-Rigs’ were nowhere in sight as we crested the summit of the Peaslake Alps revealing a rather pretty panorama marred only by its lack of altitude and evidence of mass population. It’s nice and everything but it’s not a proper hill.
It is however absolutely stuffed with brilliant trails criss-crossing the limited vertical in all manner of interesting and thrilling ways. Firstly Yoghurt Pots poked my singletrack synapsus with nicely crafted berms and dips. The expected mud remained mostly missing for all the time it took to drop into the next rather more natural trail.
A plethora of off camber roots – polished from much use and slick from recent rain – awaited our giggling and tripod efforts to ride them with any aplomb. Nig did rather better than me which entirely failed to prevent a big grin as we dropped onto a fireroad climb hauling us back to Telegraph Road.
I’ve never ridden this trail in the dry. And today was no different. What changed was my ability to dispatch the corners with the kind of middle-aged wildish abandon I’d long forgotten, for which my day with Tony is a gift that keeps on giving.
We hitched ourselves onto a ten minute pleasant climb back to where we started. Opening up the iconic Barry Knows Best trail much revered in these parts. And with good reason, being fast, flowy, bone dry and perfectly sculptured.
Which fails to explain why we both stacked on it. There’s a bond with your proper MTB mates which is broken when you can’t hear their front tyre nudging your rear mech. Having had a shit load of fun chucking myself into perfect berms and over entirely non terrifying jumps, I encountered a well upholstered man straining in the vanguard of an activity best thought of as ‘Rocking Green and Orange while perambulating extremely slowly’. Backing off, I mentally backed up and checked my six for an expected Nige.
He wasn’t there and I wasn’t either having given away concentration, peripheral vision and the middle of the trail. Result being my 1 ride old Magnesium pedal ** stabbing an innocent stump with the predictable result of a previously well balanced rider leaving the office through the front door. Luckily a tree was right there to prevent any gentle deceleration. I greeted my arboreal friend by simply punching it with a soon to be swollen hand.
Moments later, and bleeding profusely, I wiggled most things and found them working if a little sore. Damage Control reported a sternum suffering a Mr Scaramanga Third Nipple due to dragging a bar from my belly button to where shaving stops, but such minor injuries didn’t stop me from staggering upright and checking the bike.
Which was fine other than a couple of rotated components quickly fixed but still in a timescale that should have seen a fast Nige flashing past. No flashing. No Nige. Just as my next action was a determined limp up the trail to check for body parts, he rolled slowly into view.
Proper crash on the only vaguely technical section. Whereas I’d merely hugged a tree, he’d failed to commit and suffered the inevitable consequence of riding a steep drop on his head. Brain undamaged, ribs bruised, wrist sore, we leisure cycled to the tea stop*** for sugar based recuperation.
Flapjack imbibed, we avoided the soft option of giving up and headed up Winterfold Hill for more frolics on brilliant trails clearly beefed up since my last visit some four years ago. We even got lost for a while which was nostalgia brought right up to date.
A final drop to the car park on ‘SuperNova’ had me reconsidering the lazy categorization of these trails. Sure there’s more money than riding ability but that’s the same anywhere. And we watched some proper fast riders who bucked the stereotype. There’s some brilliant trails here, and some brilliant riders. I’m not sure it’s a standard deviation, but as a guest on someone else’s patch it was bloody fantastic.
And then I had a beer with an old friend. Said it before, say it again: riding is half of where you are and half of who you are with.
Good day. Won’t leave it so long next time.
* Sofa or Lord. Either would suit my faux-socialist credentials.
** The industrial casting process for magnesium is essentially waiting for something to catch fire. I expect my examples were thrown from a burning building.
*** achieving 4102 from 4309 of Strava times. I’m strangely proud of that.