Certain combinations work well together; the world would be a far inferior places if Scones weren’t accompanied by Cream, Spring un-carpeted by Bluebells, or beer not matched with, er, more beer. But the flip-side reveals such horrors Brown Sauce on Bacon Sandwiches and Train Timetables accompanied by Seasonal Emergencies. Feel free to add your own, while I fuse together the grim composites of cold and dark with Seven am and Sunday Morning. It’s hard to be positive over any future experience when you’re clumsily loading the bike trailer, with five minutes vigorous ice scraping to follow. All with a head-torch and a mentally disturbed mutt chewing your tyres – another combination that entirely misses the sweet spot.
Driving in the midst of a thaw/freeze cycle scores nought when compared to the warm bed and wife you’ve just abandoned, and riding in such conditions seems as impossibly dim as the halo of road illuminated by frozen lenses. I expected things to improve as the sun struggled over the horizon, and – as usual – I was wrong. Firstly the temperature actually dropped back below freezing before a chirp from my mobile phone triggered barely repressed fury that my frost bound pal was bugging out. Not so, he was merely late and tremendously hungover* which improved my lot no end.
Improved is not a word that you could even charitably apply to the trails after bucket-loads of snow, weeks of icy temperatures and a thaw so fast we’re twinning Herefordshire with Atlantis. The first climb used to be a tarmac road but was now a stream of broken aggregates flowing between banks of slush and ice. Heading quickly onto dirt, we were soon slowed by sideways action mud clearly imported from the Chiltern Hills. Struggling past that, we were eventually un-horsed by a ribbon of ice too challenging for the latterly unridden and recently hungover.
Dawn made a grudging effort to punt the sun skywards and we headed down through woods offering mud, ice and snow all within in a 100 yards. Three seasons in a single trail – this was obviously going to be our lucky day, proven once more after a much reduced pace gave sufficient time to stop before being decapitated by a fallen tree. Hitting that at normal trail speeds would have ended with body parts flung about in a post-modern ironic interpretation of the phrase “Blast Radius“.
Half way up the next climb, suffering for our art seemed an entirely appropriate metaphor as we discussed the questionable benefits of re-instating the 7:30am Sunday ride. It ticks all the boxes in terms of poaching trails before the rambler hoards are even poaching breakfast eggs, and being done and dusty before our own families have found time to complain about absent husbands and fathers. Again. In summer, it rocks as well as ticks, early sun drenched blasts on firm trails with hard muscles and seasonal fitness. In winter, it’s winching up buckets of karma from deep, frozen wells, sticking two fingers up at the three seasons MTBr’s, and pumping miles into legs that’ll hate you now but love you come Spring.
On days like today, it’s quite scary too with every descent offering multiple ways to impale you on a rock or tree of Fate’s choice. When the snow finally gave way to a different trail surface, this was invariably wet grass which needs no introduction as the mountain biker’s most hated ground condition. I remember covering the brakes on some descents then thinking I’d be better off sorting out coverage of a different sort, namely insurance and specifically hospital cover.
I loved it though. Not in a “yeah was good, glad we put a shift in, reward in future, feeling worthy” kind of loved it. Nope, was just bloody happy to be riding my bike with a good mate, and soaking in the slither of sunlight on offer. Having the new MTB is of course a novelty that has yet to wear off, which considering how much money it cost is a damn good thing!
More of that please. Less of the 0553 to London tomorrow. Ah well, one out of two ain’t bad**
* After promising abstinence on Saturday night, I switched to white wine as it’s less dreadful come morning. Jezz, and far play to him for this, had downed about half of his entire alcohol stock in a single session. I’m assuming he was drinking to forget the insanity of a decision to enter the Etape.
** As Meatloaf would have said if he could have counted properly.