… great, super, marvellous. All things which singularly and together fail to describe the undeniable shitness of the days following. Waiting for the snot to stop, most grumpy here was merely going to post a flickr link and a bookmark to a similar ride two years back.
Yet while many of the photos and some of the riders may look the same, a few hundred planetary rotations has changed quite a lot of other stuff. The trails for a start, a number are showing some real signs of wear and widening which can be attributed to a couple of shit summers, and some crappy riding mostly on the brakes. Certainly Sunday brought out many wheeled trail users and a bit of snow, whereas Saturday we had all to ourselves except for a wind that reduced expensive winter gear to dayglo marketing.
We were also lost significantly more often. I blame Nigel who made two bad decisions before we’d even begun; firstly he (was) volunteered to be Responsible Individual With The Map, before compounding that mistake by immediately installing me as his navigational second. His rationale was sound enough – no one else had ever been here before, but there are years of bloody history for yours truly exhibiting the map reading skills of a blind goldfish with a lemming complex.
Immediate geographical discord saw me head off one way while Nig made a confident start at 180 degrees to my track. Re-united after a spot of desperate “just our little joke fellas” mugging, legs still upset at being stripped of warm trousers, were instructed to turn endless circles to make progress along and then up Holford Coombe. Here it became apparent which masochistic bastards had been suffering trench-willy for the previous month, and which of our little riding flange had been somewhat more distracted by the pleasures of a sofa.
For all my gloating over early season form, the first crash still stapled itself to my leg as an optimistic stream line choice into resulted in a face-planting punt over the bars followed by a hard bash with sharp metally bike parts. Bleeding heroically from a calf wound, I wound up the steepening trail in sweaty hubris only to find myself largely alone, although this was due in some part by a head start triggered by five other blokes pissing themselves laughing.
The trail was a cheeky combination of mud, frozen mud and other assorted wetness. I was loving it, others less so especially Brian who unwisely introduced himself to a month of sloth and SPD’s at the same time. Still more height was gained – and occasionally lost when Nig failed to understand my checking the map and pointing confidently were in no way connected – until we’d banked enough for a guiltless withdrawal at the gravity machine. WeaCoombe always makes me smile, if only for the slight schoolboy humour of its’ name, although laughing was not the primary emotion once tyre swallowing divots threatened to buck me from my full suspension steed.
Talent compensators are all well and good assuming you have some talent to start with. Elliot – young lad, great bike handling skills, you know the sort, lovely blokes and yet damn annoying with their effortless riding, blew past riding a mate’s bike one size too small, while still having sufficient mental capacity to check if I was having some sort of problem. Certainly was, and it was entirely ego based so I set about chasing the young buck* which inevitably ended with a bunch of excellent excuses and a 20 second gap. Still there was climbing to be done now which was less gloaty than it should have been as “it’s easier to be fit that to be brave” as my younger self incessantly reminded me.
Next up Smiths. Not quite where I thought it was although I passed off being prematurely trailheaded with a lofty “yeah well for those that know this knarly flat bit is actually the start donchaknow?“. My reward was to be sent down second chasing Elliot in a manner best thought of as life threatening. Smiths is strange, it’s so fast and open at the top, you enter the trees off the brakes pretending not to remember what happens next. “Yeah there’s some rocks but hey they’re not that bad, we’ll keep the speed up and float over ’em Collective Style“. And that works for a while until you hit a section clearly composed of gravestones begat from the last silly buggers to try that.
I reviewed my options; braking on wet rock seemed to offer nothing but a close up view of something pointy, steering away was largely pointless as to my left, rock, to my right more rock, hanging on for grim death then? Yes? Okay, it’s worked many times before. And it worked again, although my squeeky shout to upcoming walkers spoke of a man having recently imbued a pint of adrenalin. Through the water splash though, the singeltrack is worth dying for, really even when a little muddy and soggy, it’s the perfect combination of flowing corners and lofty lumps. Yeah ace trail, shitty granny ring climb out although I attained my high water mark on this time round.
Still had to get off and push and a bit of inspired map reading condemned the accused (“You don’t like climbing much do you?“) to 20 minutes of strange uphillness that looked flat but felt vertical. Mutiny temporarily averted by a promise of stonking trail all downhill to a late pub lunch, thing were looking properly up, until the we got lost going down and found ourselves on a 200 yard wide grassy motorway at bugger all gradient and faced by a bastard head wind.
Nige and I reviewed the map only to realise we’d taken a wrong turn. Rather than admit to that, we waved the boys off towards what those filled with negative thoughts may have considered a cliff face and hoped for the best. And it was; the best that is dropping into fast contour hugging singletrack before steepening further through rocky switchbacks then firing us out onto a wooded, rooty trail high about the sunken trail we’d been heading for. Two trails became one with a proper root step to flat interfacing with an airy satisfying second of silence before great suspension hit rocky track. Perfect, let’s go to the pub.
We stayed there a while because the climb out of Bicknoller is not something any person with no history of mental health would leave a warm fire to toil up. But the cars were two valleys away and winter light is soon winter dark, so up we went in various states of groaning and thousand yards stares. It would be inappropriate for me to document exactly who was first up. By quite a few minutes. Or to discuss exactly how motivational “One day you’ll laugh about this climb, but today YOU ARE WEAK” actually is.
Some fine gurning later, we were off home via a quick traverse and some inspired map reading by Nig with absolutely no support from me. Sturt Coombe would also excite the schoolboy with its’ lush curves and hidden depths**, and excited us rather older gentlemen as well. A great way to finish and by this time I was absolutely sure that the ST4 was a bike that is going to take me to all sorts of interesting places. It’s not a blast through anything bike or a magic carpet ride suspension miracle, but it’s something way better than both of those. I’m can just catch sight of how bloody good it is with my riding peripheral vision. Get a decent rider on one of these and they’d fly. And then disappear.
As we had too after splashing through streams and dirtying cars with mud splattered clothing. The mud splattered grins lasted longer even after cleaning ourselves up and depopulating the local pubs of dark beer and sweet things. I even took the fellas to a cherished local’s pub where a fight was just breaking out. I think they enjoyed that.
Next day a mechanical, excuses and pressing engagements saw three of us getting lost ON THE WAY to the car park we were heading for. Admitting defeat I broke man-law and asked a nice lady for trail directions. Which ensured we rode some more frozen trails and had a mince on the downhill course. I love the Quantocks for serving up superb trails and stunning views in a really quite tiny package of land. It’s 100 miles door to door and that’s not far enough away to stop me coming back a few more times this year.
I love it for one more thing as well; the memories of some great mates and some brilliant riding. You know I suddenly don’t feel so bad anymore.
* no really. I meant to type that. It’s a family show.
** I lied about the family show bit.