Glancing at my watch was a grim reminder that, only seven hours later, the alarm’s strident call would trigger the much-hated 5am start for London.
Faced with such an early morning horror, standard practice is early to bed in the hope of a reasonably satisfying – if curtailed – sleep. Or you can take the approach that what happens tomorrow is far less important than what’s happening now.
Which sort of explains why, at 10pm, I’m watching my breath curl into a frozen night sky and failing to hide a big grin as we grind up the last climb of another epic ride.
Conditions were “slippy-grippy” which I love. Anyone can be fast in the summer assuming a slavish following of bravery to the power of stupid. But now the trails are caught between seasons; dry and wet, muddy and firm, traction and slides.
It was the kind of night where both my riding pals mistook slip for grip and were well rewarded with an out-of-bike experience. I didn’t crash this time, but it is unclear how this could be a reality where at least three times my on-bike experience was essentially as a crash-test-dummy.
After climbing for thirty minutes, the first descent claimed the first victim. Wet grass has all the adhesive properties of glass, and down he went in a cascading slide. No real damage done, no real sympathy from us either.
We traversed further into the hills, sheltering under the muscular shoulders of the peaks. Properly freezing up top with tussocks frosting up ,and a biting wind testing the first season’s outings of winter boots and jackets.
A short, brutish switchbacked climb opened up the rocky descent to the Wyche. One of my favourites and, heading out first, I made a reasonable stab of briskness including nailing the rock step that requires either a careful roll or a committed jump. Anything in between and you’ll be welcomed with a granite facial.
Keeping low on mellow tracks occasionally enlivened by foliage covered mud, we headed back with lights picking out the leafless trees made stark by November’s howling gales. Two climbs to home, the first is on a boring firetrack as we decide to press onwards rather than bag another ridge.
A decision that brings us quickly to a lovely wooded singletrack which claims the second victim on a treacherous bend. Then off the side and onto the fall line, couple of epic drifts on a leaf carpet under which the trail switches grip and no grip in second long bursts.
Proper mountain biking this, picking a line, reacting, riding it out, trusting your instincts, letting it roll and feeling your way through experience, bravado, luck, bloody great forks that kind of thing.
So now we’re back where we started. Four minutes to then, four hundred ish feet to climb and my bed feels a long way away. So does the summit as tired legs demand lower gears, but we’re already out of easy ratios.
The warmth from the climb is stripped away by increasingly frigid winds as we bugger about on the summit, lowering saddles and flicking suspension damping to “fun”.
I’ve fallen thirty yards behind after overambitious corner entry speed delivered some face-time with innocent shrubbery. In chase mode, I’m still ragged hitting a drop too fast, but rather than slow then carrying the speed into a perfect kicker which sets up the next corner entry.
Well it would if you don’t fly off it and almost miss the corner entirely. Off the trail again – that’s twice in thirty seconds – and all sorts of scary things are happening. Front wheel scrabbling for any grip, me half pitched over the bars, rear wheel in the air, hard to see how it can end well.
But it does, somehow rider stays tyre side up and I’ve made a few yards. Result. Make the rest up thinking the bike in front is gliding over the trail, whereas I am mashing it up in a hang-on-and-hope style.
Nose to tail we drop into the woods, feeling for grip on off camber roots and putting velocity and momentum in the driving seat. This serves us well, with the trail end coming far too quickly punctuated by big smiles and the pinging of cooling brakes under a cold night sky.
It takes me 45 minutes to drive home, sort the bike and kit, de-trailer the car, deal with Murf’s perception of dog abandonment, quick shower and late supper of toast and a small beer. It takes the same again and a bit more for the adrenalin to be flushed from higher level functions demanding sleep.
This morning I was standing on a rain soaked platform waiting for a late train, barely able to keep my eyes open. It could be much worse though, just think how shit that would feel if I hadn’t been riding.