In the west of the Forest of Dean, there are a number of abandoned pill-boxes built during the second world war. A few of them are close to where the DIRT Magazine journo’s ride and build. So it’s not entirely surprising to find some enterprising rider, with balls the size of melons, has fused the two to create a hucking great jump to flat.
I don’t know how big it is, and I forgot to take a photo but it’s a monster. Proper ‘oh he’s not made it, someone fetch the spatula‘ dangerous and so far beyond my riding ability they may as well have built it on the moon.
At least then I’d have a proper excuse not to ever consider riding it. Instead I went with ‘fucking hell, that’s some kind of sick joke, yes?” Apparently not. This trail obstacle/assisted suicide represents the crux of a trail known simply as Bunker. Even getting that far without being splattered requires 100% concentration and commitment for those of us not replete with a box of trail skills honed for tall building leaping.
Dropping from the the ridge some 200 metres above the river, the trail unwinds in steep, off-camber sweeps peppered with jumps, drops, nastily pointy rocks and slightly more exposure than I’m comfortable with*. Section after section teeter on the limit of my good-day skills demanding an absolute commitment to a line, quick and decisive weight shifts and – for preference – a bloody good bike underneath you.
Don’t misunderstand me here; never in my riding history has any bike represented a high water mark in terms of ability. No a combination of squidgy brain stuff and a lack of bravery clamped the anchors way before any such theoretical limit was reached. But good bikes help enormously to compensate when the bloke on top lacks any discernible talent.
Today that was my ugly-stick 456 with the new fat fork out front. A combination that had already seen me conquer every jump on a trail that had last spat me out cracked ribbed a couple of months ago. I’d ridden a couple of rock gardens and tricky roll-ins never cleaned on the – intuitively – more talent compensating ST4 and, with some encouragement, safely made the first descent of a steep slab previously considered way beyond my ability.
Some of this is because the bike is pretty damn fab at such stuff. A little more was the good place my head happened to be today. And more than a nadge was watching 63 year old Fast-as-Fuck Ken blitz everything on a bike hardly suitable for such antics – especially accesorised, as it was, by a massive saddlebag.
This may be where Ken keeps his massive cahoonies, because I have absolutely no idea how such a mild mannered and pleasant pre-pensioner smoothly rides absolutely everything at a pace best described as ‘where the fuck did Ken go?‘
Mountain biking is a meritocracy of that there is no doubt. Based on my performance this week, I represent a point way distant from the middle of he bell curve. Maybe on an entirely different page.
But this bothers me not at all because most of Bunker passed under my wheels unaccompanied by feet walking the bike down. At least twice I distinctly remember closing my eyes. It’s more coping strategy** than trail technique, but there are times when raw, naked fear will do that to you.
Of course, Matt, Dave and Ken all rode more than me. And quite a bit faster. But these are bloody good riders and, compared to even a year ago, there’s more and more stuff ticked off which previously merited a big cross in the ‘viewed and refused‘ column. And by Christ it doesn’t half make you feel alive.
Today I definitely earned my post-ride beer. Seemed somehow to taste even better than normal.
* i.e. Any.
** If I can’t see that tree, it can’t hit me