Go badly that is. My last Gap year project was back at the end of 2012, after which I wrote a predictably pretentious load of old cobblers on exactly why I’d been avoiding it for ten years, and basically why it wasn’t anywhere near as terrifying as internally marketed.
Today was different. For a start the sun was providing the kind of light we photo-snobs dream about. Although so pre-occupied was it with projecting perfect mountain reflections in glass-still lakes, it entirely failed to provide any kind of warmth whatsoever.
Shivery start then. When faced with a big sodding mountain at which your current location is a million miles from the summit, go as cold as your dare.
That’s pretty cold so almost 2 kilometres passed before fingers inside thick winter gloves thawed out, and toes signalled they were in fact still attached. But God it was so worth it – a two week period in which I’ve eaten loads, drunk far too much, wasted too many hours and ridden not at all. More than just being back on the bike tho, much more as limitless panoramic views bounced around my optical nerves.
If I may just be allowed a further moment of pretension; riding up frozen mountains with your friends, all the time being assailed with infinitely beautiful glacial landscapes pretty much encapsulates all of ‘this is why‘ Thank you- from hereon in, I shall attempt to stick within the confines of a more descriptive narrative.
Illustrative couplets include ‘frozen-icy’ ‘slippy-frictionless‘ and ‘scary-terrifying’. As we climbed higher, hard ice replaced the trail – peppered only occasionally by soft dirt. A couple of short, steep technical ascents were summited through a combination of extreme effort and grip-less tiptoeing.
Enough of this brought us to the first proper descent which was clearly going to be bowel clenchingly sketchy. It started well enough with baby headed rocks – free of ice – passing swiftly under superbly suspended wheels, before dropping into the type of frozen tundra that can only be properly ridden rocking the rictus gurn.
That Gurn is a facial summary of many things clenched from toes upwards. I wasn’t sure if the rear wheel was sliding, or my arse was merely twitching in the manner of a rabbit’s nose. Left, right, straight on – all choices entirely arbitrary and barely affected by wrenching the big steering handle things. You could try braking of course. If smashing face first into gritty ice is your kind of thing. Eventually the trail finally ended in a mess of Forestry brutality, and soon we were climbing again heading for the Gap from which the ride takes its name.
First tho, a nasty little rock strewn climb immediately followed by a short – but fun – plunge down a rocky escarpment. Not today though as it was filled with ice and even walking down, portaging the bikes, didn’t feel even close to safe. It was all a bit Blakes-7 ‘Down and Safe‘* vindicating my continued dalliance with flat pedals, and more importantly grippy shoes. Not that these saved me later on.
First tho, big climb up to the saddle. One of those ‘pick a gear and a point on the horizon‘, start pedalling, take in the view and think happy thoughts. Twenty minutes later these thoughts did not include navigating a precipitous ice fall where the trail used to be. We recce’d it from all angles before agreeing the best approach would be two legs and two wheels, entirely separated.
This didn’t prevent me from an unscheduled arse-ice incident leaving a proper bruise and apparently amusing photographs. By the time I’d regained biped status and the remains of my dignity, the rest of the crew were long gone. They waited in the perfect spot to be enduringly polite at my attempts to actually ride some of this ice/rock/ice/ice horror.
I didn’t ride much of it, but I managed to throw myself roughly to the ground one more time. In the spirit of absolute fairness, this time a single pointy rock savaged the other arse cheek. I shall spend the remainder of this week walking like an aged cowboy.
No matter, reunited with my ‘rode most of that‘ pals, we set off for the classic descent on this loop. Firstly, a little up and down, launching over water bars and keeping a wary eye out for more ice, even tho we’d broken back into the sunshine. Never have I been so happy to see water streaming down the trail.
And then the increasing gradient and narrowing track tumbles you down into the valley at somewhat more sedate speeds than in less treacherous conditions. Still fast enough tho for Cez’s attempt to lob himself over a dry stone wall. Reasons mostly unknown.
That’s enough for a winter’s day, especially considering all limbs reporting in as still mostly operational. But there’s a little more, two tough sections demanding a decent pace as narrow paths throw up endless tyre stopping rocks. Physical, committing and on the ticked list to clear today. Proper, hard mountain biking.
All that was left were a couple of cowshit strewn roads, hidden from the sun under high leafless hedges and glistening with fresh ice. Safely navigated, we turned onto the frozen canal path and made haste for the pub, where beer was of course for winners/survivors.
There’s many other things I could have been doing today. Working for a living being one of them. Or lying on the sofa complaining of continuing plague which appears to have pressurised my small intestine. Or finding a thousand other reasons not to go and play outside where it’s cold and icy.
I’m so bloody glad I chose wisely 😉
* for readers under the age of being allowed to wear long trousers outside, this is a reference to the superb 1970s BBC Sci-Fi series somehow being both mostly realistic** and produced on a budget of about 10 bob.
** if you were very young. It probably hasn’t dated well.