Oh the irony. Guild driven abstinence crashes against the waves of our wettest month. Add in the darkness, debt, doubt and the enduring bloody misery of January and the exponential fallout rate doesn’t take much explaining. Not so much falling off the wagon as gleefully setting it aflame before exchanging the horses for hooch.
Last week I was whinging at length on the rubbish conditions in the Malverns. I unreservedly apologise to those loaf shaped hills having recalibrated my worldview of shit conditions. Three hours in the Forest of Dean will do that.
The day started well. Because it was in the van where the rain wasn’t. We’d chosen to explore a trail network much talked up by rumour but unridden by us. Bikes built under threatening skies taking somewhat longer than ‘fetching them out of the van‘ really should. Only when multiplying the differential faffing coefficient do such extended timeframes make any sort of sense.
A sense of what was coming drove us into the cafe where we pontificated mightily over bacon and coffee. Eying my fellow riders from the lip of a massive cup, I tentatively suggested we might want to get out there. Just for the look of the the thing.
The thing being a bloody big road climb not entirely suited to the flatulent rubber of the stupid bike*. Still it wasn’t raining and eventually the ridge poked out of a steel grey sky. We headed into the dirt only to find it replaced by a muddy river with sufficient depth to be considered tidal.
Heading downstream, we reacquainted ourselves with mountain biking in our own little ways. Cez seeking out stuff to launch himself off, Haydn sniffing out endless traction from his chubby tyres, Matt sashaying sideways on over-inflated tyres and me crashing into trees.
Having concluded that this sliding about is still bloody fun, we headed off on now unridden trails ‘somewhere over in that valley‘. Via a few silly steep roll-ins and a river crossing as it turned out. Eventually we found ourselves exactly where we needed to be. Just 100 metres too low. Pushed the bikes up something close to vertical which in the mud proved to be unrelentingly comedic.
I knew we’d made it because the rain started in earnest. We rode a couple of fab trails on this steep sided valley without any major off piste excursions. Where there were clearly many more tracks waiting for better conditions – and in my case – some talent compensating suspension.
Non mechanically assisted shuttle back to the top where – as it was apparent the rain had settled in for lunch, dinner and possibly a light supper – we donned rain jackets and picked a steeper trail. When I say ‘we‘, of course I don’t mean me who just followed the brown spray in the hope there was nothing too scary coming.
Couple of bits seemed to suggest braking might be the last thing you remember before waking up with medical professional removing trees from your forehead. Steep tho. Not sure speed was going to be your friend here. Fat tyres are of course allowing the nesh to control their descents at speeds unlikely to introduce blunt force trauma into your afternoon schedule.
The rain first diluted our enthusiasm for an extension into the next valley and then washed away our commitment to staying in this one for much longer. Just once more to the top this time selecting a depressingly wide track composed of mud, despair and possibly my will to carry on.
Fat tyres are rubbish in deep mud. You basically turn into a paddle steamer spraying suspicious brown liquid all around while not troubling the five yards in front of you. It wasn’t just a bike issue – we were all off pushing through the churned filth sucking at our shoes.
Final descent was good tho. We all had the measure of the conditions now and sliding two wheels at low speeds can never be anything but brilliant. Even the tarmac home didn’t dull the grins much. Which considering it was undertaken into wind and driving rain must say something about how much fun we’d had.
18km. Not a big day. Bikes back in the van. Riders in the pub. Three of us requesting hateful cold cordials and hot coffees. January is supposed to be cold and frosty. And I don’t just mean those denied a proper drink. What we have is endless moist fronts adding water to already saturated ground.
If this carries on, I’m going to need that drink come the start of February. In fact, it might turn into a month long bender 😉
*although that holds true for about 95% of any trail conditions.