Said it before. February is the hardest month. Even after unlocking the self-medication cabinet to numb frequent and cruel rain lashings, it’s still normal behaviour – in these parts at least – to stride angrily into vertical rain pea-shot from dirty clouds, shaking your fist and demanding ‘Haven’t we suffered enough you utter, utter bastard?‘
Apparently not. Not if that ride was representative. It was the kind of slog leading you to wonder if it might it be both simpler and cheaper to run around the forest setting fire to ten pound notes. Consecutive Sunday death marches in such conditions ensured we didn’t fancy another one, heading instead to our favourite South Wales trails centre.
Afan always delivers when it’s grim elsewhere. Not that is was dry. This is a land full of rivers- many of them gurgling happily in the bottom of valleys, and a few more running down the trail. But a lack of horrible wheel sucking mud served up a 40km placard marked ‘the return of grip and joy‘
The sun even came out, and — when protected from the wind – we felt for the first time this year warmth from the fleeting orb. Warmth which was blasted aside once that incessantly probing arctic vector made a mockery of expensive technical garments.
That wind is a double edged sword. It’ll cut you deep on long traverses and drain the blood from your extremities. Flip it over though and watch the zephyr slice the top inch of mud from the trails revealing something wonderful and loamy underneath. In the case of the Malverns that’s basically bedrock on the exposed bits and black, peat-y goodness in the trees.
Get amongst that and ride fall lines which in the wet are exactly that. Aquaplaning fun says Martin, assisted suicide I counter. But it’s a welcome return to pointing in the same direction as your desperate bar wrenching was aiming. And feeling good on the climbs; dry trails are worth a couple gears at least so it’s worth putting a chunk more effort in. February also brings a a little more light and we used every minute of it, finishing dry and laughing in the twilight. ‘look at my bike, it’s clean / no look at mine it’s even cleaner’
Back home, my route inside bypassed the bucket of doom and headed straight into the chilled trophy cabinet. Wondering if it might be so good again, we ventured out the next night into the woods about Ross which traditionally dry out sometime in June. For a week or so before returning to their default state of fungally damp.
Not dry but not wet either. Firm loam which are happy words for a winter mountain biker. Although still spiced up with an occasional lack of grip leaving all that new speed to go somewhere. Thankfully through the tight lines between the trees and not into them. Two hours of that and while the bikes were splattered we remained un-battered. Far from it, the temporary return of a dry line raised our spirits to the point we didn’t need endorphins topped up in the pub.
It won’t last of course. It can’t. It’s February. As I write a big storm is dragging a couple more Atlantic lows in its wake. Three days of rain will bring localised flooding and a mess were that dry line so recently was. The line is like groundhog day – we saw it, rode it, cherished it and shall now lament its loss for a few more weeks.
It’s addictive though. I slipped out once more before that storm broke. Steeper and deeper than before. Apparently quite slippery* when wet and still pretty bloody tricky right now. Winch and plummet for most of an afternoon with impressive vertical distance but bugger all horizontal. Finding perfect dirt that cannot be bettered. A prize worth hunting for under those threatening skies.
Sunday is our real riding day. I used to pretend it was a battle and not riding was a sign of weakness. If we didn’t keep battering the storms they’d batter us for ever and summer will never come. I know better now, the weather doesn’t care and neither do I. The sun will be back out soon. I can wait.
February will be wet. Of course it will. But this is not a test. If you can cheat it a little with three days of dry riding under a gently warming orb, you’re doing it right. As my much-missed friend Jenn Hill once said ‘Here you are with your arms and legs and walking around in the good sunlight. That’s winning. You’ve won, see. The rest is just gravy”
Wise words. When worrying how our lives may stack up against others, we’d do well to remember them.
*I think ‘certain death‘ would be more descriptive.But you can’t beat a Bon Jovi reference.