Chip off the old block.

 

Jess - FoD Blue Trail

With the emphasis on old.  In bingo parlance, my latest anniversary is either droopy drawers or all the fours. Not 444 as one of my lovely children slyly observed*, but still on the crumbling side of extreme antiquity.  Not to worry, there’s always a pension to look forward too. Well there was until I incautiously peeped at the freefalling stock market. Maybe that cheeky child will fetch something on eBay.

Enough about me. Yes I know, bit of a departure but only because I’m so proud of Jess who rode the entire blue trail in the Forest of Dean.  Now you could argue that the FoD needs built singletrack like Nick Clegg needs to be associated with the Tories, because there are 100s of brilliant tracks across the vast area enclosed by the Forest. And I’d normally be the first to raise my grubby digit in agreement, being a bit snooty and old school about manufactured trails.

And we’d all be wrong. Many reasons; here are a couple: finding trails in the FoD is bloody hard. I’ve fallen in with the Revolutions Reprobates who’ve shared their encyclopaedic knowledge of the ribbony delights snaking between endless trees. But even now I still get lost**, and creating a simple loop for little legs is not so easy. Secondly, there’s a real desire to open up the Forest to more trail users, so creating a marked track full of low-risk fun is a great way to do that.

I say low-risk. That’s if you’re putting the low into slow. The genius of the trail builders has been to create a trail that’s graded from safe to bonkers dependant entirely on velocity. With Jess, we climbed steadily and descended with increasing confidence.  The berms freaked her out to start, but once she’d stopped listening to my useless advice and started throwing her little Islabike in with abandon, frowns were replaced with grins.

Of course we did suffer from the kid-standard “are we there yet?” variation which includes the lament “are there any more hills?” but it was all in a good natured way, and we certainly were not in any hurry. Until the last descent that is.

Fresh from nearly out-running a berm and finding tree rather than trail, Jess whooped into the last section secure in the knowledge it was all downhill from here. And what a downhill it is, berms, rollers – so many it’s essentially a rollercoaster – sweeping corners and a few scary steep bits. Jess swooped down the lot at ever increasing speeds – a huge grin on her face.

Go faster if you want Dad, I’ll meet you at the bottom” she offered on a brief stop to get our breath back. But I didn’t want to, I was happier to watch someone who had been keen to please now be transformed into a proper mountain biker. This wasn’t so much about “it’s great to go riding with my dad” to “pass me some more of that prime singletrack, I’ve got the bug

At the end, having ridden all but one monster berm she explained “You know when you can’t explain to mum how much you love riding? I get it now. I don’t know how to explain it either”. Lots of dust around that day I remember, definitely something in my eye.

There was a little disappointment the final fun was over so quickly. But we’ll be back before the rains come, probably a bit faster and certainly with a bit more confidence. Won’t be long before she’s leaving me for dead. Lucky then I was able to sneak another practice lap in to find the phone I’d abandoned half way round 😉

* that’s the one now living in the shed.

** This is not because I have no internal compass. The issue is it is always pointing to “wrong”

Perfect Timing

Matt - Symmonds Yat.

Which is pretty damn impressive – considering the processing delay between shutter depression and image capture on my ickle trail camera is such that it’s best to click way before the rider is even in sight. Or born.

That’s Matt making a mockery that 40lb freeride bikes aren’t perfectly fine for 50k forest bashes. The trail is one of many built but the Dirt boys out of Monmouth, and the jump is where my riding pal David first came up short and then ended up in hospital with a nasty back injury. He’s back riding well now, but as a reminder that these trails are a step up it’s compelling.

It’s as if a bunch of naughty boys have taken the rather lovely – if safe – Forest Of Dean, roughed her up a bit, stuck a ball under her jumper, given her an aggressive haircut and a hint of menace before sitting back and asking “right then, fancy taking this on do you” to a bunch of nervous fifth formers.

As a metaphor, I accept it needs some work. Steeper and deeper here, bigger climbs, increasing gradients, bigger obstacles, fast flow then slow’n’techy, surprisingly rocky and often loose- it’s a patchwork of outstanding trails where confusing confidence with ability will end in a proper accident.

It is a place – as our American Cousins would label – to bring your A game. I don’t have an “A” game and having failed to shaken a bastard cold this week and some unreconciled crashing concerns from the elbow smash a month go, an entire new alphabet would be needed to position exactly how rubbish I was going to be.

Game tho I was. Started a bit wheezily on a 15k jaunt from Ross ensuing the car for some old-school tarmac/dismantled railway bashing. Surprisingly enjoyable because of the unending beauty of the Wye Valley, and there’s something simply right about not driving to ride.

It’s all a bit winch and plummet once you’ve hit the heights of the trails proper. Three iterations demanded the thick end of a thousand metres climbing from your legs, and some level of skill and commitment when it all went grinningly vertical.

I was reminded a bit of the Climax black run, not because of terrain or surface but more because these are trails built by people who can ride a bit and they demand that you do too. Nothing insanely dangerous* but superbly flowly if you’re pushing on a bit, frustratingly difficult if not. But anyone who builds not one but TWO dry stone wall jump/drops into a single trail is a bloody genius, and deserves a tip of my virtual hat.

Most of the stuff was new and riding unsighted – chasing a vanishing Matt – had me thinking back to when I started riding. Everything was fresh, nothing was recalled, experience turned into joy and then into memories.  It got me gabbling, pointing and a little bit frightened. There’s a single world for that: Alive.

Happy to be so after a final trail off the ridge which saw Matt roosting* swathes of red dirt sliding his back tyre. Seemed a good time to finish the singletrack if not the ride. No first we had to find a pub not full of bank holiday angst and barfing kids. And our joy of riding into such as establishment was hardly metered by the shock of two pints costing nearly a tenner. Mainly as that was Matt’s round 😉

I rode to work with a stinking cold last Monday and that was good. I rode in the Malverns with the arse end of that cold in the wet, damp and single digit temperatures on Thursday and that was great. I rode today on about 70% lung and 50% competence and that was bloody outstanding.

This seems unanswerable evidence I  just love riding bikes. Long may it continue.

* Well there are a couple of things. Walking works well at this point. It’s a case of “how brave am I feeling? Quite Brave, Very Brave, No not that Brave actually on reflection

** I know. I know. But honestly, it’s the perfect word. It was ground zero at at a roostage convention.

Lush

BlueSmell Ride

Not one of my favourite words. Especially when used to describe an everyday object and/or an attractive member of the opposite sex. Try as I might, it’s hard to improve upon “I tell thee what, tha scrubs up well for a plain lass”*. Honest, hint of northern romanticism and in snogging distance of affectionate. So Lush, rubbish word but entirely appropriate composite of Lust and Dust.

Actually it isn’t at all, that’d be, er, Lust. Or Dust. Never mind, we’ve got this far may as well plough on and ignore my inability to combine two four letter words.  Two rides in the Forest this week – and one more to follow – have raised the bar high for perfect singletrack mountain-biking this year.

This time last year, the country was basically under snow and the bluebells were trapped below that wintry blanket. This Spring of sunshine and no showers has seen them cover acres of Forest, and already they’re wilting back. Best get some sustained viewing from the height of a bike then.

Last night the “Malvern’rs” were treated to a 25k of lust/lush/dust singletrack, most of which was perfectly framed by swaying columns of bluebells.  Since I was mostly route-finding – simply achieved by asked David riding next to me where we were going – out on point with the fellas in close attendance was the default downhill configuration.

Which is all fine, except for the massive distractions of dust whipping off the tyres into eyes entirely focussed on the periphery leaving almost no visual assistance to a brain demanding a little help on the next muscle movement. Flowing, nose to tail, through singletrack is one of the absolutely emotions to explain to those not obsessed by bicycles.

Let’s go with Lush for the moment shall we?

* Not that I’ve ever tried it myself. a) because women are one of the few things on this planet that regularly render me speechless and b) because a hard-swung bit of 2×4 is unlikely to improve my day.

You’re going home in a Gloucester ambulance.

This ride was many things. First time at night in the Forest this year, anniversary of the muddy induction ride when I fell in with this mucky crew, a potential redeemer for the new not really light emitting diodes and the chance to make merriment and new swear words with old friends.

It was all of that, and a little more. The route was mostly new,  sometimes muddy, often heroically slippy, occasionally hard and fast and marked frequently with prostrate mountain bikers. So one of those rides which gradually whittled down the men from the boys, starting with double figures but falling to six and then just falling off.

Even by my ever lowering standards, I was entirely rubbish. Mostly because I’d forgotten how to dodge trees while travelling sideways on a sea of something that might once have been dirt. Not now though, it was a heady chemical amalgam of viscous and slop dishing out the odd soupçon of grip to keep you interested, before dispensing brown justice in the form of a handy tree.

Many of the regular Forresters were sporting mud tyres and smug expressions. My all conditions rubber were instantly converted to slicks at which point I fell off. This seemed to go on for quite a long time. Until it became a bit boring – especially for the poor sods behind who were stalled by my repeated sweaty apologies – although having stayed upright for about three minutes on one descent, I’d have paid good money to be lying again in that nice comforting mud.

That was proper scary.  I have now experienced personal continental drift. From the tyres upwards, stopping briefly at the bowels and carrying on into a head wondering what happened to my “Chiltern reactions“. One crash did give rise to the concept of the “testicle fairy” where one could demand payment for a love spud,  separated from its’ bag-mate through the simple un-anaesthetised application of a saddle rail.

I’ll never dare put my arm under the pillow again. And I’m also mentally drawn to exactly what the Testicle Fairy might look like. It’s not going to be Tinkerbell is it?

Entertaining as this was, as a displacement tactic it fell flat when the trail didn’t, with the not terribly magnificent six winching skywards into plummeting temperatures to access a trail I’d ridden bits of, but never in the dark.  This climb seemed to go on for a while, longer for me I noticed as the mud-shod regulars wobbled upwards bathing most of the forest in a million lumens. UFO sighting must have gone up a million percent since MTB lighting went nova.

To access this fantastic trail, we first had some bone dry singletrack to climb which was both tiring and rewarding. The top of which opened out to a bank – with a entry only out-dodgied by the exit – for us to play on. A few of us played nicely with appropriate respect shown to lobbing oneself off into a dark abyss. A few others didn’t – Steve especially was having it medium, occasionally large.

We left him to it, shivering on the road side. What came out of the dark wasn’t a grinning Stevo, no what came out was that horrible sound of rider hitting ground, bike hitting ground, bike hitting rider, rider making groaning noises. It goes something like “ARGGH-BUMP-BANG-ARGGHH“.

Siren call that it is, we all rushed over to find Steve adopting a position somewhere between foetal and hibernating tortoise. He wasn’t moving much. Which considering he’d unclipped at the apex of the parabola before ragdolling down the slope and then being seriously inconvenienced by spiky bicycle wasn’t much of a surprise.

After a while – and to our shame some merciless ribbing – he declared other than an extremely sore arse, he was good to go. As long as the going was slow and easy. Then he asked where we were. A minute later he asked again. At that point he felt it probably was a good time to explain he couldn’t remember anything about the last two hours. Arse on the floor, head in the moon, concussion kicking in, time for some proper decisions.

Matt’s much maligned “capacious bag of doom” had already saved me with emergency sustenance, and now birthed a virgin space blanket we ripped open to wrap an every more confused Steve into. Ian has proper first-aid experience and Nic has much experience of just monging himself, so we left those two with the patient. The rest of us turned away from the dirt and lost our height on the fastest tarmac route to the cars.

The plan was to fetch Steve and his bike, place one safely in a garage and the other safely in Ross Hospital. Matt was designated “responsible adult unlikely to mix the two“, but before he could carry out Plan A, Plan B was triggered by a now entirely spaced Steve wondering what his name was. A quick 999 call brought flashing lights and a dash to Gloucester to get his head examined. Riding at night with this lot makes me wonder if I should too 😉

Happy endings all round tho. Steve was fetched by his partner late that night and, other than being “bloody sore“, is recovering fast. We didn’t forget his bike, and I made it to the chip shop before closing time. Well a man’s got to eat!

Closing thoughts; night riding is just the silliest thing in the world, and I never want to stop doing it. Hurting yourself is part of the game, an entry fee if you will, rewards are never earned without risk. You can mitigate it, back off a tad, ride to the conditions, cap your bravado and squash your competitive spirit. But if you ride long enough and hard enough,  you are going to end up in Hospital.

Oh and people that take the piss mercilessly are also your best mates when shit happens. I’d be happy to have any of those buggers get me off a hill when I inevitably lunch myself into a tree again.

If nothing else it’d give us something to talk about instead of  the testicle fairy.  It’d almost be worth it for that.

I have written to my MP.

There’s something that I never believed would happen. Along with actually caring what profile a window frame was, and becoming an expert on problem solving in Club-Penguin land. It is very much akin to seeing your reflection and thinking “wow that old bloke is what I’ll look like in 20 years“.

But even a man so incurious to the working of politics, and apathetic to the power of lazy can only take so much. The government’s selling off of the publically owned forests is, at best rushed and ill thought out and – at worst – spiteful and stupid.

Sure, the specific issue for Mountain Bikers is the lack of legislation to retain access to the trails, but there is a much wider point here. If something is held in trust for the public, then there is significantly less pressure for it to turn a fast buck. Throw open ownership to private-for-profit companies, and any pre-sale weaseling promising altruism and philanthropy are  lost in the quest for maximum shareholder value.

And you can absolutely see their point. They want no part in possible litigation if accidents happen on their land. A rider (be that on a bike or a horse) adds zero value to their bottom line, so why would they extend access rights to these groups? The CROW legislation of 2000 enshrines the rights of the much more powerful rambling bodies to roam over the land, but the rest of us were no-so-politely ignored when asking for similar protection.

Forests are fun places. Not just for me and the jealous protection of much loved trails. But for everyone; special places are found under the trees, there is a sense of peace and oneness with nature. They are full of light, texture and things to prod, poke and explore. The value of providing this kind of environment for the public has inestimable value that you cannot put a price on.

But the Government has. £100 million apparently. It’s a big number but against a deficit of billions, it’s not even a stone in the water. It’s enough to make you angry and it absolutely should although I doubt my MP will lose any sleep over losing my vote, with his 15,000 majority and Tory view of the world*

I’ll not let that stop me at least having a voice in the debate. Already many have signed up to the 38 degrees petition and, more locally, to HOOF supporting the Forest of Dean. I know I have. In response, there are the expected charges of hysteria and misunderstanding spouted by the mouthpieces of government. But a precent was set only a few months ago when an FC wood was sold off a few miles from here.

Previously it had FC sanctioned trails and was a fun place to ride. The first action of the new owners was to erect massive “No CYCLING” signs and randomly police it with angry men carrying shotguns.  It’s hard to see how there can be any winners in the forest sell, other than those whose quest for profit will be in direct conflict with public access.

And if that isn’t worth a bit of community action, I don’t know what is.

* There’s a fantastic old story where Lord Chesterfield was showing some Etonion Chum around his new estate. The high point was a visit to a huge tower with panoramic views in every direction. Apparently the stuffed shirt was so impressed he declared “Good Lord Chesterfield, you can almost see Poverty from here“.

Snowbody here

Not so much a bike ride, more a two hour tank slapper. Riding in snow is fun. It’s also bloody hard, and can be simply summed up by “Grip, Grip, WOW Amazing Grip, no grip, Tree”

These photos are from Jim’s iPhone which did its best considering a) it was dark b) it was about -2 and c) it’s not really a proper camera is it?

The FoD riding cluster climbs into double figures come Spring and isn’t much reduced during the months of mud, cold and darkness which precede it. Last night tho, only Steve, Jim and I made the more than a little exciting trip to the FoD.

The key to staying on was speed. Sufficient velocity delivered a wheel straightening gyroscopic effect to your track. Getting up to speed was tricky with bikes being rear wheel drive and we’ve all seen how well cars of that configuration go in the snow.

And if you should even twitch the bars or touch the front brake, the magic was gone and so were you. My 2.35 tyres floated well but you couldn’t really steer. Jim and Steve’s narrower nobblies seemed better suited but maybe they’re just a bit better than me!

We played about a lot. Skids were harder than expected tho with the powder snow offering up oddles of grip. Right up until the point when it didn’t. Ummmph generally followed.

We seemed to spend a lot of time climbing and not much descending. Although that perception was all about the sad fact we were pedalling downhill as well. No matter, a final three sections of singletrack where we were lucky enough to be carving freshies made up for the fireroad slogging.

Anyone who decided to stay at home missed one of my favourite rides of the last few months. And afterwards, the beer tasted better than good 🙂

That’s new then.

There is much love for newness. We a’e all constantly beseeched to embrace change. New is cleaner, brighter and somehow better. Built is obsolescence is the marketeers’ wet dream. The true cost of disposal are lost in the economics of shiny.

My loyal and – I can only surmise – medicinally enhanced readers may register surprise at my stout resistance to the pull of the new. Hard to reconcile this position from a man who disposes of bicycles at speeds close to light.

Here’s the deal; some new experiences are not welcome.  And while avoidance of camel buggary, the upper-classes and time trialling are simple even for a man short of patience and sanity, others creep up on you before unleashing their horrible newness.

Chill Blains of the todger. That’s one. In fact, the argument could be closed right there. The juxtoposition of a much anticipated warn shower striking frozen gentleman’s regions can be aptly summarised thus: “FFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK

-5 is not a super temperature to begin a night ride. Frankly it’s not even a good time to be outside. And yet here were the magnificent seven presenting themselves in various genres of a fashion crime, shivering and looking for excuses to go straight back home.

Fair amount of scope for that. Frozen mechs could be thawed by a desperate wee, but stuck cables proved trickier. Freewheels were gluey with thickening grease, fluid froze in brake lines, pistons in calipers*

Trails were fantastic though, when we could get to them. Access was via icy fireroads which claimed more than one victim. The normally impressive array of lights were displaying all sorts of new things, although the old,  tired idea of illumination didn’t appear to be one of them.

Cold batteries sent high-precision electronics into winter meltdown. After a few descents I learned to blink in sequence with the flashing approximation of lumens on the bar.

Eventually even turning on occasionally became too much for the poor thing, leaving me to divine the trail with the help of a fading helmet torch and occasional bark.

Stamping feet, and our own special-needs version of the sprinkler did little to return warmth to extremities bone-frozen by the unrelenting cold.  Increased heart rates as dry, grippy singletrack morphed into tyre sliding ice sheets didn’t help much either.

After a couple of hours, we called halt before at least one rider shaped puzzle was ice entombed for the next generation of Channel 4 discovery programs: “An amazing find,  the human shaped object is clinging to a tree, mouth open and wearing shorts. He may have been in a tribe, but appears he has been abandoned”

Damn straight. Not hanging around when there is a nice warm shower waiting at home.

* This is not a euphamism. Although later it could have been,

Strangers

Post FoD Night Ride

My previous FoD night ride started in daylight and ended in darkness. This time around pitch black was wrapped round my shivering preparations, before even a wheel was turned. It may still be a month until the Winter solstice, yet it feels as if we’re there already.

Other differences presented themselves out of the darkness. Firstly, a nearly double digit turnout of riders I’d not seen for two months. The lumens’ arms race showed no site of abating, although it has branched off in interesting technological directions. Of all those branches, I am hopeful that the “Mickey and Minnie Ears” evolution is subject to brutal natural selection.

Following that helmet light setup put me in mind of a Disney rave with the mice off their faces on acid. This was an unwelcome distraction to a man already much distracted by a trail surface offering the traction properties of polished glass.

Post FoD Night Ride Post FoD Night Ride

In one of those ‘it’ll be funny afterwards’ ironies, my toes were frozen as were my fingers and probably my ears. Although that was nothing more than a guess since feeling had left the helmet some time ago. The trails however were not frozen. They offered a number of alternatives; 1) deep mud but rideable 2) slidey mud sort of rideable 3) large puddles hiding patching of mud rideable if you were lucky and 4) Chiltern-esque stretches of absolutely no point in even trying to ride.

We did of course. And much falling off and general finger pointing followed.  Even the Singlespeeder was cut a bit of slack until the full moon rose hauntingly above the treetops, and it became clear that Adam’s Facebook profile reads “Likes: Singlespeeds, exploding knees, beards and werewolves“. Can’t turn you back on ’em for one second – it’ll be off with your derailers or something even more ghastly.

Post FoD Night Ride Post FoD Night Ride

There was plenty of time for piss taking, excuses and the new sport of precision mincing because this ride group isn’t exactly motivated by speed. Oh sure, it rambles along at a decent pace but stops are not mere halts for breath catching, more an opportunity to select the next victim. Compare this to Malvern rides which are all a bit “wham bam thank you mam” and non the worse for it, but there’s fun to be had with nine people and no mercy.

Everyone fell off. Some more than others. Some – smug mode – not at all until the penultimate descent on a fast, flowy trail barely hovering above the water table: “oooh nice drift, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve….. not got it”. It was almost peaceful as I slid down the trail on my arse, the bike long gone behind a distant tree.

A new ending started tonight. Final grind up a fireroad to access a cracking bombhole hidden deep in the woods. Again many of the group were in the vanguard of “All Mountain Free-Mincing” while a few of us just rode down the bloody thing. From below, the circling lights of the lesbian horde put me in mind of a very camp UFO experience “ooohhh I’m not sure about that, noo you go first

Honestly, just get on with it man. They did. Eventually. Proper cold at rides’ end. Six desperately defrosted cars and hurriedly packed their gear. Three had a more leisurely experience via the pub.

Post FoD Night Ride

I love the FoD in the dry when it’s fast and whippy and you can rocket through the trees for ever without riding the same trail. I’m quite surprised to find much of that love extends to the muddy season as well. C’mon winter, I’m ready for you.

Myndyd Du

The same semantic lore which decrees “Westwood Ho!” cannot be articulated without a piratical bent, dictates that  John Inman leads on vocals whenever “Myndyd Du” hits the larynx. Maybe  a bit of Mr Humphries crossed with Frankie Howerd* to really kick it; “oooooooh Mynnndndddduuuuu”. Possibly it’s just me. I find it generally is nowadays.

Certainly it felt that way when meeting up with bikes I could identify but people I couldn’t one early Sunday morning. Any earlier and it would have qualified as a night ride, but my concerns were more around a worrying lack of body fat from various competent looking individuals, and finding myself significantly under-biked.

This never happens; a lack of talent and bravery ensures a cheese-straw is never taken to a gunfight, but even bleary-early-eyed I couldn’t help but notice that my nice-personality-shame-about-the-size 4 inch travel bike was entirely oversprung by a number of six inchers and one monster DH rig pretending to be a trail bike.

Wolf? Sheep’s clothing? I think so. Not much time to worry about that since – in a break from normal FoD rider protocol – adherence to the start time was confirmed by Gentlemen Starting Their Engines. I explained to the kind fellas transporting my bike, that my presence was entirely due to some opportunistic sidling up to the FoD night ride crew and looking keen and needy when a Wales trip was being mooted.

They explained right back with a whole exotic list of fantastic trails they’d ridden, most of which were entirely unknown to me – not that this stopped me nodding knowingly and assuming moon-riding had blasted off while I hadn’t been watching. I began to worry properly until a detour sent us fetching our 57 year old guide who apparently liked to take it steady. My relief was short lived when Tony sprinted from his house showing a physique clearly missing any ravages of age or poor living.

Right then, blagging and excuses it is then. I started well on the stony climb from a car park marooned at the far end of the world’s longest one way road. A quick/slow/quick seatpost clamp fettle saw the boys disappear at a pace entirely inappropriate for a 7k climb into a nasty headwind.  I caught up with them eventually providing a perfect excuse for a camera/deep breathing halt. My second attempt to close the gap ended with that holy trinity of slipping chain/maximum power and gonads on the stem.   On the way down I deaded a leg, which slowed me further for the entire ride, although the fire in my bollocks somewhat overrode any competing medical condition.

Mynydd Du Summer route Mynydd Du Summer route

Gingerly remounting, I managed a few more strokes** before hopping off and limping upwards on a bouldery causeway that opened up some lovely views I entirely failed to enjoy due to throbbing grunties. And even though I was so far behind, Gary had carefully explained my special needs navigation ensuring I wasn’t left to sit astride alone on Lord Hereford’s knob. Good job too, already way too much action DOWN THERE already.

First descent, proper old school. Moorland wide tracks, little drops into wind bashed peat, gulleys, easy gradient, absolutely no corners. I passed a couple ensuring that John and Frankie were vocally active “just passing on your RIGGGGHHHHTTT”. That’ll be a result of the testicle slam some ten minutes earlier. Enjoying it so much, only when Tony turned off some distance behind us did the realisation that we had just added a bit more climbing to what was already rather a lot.

Mynydd Du Summer route Mynydd Du Summer route

I do love this kind of riding though. Not the Gonad Mashing bit, no more the big views, non Scalextric tracks, multiple lines, bump, bounce, heft, lift and manual, few hard pedals then same again. The ridge we took had all of this even if the climb to it had the kind of grassy friction that would have made it absolutely unrideable in the wet.  Which in Wales is the other 51 1/2 weeks of the year. It ended in a dusty and loose vertical drop that was properly exciting. More so as you approached seeing nothing up front but the far horizon.

It was like the map had just ended. Arse on the rear tyre, try and be a bit brave as it all gets loose back there (do your own jokes, I’ve already passed the limit on my own internal smut-o-meter), let go early enough to ping happily through a rock gulley that felt all Lake District-y except for the complete lack of grockles. The silence was broken only by contented mountain bikers mixed on conversational random; firstly nano technology, then most horrific injury before a seamless segue took us to whether having a crush on Maggie Philbin could ever be right**

Mynydd Du Summer route Mynydd Du Summer route

Soon after a trail that was the second most lost thing in the entire Country of Wales. The first being us of course as we reconfigured the bikes to “machete mode” and ploughed through shoulder high vegetation hiding wheel sucking dips and divets. Hiding but not covering as I found after trying to fall off three times. Fourth time lucky over I went, pausing only briefly to gouge my inner thigh with a mirror image of the rear brake lever. Still it took my mind off my testicles for a bit.

We did eventually find the trail and I wasn’t entirely pleased about that as it wound a long and windy path through streams and gulleys. Sometimes a bit testing, always upwards and the fast boys were just far enough ahead for us slow coaches to realise this was going on for some time. I settled into a pace that. were it a town, would be linked with Walking, Ohio only to watch Matt and his 40lb freeirde rig breeze past. Bastard. I said nothing tho as he was my lift and I didn’t fancy riding home.

Another fern thrash and Tony doubled his chance of having my babies by declaring all the climbing was done. Good job so was I although, on reflection, next time I’ll pump more than 23PSI into my tyres and after an aborted alternative finish, we dropped fast and  very loose on a fireroad before a hairpin bend closed the forest behind and above us. Where my peril-sensitive glasses changed from dark to light faster than anyone else could say “where the fuck is the trail?“. Others were less tech’d up and I followed Haydn past a couple of people laughing as he tried to divine the trail. And mostly failed.

Car park. Lie down. Pretend I’m stretching. Last few rides I have felt properly empty. Either too much riding or total lack of MTFU gene. The boys suggested we filled up on beer and peanuts in a local hostelry which was more than a little welcome. Proper day out that, very much enjoyed and a top bunch of fast and friendly riders to share it with.

I clearly didn’t make a total dick of myself (or they really are just terribly polite) because now I’m on the list to go play in Coed’Y’Brenin come end September. Based on this ride, I have a feeling it is going to be a a whole lot of fun. I’m packing the spare liver.

* You’d need a crowbar to separate that particular artistic pairing.

** Well it was bloody sore.

*** It isn’t. However we’re split on Phillipa Forester. Having just re-read that, maybe I could have chosen less descriptive words.

I blame the singlespeeder.

And if we blend in the Government of the day augmented with traffic wardens, estate agents and any person who volunteers to be on a committee, we have created a body onto which all the evils and ills of the world could be blamed.

Ready the Scorpion Pits and Bring Fresh Spiders” I hear you cry, but even in the benevolent dictatorship much loved by the Hedgehog, first there must be a trial where evidence of misdeeds and character assassinations can be aired. I didn’t say it was going to be a fair trial.

The Wednesday FoD ride is become a confusing juxtaposition of slack and speed.  Which I reversed by turning up early, before becoming increasingly lethargic. Whereas the riding widdle* rolled in at ever increasing intervals, with excuses ranging from forgetting what day it was to a total boycott of the Julian date system.

Now I had every reason to invoke faff-time what with the Cove maidening its’ reincarnation, no such latitude should be available to a man who has dispensed with his entire selection of gears. And yet, Adam appeared to be having significant car-park issues with his Inbred** resolved largely with rolls of gaffer tapes, and the occasional targeted trail tool wang.

Obviously I made jolly jest at his japery, and just as obviously he paid me back in spades.   First tho a rude awakening – of the arse mainly – riding a single sprung end. Immediate and direct are good things when the front wheel is sniffing dusty trail, but less appealing when the rear attempts to insert the saddle up ones’ jacksey.

I stopped for a pointless fettle only to find I had been abandoned. I don’t think you need to be told which individual failed to pass on my need for a halt do you? In his defence, his knees may have been exploding, but this gave me little comfort in my increasingly desperate meanderings  searching for riding pals, tell tale tyre tracks or a mobile phone signal.

I found the latter at exactly the time one of the Al-finding splinter groups called me up, established my location, listened to the confused silence after directing me back to the riding cluster, before hovering me up with more cheerfulness than I’d be exhibiting in his position.

There was some joshing around my under-developed sense of direction.  I countered that it was developed just fine thanks, it’s just a bit rubbish. Anyway while I was happy to re-united with the fine fellows who’d spent 15 minutes chasing round the forest searching for me, I couldn’t help thinking the uni-cogged one was entirely responsible.

Split ‘em up and the do ‘em one at a time” I could see him thinking. My imagination ran wild projecting  a vision of a forest full of smashed derailers and severed limbs, as this advance guard of the one-geared Jihad carried out his dreadful night-work.

I was installed mid-pack and given stern warning not to wander off on my own again. A pack that snaked on some old-school trails skirting an enormous lake hidden by vegetation and some kind of invisibility field. Honestly, one minute there was nothing but trees and the next, some great bloody body of water looms in your field of vision. I fully expected to see some Athurian knight fetching a sword out of it.

Following on was a rooty trail needing pedalling to maintain motion.  Puts the hard into hardtail that does, and watching the dual-spring boys riding away makes you appreciate just how damn good modern full-suss bikes are.  Come the next big climb tho, the low weight, high power transfer of the Cove reels it back a bit.

But bikes – mountain bikes especially – are for riding downhill and a perfect example of such a trail now awaited. Two brilliant things happened down here, firstly I was reunited with the simpe joy of sorted hardtails nailing swoopy singletrack, and secondly the Singlespeeder fell off.

Adam looked a bit bemused at the cause of the accident. I was able to help him out by explaining that he had been unable to select the correct gear.  What with him  not having any.  He may have laughed but I reckon when the rest of his alien tribe land, I’m first in line for the anal probe.

Light running out, we made hasty tracks onto “Green Lane” a peach of a trail arcing through head high vegetation. The super fast boys disappeared pretty quickly, as did any sense of where the trail went next as I found myself heading up the rest of the pack.

These fellas are also pretty rapid and I certainly couldn’t deal with ignominy of being passed by an injured man missing vital components, so head up, imbibe virtual bravery pills, let the bike do its’ thing. Which it did stunningly well even with my wide eyed twitchiness at the speed we were now travelling.

Ace. Not quite as ace was Steve’s short cut through a spiky part of the forest where he pretended there was a route. Clearly he’d been egged on by the Singlespeeder, or the mind control was beginning to take over.

It did at least take us to a trail I ACTUALLY HAD DONE BEFORE. Only in the wet and on one of my first visits to this MTB playground. It did seem to pass far quicker this time around, but maybe I am just thinking slower nowadays.

Properly going dark now***, we finished up on a rollercoaster of a track that you probably wouldn’t risk in the day. No better way to round off  a great ride than some dusky trail poaching. Except possibly for beer which was on the agenda, but a 5am start meant I had to wearily decline.

But, I thought, probably time for a quick cold one when I get home. Except the fridge was empty of liquid therapy, and the only alcohol alternative was to make myself a Snowball. Not even I am that dependant.

No beer in our fridge? I know, it’s unheard of. Almost an impossibility. How could it be allowed to happen?

I blame the Singlespeeder 🙂

* What is the collective noun for a group of mountain bikers? I’ve always favoured “Flange” but could be persuaded on “Gusset” or even “Trunion”.

** This is a bicycle brand. Oh to be a fly on the wall during those marketing meetings. The hilarity eh?

*** I was going to use the phrase “Those nights are drawing in” but dare not say it out loud in our house. It tends to trigger a violent  rolling pin reaction from Carol.