There is significant pointy geography jutting ever upwards in my riding life. Look over there to Wales with seemingly endless rangesÂ of sharp peaks â€“ proper mountains – looming over deep valleys.Â Closer to home are the muscular Malvern Hills, reaching not so high but still at a straining gradient.
Largely free of mud regardless of season, packed full of rocky, open descents and cheeky hidden singletrack this compact range of lumpy loveliness has much to offer the keen mountain biker.
But it hides a dirty secret.Â While the South and North ends are stuffed with trail nuggets, the middle is â€“ letâ€™s be honest here â€“ a bit dull. Hilly, Yes; Interesting, Not really.Â Which explains why itâ€™s a bit of a mission to summit the Beacon on the North when starting from the other end.
That and itâ€™s a bloody long way. Not in miles, not even in my newly chosen ego stroking kilometres. Horizontally itâ€™s nothing, vertically however itâ€™s a bit of a monster.Â Â The hills are canted to the North so four grunty climbs are not rewarded with a similar amount of descending. But those four are the quickest way across.*
Quick being a relative term. Quick for me with a level of riding fitness someway below my Winter peak. As I wondered if my lungs were blowing out of my arse, or had already been abandoned on a previous climb I couldnâ€™t help also wondering if a bit less biscuit tin/cheese board/wine bottle action might aid my ascending prowess.**
The descending on offer did more than take a little edge off the gurning glumness even after sufficient rain to make Mayhem more of a nightmare this weekend*** The elbow of increasing articulation may be finally healing but still ignites the mental bushfire on the scary bits. Comes and goes, better bloody go soon tho otherwise Iâ€™ll be chopping out the â€œcowardly glandâ€ with a blunt spoon.
Weâ€™d dragged the Beacon closer through application of pedal on gradient, the peak showing itself from various angles. First weâ€™re left of it, then right but always below. Highest point in Worcestershire, made higher by my riding budâ€™s choice to first descend rather than take the easy way up.
Which provided an opportunity to heckle two slower riders who didnâ€™t seem to find our tailgating inspirational. The Irony card was played once a freak mechanical sidelined me to the side of the trail leaving them to huff past. At which point, Jezz â€“ who is consumed by a Labrador fetch mentality â€“ hunted them down on the next climb.
By the time I finally made it up there, the same two riders were looking seriously pissed off. Which â€“ in my experience â€“ is generally triggered by a large man on an even larger bicycle racing by. A hypothesis confirmed by said rider, sat a little further up the trail, with the subtle manifestations of a man seeing only black spots in front of his eyes.
We scooted off ever upwards in the fading daylight for the traditional â€œlean the bike against the trig pointâ€ which is really bikey sign language for â€œThank Christ thatâ€™s over, Iâ€™m having a proper rest nowâ€.
Even close to the Solstice, our light abandoning decision was beginning to look somewhere between ambitious and foolhardy. Time to go. The Beacon Run is a proper manâ€™s descent. Fast, rocky, occasionally rutted, enlivened by big holes torn out of the track and a level of exposure that would still induce vertigo in blinkers.
Good, fast run down, too late for random walkers diving for cover under the barrage of chain slap ordinance. Â Hero line over the big drop, sketchy on the marbles, hold it together and chase that setting sun. All that climbing? Worth every pedal revolution.
Quick conference, time for the long way home we think.Â Drop back into the valley before climbing back onto the ridge, but missing a couple of pointless hills. Flat out down the next one, where a quick glance at the GPS shows nearly 60k, and a look out front shows weâ€™re going to beat the fast incoming dark.
Until Jez cases a drop and sacrifices a tube.Â Still nice place for a sit while he fixes it. Had it been Winter, Iâ€™d have left the bugger 😉 Tired legs propel us gently up the last proper climb opening up my favourite jump followed by my least favourite steps. Survived those, railed the following berm with reactions now perfectly tuned to trail pitch.
Into â€œNarniaâ€ and into the dark.Â Proper dark with the sun setting, we make adequate progress only though trail memory and a sudden desperate belief in ESP.Â We hit the only really mud on the final trail link home which is fine because now we really canâ€™t see anything at all, and itâ€™s some manifestation weâ€™re not riding in a cave.
Itâ€™s way past 11pm as I wearily roll the bike back into the workshop. Iâ€™m a shower and some faffing behind a much needed bed. And in just over five hours the alarm is going to be all loud and spiteful.
* Unless you choose to ride along the ridge. Which would mark you out as some kind of lithuanism lesbian.
** Probably. But whatâ€™s the option? Lettuce? If the day has come that dinner is essentially crinkly water, Iâ€™ll need to up my alcohol content somewhat mitigating a salad day.
*** For those racing. Not for those turning up in wellies, grabbing a beer while pointing and laughing.