Forget the seasonal pedants – for anyone with a love of outside, March 1 is the unofficial start of Spring. And, whilst we know it is irrational, the expectation is for the hedgerows to explode into growth, the sun to come – and stay – out, the trails to dry up overnight and with all this, seven months of uninterrupted MTB goodness to begin.
For those of us with a real weariness of winter, these changes cannot come too soon. With two events already entered, both with the number ‘100’ in their distance classification*, and the first of which is less than six weeks away, I’ve been upping my riding frequency as soon as the clock struck March. This has already included a Malverns death march, and two commutes that are mildly life-affirming, but generally undertaken in the dark, cold, wind and rain.
Through such trails and tribulations, it’s important to remember why you’re doing this; increased fitness, good summer base, miles in the legs, pounds off the belly, all that sort of stuff. But I have two problems with that; the first is MouseLung(tm) has played the Squatters’ Card so I’m struggling with about 80% lung capacity**, and secondly that’s not what I ride a bike for.
Time for a change then. Today I needed to tap back into my woody roots, get back to setting off with no plan, no target mileage, no goal for vertical distance. Just go and do what started me on this ten year journey of fun and frolics; messing about in the woods if you will. And there is no better mate for that sort of thing than TimH of this parish, who greeted my question of “What’s the plan then?” with an airy digit waving in the direction of some trees.
No ride with Tim is complete without some hike-a-bike/trail finding action, and no sooner that we’d spun up a sun-splattered fireroad had he dived off into the bushes promising “There’s a trail in here somewhere“. Indeed there was, and more than one frozen solid but lightly warmed by a weak sun and shielded from the bitter wind. Tim found us a fun little bombhole to play in, which we did for quite a while even getting the cameras out. Obviously we were both WAY better before new-media was there to catch our efforts.
A little more perambulation round some recent logging had Tim apologising for missing some tasty singletrack action, but I didn’t care one jot. Bike, Hard Dirt, Narrow Ribbon of Singletrack, Woods, Mate, Sunshine, Bacon Butties to follow. Doesn’t just tick all the boxes, but writes mile high in neon crayon “I REMEMBER NOW WHY BIKES ARE ACE”
And they are, especially when thrown roughly at a couple of the FC sanctioned DH tracks. First up “Corkscrew” a belter of tabletops, berms and one fairly “woooah where’s the bottom of that?” drop. It’s all rollable – ask me how – but a second and third run had me hanging onto Tim’s wheels, as his lines tore up the trail and beat down the obstacles. We approached the drop at a speed entirely inappropriate for a man of my bravery, but – as ever – enthusiasm had taken over from common sense.
There are points when you are riding trails on the limit of your ability when you need all your bike skills RIGHT NOW. As we cleared all three foot of the drop, this was clearly one of these times. I landed near the trails edge facing a tree, with my rear wheel locked up. A moment of adrenaline fuelled clarity sequenced a brake release/turn in/push down/grit teeth approach which gained me the corner, but lost me too much time to catch Tim.
I kept trying tho on the next DH trail named somewhat extravagantly “Sheep Skull“. I didn’t see one of those, but what with everything else going on including steeps, exposure, encroaching trees and relentless roots, I’m probably not the most reliable witness.
DH Sated for the time being, we headed off to the next valley searching for the next slice of singletrack – allegedly totalling over 200k in the entire Forest. After some more tree wiggling joy, time and tiring legs conspired to place Tea and Medals in our immediate future, but we were high on the ridge now – cold out of the sun and in the wind – searching for the most fun way down.
This appeared to be a mellow top section which dropped into a close contoured hairpin alley. Two of these steep and loose exposed scaries had to be conquered before plunging into a high speed chute over another maelstrom of interlocking roots. I’ll not document the rider who managed to do it first time, mainly because Tim had shown me a clean pair of wheels all day, and I reckon he was just trying to salve my ego a little!
Giggling like the inner children we are, big hand waving ideas of where we were going to explore next time, accompanied big handfuls of tea and pig-inna-bun. We hadn’t ridden that far, or for that long, or climbed very much, nor maintained a high average speed. And you know what I’m going to say next – it mattered not at all.
This was a ride which reminded me why I ride. Last week a different Tim and I messed about in a similar manner on the fall lines in the Malvern hills. In between I feel like I’ve been trying to damn hard for something I’m not that bothered about.
More Spring is good. Less targets are welcome. Bikes are ace. I’ll not be taking myself too seriously again any time soon.
* and one is more than that in real non metric miles. Gulp.
** Which, with Asthma, is about sufficient to tackle a difficult set of stairs.