The Forest Of Dean is often abbreviated to FoD. After Wednesday’s night ride, I shall be writing to the appropriate naming body proposing a change:
Forest of Dark
Filthy ‘orrible (&) Dirty
Festival of Drudge
Failure of Drivetrain
Full of (potential) Death
Lately the grumpy hedgehog has been whining that the Malverns are a bit boring, although really that’s nothing more than a failure to MTFU when faced with their challenges: to whit unrelenting steepness and an amazing ability to store snow. The FoD offers different sorts of problems but vertical climbing isn’t one of them, with a sixteen mile ride raising a barely humpish 1400 feet of climbing.
This doesn’t however include the four miles travelling entirely sideways and a the few – yet unremittingly terrifyingly – hundred metres bug eyed and entirely out of control. It’s been a while since night rides started SW of home to a meeting point full of strange men apparently attending a “Bike Light Arms Convention“. Two other things were apparent in the drizzly gloom, one was a splattering of muddy body armour and the second an almost 100% coverage of double mudguards.
We don’t do mud in the Malverns. There’s an occasional sticky few hundred yards of heavily travelled slop, or a few woody sections that can get a bit “Chiltern-Y” , but up top the worst we can expect is a bit of moist grass. Our route in the FoD was an educational journey into a thousand different types of mud, all of them offering us mudguardless fools a gritty enema, and extending their no traction guarantee to every rider.
It was fun in an old school sort of way. Sliding about in a parody of control idly wondering if the next crash would end in soft mud or a hard tree. And while we’re on a renaming track, I’m sure Schwalbe, being a proper German firm, will have some kind of formal procedure to approve the “Nobbly Nic” becoming known as the “Suicide Sam” in conditions so slippy you could dress them in a suit and call them Peter Mandleson.
My newly learned trail skills had already been hosted in another forest the day before where, after much intense muttering and mentally beating myself up, I managed to look a long way around a bermed corner and tear a swathe of dirt from it with my back tyre. Question for you: “If you pull of that kind of stunt in a forest where there is no one to see it, did it really happen?”
Anyway emboldened by this trail magic, I found it almost entirely irrelevant when blinded by flying mud and with tyres never gripping sufficient dirt to make cornering much of an option. I think it may have saved me on a few slick off-camber root sections, and a bit of vaguely remembered trail seemed to flow a little better than before. But with a light pointing one way and me squinting unknowingly in the other, finishing the ride alive felt like progress.
You wouldn’t want to ride in that every week, if only because no man without a large trust fund could afford the wear and general destruction of parts. Two sets of cheap brake pads are now entirely worthless unless there is a second hand market in backing plates. My new drivetrain is looking quite old and run in, whereas most other bits just look a bit run down. My rain jacket did a superb job at keeping the incessant showers away from my snug torso though, all the more impressive since it is entirely transformed to this season’s new colour*
Lovely bunch of lads though, who made me feel most welcome and made me laugh with their incessant piss taking of everyone for anything. And it’s a brilliant place to ride in the dark even when you’re wondering at what point mud becomes quicksand. I can see an bi-monthly split between this and the Malverns – although such is my love of riding in the dark nowadays, maybe I’ll manage both on lovely summer evenings swooping down dusty trails and beer to follow.
This feels like it may be some way away. On arriving home, I spent a happy 10 minutes hosing first the ST4 and then myself before being allowed over the threshold. I still fear for the washing machine even after my best efforts. But what the hell, if nothing else that two and half hours further nailed the truth that riding a bike is nearly always better than not riding a bike. And sure, the trails have suffered with all this rain, but if you can’t deal with the mud you can’t really call yourself a mountain biker.
* Brown in case you were in any doubt.