Not so much a quandary, more of a life decision. Many times I’ve moodily watched expensive vegetation being drowned or whooshed horizon-wards by tornado winds thinking “I’m good at excuses, this would seem an ideal time to make one”, before bearing down on the sofa waypointing at beer fridge and crisp cupboard. The consequences of such an easy choice are bigger trousers, unreconstructed feelings of guilt and entirely missing the point.
Before moving here, riding rarely ended without beer. Some started that way as well although inevitably finished in a heap of limbs making giggling noises half way up a tree. Only when the shock of failing to recognise your riding buddies in civvies after two years of sharing trails, do you realise how much things have changed. All the good bits are still there; like minded people, gentle piss taking, hidden competitiveness, schadenfreude, pain, suffering, lucky escapes, joy, pain and scars. But post ride is a quick go on the hose pipe* and away to general duties.
This week we invited the Forest crowd over to sample some proper hills not bounded by bar spinning trees. This was – for most of them – a first experience of the geological oddity that are the Malvern Hills. Powered by volcanic activity, they rise from a flat alluvial plane with unrelenting steepness to multiple jaggety peaks. We set off up the North end which is busier, rockier, higher and criss-crossed with plunging trails and bastard climbs.
First up we had hoards of riders to escape giving the poor FoD crew an experience similar to dropping Robinson Crusoe into Central London. To spare them from having to explain where all those extra fingers came from, we dropped into the shadow of the Worcester Beacon and kept it right side and looming on the approach to the last proper Malvern Peak. North Hill brackets the end of the ridge, and offers many secret delights down into the town itself.
First tho a stiff pull*** skywards before a cheeky cut back on moist grass enlivened with tyre stopping rock. Everyone got down but not without some wide eyed stares. The perception seemed to be that the ride would mostly be on soft grass with a few rocks thrown in. This end of the hills is exactly like that only entirely the other way round. Crash in the forest and you’ll be picking teeth out of ancient oak roots, lunch it here on something steep and they’ll be using those teeth for identification.
We skirted the worst of the grassy climbs before summitting high on the ridge end, stopping only to enjoy the popping sound of cooling singlespeeder knees. Yes, Adam was back on a bike lacking 26 out of 27 important mechanical parts, but the bugger did stunningly well to get up everything. Confirms my hypothesis: Alien. Good times tho playing to Al’s first rule of riding “50% of what’s good is where you are, the rest is who you’re with”
And where we were was topside of a rocky horror switching to mad steep dirt abbreviated by vertical granite sleeping policemen keen to make a tyre arrest. Riding it at dusk on the hardtail was reasonably involving, but my mind was distracted by the general carnage in front of me. Nobody died which seem to spur the boys on to tackle a nasty set of steps incongruously located in the middle of bloody nowhere.
I gave them a miss but liked to think earned a few man points with a brisk clearance of a much loved rock step accompanied by a silent “glad I didn’t fuck that up“. Now we’re in Malvern proper and that’s the low point of the ride. Elevation wise we’re a big hill from home, and it’s a 25 minute climb to get there. No point rushing I offered, I’ve tried that in the past and while the hill doesn’t care, you’ll end up spatchcocked over the bars making the kind of gestures un-bowled goldfish are known for.
There’s a cheaty, easy way round the Beacon to crest the final climb. It seemed a shame to share that what with a few of the boys showing such enthusiasm for the steep and unforgiving front face. Those buggers have had it over me enough time in the deep, dark woods and it’s important to restore karma. Not that I was in any way counting. Oh no.
Much nudging regarding quality of the view from the top. Not surprising since riding in the Forest is brilliant but visually merely slightly different coloured bark. No time to linger though, with a straight mile of lumpy descent unencumbered by corners but fast enough to promise breakfast through a straw should liberties be taken. Martin (proper guide and reason we didn’t spend the entire night going “er, this way not sorry that way, er anyone got a compass, or a rabbit’s foot?“) is a man who does indeed take liberties on this trail, and raced off with the Forest boys in determined pursuit.
I was sweeping at the back, and nearly had to sweep myself up after a rather vigorous if unwise pace was applied to a part of the trail where the ground drops away and tyres scrabble desperately for grip. I slowed down a bit after that which was fine as I wasn’t catching anyone anyway.
A quick loop back over the top of the wyche so we could finish fast and loose on big steppy rocks and then just big steps found us at 8:45pm having climbed 2,300 feet in a lot less than ten miles – the result was a bit of cheek blowing democracy on what we should next.
We went to the pub. Obviously. And it reminded me what a great natural high dopamine mixed with decent beer will give you. So now Al’s rules of riding runs to three, the one up there, an assertion that “riding is always better than not riding” and now “A proper ride only ends when stumbling tiredness is mixed with conversational bollocks and decent beer“. I reckon there’s a book in here somewhere.
So it’s not beer or bike. It’s beer AND bike.
I know what some of you are thinking. And I know how old you are. You should be ashamed of yourself. Really. Next thing you’ll tell me farting is still funny**
** Okay I accept that.
*** There you go again. Not role models for your children really.