By the numbers.

Riding with Martin has always been more about the smiles than the miles. Our rides are measured not in kilometres covered or metres climbed, because such dry metrics cannot record the pleasure of hiking up unpromising trails, only to add a hidden gem to the map of cheeky.

But we’re worried. Worried about middle aged porkiness, worried over lost winter fitness, worried watching the “Malvern Labrador“* chasing his fitness goals with the kind of single minded determination we really don’t understand.

Decisions were made – cold smelted in mud – in an airy hand waving manner that we’d try a bit harder, ride a bit longer, drink a bit less tea and eat a lot less cake. No dicking about, plan a route and get on with it. So I did just that; bypassing the midday hoards and iced up peaks – a hard tramp through multiple peaks that just happened to orbit around two cake stops.

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Important to ease ourselves gently into the new regime. Which probably excused an off trailexcursionall of five minutes in when a thinly disguised dirtrivuletheaded off in promising direction. That direction being directly into the abyss of the worked out quarry that has many fenced off entry points – all of which are vertical.

We made those fish-hand-movement indicating a ridable line before running away should any suggestion of attempting certain death be made. Conditions of mud and ice – both offering more grip than expected, but less than required – felt scary enough with sections ridden brakes off/eyes squeezed closed hanging on to the edge of scrabbling traction. Properly absorbing.

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Martin had clearly solved the numbers game refusing – for the first time in living memory – cake and tea after nearly forty minutes of riding, instead shipping us back into the busy hills on a cheeky mission to access the “antler trail“. Named not formarauding stags fighting over gene rights, rather a branch/camelbak incident picking out the “holy horns” in a tight night-riding beam a few weeks before.

It’s not legal. Not even close. A footpath would be a paragon of trail virtue compared to this well shrouded tree lined bounty below the hills. What it is though is unique within the Malverns – loamy singletrack hard pressed by mighty oaks starting fast/steep but mellowing to a perfect trail gradient snaking on a flow of sinuous curves.

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Come summer it’s a perfect test of weight distribution and tyre grip. Fast as you like if you’re as brave as you say. The rainy season pits your wits against slippy but predictable dirt and moist roots. Chasing Martin – for it is his trail and he’s bonkers fast in any conditions – I had both tyressimultaneouslybreak away which would normally trigger a panic/brake lever/crash process. This time I hung on and, for about the third time in a 12 year MTB career, drifted perfectly through an apex.

I’d pay good money to do it again. Really good money. Even some of my own. It was that good. The grunty hoik up the valley was made easier by fadingadrenalinespikes especially now tea and cake were definitely in the ‘training plan‘. This new regime ensured only half a pasty each washed down with hot tea knocked back quickly as the day rapidly cooled.

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A final tramp over and around the hills finishing on a descent predictably full of people mostly incapable ofindependentmovement. I’m a huge advocate of shared trailetiquettebut if a mountain bike is heading down a trail you’re perambulating on some 15 MPH slower, it might be a good idea to move aside. My internal laser beams were fully paid back by karma when Martin received a free puncture half a mile from home.

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Being a proper mate, I left him so to enjoy the remainder of the descent, dropping into icy steps, taking a deep breath, surviving that before freewheeling back to the truck. Martin turned up about a minute later which somewhat ruined my perception of just how fast I was going.

We had had a fantastic ride. Standard Al and Martin messing about and not taking it too seriously, But the GPS coughed up a nadge under 20k and quite a bit over 2000 feet of climbing. I toasted such amazing statistics with a beer or two. Softly Softly Catchey Monkey.

Training then. It’s just riding until your legs give way then is it? I’ll give that a go.

* That’ll be Jez, the third MalvernMusketeerwho has time trials on his mind and a training plan clearly dreamt up inGuantanamobay

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