It has been quite a week, riding wise. Four consecutive rides, then two days off before finishing with an epic – starting at 9am and finishing in late twilight*. This sequence is unusual enough on long summer days atop dusty, hard trails. Or even frozen winter mornings when that seasonal experience is preserved from the ankles down – rock hard singletrack under windless bluebird skies have a visceral and visual quality much ignored by the three-season mountain biking community.
None of these scenarios even partially match the rim deep mud, the endless slashing rain, the tree rattling wind, the gray-clamped sky, all peopled by delusional nutjobs who maintain slithering about in this depressing landscape is somehow an improvement on staying inside. My first ride put the Sun into Sunday and the ‘how many bloody people‘ into the Malvern Hills. Monday lost the sun and the weekend ramblers, but kept the slop, Tuesday had me finding new and interesting ways to fall off my cross bike, Wednesday exchanged night for day but the depth of mud and misery remained the same, and Sunday was merely a composite kaleidoscope from the previous week.
Numbers contextualise the experience. 150 kilometres. 3650 metres of vertical climbing. 13 hours in the saddle. A bit more if you factor in breathing hard and drinking lightly. Three different bikes, all brown. Five sets of riding kit, also brown. Two sets of winter boots living mostly under a radiator. One washing machine toiling beyond any concept of warranty repair. Mud moved, collected or eaten not recorded – had it been we’d been rounding up to the nearest metric ton.
Obviously it’s not all good, clean fun. There’s fun to be had, but it becomes increasingly diluted as another favourite trail has nothing to offer but tread-filling saturated dirt and the opportunity to participate in the nascent MTB offshoot of ‘not being able to steer or brake’. And then there are the noises – not just the sound of man bodysurfing mudpack but – transmission grinding itself to swarf, brake pads being filed back by grit, bearings graunching as trail-shit replaces grease. The human ear is not sufficiently attuned to discern the removal of paint, the stripping of expensive water resistant compounds and the slow death of a hundred small but vital components.
We crack on though with mud heading in that direction because the options are grimmer still. My body is used to exercise – it may complain incessantly about pain and suffering, but without it physically I become increasingly restless, and mentally I miss the revolutions to unwind difficult days. Spring feels closer than it is because of this mild winter, but it’s within reach and there’s fitness gold at the end of March’s rainbows for those of us earning double mud miles through winter.
So now we’re all about eeking out components until we’re fully out of the dark. My winter boots are held together by thin strips of velcro and habit, but replacing them feels like accepting winter isn’t mostly done. Chains, Cassettes and Chain rings on my three most used bikes are hooky and slippy, but fitting new and shiny stuff will merely render it similar within a few rides. Forks, shocks and seatposts have exchanged lubrication fluid for a mess of emulsification, but my friend Matt is a wizard with all things oily so extended post-ride triage sessions should see us through.
And riding is always – well nearly always – better than not riding. Sunday felt like a death march especially as our trail scouting revealed nothing but carrying through logged woodlands, repeated muddy climbs and a zero count of new downhill trails. By 3pm, we were at least two hours from home over two big hills – news which triggered a storm hard enough to have us all reaching for emergency rain jackets. There was a measure of grim pounding out the miles through endless muddy trails and some further local depressions as yours truly had a mildly arse-y flouce over the pointlessness of it all.
So we went to the pub. With a total of one light between the three of us.** Quick pint consumed, world a better, if darker, place. Headed home into the bastard headwind which had swung around to haunt us all day. Rolled into Ross some eight hours after we’d left leaving me no option but to hose bike/clothes/kit in further dark and rain. Some time later – as I was oiling unarticulating knees with a decent Merlot – I reflected on a week where a serial assault on the endless horror of trails was somewhere between a bit silly and totally insane.
We’re back to options; one is doing nothing which I’ve already discounted, and the other is road riding which feels like a solution looking for a problem. So we’ll carry on in the hope that our sacrifices begin to crank the season-handle. I just hope someone is listening.
* Darkness really. It’s odd to be asked at 9:01am if you’ve remembered your lights.
** And that was a rear light. I considered asking for a carrot juice chaser with my beer.