Don’t make me cross

Steeper than it looks!

So raged Ben ‘the hulk’ Ainsleyafter some charmless rogue accused him of cheating. Channeling that same Olympic spirit, I too became cross after a brave – if methodologically idiotic – decision to leave my rain jacket at home while taking my bike for a tour of rain-shielding trees in the North Devon countryside.

After a road ride on Saturday,characterisedby shivering, the onset of hyperthermia and a real risk of drowning, I was satisfied if not sated so needing to pedal again before venturing somewhere indoors and expensive with the family. Setting out again with optimism replacing proper waterproofs, the holy trinity of rain, cold and the great British Summercoalescedoverhead in a storm called ‘Al’s Stupidity’.

I made a desperate diversion for some likely looking trees which goes some way to explaining my navigational confusion some two kilometres into the ride. The rest is – of course – entirely due to my internal compass always pointing to ‘lost‘. No matter, a damp map and electronically-bristling GPS confirmed I was still in Devon and heading towards the river.

A river being violently fed by the steep rocky and rooty trail I found myself staring down in the manner of acondemnedman facing the scaffold. No matter, the Internet insists that you can ride a Cross Bike down anything easily dispatched by its MTB cousin. This may be true if a) the ‘net wasn’t populated my blowhards andcharlatansand b) the rider in question had a modicum of bike handling skills and courage.

I set off with some determination and some more fear, quickly becoming at one with the terror as the bike bucked over jagged rocks and slick roots. Deciding braking would mean certain death, I hung on to the drops and idly wondered if the local dog walkers were skilled in first aid. Such displacement tactics had success written large in jingoistic gold until a patch of wet grass triggered first blind panic, and then a more focussed emergency dismount into the waiting verge.

No real damage done. Only lightly bleeding, I pushed on towards my destination some 3k away. This proved to be aprecedentverb as the footpath *ahem sorry holiday bridleway *deterioratedinto a clay-based slop that had me mentally revising quicksand-releasetechniques. Luckily a local monsoon had me back under a tree, GPS in one hand, OS map in the other desperately wondering if any of the symbols represented easy to access local hostelaries.

Eventually the rain slowed long enough for a navigational triumph ending in a road climb steep enough to encourage nasty little thoughts that in fact I was climbing the side of a house. Eventually the house ended back in the same village from which I’d departed some 4k / most of an hour earlier. Much as ‘going home and cracking open a cheese and tea medal ceremony‘ seemed the best option, instead I hit the tarmac and headed off on a road that was wider than the bike and didn’t plunge up and down vertical valleys every 15 or so seconds.

And what a road it was. Flat, fast and – for the first time this week – sunlit. Even on 50 PSI knobbly tyres it felt fantastic with that lovely feeling of endless power as you tear up the horizon. This later proved to be the result of a significant tailwind. On and on we went, my genre confused bicycle and I, on the drops, pushing a big gear and engaging in what we middle aged cyclists like to think of as ‘a light shovelling‘, It’s like ‘burying yourself‘ in Olympic parlance only for people with beer guts and some sense of realism.

That hurt a bit, so I abandoned the lovely smooth road some 10k later in favour of the winch and plummet of rain soaked broken tarmac lost under misty tree cover. It was therefore a while later that I presented myself to the bar at the ‘Stag Inn‘ some five kilometres from where we are staying. Still bleeding from the odd abrasion, extremely muddy and clearly in need of a pint.

The barman wandered outside a little later and looked first at me and then at my bike in some confusion. “How did you get so muddy?” / “I’ve been riding off-road in the woods” “How did you get here then?” / “On the road obviously”. “So is it a road bike then? Or a mountain bike?” he asked pointing at the dripping, gloopy mess of my faithful aluminium pal.

Neither, I replied. It’s called a cross bike. But it makes me very, very happy.

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