Filthy Rich

That’s pretty much how I was feeling when taking that photo. Which would seem a difficult mental equation considering the evidence; endless swathes of wet, mud to a depth which offered drowning as a real possibility, encroaching darkness and being quite properly lost. But I always find it really rather simple to solve: Bikes + Dirt = Happy Al. Hence my plan to make my personal World a better place snatching a ride between work ending and family stuff starting.

It didn’t start well. I was gritting my teeth on the first road climb soon to be picking detritus out of them, as my choice of mudguard* failed to prevent tarmac shrapnel fired by water tracers blasting me at high speed. Inevitably this wetness extended to an all over moist experience which at least prepared me well for when tarmac switched to trail. The woods here share none of the porous geology found in the Malverns. Instead they hold rain in a thick clay soup, making them largely off limits for MTBing during any prolonged wet spell.

This “Red Death” sets in about October and hangs around past Easter. There are – for the adventurous rider – some lovely dryish trails** but these are mostly lost in a delta of mud fed by rivers of gloop. I’ve seen terrible thing happen to great tracks when over-ridden during shitty conditions, so my approach is always to head straight down the centre regardless of any wheel swallowing puddles.

This served me well until I attempted to pedal or steer. Pedalling immediately drove the rear wheel sideways, and any attempts at cornering boldness immediately led to the kind of catastrophic oversteer where the front wheel ends pointing back at you. Or at least it would be, were you not now lying winded on a handy stump laughing your tits off. I dusted off the old cerebral CD cabinet and loaded up the forgotten “Chiltern Hills” riding skills to see if five years of falling off there would be in any way useful.

It was in a nudgy-nurdly approach to making progress. The fantastic ST4 was largely pointless as when it’s this wet – you’d be as quick on a shopping trolley. But that is not the point here; love the Malverns as I do for their all year riding, their steeps, their proper mountain-lite ness, woody singletrack still feels like home. And even when it’s under about four inches of mud, there’s still fun to be had switching drift for grip and sideways movement for speed.

90 minutes was all the time I had, which included a total of eight pot-holed road miles miles to reach the woods. Talking of totals, the scores on the now darkened doors were not terribly impressive. 13 Miles with a smidge over a 1000 feet of climbing. That distance in the Malverns, and you’re half way up Everest.

But it was brilliant fun, and entirely fitting in with my goal of doing something silly every day. Which may go some way to explain why tomorrow 5am will see me getting up to drive sixty miles to Birmingham in order to get a train to London. When ones leaves about the same time as the one from just up the road.

That’s not silly, that’s on the mentally unstable side of bonkers.

* None. Bought one of those fancy RaceGuard ones. But the clearance under the Reba fork arch is, well, Californian.

** Where the horses haven’t been. Clearly most horse riders are illiterate as the “Please Don’t Ride in these woods” are generally ignored.

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