Said it before. February is the hardest month. Even after unlockingthe self-medication cabinet to numb frequent andcruelrain lashings, it’s still normal behaviour – in these parts at least – to stride angrily into vertical rain pea-shot from dirty clouds, shaking your fist and demanding ‘Haven’t we suffered enough you utter, utter bastard?‘
Apparently not. Not if that ride was representative. It was the kind of slog leading you towonder if it might it be bothsimpler and cheaper torun around the forest setting fire to ten pound notes. Consecutive Sunday death marches in suchconditions ensured we didn’t fancy another one, heading instead to our favourite South Wales trails centre.
Afan always delivers when it’s grim elsewhere. Not that is wasdry. This is a land full of rivers- many of them gurgling happily in the bottom of valleys, anda few more running down the trail. But a lack of horrible wheel sucking mud servedup a 40km placard marked ‘the return of grip and joy‘
The sun even came out, and — when protected from the wind – we felt for the first time this year warmth fromthefleeting orb. Warmth which was blasted aside once that incessantly probing arctic vectormade a mockery of expensive technical garments.
That wind is a double edged sword. It’ll cut you deep on long traverses and drain the blood from your extremities. Flip it over though and watch the zephyrslice the top inch of mud from the trails revealing something wonderful and loamy underneath. In the case of the Malverns that’s basically bedrock on the exposed bits and black, peat-y goodnessin the trees.
Get amongst that and ride fall lines whichin the wet are exactly that. Aquaplaning fun says Martin, assisted suicide I counter. But it’s a welcome return topointing in the same direction as your desperate bar wrenching was aiming. And feeling good on the climbs; dry trails are worth a couplegears at least soit’s worth putting a chunkmoreeffort in. February also brings aa littlemore light and we used every minute of it, finishing dry and laughing in the twilight. ‘look at my bike, it’s clean / no look at mine it’s even cleaner’
Back home, my route inside bypassed the bucket of doom and headed straightintothe chilled trophy cabinet. Wondering if it might be so good again, we ventured out the next night intothe woods about Ross which traditionallydry out sometime inJune. For a week or so before returning to their default state of fungally damp.
Not dry but not wet either. Firm loam which are happy words for a winter mountain biker. Although still spiced up with an occasional lack of grip leaving all that new speed to go somewhere. Thankfully through the tight linesbetween the trees and not into them. Two hours of that and while the bikes were splattered we remained un-battered. Far from it, the temporary return of a dry line raised our spirits to the point we didn’t need endorphins topped up in the pub.
It won’t last of course. It can’t. It’s February. As I write a big storm is dragging a couple more Atlantic lows in its wake. Three days of rain will bringlocalised flooding and a mess were that dry line so recently was. The line is like groundhog day – we saw it, rode it, cherished it and shall now lament its loss for a few more weeks.
It’s addictive though. I slipped out once morebefore that storm broke. Steeper and deeper than before. Apparently quite slippery* when wet and still pretty bloody tricky right now. Winch and plummet for most of an afternoon with impressive vertical distance butbugger all horizontal. Findingperfect dirt that cannot be bettered. A prize worth hunting for under those threatening skies.
Sunday is our real riding day. I used to pretend it was a battle andnot riding was a sign of weakness. If we didn’t keep battering the storms they’d batter us for ever and summer willnever come. I know better now, the weather doesn’t care and neither do I. The sun will be back out soon. I can wait.
February will be wet. Of course it will. But this isnot a test. If you can cheat it a little with three days of dry riding under a gently warming orb, you’re doing it right. As my much-missed friend Jenn Hill once said ‘Here you are with your arms and legs and walking around in the good sunlight. That’s winning. You’ve won, see. The rest is just gravy
Wise words. When worryinghow our lives may stack up againstothers, we’d do well to remember them.
*I think ‘certain death‘ would be more descriptive.But you can’t beat a Bon Jovi reference.