A query oft posed by disbelieving strangers on viewing the chunky authority that is the SX Trail. Because the porky object in question (that’s the bike not me in case you were in any way confused there) is often propped against a handy dry stone wall, half way up a mountain-lite, the response is generally a slightly wheezy affirmative.
Yet if you’d asked this same deluded, yet loyal owner that very question about three pm on Sunday, the answer would have been a firm no. It was one of those rides where you’ve overestimated your ability and underestimated the hills. The weather was just starting to close in a little and we’re were running out of energy, enthusiasm and – if the weighed down, slow pace continued – light as well.
Derbyshire County Council should really install appropriate signage as you enter the hills “Welcome to the Peak District, where the local climb is 1 hour and five minutes“. Starting with hope at Hope, the first climb up the broken road to Mam Tor is about that before a plunge of insane rockiness down the boulder field of Chapel Gate. The lack of corners on a trail such as this is a welcome relief as you hang on for grim death and idly wonder which part of you would explode first, were you to be catapulted onto one of a million spiky rocks. Trying to actually steer the bike around this graveyard of stone would be a skill to far for me.
And then more of the same for the next five hours, thirty three miles and five thousand five hundred feet of uphill slog and downhill lunacy. While woody singletrack is the drug of choice for many mountain bikers, plummeting down and through glacial eroded valleys and zig-zagging over rutted moorland is MTB Crystal Meth for others. I’m equally rubbish at both as demonstrated when my friend Tim came past on a hardtail. At the time, I was pedaling desperately to reach ramming speed but even so…. it’s not about the bike then.
By late afternoon, we still had around an unlucky thirteen miles to go, much of it up and over sustained vertical geography including a road climb out of Hayfield that would be mildly unpleasant in a car. Turning off onto a dirt trail at last, it seemed we’d swapped dull tarmac for energy sapping wet grass. Hauling the SX around this kind of stuff can be a bit of a chore, but because it’s so ludicrously competent when cashing in gravity credits, I don’t really mind that much.
The last descent back to Hope is the multi-pitched Cavedale. Starting grassy, quickly morphing to rifled ruts spinning you pinging over drops, before throwing up a rocky slip road to the lineless challenge that has me beaten every time. I nearly didn’t get there either with tired muscles failing to reign in whoopy over-exuberance and a drift to within an inch of a dry stone wall at ‘fuck me that’s going to hurt‘ speed came close to ending the ride early. And possibly quite badly.
Riding days like this strike a discordant harmony when compared to much of the rest of your life. Work, Family, Stuff is generally a compromise, give a little, take a little and – sometimes – bend over and receive one for the team. It’s all subtle posturing and decisions by consensus, but when you’re miles from bloody anywhere, that approach is going to get you nowhere fast and certainly not home.
Stripped of social niceties, you just have to get on with it. The good bits are better and the bad bits a little worse. Expanding your mental horizons while pushing hard on the cusp of the adrenaline/fear barrier is not place for crowd pleasing choices. But that’s a pretty good place to be and when I finally give up Mountain Biking, I don’t think anything will ever take its’ place.