Mud Dogs and Englishman

Murf – a lot younger. No less smelly.

Bit of a stretch that. Saved by the digital archives locating an 8 month old Murf having been ‘done over‘ by the bigger dogs. The dog continues to be as happy as a labrador in shit some five years later. The smell of damp mutt has barely diminished, but thankfully the crazy paving passing as a carpet has long since been given a decent viking burial.

For the last three rides, undertaken in a rather ambitious four days, most of the trail, a good splattering of my person and the entire bike has been consumed by various shades of what was, until recently, dusty and buff singletrack. You’d need to apply for the role of ‘delusional optimist’ to pretend ‘moist dust‘ is in fact a recognisable property of viscous mud.

Thursday’s night ride was under the first clear skies for a week. Before then we had rain best verbed by ‘lashings’ and not in a Ginger Beer kind of way*. I’ve always maintained the geological perfection of the Malverns is both in their topography and their age. We’re talking an ancient glacial sponge here which funnels water through much cracked rocks into natural springs. Not on Thursday it didn’t.

Splodge, slide and slip light up a ride otherwise shrouded in muddy darkness. Fuck, Shit and ARRRGGH add a little more colour to that picture. It was mostly funny, sometimes difficult and occasionally terrifying. The ridge descents were mostly dry, free of people and silly fast. Anything below was slick-backed with glutinous dirt filling of tyre and removing of grip. Trails where hard carving summer turns had been fed through the Autumn translator. A new language of breathing gently on the bars and listening to sliding tyres kept you mostly upright.

Difficult, engaging and necessitating proper handling skills. Worthy stuff but tell me when Spring is again? It wasn’t yesterday where 40k of Forest singletrack started in the pissing rain and ended happily in a sun drenched pub. And altogether brilliant showing friends our best trails in less than their best state. Proper life affirming stuff, where grip could best be thought of as ‘more than you think but somewhat less than you need

Mud brings comedy. Me leading into a switchback full of muddy slickness which transformed tyres to slicks and me to a passenger. ‘It’s that way‘ I desperately shouted while heading off in entirely the opposite direction looking for somewhere soft to throw myself into the shrubbery. And ‘Did you just fucking ride that?’ being thrown my way as multiple riders arrived atop a final tractionless drop to a fire road. ‘Sure, no problem, it’s fine‘. They thought differently and under beer interrogation I was forced to admit it’d been ‘pretty much uncontrollable/nearly ended up in the river/considered diving head first into a passing canoe

Emboldened by having a great day on mostly horrible trails, witheredcarcus(tm) dragged a much washed bike to the Malverns for a pre-lunch quickie**. A fine idea echoed by everyone within a thousand milds of Birmingham. Rambler Rammage fully accessorised with thick red socks, enormous packs, emergency transmitters, walking poles and expressions clearly crafted from a long study of the terribly constipated.

They don’t like mountain bikers much and I’m not a massive fan of human slalom poles which reduced the ride to sloggy impasse on trails method acting February. At times like this, experience and gravitas comes to the fore. Meaning Martin and I slithered down a descent ending at the Malvern’s finest cake stop. Refreshed and invigorated through the power of tea and sweet things, we switched the bike direction and headed downhill on much neglected trails.

Karma mostly restored, a final climb found us immersed in a honeypot of trail runners, small children, rotund ramblers (hint of constipation firmly in place), Brummies clearly lost and a thousand random mutts. We announced our presence with staccato chain slappiness and cheery shouts of ‘Morning‘*** in a ‘we’re all in this together‘ shared access kind of way. Soon we were free and clear heading for tea, medals and a desperate assault on the washing machine.

I’m keeping Martin honest because his French Full Suss has waved the white flag for the third time in as many months and he’s been downgraded to the hardtail. I’m bouncing about on the PYGA picking lines based entirely only how much fun they may be at silly speeds. The mud is gone, the slog of wheel slipping climbs are behind us as we’re fired briskly into a blue rimmed horizon. Payback time.

Today, a ride saved by cake. Yesterday was bookended by misery and beer. Thursday under clear skies felt like a privilege as we looked down to a valley full of TV-on houses. Tomorrow will be warm and inside which is good, but it’s the weekly spinning class which clearly isn’t. Tuesday, the flipperati shall ride out again splashing through puddles and peering into the dark.

And repeat until Spring. Which might not sound fantastic. And yet compared to the option of ‘not riding’, it sounds like the best bloody idea this year.

* Did ANYONE other than the Famous Five ever actually say that? Apparently Enid Blyton didn’t like kids much which if you read the books becomes immediately apparent.

** Those days are LONG GONE πŸ˜‰ Mostly because various offspring would be calling Childline citing starvation due to parental abandonment.

*** MTB code for ‘no idea if these brakes are any good, are you feeling lucky?

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