Crowd a flange of mountain bikers around a lumpy OS Landranger, and between squeeks of excitement and the telling of tall stories there’ll be some significant stabbing of digits at tightly-spaced contour lines. ‘There, it starts there‘ shall be confidently declared ,suffixed by fast spoken local geography augmented by topological features. There may even be reenactments of bold moves over crux points with full on handlebar method acting.
And every other experienced rider will be torn between excitement and cynicism. One mans epic is another blokes pointless trudge. Awesomeness will be distilled by crap weather, navigational failure and just having a crap day on the bike. The trail will be good*, but it won’t be great. It’ll certainly fall short of the mythical status the singletrack shaman is enthusiastically pedalling.
Minton Batch falls squarely into this category. Some of which was entirely down to me failing to find it on two previous attempts. Firstly attempted into a cheeky 50 MPH headwind which turned the map both ariel and scuttling off towards Wales. A second map proved about as useful the following year during precipitation best described as localised flooding. All we found that day was mud, but to be fair we did find an awful lot of it.
After which I sort of gave up. Until this weekend where a combination of actually checking the forecast and abrogating map reading responsibilities** to a proper adult suggested third time lucky. And the 30k ridden before we finally cracked the navigational code were quite fantastic all on their own. Big climbs, fun descents, not too many people, amazing views in a semi-wild environment and my continued tortured route finding which generally led us in entirely the wrong direction.
But confidently in the wrong direction. Which I’m banking as a major improvement. Including refusing to accept that ‘the middle of three’ trails being absolutely the descent into Carding Mill was in fact more to the left of centre. Or ignoring the urgent beepings of the GPS entirely and ‘switching to manual‘ which at least proved my organic satellite navigation is exactly on par of that provided by the expensive electronic version.
So despite my best efforts, we’re the highest things on the Mynd other than the full sized gliders thermalling above us. We’re faced with an inauspicious grassy redoubt dropping into what my friends call ‘tight singletrack‘ and I call ‘wheel sucking ruts‘. But from a low key beginning this trails fires you high into three kilometres of hill hugging heaven. It’s neither insanely technical nor perilously steep so initially fooling you into a speed in your friend approach.
Only if your friend enjoys pushing you out of ten story windows. This trail clings desperately to the hillside. Put a tyre wrong here and you’re going down. For quite a while. So it’s that perfect trail which encourages speed and precision but punishes mistakes and sloppiness. The ruts give way to shaley rock surprisingly obstacled by hidden rock steps and sudden tight bends. But the views just keep on coming, firstly across the heather-strewn tops then dropping your eyes into alluvial vistas long torn by volcanic violence. But those views are sirens for those eyes and you have to tear yourself back onto the 3-d problem in front of you.
And when you do, the perfect ribbon of singletrack flows on rewarding commitment and technique with endless perfect sweeping bends. Even when the gradient is almost exhausted, the trails pushes you on – pedal, carve, pedal, push, weight-shift, pedal, drop a shoulder, rail a turn, flash past a rambler and repeat until the giggling starts. It doesn’t stop when the trail ends. It doesn’t stop when drinking sunshine-drenched beer. It declines a little to an idiotic grin on the way home. it raises a smile on a shitty day when people confuse personal with important. It’s back when you fire up the photos.
It only fades wondering when you might get to do that again. That’s a mythical trail alright – not because it doesn’t exist but precisely because it does. You cannot call yourself a mountain biker and not fall deeply in love with that descent. It’s pretty much what mountain bikes were built for. I have been lucky enough to ride some brilliant trails this last month – both here and away – but this is something a little bit special.
At no time did I wonder if I was riding the right bike, with the right wheel size, with on-trend bar widths or complicated suspension. All I cared about was the next fifty yards of trail and chasing the plumes*** of rocky dust from the rider I was chasing. Distill that feeling and you have the elixir of mountain biking right there. Bottle it and you’re going to make a fortune.
I’ll be back for another hit sometime very soon. What’s everyone doing next weekend?
* except for Nan Bield. Which whatever popular opinion may say is a whole load of carrying opening up a world of extreme peril.
** Although I did download the route onto my notoriously useless GPS. Which filled my riding pals with so much confidence they brought two maps. Each.