10,000 other people not shown

I know I know, I do that a lot. Today though we’re more about the correct use of the verb as championed by at least a thousand walkers in the Malvern Hills. Sunshine lights their way and winter hibernation is in full retreat. Every evolutionary branch was represented – the double-poler striding out in grim determination, the full-rucksackers Sherpa-ing sandwiches, tea and random paraphilia to the highest point, the sweat-panted sweaty on a post-Xmas guilt trip and the family outing rounded out by bored children and perambulating dogs.

And a few mountain bikers. It’s a source of constant amazement to me that the Brownian motion of all these tribes, squeezed into a narrow range of hills, rarely sparks the tinderbox of frustration. That’s probably because 90{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} or more of trail users work extremely hard to respect each others space, and do not believe in a hegemony where they are first.

A few do tho. Walkers who wouldn’t dream of blocking another of their kind, but make a literal stand when faced with approaching wheels. Or MTB’rs slicing through family groups on some kind of pointless Strava mission. Cross the streams of these groups and it’s all finger pointing, two finger waving and ‘Outraged of Malvern‘ furiously typing an extreme tirade to the long suffering local rag.

The Malverns have an odd dynamic with half being entirely MTB legal and the other half not*, the ownership model where Conservators steward the land and endless committee’s and steering groups looking to square circles. Or possibly remove them as MTBing has long been the black poster child most darted at by those who a) speak loudest and b) ride not at all. It’s a lazy and sweeping generalisation to point accusing fingers as ‘those who don’t understand us’, but it’s also rationally obtuse to suggest Paragliders, Mountain Bikers, Model Flyers, etc somehow have less ‘rights‘ because the walkers were here first.

So we knew that departing the busiest part of the hills at 10:30 was going to be one of those smile/nod/don’t get irritated experiences. The sheer number of people wasn’t really our prime concern – no it was more the total lack of any grip that had my full attention. Conditions were a cross between riding in the world’s biggest Teflon pan and a re-imaging** of Rollerball. Both Martin and I experienced awesome tail slides – the back end breaking away and heading sideways that is always fun if a) it doesn’t plant you face first in the mud and b) the front wheel doesn’t decide to get involved in the action.

Martin did have an off which he considered a ‘dab‘. The Dab committee ruled that lying supine in the dirt and in no way connected to the bike does not constitute a dab! We also felt need to investigate the Tank Quarry for amusement/terror/pre A&E action. This descent represents the steepest and rockiest trail in the hills. Rocks that initially poke up between slick grass before monstering the whole trail with increasing size and jaggedness.

It was bloody terrifying. Never ridden it so cautiously or with such a high heart rate. Sufficient speed to carry the rock garden felt way too fast, but the thought of sacrificing grip through brake application countermanded any idea of slowing down. A washed out bottom section surfaced rocks like little gravestones, and a fetid step section nearly claimed me close to the end. Even my favourite jump was slick with flowing water, but encouragement from two walkers who clearly enjoy bloodsports saw me take a deep breath and get it done.

Mainly as Martin had already flown off it thereby fulfilling his role of ‘grip tester‘. Back at the pointy end of the hills, the hoards were fully sandwiched and adjusting focal lengths by walking blindly backwards. We did our best to nod and smile although Martin’s response to my pleading ‘what now‘ query as we faced a flange of walkers on the trail was ‘Charge‘. We didn’t really although a few rounds of ‘Rambler-Polo‘ may have been played, and the final steps were negotiated through a Tour De France like lined route, but nobody appeared to be aggrieved.

Not that we hung about to ask. So he hills may be alive with the sound of whinging. Though not from us. Conditions may be grim, our favourite trails unrecognisable and theforecasted weather has no real winter in it, but we’re outside in the sunshine and more than half way out of the dark. For a man of limited ambitions, that’ll do.

* Unless it’s dark. In which case the ‘evening bridleway’ clause comes into full effect.

** As I believe remakes are called now. That’s a terrible thing to do to a verb.

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