“If you can’t see it, it can’t hit you”

Post FoD, pre-clean

This was one of many teachings from an old school friend. He was a nutters’ nutter, mischievous to the power of insane and almost every time my teenage years were crossed with big trouble, John was chief provider of the big ideas.

Ideas that on the surface had an elegant simplicity, but scratch beneath that and the horror of what might follow immediately became apparent. Generally with older people looking extremely upset and the destruction of property.

For example, if a few of us thought shinning up trees and stealing apples was a bit of wheeze, John’d stand by, look puzzled for a second and then set fire to the entire garden. His reasoning was thus: “the fruit is falling out of the trees AND we’re getting roasted horse chestnuts“. See what I mean? Mad as cheese.*

The can’t hit it proclamation was confidently delivered while door-handling over the Snake Pass in the pitch darkness navigating only be memory, the interior light and a youthful naivety that death happened mainly to other people.

To pass the time before we plunged down the cliff in a fiery ball of tortured metal and soft squidgy bits, I tried to find out more. Apparently his firmly held view was that even if a great sodding dry stone wall was looming out of the black, we were perfectly safe as long – and this was the important bit – he never even glanced at it. 25 years later, I’m still alive so maybe he was on to something.

Riding last night, and again this morning, had Deja-Vu writ large as the constant worry of a big accident JUST passing me by but having so much bloody fun played on repeat. Malverns and Mud are rarely that close together but incessant rain turned hardpack to slick and autumn fall hid gripless roots. Our philosophy was waving two fingers at a proper ride, instead picking climbs entirely on the quality of they scary descents they would open up.

First one, me up front helmet light scanning for big rocks. Head for those because the ST4 isn’t a knackered old Ford Fiesta and is unlikely to be fazed by such hazards. Make lots of mistakes, ace bike compensates sufficiently for teeth not to be spread across the trail. Excess velocity into a step section has the bars clipping a railing which means you giggle a lot because the other reality would have been fairly nasty.

Route choice. Up the side of the Beacon and then off on a stupidly steep and slippy cheeky entry onto a trail barely clinging to the edge. Martin takes what I consider a sissy line around a rock slab. I go straight over and straight over the bars rolling sideways and into soft ferns on a steep angle. Clambering back up – giggling again – Martin has gone and I give chase with all sorts of looking at the wrong stuff, lights in the valley getting closer and a widening gulley nastily adjacent to this narrow singletrack the tyres are doing their best to keep me on.

Back up top via the road because tonight is all about going down. Off the top looking to pop this drop but the run in is so slippy, we turn around and head back the “normal” route. The top of which has about a 30 mile cross wind desperate to whip the wheels away and send you pin-wheeling down the slope sans bicycle.

A fast blast back to the car via a kilometre of much loved – if unsurprisingly sketchy – trail was followed by the admission that if we dodged any more bullets, we’d be in line for playing Neo in the matrix.

This morning I spent another couple of hours trying not to look at things that were scary. Most of those were glassy roots more than keen to whip your front wheel away and provide a not-at-all soft landing for your arse. Somehow mine stayed on the bike, although any FoD dwellers were subjected to many instances of the “Tripod” where two wheels are further supported by a desperately unclipped leg.

To access Tea and Medals, we took the “SheepSkull” DH track which proved the ST4 is basically a mini-DH bike with the seat down which is an excellent fins. Except I am riding at a speed so far ahead of my ability, it’s only a matter of time before I wrap my face round a tree.

Still, if you can’t see it, it can’t hit you. As good a motto for being silly in the woods with a bicycle as I’ve heard this year.

* We’ve stayed vaguely in touch and he’s now an airline Captain for a major flag carrier. One that I absolutely will never travel on.

Lessons Learned

You never stop learning” as preppy and enthusiastic training types are want to brightly scold you. At my age, it’s more of a “never stop forgetting” decline, but there may be some merit behind the over-reaching ethic of self-improvement.

Take last night for example, some representative example to share:

Meet time is not ride time. Oh no, because first there is “faff time” and “chat time” before we’re ready to go. And then we don’t because someone’s disappeared for a spot of dogging*, someone else hasn’t even turned up yet, and the route is still in the “committee” stage.

It’s all part of the ride experience, and – I’m sure – backed by some EU rules.

Mid April is still night riding. Even if you’ve forgotten your lights. Then it’s more “dark riding” really.

When bikes > 5, there will be a mechanical. Ahem, that’ll be me then, serially stuffing air into my shock which still has some damping, but not any associated with compression.

Don’t think that because the route pathfinder is also lightless, you will not suffer benightment in a dark forest with people you hardly know. This is because he can clearly see perfectly in the dark, and may have been crossed with an Owl or a Bat. You however, will find your way by crashing into trees.

It is not possible to avoid chasing people. I am like a labrador, they are the juicy stick. I can hear Tony DoyleSlow in Fast Out, Looking round the corner” in my ear but the Ego Devil is on my shoulder shouting “GET ON WITH IT YOU MINCER” and it’s his advice I follow. Predictably, the stick remains uncaught.

New trails should not be taken at full pace. Becuase you will find yourself entering an obstacle (let’s hypothosise a very large and deep roll down) at a speed far exceeding your skill base. Regardless of the parlous state of the bike’s suspension, you absolutely will acheive full travel on the anal sphincter.

Local knowledge rocks. Fifteen miles of perfect singletrack, grippy on the corners, fast on the straights, rooty and tight one minute, fast and open the next. Dust motes backlit by the setting sun. Finish one section and immediately dive back into the woods for more trail perfection. You know it won’t always be like this, and somehow that makes right now even better.

Riders make the ride. If I’d been accompanied on this trail only by GPS and my own company, the ride would downgrade from great to good. Regardless of the long back stories from the guys on the ride, I still felt part of a kind of group conciousness that just wants to ride, to have the craic and to feverently help someone falls off in front of them.

One thing I didn’t learn last night was just how brilliant riding bikes is. Because I already knew that. But it is brilliant to the power of giggle when you add all the summery elements, so badly missed in the never ending winter we’ve endured.

I’ll be there 6:30pm next week. Ready to faff 🙂

* this may not be entirely true, but they came back looking flustered, yet satisfied

An accident waiting to happen.

Bit chilly, very windy, much fun.

A statement that well describes both an elongated plunge into a handy bush, and the dreadful way I dispatched a vast quantity of decent red, the evening before. The two may have been related. A weekend of much alcohol occasionally interrupted by riding was both fantastic and slightly frustrating.

Before I suffered serial navigational confusion, a tree accosted my riding person and threw me into the squidgy dirt. This was merely an end game which was nicely set up by fat floaty tyres, a trail of tractionless mud, a head still more drunk than hungover and the unpleasant sensation that you’re no longer in charge of the steering.

I’m fine thanks for asking, but still a bit confused.

You see back in the Chilterns, I knew most of the good stuff. Where to ride when it was gloopy – so that’s nine months of the year then – the best descents, the cheeky trails and when it was safe to ride them. Here, I’m still a bit of a trail remembering novice and, with my legendary navigational skills, getting lost happens always as often as getting it right.

None of this is helped by generally riding with people who know where they are going. And mainly in the dark. Attempting to translate light strobed memories into confident trail finding was about as successful as failing to open that ‘last’ bottle of wine. Although the Malverns – with the help of young whippersnapper Tim – was not so much of a problem as the Forest of Dean the following day.

Although “not so much of a problem” may not be an entirely accurate description of “er, hang on fellas, left here. No right, no straight on, ah that’s a quarry is it, right definitely left” and “bloody hell, it all looks a bit different in the light“. A hangover sharp enough to shave with wasn’t the best sidekick for a day when I was nominally in charge.

The Forest of Dean held no such fears. I didn’t even pretend to know my way around there. After a night of incessant rain, the mud was almost as constant as the rubbishness of my route finding. After the Malvern ride, the bikes were merely wiped down to remove splatters of dirt. Once we’d slopped back to the Cafe in the Forest, a full on hose down and relube was required. And that was just the riders.

It’s made me more determined to get out and get exploring even when the weather edges to the increasingly ploppy. Once you’re up to your armpits in winter vegetation, and properly lost half way down a steep hill, getting wet and cold are mere bagatelles to the main problems at hand.

On the upside, I was super confident in the twisties of the wine cupboard, and showed great bravery when presented with a line of difficult beers. Tomorrow I’m going to ride to work and if I don’t arrive, I can probably be found looking lost and confused on the road to Hereford.