You’re going home in a Gloucester ambulance.

This ride was many things. First time at night in the Forest this year, anniversary of the muddy induction ride when I fell in with this mucky crew, a potential redeemer for the new not really light emitting diodes and the chance to make merriment and new swear words with old friends.

It was all of that, and a little more. The route was mostly new, sometimes muddy, often heroically slippy, occasionally hard and fast and marked frequently with prostrate mountain bikers. So one of those rides which gradually whittled down the men from the boys, starting with double figures but falling to six and then just falling off.

Even by my ever lowering standards, I was entirely rubbish. Mostly because I’d forgotten how to dodge trees while travelling sideways on a sea of something that might once have been dirt. Not now though, it was a heady chemical amalgam of viscous and slop dishing out the odd soupçon of grip to keep you interested, before dispensing brown justice in the form of a handy tree.

Many of the regular Forresters were sporting mud tyres and smug expressions. My all conditions rubber were instantly converted to slicks at which point I fell off. This seemed to go on for quite a long time. Until it became a bit boring – especially for the poor sods behind who were stalled by my repeated sweaty apologies – although having stayed upright for about three minutes on one descent, I’d have paid good money to be lying again in that nice comforting mud.

That was proper scary. I have now experienced personal continental drift. From the tyres upwards, stopping briefly at the bowels and carrying on into a head wondering what happened to my “Chiltern reactions“. One crash did give rise to the concept of the “testicle fairy” where one could demand payment for a love spud, separated from its’ bag-mate through the simple un-anaesthetised application of a saddle rail.

I’ll never dare put my arm under the pillow again. And I’m also mentally drawn to exactly what the Testicle Fairy might look like. It’s not going to be Tinkerbell is it?

Entertaining as this was, as a displacement tactic it fell flat when the trail didn’t, with the not terribly magnificent six winching skywards into plummeting temperatures to access a trail I’d ridden bits of, but never in the dark. This climb seemed to go on for a while, longer for me I noticed as the mud-shod regulars wobbled upwards bathing most of the forest in a million lumens. UFO sighting must have gone up a million percent since MTB lighting went nova.

To access this fantastic trail, we first had some bone dry singletrack to climb which was both tiring and rewarding. The top of which opened out to a bank – with a entry only out-dodgied by the exit – for us to play on. A few of us played nicely with appropriate respect shown to lobbing oneself off into a dark abyss. A few others didn’t – Steve especially was having it medium, occasionally large.

We left him to it, shivering on the road side. What came out of the dark wasn’t a grinning Stevo, no what came out was that horrible sound of rider hitting ground, bike hitting ground, bike hitting rider, rider making groaning noises. It goes something like “ARGGH-BUMP-BANG-ARGGHH“.

Siren call that it is, we all rushed over to find Steve adopting a position somewhere between foetal and hibernating tortoise. He wasn’t moving much. Which considering he’d unclipped at the apex of the parabola before ragdolling down the slope and then being seriously inconvenienced by spiky bicycle wasn’t much of a surprise.

After a while – and to our shame some merciless ribbing – he declared other than an extremely sore arse, he was good to go. As long as the going was slow and easy. Then he asked where we were. A minute later he asked again. At that point he felt it probably was a good time to explain he couldn’t remember anything about the last two hours. Arse on the floor, head in the moon, concussion kicking in, time for some proper decisions.

Matt’s much maligned “capacious bag of doom” had already saved me with emergency sustenance, and now birthed a virgin space blanket we ripped open to wrap an every more confused Steve into. Ian has proper first-aid experience and Nic has much experience of just monging himself, so we left those two with the patient. The rest of us turned away from the dirt and lost our height on the fastest tarmac route to the cars.

The plan was to fetch Steve and his bike, place one safely in a garage and the other safely in Ross Hospital. Matt was designated “responsible adult unlikely to mix the two“, but before he could carry out Plan A, Plan B was triggered by a now entirely spaced Steve wondering what his name was. A quick 999 call brought flashing lights and a dash to Gloucester to get his head examined. Riding at night with this lot makes me wonder if I should too 😉

Happy endings all round tho. Steve was fetched by his partner late that night and, other than being “bloody sore“, is recovering fast. We didn’t forget his bike, and I made it to the chip shop before closing time. Well a man’s got to eat!

Closing thoughts; night riding is just the silliest thing in the world, and I never want to stop doing it. Hurting yourself is part of the game, an entry fee if you will, rewards are never earned without risk. You can mitigate it, back off a tad, ride to the conditions, cap your bravado and squash your competitive spirit. But if you ride long enough and hard enough, you are going to end up in Hospital.

Oh and people that take the piss mercilessly are also your best mates when shit happens. I’d be happy to have any of those buggers get me off a hill when I inevitably lunch myself into a tree again.

If nothing else it’d give us something to talk about instead of the testicle fairy. It’d almost be worth it for that.