A famous insult once speared into the political testicles of Michael Howard. The strident weeble – occasionally masquerading as a human being – known to us as Anne Widdicombe authored the quote and she should know. I cannot believe the RSC are every short of a dumpy witch for the blasted heath, whenever the self righteous dwarf is in town.
But to Mountain Bikers, riding through the five dank, dark months between summer and spring is almost a badge of honour. We embrace the darkness, the slop and the cold because the alternative is not riding and that’s just silly. I appreciate this is a bit of a volte-face on my part, but levels of randomness and abandoning previously cherished positions is all part of my charm. Even so, while bikes work fine in the dark, motivation is harder to get started. For two years, my expensive light and bucket full of excuses reduced my night riding to dull and chilly commuting.
Last night, all that changed. And to ensure it was a properly exciting evening, I chose to ride a partially broken bike in the company of the fifteenth fastest man in Britain, on unknown trails mired in post deluge slop. And all this with a light of questionable reliability powered by a battery stripped of its’ power through two years of a commute/recharge cycle. Did consider going the whole hog and blindfolding myself as well.
As I made my last will and testament and waved a tearful goodbye to my family, the last rays of light slipped behind the low Chiltern hills, and I was pitched into the black night. Which was thankfully illuminated – after a brief electronic burp – by a whitening arc of HID technology. Ennobled by this, the first road climb passed quickly for Dean and Steve and some more slowly for me with the seeping chill through my gloves distracting me from broken suspension parts.
Still this began to fill like a good idea right up until the time when we actually headed off road. A fateful juxtaposition matched a patch of slippy mud with an ill advised light adjustment. This sloppy event broke what little traction summer tyres can provide, and it was the bushes for me as my role switched from pilot to passenger.
A slightly embarrassing start to the ride but fairly representative of the next fifteen minutes as I slid about in a parody of control, trying to match the light with the trail and becoming ever more removed from my riding buddies. Their existence was occasionally verified by crazy light beams stabbing distant trees some miles away. It takes a while to tune into the rhythm of the night – in twisty singletrack, the light points one way and the trail another leaving you to swiftly re-learn the art of divining the corner apex from dimly lit shadows.
And while every MTB’r can ride in mud – it is in our fat tyred genes – sliding sideways on corner entry is a bit disturbing until you remember how much fun it is. Speeds are lower than daylight, but concentration is higher. Picking out barely discernible lines, trusting momentum over vision and dodging woody collateral hanging from unseen branches. It’s a full mind and body workout and all the more worthwhile for it.
But it’s more than that. The woods are a magical place at night; moths trapped in high intensity light beams, the almost oppressive silence of the trees and the stillness of standing mute, lights off, listening the happy sounds of nocturnal mammals killing each other.
The final trail home, transformed by a carpet of muddy leaves, was no longer a high speed, jumpy singletrack gem, more a committed power though mud sucking traction – but it’s still good and it’s still a prelude to beer. A fantastic evening then and one I’m keen to repeat until the mud eats the trails completely. But on examining my rather expensive, Californian designed full suspension bike it is clear this may not be the steed for winter hooning.
Obviously, you all know what that means. You will be unsurprised to hear I have a project bubbling in the witches cauldron.