(a fellow ‘rider’ tackles the cobbled climb)
Ride 400 metres up a street, how hard can that be? Very as it turned out when the street in question is insanely steep and cobbled. Saturday saw me and Rob (@chasinsheepMTB) head over to Hebden Bridge for the Up The Buttress challenge, a timed hill climb up the steepest ‘road’ in the town. Now anyone who has ridden over in that valley knows that it is steep sided and makes for challenging riding, whether that be on or off road but this street took things to a whole other level. I don’t know how steep it is but people milling about the registration tent were saying it varied from 1 in 3 to 1 in 5. We had no chance to think much about it as after paying our fee we were lining up ready to roll, I had no idea what I was facing as you could only see the start of it from where we were to set off and that looked like a wall.
There was much talk of tyres and tyre pressure and what was the ‘best’ style of bike to get up it. There were all sorts, hardtails, full suspension, blinged out cross bikes, old clunkers and one dude having a crack while attempting to tow his daughter in a trailer ! All ages were present and it had a feel of a really inclusive event – young or old, good or bad just have a go which exactly as I like it and it should be and everyone no matter the ability was cheered, encouraged and cowbelled up the slope. To add to the air of inclusiveness anyone who got to the top, no matter how you did it, got entered into a prize draw and there were some amazing prizes including a bike from Orange !
As I got ready to go Chipps from the Singletrack crew felt my tyres, “any good?” says I, “you’ll see” was his reply with a knowing look in his eye. Oh dear. I didn’t bother thinking about trying to charge into the bottom of the slope, I thought I’ll just roll to it in bottom gear and then spin away. I’ve recently ridden up some very steep stuff so I thought I’d be OK but I’d not factored the slippery cobbles into my equation. As the wall hit and I started to peddle I thought to myself, yep I can do this and inched up the steepest part of the hill but then just before a lip across the path all my wheels were spinning like something out of the road runner cartoon and I ground to a halt. Jumped off and pushed for a bit then tried to get going again which was a lot harder than it should have been as just could not get any purchase. Finally got moving and felt OK (well that I was not going to die anyway) and plodded slowly along until the inevitable spinning of wheels hit again and I ground to a halt again. I seemed to be now standing on glass as I was actually struggling to stand still but I could not get the wheels to get any grip so resorted to pushing up the hill in a comedy slip / sliding about fashion. As I neared the top the shouts of encouragement rained down but I could not have moved any faster if Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes had been behind me.
Crossing the line I realised that at least there were some others who had slipped about, Rob however had no problems right tyre choice and running at an insanely low pressure meant he didn’t slip once, that and he’s a great rider of course. We encouraged a few riders up, got our breath back and then headed down the road to the pub for a few beers before going back to see the winners receive their fantastic prizes – a massive cobble a la Paris-Roubaix and see what our lucky numbers got us in the raffle. Rob got a bottle of beer whereas I got a fantastic Timothy Taylor’s cycling jersey. Sometimes it pays to be the snail.
How do you know where you are? An obvious question perhaps but sometimes finding an answer is not as easy. Can you remember what it was like when you first started venturing out of the house on your own, you slowly got to know your local area both by the buildings and the places where you would play. It was easy to say going to the park or the field (the field for me was where we played football, rugby and cricket next to the school) and then on the way to the river there was the old barn field (it had an old barn in it). We had places like Jenkins field, even though it might have been a long time since anyone called Jenkins had lived in the farm that owned the field. As you start to venture further afield which for me was on a road bike (or a racer as they were known back then) farms became quite key landmarks to navigate with using the good old OS map.
I still like riding bikes and using maps but when it comes to mountain biking, especially riding locally then there are other ways to navigate and that is Trail Names. Anyone who rides regularly with others will have local names for where they ride, names that you won’t find on any map with stories behind them. Often when you are out you will know where you are (in a particular wood for example) but you won’t really know where you are as in where is this wood geographically and it’s here that trail names come into there own. You need to find a way to describe where you are going, let’s head to ….. or where you are meeting up or where you have been and how brilliant / rubbish you rode a particular section which is what trail names give you, they are the framework to provide the narrative for your ride. The names will cover all different parts of your ride off road, could be a long flowy bit of single track, a particular feature or just a corner.
The names grow up organically, often due to some incident or other and they are tribal in nature, so what we might call something another crew will call in something completely different. I’m not a strava user (and am fiercely anti it really) but what it is doing is codifying sections so that slowly everyone will know sections by one name which I personally feel is a shame as I like the hyper localism of trail names. Stava might also prevent the changing of trail names as well, currently names evolve as either riders change, different things happen, superstition takes over etc all of which creates a language of features that only we know. As you start to ride with a crew slowly you will learn the routes, features and names and it becomes a right of passage until you never know something might get named after you.
Here’s a few of our local ones but I’d be interested in your favourites as well and how they came about.
- Last Drag – we often end our rides here. It’s just an incline across a field but it is a drag
- Travelator – classic starting point to many of our rides. It’s just ribbon of mud leading to a steep bank into the woods but like the travelator from the Gladiator TV show, when it’s wet and muddy you can feel like you are going backwards pretty quickly
- Puddle Duck – Possibly one of the best sections of trail in the area, multiple lines snake off the puddle duck through the woods. A place where all will be tested no matter what their ability. Tiz a bit of a beast to ride up though and named after a particular person from Garage Bikes who doesn’t like it. This trail name is a classic in that lots of people ride it but most will know it as something completely different.
- Leon’s Leap – A corner on the puddle duck, Leon overshot it and took to the sky
- The Spa – When you are leaving the woods with the puddle duck in it there is The Spa. Just the muddiest, squelchiest little section. It never drains and is muddy in summer, in winter it requires fatbike like tyres to get through it. You will put your foot down and the mud will ooze into your shoes / boots. Some would pay good money to be covered in mud – hence The Spa
- Better Climb Than Descent – Narrow and a little bit technical but not too technical so all can ride it, however it’s better to go up it. Going down it’s got thorns, barb wire fence, dog walkers etc making it a potential problem
- 5D – (Daz & Deano’s Death Defying Descent) – Bones and bikes broken but they did defy death
- Pinball Run – For me a local route that terrifies me. Very fast (if you want it to be) descent, steep at the top and bits of rock all over the place, get your line wrong and you will be pinged about like a ball in a pinball machine
- Jesus Ain’t Got Shit on Me – One of the best names, the reality is just a mud bank across a reservoir but hit it when the water level is just so and you will appear to riding on water never mind walking
- Collarbone Corner – yep you can all guess what happened to someone here
- Lynne’s Drop – very steep section off one of the local trails discovered by Lynne
- The Death Star Run – another great name, we’ve all seen Star Wars with Luke using the force to storm his way down the trench to destroy the death star. This is our mountain bike equivalent, hit this at warp speed and you will need the force to guide you through
- Dog Shit Flavoured Treacle – just a drag up a field, however the field is surround by houses so dog owners use the field, it also gets very muddy in winter and pedalling is like riding through treacle
- Wiggly Wiggly – classic wiggly ride through trees in another wood
- Knife Edge – a parallel route to wiggly wiggle but is raised with a gulley on one side and a long drop on the other so you ride exposed
- Blood Lane – or Warren’s Lane (which is what most know it as) or The Destroyer. On Strava this will be Warren’s Lane but it used to be known as the Destroyer as it did exactly that to bikes and bodies, superstition took hold and it changed to The Delight as it is anything but. I know it as Blood lane or Bloody lane as it is where the blood drained away from a civil war battlefield that is at the top.
So none of those names will mean much apart from to us, the locals who ride them but new names crop up all the time. Last night we were out riding and after going through a fence gap had to ride up a very steep lane, no run up just a standing start in the lowest gear you have (the granny ring) so that lane is now Grab a Granny
See you all at the top of Blood lane before we attack Wiggly Wiggly then head over to play on the Puddle Duck before taking a dip in the Spa
So the summer holidays draws to a close and with it our final theme set by the kids of Memory, a lovely theme on which to close as we look back over the last few weeks and hopefully remember the good times we’ve had, days out, laughs, perhaps foreign climates, adventures, family, fun, good food etc. This has definitely been my experience of the summer holidays and I hope it has been for you as well. When the final theme was announced someone said how do you photograph a memory, which is of course a good point but at the same time we use photographs to capture our memories all the time and there are many things that remind us of them, whether that memory is one freshly made or from a lifetime ago. Smells, colours, clothes, jewellery, places, food, everyday objects, things around the house, stuff stuck on the fridge door etc there are constant reminders all around us of our memories and these have been beautifully captured in the collection of images that came in this week. Of course whilst many memories are shared they are all personal to us individually and this I think was captured beautifully both by the war memorials and the photographs of children, some who have now grown into adults while others are newly born. I thought this was a lovely way to end this summers series.
I’ve actually put one of my photos at the top this week, I’ve never done that before so I hope you’ll forgive me indulgence. For me music is an important part of my life and acts as a trigger to so many memories some momentous and important others mundane. For example whenever I hear The Whole of the Moon by the Waterboys I am transported back to a wet and cold evening standing waiting for a train on London Bridge station ! I’ve been a fervent gig goer for many years even if now it’s only on occasion that I go to see a band as opposed to the several times a week when I was younger. Ticket stubbs get stuffed in pockets and left on the side somewhere but I ended up sticking lots of them in an envelope, where many still are, but a few years ago I got a picture frame and put a collage of some of them up on my wall. It might not be to everyone’s taste but each ticket contains a powerful memory.
As always huge thanks to those of you who play along interpreting the kids themes, sending in your photos and making it all so much fun, we really enjoy and appreciate it. As ever click on the gallery to open it and you can see the photos in full. Do let us know which ones you liked. So that’s it for another year, we have done three years of this now and it’s always been great fun. We will I expect continue to do the other holidays – half term photo fun; christmas photo fun etc and will occasionally just throw in a random weekend photo fun so if you like the idea and want to join in just follow me on twitter (@ianstreet67) which is where the themes get announced. I’ve also toyed with the idea of doing some sort of exhibition of themes and the whole photofun idea, not sure if I’ll ever get round to that but it could be good fun I think.
The kids chose Texture as the penultimate theme of this weeks SummerPhotoFun which was a great theme I thought. I like it when the themes they choose can be interpreted in so many different ways depending upon how you see the world and texture is a classic sample of that, everything you see or touch has an element of texture to it be it part of the built environment or something natural. What could me more natural than an animal and the photo of the octopus is surely an amazing example of the variety of textures contained with the animal kingdom. Texture can also bring out the absolute beauty in the simplest things that we take for granted, brick, slate, wood, plastic, sand, wool, stone and plastic all look amazing when looked at as they are and then of course they change again when constructed into something, the incredible shape and texture of the bullring in Birmingham or the sand sculpture of Einstein for example. I really enjoyed this weeks theme and as always huge thanks to everyone who contributed.
Click on the gallery to open it and you can see all of the photos individually in full size, there really are some crackers this week. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone out, if I have just let me know.
Simple was the theme set by the kids this week for our summerphotofun project and as ever some lovely, thought provoking and funny pictures came in. Many of you used the theme of simple pleasures with things stripped back to their essence, nature, food and experiences featuring strongly along with a couple of very moving but simple memorials. You hear a lot about wanting to live a simple life as an antidote to the perception that life is now too complicated or fast paced. I’m not sure personally that I buy into the over complication argument but I also know that I live a simple, slow life in many respects and have done a long time before the slow movement became a fashionable thing. For me to enjoy life all you need are to concentrate on the simple things, time with family and friends, good food, spending time outdoors and enjoying new experiences, get that right (and I don’t think it’s difficult to do) and you have a path to contentment. All things outside this are just distractions, ignore as many of them as you can. I think when you look at the photos that have come in this week a lot of them are perfect slices of this way of living, none more so perhaps than the photo at the top.
As ever thanks go out to all of you who have contributed and come up with such a lovely varied gallery (I loved the oil and water shot), just click on the gallery to open it and see the photos full size. Do let us know which ones you liked in particular this week. I hope I haven’t forgotten to include any but if I have let me know and I’ll amend the gallery.
Sometimes when you enter a bookshop and lose yourself to browsing, magic happens, you stumble across a book by accident, no idea why you have been drawn to it but this book will make an indelible mark upon you. So it was for me recently when I came across Stoner by John Williams. I’m not sure what drew me to the book but what a novel this is, a book of such quiet beauty and power, beautifully written, but also one of the saddest books I’ve ever read.
The book charts the life of William Stoner, born 1891, the son of impoverished small hold farmers who till the soil day after day knowing that it will be to the soil they will return. His father has heard of a new course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri where Stoner goes in 1910 never to leave. While taking a compulsory course in Literature as part of his studies he becomes entranced and confused by the subject and changes his studies to English Literature. He remains at the university as a teacher until his death and the book charts this unremarkable life. He marries Edith in haste and repents at leisure (a more difficult female character I’m not sure I’ve come across) and becomes estranged from his daughter, he finds love through a relationship with a young student / lecturer but he has few friends and becomes embroiled in internal faculty politics when disagreeing with Professor Lomax who then spends the next twenty years in bitter conflict with Stoner doing everything possible to make his university life difficult. As Stoner looks back on his life he sums it up thus:
Dispassionately, reasonably, he contemplated the failure that his life must appear to be. He had wanted friendship and the closeness of friendship that might hold him in the race of mankind; he had had two friends, one of whom had died senselessly before he was known, the other of who had now withdrawn into the ranks of the living.
He had wanted the singleness and the still connective passion of marriage; he had had that, too, and he had not known what to do with it, and it had died. He had wanted love; and he had had love, and had relinquished it, had let it go into the chaos of potentiality.
And he had wanted to be a teacher, and he had become one; yet he knew, he had always known, that for most of his life he had been an indifferent one. He had dreamed of a kind of integrity, of a kind of purity that was entire; he had found compromise and the assaulting diversion of triviality. He had conceived wisdom, and at the end of the long years he had found ignorance. And what else? he thought. What else?
What did you expect? he asked himself
However there is another angle to all of this which perhaps we should all reflect on, Stoner had stoicism and integrity that he acted upon all his life, he had a life long friendship, found love (both physical and intellectually through his love of literature) he worked all his life at a job he loved and escaped the grinding poverty of upbringing. How many of us can say the same ?
I think what is particularly remarkable about this book is that whilst the period of Stoner’s life covers some of the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century via the great depression and two world wars, by looking at the minutiae of Stoner’s life you realise that we all have our triumphs, tragedies and disasters and that it is these that perhaps have a greater effect on us and shape us opposed to the world events that we live through.
The writing throughout the book is hypnotically simple and beautiful, it goes along with Stone’s character but at the same time a picture is painted of the seasons changing as life goes on within the university. The university is depicted as an asylum there to keep the real world out while providing sanctuary to those who would struggle to survive or fit in to the world outside it’s gates.
Ultimately this book is about two things for me Love and Work, Love in all it’s forms from finding a love of literature and it’s ability to accompany us through life’s journey through to finding love in another human being, the love contained within a life long friendship and a love of work. Stoner gets up every day throughout his life and goes to work, initially on the farm and then in the lecture theatre, he never ceases to learn and never complains even when his integrity means that his working life is made intolerably difficult perhaps because he loves what he does, he loves literature and teaching and he hopes to find the spark to inspire others as he was once inspired.
Perhaps this is what Williams is aiming at with this book to emphasise the power of love in all it’s forms and the remarkable ability of literature to inspire. This is a truly astonishing book that I cannot recommend highly enough.