Pre Christmas Ride

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For one reason or another I’ve not been able to get out mountain biking for a while but was determined to try and get a pre Christmas ride in somewhere, all the shopping was done yesterday so my good friend PB (in the fetching bandana above !) was up for sneaking up into the Dales.  My general approach is that once we decide to ride then ride we do no matter what the weather, there are many times when you look out of your window in the morning and it does not look good but if you can force yourself out then I find that I almost always have a good time.  Now to say we’ve been seeing a bit of rain lately would be somewhat of an understatement so picking somewhere that might give us some good riding without sinking into a bog proved a challenge but a plan was hatched.

The roads were empty and the sky’s leaden but it was not rain that was going to be the problem today but the gale force winds that were moving the car as we headed up into Dales.  It felt great to think of everyone battling after the sprouts in the supermarkets while we got kitted up ready to ride, getting some very quizzical look from the few people around.  Once we’d cycled out of the village unsurprisingly we didn’t come across a soul, the trails were ours.

The only snag being the Wind and that was Wind with a capital W.  I’ve never tried to ride in anything quite as strong and inching my way uphill was made very tough.  I had my head almost down on the risers in an attempt to cut through it but the wind was actually gripping the visor of my helmet making it tricky to even look straight ahead and the water streaming out of my eyes added to the general torrent of water cascading off the hillsides.  The trickiest bit though was trying to keep the line you were going to ride, time after time as you approached the line you had picked the wind would simply blow you somewhere else.  At one point as I picked my way through one section a gust literally blew me off my bike, luckily onto a soft landing.  Once PB realised I was OK he simply stood there laughing as there I was on my back, my pack making me look like the Beetle from Metamorphosis as I thrashed around trying to right myself.  However once moving again I was really proud that despite a couple of bits where for both of us the wind was simply too strong to ride I made it up to the top, strangely riding as well as I’ve done for a long time.  Even PB was complementary of my riding and strength so I knew something was going well.

Before we could get to the main downhill stretch there were a few small undulations before a ford crossing and a stretch along the top.  By this time you had to actually lean your bike over as if cornering to simply ride in a straight line and the small downhills had to be pedaled down otherwise you would come to a stop.  Strange but exhilarating.  Of course on the top we had to stop for the obligatory pre Christmas mince pie.  My decent riding continued as I rode the downhill stretch as well as I ever have done, not bunny hopping, but timing the approach to objects in the trail well enough to pop my front wheel up and over and trying to keep my grip loose to let the bike skittle freely over the rocks and stones, something I always struggle with but there was definite improvement today.

No one else was crackers to be out on the tops today but we both felt totally buzzing by the effort to get up there and savage beauty of the Dales in all it’s windswept beauty as we barreled along.  So so glad we made it out, it’s always worth the effort.  Mud-splattered and ruddy faced we got some pretty strange looks as we enjoyed our post ride pint.  I couldn’t capture the gale force winds but hope that photos give a flavour of the raw beauty we experienced today.  Can’t wait for the post Christmas ride now, hope it’s as much fun.

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Squelchy Ride and Lessons Learned

So it’s not been a great summer of riding for me, mostly due to a back problem which has necessitated lots of physio and exercises to try and get me moving pain free.  I seem to be slowly on the way to recovery and have been gradually easing back into riding to work but today saw the first venture off road to see how it would stand up.  Of course I knew that conditions might be a tad tricky under foot with the amount of rain we’ve been having but it would have been nice if the alarm had woken me to reveal a crisp bright autumn day instead a drizzly pea souper.  However we set off driving in the dark and began pedaling into Nidderdale at first light – I say light but as you can see from the photo above there was not much light knocking about, dark, dank and Wuthering Heights like.

Now one of the issues for me about bikes is the need to have some rudimentary mechanical skills to keep them in good working order and clean and this is especially true for me as I use one bike for both commuting and mountain biking and I just swap the tyres out depending on what I’m riding.  The problem is that the bike gets some hammer and my cleaning and mechanical skills leave something to be desired so despite me doing some preparation the day before, as evidenced in the photo below, the front mech has not worked for about a year and I’m starting to develop chain slip.

The result of this lack of skill (and my inherent laziness of course) was that as soon as we hit the first incline that required the granny ring it became unrideable due to the chain slip which was much worse that I thought.  So there is a big lesson for me here that I need to take more care of my bike, I need to learn more skills and really understand how all the parts work so that I can ensure that the bike is ready to roll every ride, no annoying little squeaks or rattles so that even if the Snail is riding the bike will not let me down.  I can of course also save up some pennies and get some more bikes.

Once I was off the steep stuff I encountered some more tough conditions that created more chain slip and that was MUD !  Now if you ride in Yorkshire you are going to encounter mud but I can’t recall hitting anything quite as deep and squelchy as the stuff we attempted to negotiate today, sometimes successfully and others not although I did not lose my shoe in the gloop unlike my riding buddy.

Despite all the mud we did also find some lovely single track through the woods as well.  The rain and general dampness had the muffling effect similar to snow, there was nothing you could hear apart from your breath, the squelch of the tyres and of course various squeaks and rattles from my bike !

One thing that is great about early morning riding in poor weather is that you will generally have the whole place to yourself and we didn’t see any bikes and I think were only passed by one car on the roads linking the various tracks.  This peacefulness makes the rain forgettable for me but also turns the landscape into something that is quite eerie but which I find very beautiful in it’s dankness.

As well as the mechanical lessons that need to be learnt the other thing that you learn in riding in these conditions is improved bike handling skills, I’m not sure I mastered them as I slipped and slithered my way around the hillside and I did get deposited into the heather on occasion but I’m sure that I improved a bit out there today.

The final run back to the car had us grinning from ear to ear reminding ourselves that it is always good to venture out, even if you know it’s going to squelch.

Only down side to the ride was that I managed to leave my gloves on the roof of the car so a new pair of faithfuls are required !

Riding in Ruskin’s View (aka The Snail from South Wales)

The latest ride saw us head a bit further North and West than we usually do as we headed over to Kirby Lonsdale to ride in Barbondale, criss crossing the River Lune (an appropriately named river for us I felt).  The area’s beauty was made famous by John Ruskin (via Ruskin’s view)  who described the view (above) into the valley as:

The most beautiful in England and therefore the world

Nothing like a bit of hubris eh but the view was immortalised in a painting by JMW Turner (below) and judging from our brief stop, there were indeed plenty of people stopping to admire it.  My thoughts however were lets get into and explore the view rather than simply look at it and once outside the small market town we were quickly into some of the most sparsely populated but beautiful parts of the country.

Very quickly we were riding across boggy bridle ways before coming out onto a small road that starting going seriously steeply uphill.  I shifted immediately into the lowest ring possible and set about having a quick mental battle with myself about how and whether I could get up this climb, decided I was going to and then set about grinding out a ridiculously slow metronomic pedal turn.  As I was climbing thoughts turned to the riders in the tour and the stunning admiration for how easy they make climbing look.  It’s interesting too how your mind works on a climb, mine certainly wanders all over the place – partly I think  to act as a distraction to the difficulties that I’m going through.  On this occasion my thoughts switched for some reason to the nicknames that riders have or have had – The Cannibal, Pistolero, Spartacus, The Tashkant Terror, Manx Missile, Super Mario, The Pirate, The Engineer and for one of my favourite riders The Shark of Messina.  Now the Shark or Vincenzo Nibali goes uphill faster than I can go down and as for his descending one can only dream.  As I was plugging away I realising how very very average I am as a rider (slow up hill and down) I was thinking what my nickname would be – easy really in an antithesis homage to Nibali it would have to be The Snail from South Wales !  The reward for all that climbing was a lovely gentle descent along the shoulder of the hill, nothing too steep so you could just float along that brought us out to these views of the valley

Heading across country again we were still on the downward trajectory which made me realise how much climbing we had done.  This slope was a very different beast, rocky and wet and way above my technical abilities but I slowly picked and stumbled my way down as best I could while watching PB effortlessly pick his way down.  It’s on stretches like this that make me think I need to switch from clipless to flats which might help provide a bit more confidence to the inevitable dabbing down that happens for me.  Finally though the Snail from South Wales emerged wet but unscathed.

The route then led us back across the river, I took the bridge while PB hilariously attempted to ford it resulting in him getting seriously wet as he ground to a halt half way across.  I would have caught it on camera but was simply too busy laughing but as you can see it was not the easiest crossing point.

A lovely easy section then took us through woodland as we followed the river bubbling away gently as we turned back and began the return leg of the loop.  Riding was smooth and easy until we came across a felled tree that required a bit of undignified scrambling

Before we had set out on this new route we had been advised to check the Westmorland racetrack website to make sure that no races were taking place.  This seemed a slightly bizarre instruction until we rode out of the woods and onto a racetrack where we took childish delight in pinging ourselves round a few bends.  It seemed very surreal to have been riding across this beautiful countryside to then find this racetrack which I think would have been even stranger if it had been in use and even more so if you had not been forewarned and just stumbled out onto it.

We had been riding for a few hours by now and covered a real variety of terrain, something for any rider until we came to a section that should have been lovely single track.  However it had clearly not been ridden or cleared for some time so we were left having to face running a gauntlet of nettles and brambles. Plunging into it as best we could it was difficult to know how to ride as you could not see the path and therefore the rocks that were hidden in it so going too fast spelt disaster and anyway this is the Snail we are talking about.  Speed also enabled the brambles to get a good rip at you but it seemed to avoid the worst of the stings from the nettles.  Too slow helped avoid the rocks and brambles but the nettles took their revenge.  I have to say it was a singularly testing and pretty unpleasant experience which left my legs somewhat sore

The final stretch saw us pootling back towards the starting point of Ruskin’s view and I must say that although I might have to disagree with him on his ranking of the view it is an incredibly beautiful area with some fantastic unspoilt countryside and great riding.

After 4 hours riding and our legs stinging like I can’t remember since I was a child I anaesthetised myself the only way I know how.