It was a chilly night as I raced down the hill to the new meeting point outside the Swan Inn. A little bit late again. I’ve been coming out for the Thursday night ride for the last six months or so and therefore still see myself as bit of a rookie, especially in the wet. The variety of the rides according to the differing conditions, the complex web of trails and the knowledgeable company means there’s plenty of scope for entertainment.
There was a slightly smaller group of riders than usual that night, but all were ready and raring to go. Our relatively modest number was possibly due to the prospect of a muddy ride because of the considerable amount of rain that had fallen in the preceding days. Definitely a change to the hard ice and soft snow back in December.
“Right, it’s one minute past seven!” I heard someone cry only seconds after my arrival. And we were off – everyone keen to get moving and keep the cold at bay. We headed down to our former meeting point at the university car park to pick up any one who hadn’t heard of the new arrangements or had chosen to go there anyway. With the stragglers rounded up we set off with a group of eight or so riders.
As normal we started with a bit of uphill to get the blood moving and headed towards, and then up into, the Great Wood, forsaking our more normal climbing start past the dew pond. It was clear that the mud, the leaves and the general muckiness were going to make it slower going than usual. My mind was wandering at this point and, as I lagging behind slightly, a couple of friendly voices made a check to see if I was ok. Nice to know there is always someone around to make sure you’re not lost in the blackness of the night!
We rose to try a couple of higher trail sections in the hope of dryer ground but found nothing but sludge and ankle-deep brown puddles. Not that it stopped us trying to rip through the trails and didn’t meant they were any less fun; admittedly at a rather slower pace than usual. Then after a while we moved on to do what is affectionately called ‘tea and cake’ by the regulars. It’s a nice stretch of flowy singletrack where I presume, at the end of it, there is normally an opportunity to stop off to sample the refreshments at the village teashop (but not at that time of night unfortunately!). Through that section I’ve been told it’s best to always try to keep on the ‘high road’, though more often than not I still manage to end up clambering past some overgrown spiky bushes at one point or another. Further down the trail a small queue had backed up and one of us, whilst waiting, attempted to stay propped up by leaning on a small tree. However, the tree had quite been unexpectedly been cut off at the root and very nearly caused a slapstick situation; falling to the floor with tree still in hand. Despite the fact it didn’t quite happen, the thought of it was still found to be quite amusing by those of nearby.
The gravel track uphill faced us next and provided the opportunity for a more relaxed chat, until approaching the top when the need to catch your breath takes over. After that, as usual, we did a load of great trails including that initial steep off camber section that felt just that little bit too dangerous in the slippy, rooty muddiness (and, for me, involved rather too much putting foot to the floor), sweeping berms (that didn’t provide quite the same satisfying flick-through as they do in the dry), plus numerous obstacles that seemed at least twice as intimidating in the wet. On one pointy topped pile of logs, where a steady speed is needed to get over, I bottled it at the last minute, braking harshly. Fortunately I found myself elegantly perched on top of the pile and had come to no harm – though I did manage to disrupt a couple of logs in the process, which I duly replaced.
As we headed on down back to the car park the tiredness and frustration was getting the better of some of us. Bike back ends continually flipped out in the mud and even slight inclines seemed too much to handle except by trudging up them off the bike. My lesson for the ride is that I should perhaps try and get hold of some tyres that can cope with the mud a little bit better. A great ride all in all.