If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…
Tag Archives: Peak District
February 9, 2015Posted by on
Whilst I’m doing nothing more interesting than slogging up and down hills in the cold, here’s an unpublished piece from last August to remind us that winter won’t last forever!
The word epic gets over used these days. We’ve probably got Hollywood to thank for that. But when it comes to mountain biking it’s quite subjective, as one riders’ epic is another’s standard ride. Remoteness and spectacular scenery can help to tick the ‘epic’ box and living by the Peak District provides me with plenty of opportunity.
20 miles of Peak District riding tends to suffice for many riders. The trails here are tough going and even the descents feel like hard work. So what led me to take on an 80-mile loop with enough rough stuff to keep many riders happy for a few days? Certainly the training would be useful, but I was also in need of a skills boost: too much time mincing about on the road bike had given me fitness at the expense of technique. But more than that, I wanted the journey of an epic ride and (assuming I survived it) the satisfaction at the other end.
Given that I would be out for over 10 hours, I left home in Macclesfield early and headed out into the Peak District. Within seven miles I’d gained some decent height but also a healthy sweat, partly due to the extra weight in my pack. I know riders who’ll happily turn up for a ride with just a multitool and a pump, but you’d be wise to carry more on an epic. Spare brake pads, chain lube, spare clothes and plenty of food and water are minimum requirements for this kind of caper.
At this stage, I was plagued by doubts and questions. Can I do the full route? Should I do it? Why am I doing it? It’s best to ignore such questions and just get into the rhythm of the ride. The usual niggling aches and pains gradually eased and after 23 miles I felt I had enough behind me to stop for a quick sandwich break. I’d already done 3000ft of climbing and ridden what some people would class as a decent ride, but there was plenty more to do.
Skirting round Mam Tor gave a sense that I’d arrived at ‘the good stuff’. Not that I’d been short of trails so far though, as my carefully plotted route cunningly avoided tarmac wherever possible. The only rain shower of the day coincided with my only mechanical, but it cleared by the time I dropped in at Fairholmes visitor centre for more sandwiches. The place was typically busy with people who’d come to pootle round the reservoirs. I love to see people getting out and riding, but my mud splattered face and bike marked me out as someone who was here on a very different mission.
The Cut Gate Path epitomises ‘epic’ more than any other Peak trail. It doesn’t lend itself to short loops, so any crossing leads you into epic territory by default. Even an out-and-back crossing would make for a fairly hefty ride. After the push/carry/grind up Margery Hill you finally reach the Cut Gate path. It’s not everyone’s bag, and if you’re a trail centre fan then there’s a fair chance you won’t appreciate it at all. That’s because it’s the antithesis of a trail centre: there’s no obvious line to follow and you’re forced to think several moves ahead to keep some momentum as you pick your way down what feels like a riverbed. If you attempt it in winter or early spring then it actually is a riverbed. I’ve tackled it in all seasons, from blistering heat to winter blizzards (that really was epic…) though for me, late summer wins hands down. With mellow riding temperatures and the hills resplendent in purple heather it really is worth the trip.
With the glorious descent off Cut Gate and down Mickleden Edge dealt with, I was starting to feel like I’d broken the back of this ride. The GPS disagreed though, revealing that I was only just past half way…
After 60 miles I’d reached the usual point in an epic where things start to get weird. My body had long since passed through it’s peak period of performance and was now just hurting. Any previous high heart rate enthusiasm had now given way to just simply slogging it out. Short rocky climbs that would usually be relished suddenly required exaggerated commitment and audible grunting. I cursed my route planning that stubbornly avoided tarmac. Did I not realize how I’d be feeling? Each chocolate bar gave precisely 40 minutes of burn time before my body reverted back to running on empty. I was into the end game.
Counting down the last 10 miles I was feeling the full effects of the epic, in areas of my body that don’t even usually suffer. It was ten and a half hours since I set off that morning and I was totally spent – which is exactly how I intended to feel. Not everyone ‘gets’ the idea of an epic. Some might say that it’s too much of a good thing and that the last half isn’t even enjoyable. But it’s going beyond your usual limits that makes it for me, and I know I’m not the only one. Even as I write this on the day after, with aching neck and stiff legs, I’m already planning a route and excuse to get out and go through it all over again.
August 10, 2013Posted by on
A recent trip round the classic Jacob’s Ladder loop in the Peak district highlighted a problem that’s been developing for a while. Whilst I’m fine on the smoother, more flowing descents, when it comes to the technical rocky stuff with drop offs and loose boulders I seem to have lost my bottle.
Any non-mountain bikers reading this may well be thinking “What the hell are you trying to ride that kind of trail for anyway?” but that’s mountain biking. At least in the Peak District anyway, other UK regions may have easier riding geology, but I don’t want to stir up the North/South divide.
The ride had me thinking back to 10 years ago when I first started biking round there: bumping down the same trails on a heavy bike with 80mm of unresponsive front suspension and dangerously ineffective v-brakes. I don’t remember being as cautious as I am now on my fat tyred custom hard tail. So what’s going wrong?
Lack of practice?
I reckon this is a big part of my current problem: too much time spent mincing around in lycra on the road bike. I’ve always mixed the disciplines up, but this year has had a distinct lack of ‘proper’ mountain biking. The majority of my off-road mileage has been on the cross bike on trails considerably tamer than Jacobs Ladder. It’s not been entirely wasted though, as my off-road climbing is faster than ever thanks to my high mileage.
A healthy fear of injury
I’m crap at being injured. If I can’t ride then I start going a bit weird. This is in my mind as I bounce down rocky trails, maybe more than it should be. As you get older you become aware of responsibilities and I’m not the carefree young man that I was. There’s a pro road cyclist who overcame his fear of fast descending by listening to classical music, but I think I’ll need more than a change of playlist to sort this out.
So what’s the plan? Well having slept on it, I’ve realised that like most things in life, if I want to get better I’ll have to practice. I’ve never deliberately practiced riding before, I’ve just ridden. So I might actually go out and find a difficult section of trail and repeat it a few times (I believe proper riders call it ‘sessioning’ a section) then move on to a harder section. Sounds quite dull but I reckon the returns should pay back massively.
I might also take to wearing knee and elbow pads to help with confidence whilst practicing. I suspect going back to riding full suspension would also help me get my downhill mojo back, but I know I’ll not get clearance for it at home….