“You should try staying on the path, that’s what your friends are doing.”
“Yeah thanks for that!” was the reply to the helpful, trainer shod walker coming up Mam Tor from Hollins Cross, as I picked myself up from being sprawled across the hillside. Why hadn’t I stayed on the path? Because the path in question consisted of hundreds of two or three inch high steps down a steep slope. Worried about damaging my bike, I had opted to try the grassy verge alongside. This seemed to work okay until a rapid increase in downhill speed prompted a terror driven squeeze of the brakes. Wheels stopped turning, tyres stopped gripping, I stopped riding and clattered to the floor!
I was beginning to wonder just why I’d agreed to go mountain biking for the first time in well over a decade, with no training and with a group of blokes who, I was rapidly realising, are a bunch of nutters! Sat in the pub a week earlier (sober, I might add) it had seemed like a good idea when I was asked to join them. All excuses from me were batted away; too unfit, too inexperienced, a really bad verruca , still grieving the loss of my fairground goldfish when I was eight. “You’ll be fine!” was the standard response to all of the above. Then it started to sound like a good idea, a romantic image of rolling over lush green hilltops under big, cloudless skies was in my head and I was getting excited…
The day arrived with a bacon sarnie or three, kindly cooked by Guy and bit of skilful securing of bikes in the back of my van. Incidentally, I should mention here that my suspicions were aroused when I looked at the other bikes. Mine looked like something from the 1980’s in comparison. Shiny bits and complex looking gadgets adorned an array of highly engineered frames and wheels. The conversation was overwhelmingly filled with jargon, acronyms and model numbers which went way over my balding head! Never mind, I was committed now and up for the challenge.
An earlier post from Chris explains the route in more detail so I’ll avoid repeating that too much. After an assembly at Castleton, we headed up the broken road to Mam Tor. I’ve walked this road before but it was immediately obvious that peddling up it was a whole different ball game! Unused muscle groups and poor cardio fitness were both going to hamper my progress. Eventually getting to the familiar summit of this great little mountain, I thought that the worst was over. Everyone had walked the final, steep slog to the top and I assumed that there was no way that they would want to climb any more big slopes. How wrong could I have been but there was a more immediate issue that I hadn’t expected…
Following the obligatory group photo at the Trig Point, we set off down the paved footpath towards Hollins Cross. Within a few yards of the top I was getting worried. I didn’t feel stable as the speed increased, the bike was rattling in protest at being bounced over the steps. One by one though, the rest of the group whizzed past me, giggling and chattering, heads down and seemingly immune to the fear of impending doom that was now forcing me to pull hard on the brakes and slow right down. Then the crash! Grass seemed safer but as the speed picked up again, I panicked and that was that. No real damage done, slight bump to the knee and wrist and a black and blue tinge to my pride but all was good.
I eventually arrived alongside the patiently waiting group and the bottom only to be chivvied on to yet another long downhill over very rocky terrain. Again, they left me well behind as I stumbled and fumbled down the track, consumed by fear and spotting every pointy rock that lay ahead, predicting exactly which bone that each one would break as I fell onto them! Once again all were gathered and waiting for me at the bottom.
The theory of no one wishing to do any more uphill was totally wrong and the rest of the afternoon was made up of me trailing behind the rest of the group, pushing my bike up the hills due to lack of fitness and then pushing it down the hills due to lack of cajones! Not strictly true, I did ride as much as I could but that didn’t seem like a lot at the time. What made things worse was that, apart from keeping everyone waiting while I caught up, I also picked up a puncture and took a wrong turn! The puncture was quickly fixed with the help of Dexter and his amazing sticking plasters! My wrong turn however was a little more embarrassing, heading into Hope, I came to a junction and spotted two helmets over the hedge, heading right. After about a mile of frantic peddling, I finally realised that there were other cyclists in the Peak District on that day and that Edale wasn’t my destination! I turned around and finally arrived at the coffee shop in Hope for a massive slice of humble pie (actually it was cinnamon crumble) and ice cream!
After the final long push up Pin Dale the grand finale of the day was in front of us…Cave Dale. I have walked up Cave Dale before but had forgotten just how gnarly it was. Arriving last (again) to join the assembled crowd at the narrow gateway, I asked if I needed to lower my saddle (having listened to the chatter around me and trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about!) A couple of pitiful smiles and a suggestion that maybe I should have a look through the gate before bothering to adjust anything. I looked down the narrow, boulder strewn gully beyond and immediately offered to be chief video man! Which would involve me WALKING down the deathtrap and waiting patiently to film each of the others as they killed themselves, oops I mean rode down the path!
I was impressed by the skill and bravery of the rest of the crew but quite happy to spectate as they picked their nimble way over the treacherous ground. A bit of time to recover as a few of them decided that they wanted to dodge death once more and headed back up for another crack at it, then back to the van for the drive home.
Being a long serving hill walker, any time spent in the mountains is good time. I had enjoyed the day overall but felt a bit guilty that the other guys had had to constantly wait for me to catch up. Every one politely told me not to worry. A couple of lessons learned though, I really need to get fitter and certainly before ever inflicting my shortcomings onto these guys again. Also, I need to get a better bike and build up confidence in actually riding it if I’m going to pursue this mountain biking malarkey. So after a few days of recovery from aching muscles and tenderness in a very errm let’s say ‘fundamental’ area I have started doing a few short rides around the local forests to build up cardio, stamina, skill and confidence. Hopefully next time I write about a day’s mountain biking, I will be able to use two, more flattering nouns in my title…