A route with mostly firm, double track riding, finishing with 3km of classic single-track is how one guide describes our intended ride. That may well be the case in the height of summer, but take on this route in the lows of winter and it translates to a route with mostly soft, energy sapping double track slog, finishing with a soul destroying gloopy almost invisible single-track. Mick put it like this, “the most un-enjoyable piece of mountain biking I’ve ever done in my life”. Though I think that was a slight exaggeration, Mick began his mountain biking career last year. “Believe me Mick it could be worse. Though I doubt you’ll ever allow me to prove it.”
After months of snow and ice the going was soft. Mick and I would have sworn we both carried slow punctures such was the extra effort required to make a decent pace. As we proceeded we both searched out the hardest part of the bridleway. It did appear harder in parts but was generally tough work. Giant ice puddles breached the width of the path leaving only one option which was to blast straight through.Usually this is a straight forward route to navigate however today was marred by low cloud, which made positioning on the map more like a game of pin the tail on the donkey. The wind nearly split us in two the moment we stepped out the car at around 11:30. We kitted up and looked pretty well prepared for the cold. Mick was nigh on fully endowed in a wetsuit but was really the seal skin gloves and overshoes that gave that impression. I on the other hand chanced it with a soft shell and full bib leggings. This ride doesn’t hang about when it comes to climbing, virtually as you leave the car park. I was cautious about the route up onto Urra Moor and back tracked once we began heading into the forest. I’d gone wrong somewhere. We backed up and made a stiff climb
which was a G.O.A.P (get off and push) affair up a gully that was frozen solid reminiscent of the ride with Craig last month. Once up, the Cleveland way was immediately recognisable with its distinctive limestone sand; normally hard packed in dry weather, but not this day!
Cold feet quickly ensued. The wind was strong at around 25 – 30 miles per hour but didn’t mind so much as it was behind us on the Cleveland Way. Once we reached Bloworth Crossing as do so many routes in this area it seems, I knew that in around 4 miles we’d drop down off the moor at Ouse Gill Head into the little hamlet of Cockayne, pronounced cocaine. “This downhill section is always fun whatever the weather”, he said. As the drop turns back we faced the prevailing winds and found I couldn’t quite muster the speed I wanted to get the most out of the decent. It was still a good blast but could have been better. Mick said he found himself peddling hard just to come down and felt sketchy.
Cockayne offered some respite from the wind so we took on some munchies and fuelled up for the climb up onto Bilsdale East Moor where if the wind had previously been cheering us on until now, then we were in for a good kicking as we turned north.
Ride fit Mick pulled out a steady lead; such was the head down approach required. It was everyman for himself here. The icy north wind was bitter and quickly took hold of my extremities. I began to think about moving my toes around to muster the circulation, but made little difference so instead thought about a hot shower and roast dinner. But that would be hours away.
I was dropping back and wished I could push a bigger gear but I the climb up here had taken the best of my legs for today and could only spin what felt was enough to just get along, catching Mick was not going to happen. I needed some commuter miles under the belt and realised that my lack of rides this month had taken its toll.
The trail would eventually turn east and then drop into a fast switchback sections in a staircase effect into Tripsdale which was apt as Mick dived into the heather while climbing up the other side due to some technical unclipping mishap. The grit stone was penetrating every component and though overall the bikes performed better when their riders. I was loving the new found plushness of my Revelations fresh back from TfTuned and the XTR duel shifters were faultless and so light to shift gears.
Mick was destroying his bike with no lube on his chain, having rushed out this morning after giving his Spesh a quick wipe down from the ride home from work. As the ride entered its final phase the sounds of an unlubed chain were clear.
The hardest part of the ride still lay ahead. We turned off the wide sandstone path into the “classic single-track” section which was going to prove a test of Micky’s Mettle. This time I took the lead on the techie narrow trail this cut a very almost invisible ribbon though the black heather. The ground along the bank of Urra Moor was icy enough to ride, any ride in the temperature would have made this section almost impossible, it would have simply been too soft and boggy. Along the way we both made a few rapid dismounts, again unclipping required too much effort. One mistake on raised single-track would have you tumbling down the bank, still clipped in lying upside down in a ditch. Luckily none of us were seriously injured thanks to the softness of the ground and relative comfort of the surrounding heather. Any excuse for a rest though as we seemed to linger on the deck for a longer than usual.
We eventually rocked up to Clay Bank welcoming its solid track with a huge sigh. This is a fun section of slippery steps requiring nerve, an arse that can drop way back over the rear wheel with a feathered rear brake. Keep the front end light to avoid any endo style over the bar dismounts and you’ll clean it all the way down. I enjoyed it and felt pleased I made it down without any dabs onto the road and waited for Mick. He felt it was best to walk down as he closed the last gate, just hadn’t quite gained the confidence yet. It takes time I guess and no doubt knee and elbow pads would have helped to encourage Mick to give this stuff a go next time.
I don’t blame him for being cautious after having broken his wrist and split his knee on the last two outings with me. His lass would have murdered me if he’d gone home broken again in some way, so I’m pleased he played safe today.
It was a tough ride out, in very unfavourable conditions and frankly we were pleased to get back to the car park. Today was a test for me in terms of ride endurance; I’ve got to get some ride time in before Borrowdale. Mick out- peddled me today for sure.