I’d not done a ‘proper’ offroad loop in the Peak District for years. I regularly ride from one end of the national park to the other, following one of two routes depending on mood and what bike I’m on at the time, but it was going to be a nice change to ride up/along/down/repeat in a big loop from the car park at Hayfield.
Meeting up with Dave and Phil on Sunday morning we faffed and got changed next to our cars (no riding from the front door this time) and eventually began to climb the steep hill towards Lantern Pike and the Pennine Bridleway, then onto the Trans Pennine trail, eventually arriving at the foot of the climb up some great big hill that eventually led to the Cut Gate Path.
I’d never ridden Cut Gate but I knew from other people and from things that I’d read that in the dry, it’s ace. I’d also read that during or after wet weather, it’s not very ace.
To be honest I struggled along Cut Gate, trying to keep up with Phil who was mostly hopping from muddy puddle to boggy bit to rocky slab, I seemed to be continually falling off or watching in horror as my front wheel disappeared hub-deep into the mud, sending me hopelessly over the bars.
I was having a proper ‘off day’. This was probably because I’d been out the evening before for a meal with Deb and some friends and alcohol was involved. I don’t drink very often at all so when I do it doesn’t take much for me to be adversely affected; it turns me into a sweaty mass of feeble flesh and bone in other words and these effects can last for a day or so afterwards. I’d definitely not been drunk last night, but on Sunday I wasn’t in the greatest shape I’ve ever been in.
I’d also cleverly decided that this route would be best tackled on my fabled ‘other bike’, given it’s awesome when the going gets rocky and I’ve hardly ridden it since I got it…
Good things about The Other Bike:
- A suspension fork. A great big one. A coil-sprung, 140mm travel Rock Shox Pike with a bolt-through axle. It’s ace for smashing down rocky Dark Peak descents, but I think it needs a bloody good service.
- Compared to my regular 29er racy bikes, it’s pretty slack and is supposed to go downhill very quickly indeed (in the right hands, obviously)
- The brakes are utterly massive. Massive I tells yer. And as everyone knows, you go faster with big brakes.
Less good things about The Other Bike:
- It’s got a limited range of gears. The 36 tooth chainring was making climbing a right pain in the arse after just 4 hours of an 8 hour ride and trying to chase Phil and Dave on the flatter and tarmac bits, spinning a million rpm cadence because there’s no big ring was getting quite knackering too.
- It’s a bit heavy.
- The fork wanders about a bit when the climbs get really steep (and I forget to wind the bloody thing down)
- It’s a bit heavy.
- The wheels are a bit diddy.
- The front brake fell off. I bolted it back on after I nicked some parts of Dave’s rear mudguard.
- It was even more heavy with 2Ib of mud stuck to it.
The main problem though was that I’d stupidly gone to the pub after we’d left the restaurant the night before…
More falling off on descents followed more sweaty grinding uphill followed a bit more falling off and bad language. So far this week I’ve counted 6 bruises on my legs and a hole in the knee of my ¾ length bib shorts (which, naturally I was wearing under some proper mountain biker baggy shorts to match the rad-core bike I was riding). I think I need to practice some basic skills…
Still, I was spending the day riding my bike in an utterly beautiful part of the country with a couple of mates, so how bad could it be, really? I just needed to MTFU a bit, that’s all. So I did.
After cutting the route a bit shorter to allow us to at least get back to the car before bedtime, we made our way up more ridiculously steep climbs, down more rocky descents, eventually arriving (after some faffing with the map) at the foot of Jacob’s Ladder. It was by now starting to go dark, luckily we were good boy scouts and had all brought lights.
Up the wrong, footpath, ascent of Jacob’s Ladder to start, we carried our bikes up the hill. By now I was getting quite close to a full-on bonk but was comforted by the fact that the safety and warmth of the car was just on the other side of this hill. Eventually arriving back on the legal and supposedly-rideable upper section of the ‘Ladder we mused at the amount of skill, practice and determination would be needed to successfully clean this climb.
I know that Dave was thinking the same thing I was thinking and I suspect that more attempts to clean this one will be on the cards in the coming months 😉
Down the other side was going to be fun in the dark – covered in big, pointy rocks, the descent down towards Hayfield was a balancing act between caution and momentum…I’ll admit that I got the balance wrong on one occasion; more in favour of caution and immediately I was sprawled out on a pile of rocks with my hand bent the wrong way….
Eventually convinced that I’d not broken my wrist, I gingerly made my way to the bottom of the hill where Phil had been waiting, probably for a long time.
Oh goody. More bruises.
Back at the car and for the second time this year I realised that I’d forgotten to bring any clothes with me, so I drove home in my lovely and damp bib shorts and base layer. Good job I didn’t have to fill the car up.