The Spoke October 19, 2011

Night MTB Rider

It’s been a while since I’ve ventured out on my Mountain Bike. I cycled round some of the surrounding countryside near Matlock, Derbyshire at the end of May, but other than intermittently haul the trailer round, I haven’t used the Miura a whole lot. A colleague of mine, however, is a keen Mountain biker and uses a relatively ‘local’ wooded area known as Friston Forest (between Seaford and Eastbourne) as his play area. For some time he has been suggesting we should go out for a ride and earlier this week, I took him up on his offer.
Have I mentioned that we’d be doing this in the dark yet? Until this point, cycling round country lanes I thought was dangerous enough in the dark – but with the evenings now dark at 19.00, out start time meant we would be riding in the dark from the off. No change for David, apparently, for him this is quite normal. I’ve never cycled in a forest in the dark before though......
As you may have guessed, David is a proper Mountain Biker. He doesn’t wear Lycra. He’s got a head-torch equivalent to about a million candlelight. He has front forks the size of a house and some pretty beefy looking disc brakes. I’ve rocked up on the Claud Butler, with a ‘V’ brake at the front that works (most of the time) and a centre-pull at the back. Suspension; I don’t think had been invented when I bought the Miura – so I already know I’m going to be shaken to pieces. Incidentally, I’ve moved ALL the front lights currently in my possession onto the handlebars of the Mountain Bike. If nothing else it looks like the front of Colin McRae’s Suburu. That said, I am looking forward to it – something different, certainly exciting – and Friston is a place I’ve not ridden round for about 15 years.
Once upon a time I used to know Friston quite well. A combination of school geography projects, family walks and the occasional off-roading expedition resulted in some knowledge of the vicinity being gathered. However, all of that was a number of years ago and to say my Mountain bike skills are rusty would be generous. One final point; I should add that the times I have gone off-roading I’ve really enjoyed it – but just not got into a habit of going more regularly, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s familiarity which usually wins the day.
David said the session would start with a climb up a long hill called Cardiac (as in, ‘arrest’). The trepidation we began cycling. Actually it wasn’t too bad. An 8-10, minute climb on a gravel track that steadily increased in gradient until you reached the summit and the start of the trails, proper. We would be riding 2 ‘main’ trails, ‘Crater’ and ‘Fairy’ and end with ‘Jamie’s back passage’ (seriously, that’s what it was referred to).  We briefly spoke to a couple of other riders at the top, they rode off and we headed into the woods. ‘Crater’ was a faster-ish route that took us down the side of the valley and either around or through a couple of craters that had been created courtesy of some Second World War bombing activity. I struggled to keep up with David, his technical competency and knowledge of the terrain left me chasing him through the woods. It was fun though.  I had no grasp of time, but we seemed to get to the first (and last) crater quite quickly. The lights were holding out well and the head torch I was wearing had so far been very useful. “It’s ok Jonathan,” said David, “This crater is quite do-able. Look you do it like this.” With that he launched himself into the darkness, down the side of this crater and thundered up the other. It looked tricky. It was dark. I wasn’t so sure. I decided to give this one a miss. I went round it. No point being a hero and coming off and breaking something. Didn’t fancy explaining that one to my wife.   We headed off (downhill) and soon after we found ourselves at the bottom of Cardiac again. At least hills were something I understood.......
We rode to the top Cardiac, and it seemed easier second time round. We turned left instead of right and immediately headed into the undergrowth on the ‘Fairy’ trail. Fairy was a more technical route, longer than Crater. I immediately felt more at home. This time, I could keep up with David more easily. I was on and off the power, avoiding stumps and alike as we darted through the tree’s. The winding path was both challenging and fun to traverse, with no need for additional bravery! He was right about the duration though. The ground was rattling my forearms around and I kept adjusting my grip so I didn’t get cramp. I started following David’s headlight as well using that to anticipate my path through the forest. That was quite effective until his head torch failed. Actually, by this time one of my 4 cateye’s had also ran out of power, but with no major consequence. Eventually we reached the bottom of the trail after a few false finishes. A brief rest and a stretch and we were off again.....
The final stretch started uphill. We climbed for 500 meters or so and then dived into the final short trail, ‘Jamie’s back passage’. I didn’t go into how it had gathered that name for itself. This was like the fairy trail, windy with a bit of downhill in it for good measure. Despite the recent good weather, the ground was quite damp, making traction challenging in places. Before fatigue had chance to set in we popped out the other side onto the ‘main’ road and back to the car.  Made it – and more surprisingly in one piece.
We had ridden for about 90 minutes, covered 20 km and ascended 156 meters through the forest. It was alot of fun and I’ve already said I’d like to do it again – but maybe in the light. That way I’ve got no reason to avoid the Crater........
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