Thursday, 19 June 2014

2011 - Medley

August 2011 saw a return to Cumbria.  Baz had moved to Cockermouth and his house was opened to us to come and explore the fun Cumbria could offer.  This was not to be a journey like the Coast to Coast, Cutty to Castle or run to Cambridge, but instead a gathering of friendly souls and a long weekend of laddish tom-foolery.

I set out from Farnham on a Thursday evening after work astride my beloved steed, a Californian 2012 Honda Shadow I referred to as “Hekate”; Goddess of the Crossroads.  This was a bike that needed no pedalling, with a 750cc V-twin between my legs.  

I loaded up my Boblee pack with my clothes and strapped a kit bag to the pillion seat with bungee ropes, containing my walking boots, the black Bell helmet and a sleeping bag.  As I set out, the heavens opened.

I arrived in Olney, stopping at Teddington services to get some feeling back into my toes and fingers, close to 8pm.  half an hour later I arrived in Olney and Mark had beers waiting for me which soothed my aching body.  A few single malts and a game of drunk chess helped close off the night and I slept in my sleeping bag on the couch, excited about the weekend to come.

Dan arrived early the next day and we quickly packed.  Also parked on the road behind Mark’s house was his brother Paul, so rather than being slotted into a small hole in the back of the car, I was entitled to ride shotgun with Dan while Mark jumped into his brother’s Audi.

We made good time and reached Baz in the late afternoon, quickly decamping into the loft room he had prepared for us to sleep in and then jumped back into Paul’s car for a trip to Buttermere lake for a spot of wild swimming.  

The water was cold, but delightful.  We splashed and laughed, hurling an American football at each other as we leapt from the shale shore into the deep, crystal clear waters.  When evening approached, Baz set up a small BBQ on the shore and cooked us marinated chicken and sausages.  After this feed (along with the mandatory beers) we had an overly rough full contact game of American football.

We headed back to Baz’s house fizzing with energy.  Paul had been wounded in the ribs during the games but it didn’t affect his self belief at being a rally driver on the dark country lanes.  Sheep literally threw themselves over the edge of the road as he tore past them and when we finally parked outside Chez Baz, Paul wondered why the rest of us began to kiss the pavement in relief.

Day 2 - Winlatter MTB

Saturday dawned slightly misty, but overall fine.  Baz cooked us a breakfast worthy of a King, but left the kitchen as if hit by a nuclear bomb and then we set out for Winlatter.  This was to be a true eye-opener for me as I had never before experienced a trail centre before.  The first thing that stuck me was the sense of order about the place, but I was not immune to the surfacing of memories of the last time we found ourselves at the signpost for Winlatter.  This had been all the way back in 2008 when we tackled the Coast to Coast, but still had the potency of recall to make me gag.

Putting this aside, I followed Dan into the bike hut to hire a bike while the others prepared Baz’s new Gary Fisher full sus 29er, the old GT Avalanche I had ridden on the Coast to Coast which would be Mark’s ride and also Paul’s Specialized hard tail Rock Hopper.  Dan and I were given hard tail Cubes and we both purchased a pair of Royal gloves to really feel the part.

I could not believe what was beneath me as we pedalled up to the start of the blue graded Quercus trail behind Baz.  I had suspension in the front forks and hydraulic disc brakes on a bike that weighed as much as half of what the Black Hawk had weighed.  I was pumped for this, desperate to do well and believing I would too.

The trail started halfway up the hill from the trail centre cafe and swooped off down into the forest on a thin line of track surfaced with loose chippings.  This meandered back and forth, zigzagging across the face of the hill until coursing through sections of grass enclosed tracks all the way to the bottom.  When we reached this point my smile was close to splitting my face in half and I could see the others were in agreement.

This trail was 7.5 km long, but I have to admit that it felt a lot longer.  For the first time I was being faced with technical features which at that time, despite being on a blue graded trail, really tested our abilities (excluding Baz who commanded skills we only dreamed of having).  One particular section asked us to navigate a sharp left hand turn, downhill around a tree stump.  Baz showed us how to beat it and we followed one by one, each of us either putting feet down and walking, or like me, refusing to put feet down and hitting the ground hard.  The result was the same even when I carried the bike back up to have another stab at it.

A second section that had us quaking was a simply rock slab, this time on another left hand turn.  Baz led the way again and I followed, this time succeeding and feeling boosted by the success.  Then a long chase downhill on long straights peppered with jumps and leading into 90 degree berms had us all smiling, until we realised that Baz had not quite remembered the 90 degree berm and had assumed the run down to be straight.  His bike lay above him on top of the berm and he sat further down, clutching his leg and wincing.  The handlebars had been twisted until they were in line with the frame rather than opposed to it, but after a quick check and a brief pause to allow Baz to catch his breath, all was back in order.

The end of the route took us over our first ever section of northshore (although all of us took the chicken route rather than the final stretch of skinny, and we were back at the cafe.

We took the Blue a second time, but all refused to follow Baz onto the red Altura trail afterwards.  Two blue runs do not a mountain biker make – but it had planted the seed for me between road and dirt.

We concluded the day with a trip to an indoor go-cart course where Paul’s driving prowess was put to the test against Baz.  Foul play aplenty adorned the track to the point where I no longer wanted to race and instead amused myself with the art of drifting, wining me no records on lap time, but at least maintaining the smile that Winlatter had graced my face with.

The night ended with a Cockermouth bar crawl, to the Bitter End…  literally.  Is that not how any great day should close?

Day 3 – Grassmere Scramble

Our original plan for our final day in Cumbria had been for us to conquer the climb to the summit of Skiddaw, but this had been under debate from the moment we dipped a pinky into Lake Buttermere and looked up at the brooding shadow of the rock-slide through the heart of Grassmere.  This “Scramble” was a well-known route, was still classed as a mountain climb, would be dramatically less populated than Skiddaw and was also practically next door to Cockermouth rather than over an hour drive.

We set out early, slightly foggy on the roads as well as in our heads from the night before (aside from Paul who no longer partook in the devil’s juice).  We parked and looked up at Grassmere, not really daunted by the task ahead.

We walked together over the grassy foothills to the beginning of the scree slide and Paul pushed us on with his phone blasting out DJ Fresh’s “Louder”.  We sang along boisterously; “It’s gonna get, it’s gonna get…”   All, save for his brother, found this amusing.

The scree was a challenge and looking back towards the car it began to dawn on me that Grassmere was bigger than I had first thought.  Already the car was but a speck in the distance and yet we were still far from the summit.  A helicopter took off from a plot of land near to where our car was and we looked down on it as it flew by which really gave us a sense of altitude.  Over to the side stood another imposing mound of Cumbrian rock and I could hardly believe my eyes to see a lone woman running up the near impossible slope.

Onwards we pushed, staying together for safety right up until the point it got dangerous.  At this stage we made an unspoken decision to screw our companions and find our own individual way up the treacherous climb to the summit.  Mark and Baz slipped off down one way, Paul took a ludicrous route up a rock face and I decided to do as the name of the route suggested and scrambled up in my hands and knees between rocks and boulders on the slick grass and scree.  Dan followed Paul for a little while and then switched to following me when sense prevailed.

Paul, Dan and myself made it to the top and looked down to locate Baz and Mark.  The view set all of our stomachs turning and worse of all, we could not see hide nor hair of .  To make matters even worse, when we called out there was no response; not even the chanted phrase of “it’s gonna get, it’s gonna get, it’s gonna get louder!”

When they finally did come into view it was along a desperately dangerous ridge that ran up to where we stood waiting and I could see the sun reflect from Mark’s overly pale face.  The weather too had conspired to make matters worse and added a few strong gusts and flurries of misty rain to the mix, but at last we were all back together.

We meandered, drunk from the excitement and fear of the climb to the rock pile marking the summit.  Here we partook in a wee dram from Mark’s hip flask and then took the long, leisurely slope back down to the car.

That marked the end of our adventure.  The morning had been used up and the rest of the day would be spent in the car driving back south, but I had a seed planted by Winlatter and the Cube.  I also had a deep seated love for Cumbria, cemented in place by our time at Lake Buttermere which had somehow connected with the fondness I have for Lake Wanaka in New Zealand to make the two the same within me.

My ride home from Olney on “Hekate” was the last long ride I would make on it because my first child was born in May and the pressure was on for me to shed the bike and to opt always for the safety of a car, but the ride was in beautiful sunshine and savoured fully.  A month later I paid for a new set of two wheels, without the V-twin adding weight to the frame.  This was the birth of Crank and this was the real start of the new me. 

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