Despite working a job I love, going home with smile on my face every evening, not a being cubicle slave or ever having to wear a shirt and tie again, there aren’t many perks of the job. However taking home one of these
for a ‘demo’ playout in the Lakes has to be one of the few good bits Obviously I needed to take it for a ride so I can talk to our customers about it… *ahem*
For the March Tweet Up Ride Pootle Crew semi-regular and all round nice chap Stu volunteered to show a ‘steady’ route round the Lakes. Details confirmed we were to meet in Ambleside at a shop Stu use to ride for and the adventure would start from there. On the long drive up to the Lakes I surprisingly had no navigation faux pas (thanks to the brilliant directions from Skipton’s very own direction guru Sas-Sas) but unsurprisingly I was late. Trying to park up outside the shop I managed to drag the front of the van across a drystone wall and when I was directed to the correct car park (and the worlds most expensive as well you robbing gits Ambleside council) I managed to manoeuvre the van into a space without bumping it into or off anything else. We wandered into the shop so Stu could reminisce catch up and pester for his brother in law Sean a Saturday job. Sean was also tagging along with us for the ride. I quite literally talked shop with a shop lad for a little while and then it was back out to the vehicles to do our clark kent in phonebox thing to turn us into riding Supermen. The initial few pedal strokes and it was clear that Fox Racing Shox seriously underestimated the pressure needed for a chunky bloke and his far too heavy camelbak. Air cans rejigged we headed out for the big hills ahead.
Like most places in the UK a little bit of road work was necessary to get to the sweet dirt and before the tarmac could grind down the sun soaked enthusiasm we headed left of the road past a sign signaling we were headed for Base Camp. I did have to wonder exactly how high Stu was having us climb if there was a bloody Base Camp. I thought it would be another singlespeeder pulling my legs off that day but after a quick chat with our young apprentice his recent snowboarding in the harshest Winter for three decades whilst skill building had put his fitness under a touch. We climbed steadily together whilst Stu became a rapidly diminishing horizon dot, his whole “Honestly I’m off the pace” ringing in our disbelieving ears.
We caught up with the North East Whippet by the fence with a million padlocks and I think he graciously got out the map to check routes so Sean and I could get our breath back. Some debate between the two locals and a new unknown path was decided upon and we mounted up once more as my skull started to scream out in agony. The familiar head ache pangs of dehydration struck and I greedily started sucking down water. As the trail kicked upwards again Stu demonstrated his “lack of form” by rocketing off into the horizon. Spring sunshine was hammering the skid lids perched on our heads and I stopped frustratingly and unknowingly close to the summit to remove my base layer.
The climbing refused to ease up and as my head continued to pound and throb almost in time to the turning of cranks we exited onto a wide fireroad still heading towards the sky. The forestry commission’s recent felling work had turned the normal hard pack into wheel grabbing chain sucking gloop. Before long the grit laden porridge clogged all three pairs of wheels to such an extent that all three of us were off and carrying to firmer ground ahead. The endless climbing had finished and as we darted between some seriously industrial tree munching machinery it was time to cash in from the gravity bank.
The first downhill reward of the day was a loamy playground of roots and drops snaking under a deep green dappled canopy providing restful shade. Too quickly over we exited onto the side of the hill drinking in the gorgeous views ahead of us:
After consulting the map again we entered the woods again wheels now drifting and clattering over rocks and slabs, more reminiscent of the man made staple of trail centres than mother natures geologically constructed playgrounds. The runs got steeper and I have to admit I minced down some chutes I should have railed down on such a capable bike. Under the crystal clear sky again, new trails behind us, Stu sent his young apprentice over a nearby ridge to scout for geological pointers to aid our navigation. Youthful eagerness bounded away whilst Stu and I soaked up the rays of sunshine usually lacking on these shores. No useful landmarks were uncovered so we decided to follow our noses and hope for the best. Emerging on tarmac Stu had realisation of where and it was back off road and back on track before the hard top could become dull. Once more the trail pointed skywards and suitably impressed with the bike we reached the top just as I ran out of water. Ahead lay a descent that Stu and Shaun normally endure the other way round. Their discussions turned to the best lines, what to watch out for and I could see in their eyes a pre-run of the descending to be enjoyed. Oh boy, it was a belter. Narrow, steep and just rocky enough to be both fun and skill sharpeningly quick. It was over too soon. The boys lamented it wasn’t the same going the other way and we rolled as fast as the banter pulling into Stu’s Mother-In-Law’s place to refuel and for me to rehydrate.
Lounging on garden furniture, a truly phenomenal cheese sandwich digesting away we slow roasted our skins whilst we discussed with Shaun’s family his hopes and dreams for Mountain Leadership and Bike Shop employment. Earlier whilst I had been gassing away Stu had wangled Shaun a Saturday job with the shop. Sat in the sun with a full belly I was more than a little nostalgic and jealous for when I first entered the bike trade many moons ago. Camelbaks re-hydrated we mounted up once more and spun away on the tarmac heading for vehicular home.
The last real climb of the day started out evil and didn’t ease off any at all. Shaun was suffering from an earlier crash and seemingly the only thing I don’t have in my camelbak is paracetamol. Cranks spinning we turned off the blacktop and back onto blessed dirt gaining altitude unti we reached Iron Kell. Whilst Stu and I waited for an increasingly suffering singlespeeder I played around with an incredibly bouncy sheepdog before his owners rounded the hill we needed to finish. Through the gate was genuinely the last piece of heavens bound trail for the day. It was steep and incredibly loose, football sized rocks dancing round the wheels throwing traction and legs to the wind. This was the only climb of the day that I saw superStu fail and after realising perhaps is he is human after all I promptly had to bail and push myself.
And then that was it, a final playground descent of the day and we would be on the road to the car park the big hills and adventure behind us, the small details already fading into memory. So we hit the down and we hit it fast. It was another steep loose fast descent and I whooped, jumped pedaling and bounding the whole way to the bottom. The last tarmac miles devoured we were back, salt streaks drying on my helmet straps and my forearms tingling from unexpected cyclist’ tan. Goodbyes spoken and hands shaken with heartfelt thanks I loaded up the van for the long drive home my mind racing the lines taken all day long.