Mountain Biking in the good Company of 'Cows' and 'Cat Herders'
It’s been a long while since I have contributed to the Cycleseven Blog. I have not had the best of summers this year and my obsession with Audax cycling hasn’t exactly brought forth interesting stories around my bicycling.
My Audaxing this year has given me a double RRtAAA (Randonneur Round the Year Audax Altitude Award), which is nice to get after a full years hard slogging, plus my own personal best regarding my AAA points as well. This next season coming up, will be a poor one for me regarding my beloved points as I am to have surgery in March, that will knock me off my bike for almost 6 months. This, coupled with a bit of depression (due to the surgery in March, and the fact that I will be getting VERY fat again), and the very thought of not cycling for a long, long, long while, has sort of knocked the stuffing out of me a bit.
The Audax season has ended early this year and a new one just begun, and I had to trash the idea of a RRtY (Randonneur Round the Year Award) just two x 200km rides into the Challenge so, I started to think a bit ‘out-of-the-box’ and to try to think of other cycling rides over the coming 5 months I have left to ride my bikes.
I started to look long and hard at my Rock Lobster mountain bike collecting spiders and dust in the bike shed. I dragged her out, oiled her creaking joints, added psi (not too many of these though) to her deflated tyres and took at look at the Manx Mtb Club forum for inspiration. Caroline (aka Madmanxcow), had re-started the beginner rides – Perfect. Caroline, and others like her are true inspirations in my book. Generous, humorous and with Mtbiking deeply engrained in her veins, Caroline gathers together her ‘herd’ of learners on a weekend, to get us out there, hitting the trails and footpaths that criss-cross the island. Mostly, it has to be said above the 100m mark – ‘It IS mountain biking’ she says, smiling… Without her and others selfless commitment, there would a lot fewer cyclists giving mountain biking a go. The sport becomes a social day out as well as a good exercise when practiced with others. Plus the added bonus that that Caroline and her fellow mountain bike friends all know where they are going as well!!
I should think the local bike shops on the island owe Caroline and others like her, a great deal, and I hope she gets her inner tubes free at the very least. She gladly gives up her Saturday mornings, to meet other like-minded mtbikers, and to help lead them in long crocodile lines along the splendid terrain of the Isle of Man. Some are the beginners – such as myself.
I’ll always be a beginner, although I enjoy the mountain bike, I do have to drag myself kicking and screaming to the meets, as I have a ‘thing’ for mud (hate it), and a ‘thing’ for the tricker aspects of handling a bicycle over ruts and tree roots, ‘cos I am rubbish at it! I can keep up with the group easily enough, and do the distance, but the more technical bits of it I will never be able to master.
Not to mention my dreadful laziness habit, ‘cos you see, after a long Audax, I can simply chuck my suffering steed back into the bike shed for attention on another day, when Im feeling rested and more ‘up-to-the-job’. Not so, the working mountain bike, if you want it to continue working, she needs your instant loving attention the moment you get back. Tired, exhausted and mud-stained (you, I’m talking about here) don’t expect a mug of tea until the ‘Muck-off’ and hose has removed all traces of your heroic efforts, then she has to be dried off and re-oiled so she ready for action the next time you drag yourself out onto the moorland. Only after this ritual are you released for a similar round of hosing down for yourself before any thoughts of a hot mug of tea and a biccie can be considered!
At the Saturday Meets, there are the collection of experts as well as the beginners, – nearly 30 riders in all, split into two distinct groups and make sure you get into the right one! The beginners are easy to spot, there are the cyclists without disc brakes, or those wearing trainers on cycles with flat pedals, as well as the fresh new faces, innocently unaware of the task ahead. I make sure I’m with the right group and off we all go. The experts, on their 29’ers are gleaming in the morning sunshine and pedal quickly away, leaving a Mexican wave of admiration as they pass by. While behind them, the newbies – their faces with open mouths gaze in hope, yearning and wonderment at their passing….. Many of the experts have been in Caroline's beginner rides in previous years.
Caroline has her expert helpers for the Saturday meet – Dave (aka Foxdale – master Photographer for this blog too!) and Steve, these guys, and a few others besides, help give advice to struggling cyclists as we bounce heavily and skid too easily over slippery stones, tree roots and gravel, they cycle back and forth amongst the novices ‘Cat-Herding’ this 20+ line of novice mtbikers. Many of whom hold onto future dreams in their hearts of competing in the local End to End Challenge at the end of a long year of Saturday trail and technical riding. Dave and Steve keep the group moving and re-grouping, Caroline always at the rear of the ride patiently shouting encouragement (poking with a long invisible stick sometimes) and making sure no-one is left behind or demoralised by their lack of technical ability.
The snaking coil of cyclists curve their way up one of the steep stony pathways, avoiding new ruts cut out by heavy rainfall. Tired cyclist curse under their breath, as one of the ‘Cheeky-Hills’ catches their lungs. This particular Saturday’s ride was one of the best ones in my book. It was a sight-seeing mission – always a favourite with me, rather than a learn-to-handle-your-bike one (I could do with a lot more of these types sadly…). The ride took us over the green-lanes of the island, many places, due to recent heavy rains had deep ruts filled with water that was way over the wheel hubs… Eventually the ride lead us to the West coast of the island and to Peel, and finally the penultimate part of the day – up to Corren’s Folly. A tower built by Thomas Corrin he is buried nearby with his wife and children, and rumour has it, his body has been removed and taken to consecrated ground no less than four times, only for friends to return it, to his resting place beside the Folly, built in memory of his late wife, who sadly died in childbirth.
All in all, it was a great place for a rest and a sit down, time to re-group for the final time, and to have a snack before the return ride back to the start of the days adventure, and to start that other ritual of bike cleaning... A grand day out by all means. Cheers all!