Wow! What a ride!

The coronavirus situation is hard on us all. I’m so thankful that I’ve got mountain biking with, in Britain, few restrictions on our riding, to keep me sane. I rode this afternoon having done some gardening earlier. There really isn’t much more we can do to the garden but to give a little hope for the future, here’s a little of what we managed last year.

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Today I rode my Boardman FS Pro which is pictured above and my aim was to ride to the Egg Hillock. It’s a small hill on the remote Smithill’s moor and the name describes it well. It’s by no means easy to reach but I started with a road ride to Rivington village where I climbed through the terraced gardens, which were gifted to the people by philanthropist Lord Leverhulme, who made his fortune from soap! I took a steep but fairly direct route to my first really tough climb. So far it had been a lot of work but now I needed to climb Crooked Edge. Last year I set this climb, without stopping or putting a foot down, as one of my 2019 challenges. I didn’t make it and concluded that, although I could do it regularly 20 years ago, it was now just too hard for me. I’ve been sure my fitness has been improving since last autumn so could there be a chance? I didn’t help myself by riding the Boardman, which has a modern transmission with only one front chainring instead of three. It doesn’t have the low gearing of my 2004 Whyte JW4 and has bigger, fatter wheels with more tyre drag.

At the start of the climb from Pike Cottage, which is used as a dog kennnel as well as a house, are some steps, so the ride starts from the top of these. First, though, I was shocked to find a new wooden building being used as a coffee shop. They had tables at the side of the road and plenty of customers. This is in absolute defiance of the Covid 19 restriction which forbid all cafes, bars and restaurants and all group meetings. Should I report this? That’s not the sort of thing I’d normally do, given my live and let live philosophy but this time I’m worried that the operation really could spread the virus. I got my mind back on the task in hand and started the climb. It’s not just the gradient but the bumpy, rocky, rutted ground which makes it so hard. I got in a tricky rut early on but powered through. Later there are 2 sections which were formally hard but have been softened over the years but it’s the final savage slope which has defeated me for years. With my improved fitness I could tell I was much fresher than on my several attempts last year and when it came to the hardest part of all I sprinted to get some momentum. Still I almost stopped but gave it the 2 vital powerful turns of the pedals that are needed. Then I got diverted to the right by another rut but kept the power on and I was up! It’s the first time in years and I was delighted.

I took a trail down to the service road to the TV transmitters and just before the 1,000 feet high mast, turned off to the right on a stone slab track. It turns right and drops on a gentle gradient where there’s no lack of speed. It has long ruts running along and you really need to keep both wheels in the same rut to avoid disaster. It runs for a good distance and I eventually came to some rockier and more eroded trail. I chose the wrong option and was faced with a drop off ahead. After my crash on my last ride I’d told myself to keep it safe this time so stopped and actually felt good about my caution. At the end I crossed a small, steep valley cut by a stream and had to push up the other side. Back on the bike I knew I was approaching Dean Mills reservoir but it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve ridden it, you come over a low crest and the whole reservoir bursts into view so suddenly it’s always a shock! I rode the length of the water where someone was talking loudly on a phone and dropped down steeply. It’s then a long sinuous single track to the Egg Hillock. The trail was burned by deliberate arson by some fools a few years ago and I haven’t ridden it since. It must have been little used subsequently because in places all that was left was an indentation in the grass, not the foot and wheel worn track I had expected.

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The Egg Hillock is in the middle distance.

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To the north east are some more reservoirs and plenty of moorland beyond.

I climbed to the hillock, turned round and set off for home. First I wanted to ride back to Dean Mills Reservoir without a foot down and I made it. Despite the dry conditions it was still hard work. I dropped down a steep, rocky slope but just made sure I didn’t get nervous about it. I changed my route from the outbound and took a trail I haven’t ridden for around 6 years. It was challenging as I had a good few miles in my legs already but I was loving it. I chose a safer descent to George’s Lane than the Crooked Edge way I’d used on the way up. From there I went to the top of a rooty, rocky, twisting trail which is one of the very best. Before I set off a woman in running gear said “Do you know this isn’t a cycle track?” I said “I do. Ever the rebel!” Mountain bikes have in no way been accounted for in English law so we tend to ride where we want until we get some clarification in which case we’ll still do a typically English thing and only obey the rules which we like! I’m not the only rebel. The trail didn’t disappoint. At the bottom I was due to join a narrow track to the right but a dog walker was approaching so I waited so I kept my 2 meter distance which we’re advised to do. It turned out he was also a mountain biker and we stood at a distance and chatted for a couple of minutes. He has been only riding the roads for safety and I told him about my stopping earlier for the drop off. He pointed out that it’s so important not to lose confidence and I agree. Being nervous about a feature of the trail is dangerous. This is what happened when I crashed on my last ride, after all. I slowed and tried to roll something which I should have approached at speed, lifting the front wheel over the mud which caught me and spat me over the handlebars.

After our chat more walkers appeared on the narrow path so I took an alternative route and by more luck than judgement found my way back onto my intended way. Because time was getting on I stuck to the road all the way home. As well as conquering the climb which I couldn’t manage last year I set 13 personal records on Strava segments. What a fantastic ride. I’d climbed 2,282 feet in 19.67 miles. Egg Hillock, I love you.

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