“Believe me my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” So says Ratty to Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s classic novel ‘The Wind in the Willows’.
I’m building my own boat so in the spring, when I launch it, I’ll be able to confirm or deny the veracity of the above statement. If, howver, I substitute “bikes” for “boats I’m already certain that the statement is true. Today the wind blew not only through the willows but through trees of every variety, so I thought I’d get a mountain bike ride in mid morning before a yellow weather warning for strong winds took effect. Yes, messing about on bikes is great but is definitely best enjoyed if you’re happy with your level of fitness, so it’s important to keep a close eye on this. I am aware that I haven’t got as many rides in, in the first weeks of this year, as I did 12 months ago. My last ride was a good training ride with plenty of climbing and has left me feeling the effects far more than I’m used to. Today I wanted to back up the training effect of that ride and chose to return to Birkacre for the first time this year. Towards the end of last year I’d got involved in a virtual race around a Strava segment called Birkacre race route? I’d set the fastest time on my first attempt but this had been beaten by a big margin. As the ground conditions deteriorated I got within 11 seconds of this new best time by putting more effort in. I didn’t know what the trail would be like after over 2 months so thought I’d ride an exploratory lap of the circuit first and see how I felt.
I took an early off road climb to Eaves Green for the start of the lap and thought that the strong wind had done a good job of drying the surface. Soon afterwards I was starting the lap and controlled my pace at first. Typically I soon started to up the pace on damp but not too slippery surfaces. I knew that this was going to be my best lap so continued to put pressure on myself. A downhill section which had been slimey with mud in early December was now good fun and will only get better. There was one muddy patch on the next climb which I just managed to get across without stopping. I then made a mistake on my route. My choice brought me to the same place but meant I needed to lift the bike through an extra gate. This cost me some time. Wasted seconds which I’ll never get back! All I could do was soldier on to the next descent. I enjoyed the purpose built, if unofficial, berms and jumps and was soon on to the long climb which completes the lap. I finished in 15 minutes 50 seconds on the stopwatch compared to the fastest time on Strava of 15 minutes 33. Had it not been for my route mistake I could have been crowned King of the Mountains for the fastest ever time.
I decided now, to paraphrase “Ratty”, to “simply mess about on my bike”. I rode the berm and jump section at Birkacre, and a classic section of corners, several times. I loved the slippery conditions where the tyres were fighting for grip and put some effort in as I returned repeatedly to the top. Back at home I found that I’d lost GPS contact during the early part of my fast lap so Strava didn’t register my time. It therefore wouldn’t have mattered even if I’d beaten the previous fastest. I’ve noticed that one of my rivals for, and current holder of, the KOM title, lets call him “O”, has already offered me “kudos” on the Strava app. for todays efforts. I’m sure it won’t be long before he tries to improve on his best time and I don’t suppose I’ll wait for long either. I can feel the effort in my muscles again so I think I got some more useful training in.