A 6am start saw me sneaking out of the house as quietly as possible to avoid disturbing anyone. It can be tough to get started but I do love early morning rides; once I’ve prised myself painfully out of bed, then the kitchen, and finally the house, that run down the deserted street and out into the world is always cheering. I headed off to meet my friend and tried to ignore the weather.
After leaving the village we didn’t see a living soul for nearly three hours (the occupants of cars and such, visible in their insulated boxes on motorways and trunk roads, don’t count). Grey, damp clouds loitered above the valley, scudding off the ridges and summits, and we rode up into them. The wind had an edge to it, so we kept moving to stay warm. Paths and tracks had been washed clear of footprints and tyre marks by the rains of yesterdays storms. Whilst the forecast had lied, and where we were promised three hours of clear skies instead we had to make do with brief glimpses of the sun through cloud, the rain did hold off for most of the morning. Big drops started to fall at the top of the last descent. We dropped as fast as we could back into the valley, where it was sheltered, warm, and then headed for home.
I got back before the family were out of their pyjamas.
I spent last weekend with my mate Rick and a load of other lunatics dodging rainclouds and chucking bikes down hills along the length of Swaledale as part of the ‘Ard Rock Enduro weekend. Based out of the Dales Bike Centre near Reeth, the ‘Ard Rock course runs up and down (and up and down and up and down and up and up a bit more and then down and down again) along the edge of a spectacularly bleak part of the Yorkshire Dales. I intend that to be a compliment, I’m a fan of bleak, and moreover the scars of the areas previous mining history make for some excellent and novel riding, loose and swoopy and fun.
The main event at the ‘Ard Rock is an enduro race, which is a bit like a mini-rally on bikes, with short, technical timed stages joined up by nice long link sections where you don’t need to be pedalling so hard that you throw your lungs up. This year there was a less race-oriented, more normal just-ride-round-the-course event on the Saturday. There was also a load of demo bikes and whatnot to look at, a beer tent, a barbecue, a band, some toilets, fields to camp in, it was almost a sort of mini-festival.I didn’t ride the enduro proper, partly because I didn’t get my entry in soon enough, but also because I wasn’t sure that I’d be up to it. Instead I entered the ‘All-Mountain Challenge’ which covered the whole course on the Saturday before the main event without any timing on the tricky bits. I was pleased to easily clear everything on the timed stages, even spending a fair amount of time holding back behind other people, and thoroughly enjoying myself. I certainly could have gone faster. Watching the riders go round on the Sunday it was pretty clear that barring disasters I’d have had a fighting chance to place somewhere other than last. Assuming it runs again next year I think I shall enter the real thing and see how I do.In other news, it looks like summer is done. The weather was entertaining for the whole weekend, with showers giving us a soaking at the end of the challenge ride, a spectacular thunder storm on the Saturday evening, and blustery, rainy unpleasantness for the next day’s official race. The lower section of the first stage, unremarkable when I rode it, turned into a traction-free mud-slide on the Sunday and claimed several casualties, including my umbrella, which was horribly disfigured when an errant rider landed on it at speed after cartwheeling through the bracken. When we arrived at the bottom of this section we were slightly alarmed to see a rider huffing merrily on Entonox to dull the pain of a broken collarbone or separated shoulder, but as far as I’m aware there were no more serious injuries. By contrast, the fifth and final stage was much less slippy than when I rode it and people were throwing themselves down at dramatic speeds, a fact borne out by the two riders I saw riding the stage out on flat back tyres.
Overall the ‘Ard Rock Enduro weekend was excellent. The course was very good, the organisation seemed up to the task, the venue was fine, and I had a smashing weekend in spite of all the rain. Given the chance I’ll definitely be looking forward to doing it again, properly, next summer.