Somewhere under all that brash and rubble there was once a bike trail. It was short and led nowhere and comprised a series of jumps and berms wriggling between rotting conifers in a dank industrial plantation on the edge of the moors. I didn’t visit it very often because riding it was, frankly, at the very limit of my ability, and it was usually so wet and covered in slime and pine needles that it was rarely worth the trek to have another crack at its gaps and chicanes. I don’t think I ever saw another rider up there, indeed I rarely saw so much as a tyre track to indicate that it was still in use at all. Whoever built it clearly abandoned it some time before I was shown it by a friend, four or five years ago.
The last time I visited it, in early summer, the foresters were in the process of harvesting their cash crop, and the chainsaws and massive machinery of industrial wood-processing were making short work of the trees. I hadn’t been back up since, until I decided to take a detour off today’s ride to see if anything remained of the unknown diggers’ work. It quickly became clear, lurching over the detritus left by the felling, that everything had been obliterated. I couldn’t even see a trace of the dry-stone walls that the builders had incorporated into their jumps, let alone the minimal berms or kickers or gaps.
This small trail was built in a working wood, unofficially and without regard for sustainability or safety, and if it was tolerated by the landowner that was the most that could be said for it. It is no great loss, objectively, as even local riders obviously used it rarely, and its destruction only occurred as part of the normal process of management of the land upon which it was illicitly constructed. Still, I am sad that it has gone.
Today I took part in my first cyclocross race, as part of my recently launched campaign to not actually die in the attempt to ride the 3 Peaks race next year (previously). It just so happened that the local secondary school was hosting a round of the regional CX race series this weekend, and a couple of friends were going to have a go too, so this seemed as good a time and place as any to start. Happily, my road bike is actually a CX bike in disguise, so all I had to do was dig out the pair of knobbly tyres that I bought on a whim a year or two ago, remove the mudguards, and fit a shorter stem. These technical adjustments took under an hour, which as it happened was very nearly as much time as I had spent on the physical preparations for my racing debut in this discipline.
As is my usual tactic, I gridded myself right at the back to ensure I kept out of the way of the fast lads, which turned out to be a good idea; everyone was a fast lad, apparently, and they all shot off into the distance with alarming speed once the starting whistle blew. I spent the ensuing laps with my heart rate pegged and my eyeballs nearly popping out of my skull, hanging right off the back off the race like the unfit mess I currently am. I was lapped by the front runners after perhaps ten minutes, and then by pretty much everyone else, as far as I can tell. After about half an hour I started to feel a bit less than utterly terrible and made back a few places over the last couple of laps. The whole thing was wrapped up in about fifty minutes: short and very, very sharp.
The course was classic cyclocross, apparently: approximately 95% uphill, frequently through a swamp, or a sandpit, or a swampy sandpit. The downhilll bits were all carefully taped out to make them off-camber and almost impossible to ride at more than 5mph. There was a special hurdle section to make you either get off or crash hilariously, an amusing tractionless bit over an awkward grassy lump, and one of those hypnotic spiral-of-death things in the middle of the football pitch. I didn’t crash at any point, my hard-earned mountain-bikerly poise and grace carrying me easily through the various slip-slidey grassy banks, bunkers and boggy bits. I also found the cornering drills of last year’s speedway sessions handy on the numerous grip-free bends and turns. Technically I really rather enjoyed the exercise, it’s always fun coaxing a slightly daft bike over amusing terrain. I just need to work on the small matter of the woefully underpowered engine. Oh, and the remounts, being able to jump back on after getting off would be a handy skill to acquire given that I had to get off about fifty times a lap, which is roughly par for the course, I’m told.
So, in summary, my first CX race was awful. Apparently there’s another round not too far away next weekend; I might see if I can have another go and get some more practise in.