Having spent Tuesday looking out of the office window at cloudless blue skies, I decided that Wednesday would not see me making the same mistake. Even though I was still nursing the cold so thoughtfully shared with me by my disease-vector offspring I determined that a decent length ride was in order. Straight after school drop-off I set my email autoresponder, and jumped on the mile-munching summer bike for the first time this year to see how far my rhinovirus-ridden respiratory system could carry me. 80kms and 400mg of paracetamol later, with Cut Gate, Doctor’s Gate and the Woodhead TPT all dispatched, it turned out that given a bit of motivation manflu isn’t any real obstacle to having a grand day out.
When I write about cloudless skies I’m not exaggerating, there wasn’t a hint of vapour in the air for the full six hours I was out on the Dark Peak hills, and given that they’re normally about 50% water in composition themselves that’s quite remarkable. We get about three or four days like this per year on the sodden little scrap of rotten North Atlantic rock that we inhabit. I was not about to allow a day like this to escape whilst I sat indoors punching formulae into spreadsheets.I had to stop to adjust the bike a few times on the way out of town. My seat post needed an extra inch or so of height and the saddle had somehow tipped back a bit, but once I’d completed my faffing I was able to get my head down and pedal properly towards Cut Gate, the first big hill of the day. My cold had other ideas at first and I was off, coughing and pushing and developing a bit of a headache on the steepest bits of the climb up from Langsett. I knocked back a couple of painkillers and determined to see how I felt when I got to the top. A chap on a CX bike passed me going the other way just after the big bog: fair play to him if he rode down the other side on 35cs, it’s quite rocky up there.
By the time I reached the summit I felt ok again and decided to press on and make a full day of it as planned. The far side was a bit chopped up by the singularly wet winter we’ve had, but even with some stupid line-choices I enjoyed clattering down to Slippery Stones as much as ever, and did it about as fast as I’ve ever managed, too. I grabbed a bacon butty at Fairholmes, where the ducks tried to mug me for bread as usual. Riding up Lockerbrook for a change allowed me a shot at the Hagg Farm berms, which were fun as usual; for some reason I always forget that there’s three gates to slow you down even if nobody’s walking up it. I also managed to tick off a personal best up more that one segment of the miserable, Range Rover-plagued tarmac drag of Snake Pass somehow, in spite of being on a full-suspension mountain bike, pretty tired, and not really trying that hard. Maybe I’m not as unfit as I thought I was.Doctor’s Gate is a trail I haven’t ridden since before v-brakes were invented; it’s changed little since then and is still ridiculously technical even with modern kit. The opening section of the descent is nice enough, but once you pass the top gate you are dumped into a preposterously rocky set of switchbacks and a ford- to-exposed-landslip-traverse that makes Cavedale look like a canal towpath. A couple of similarly awkward sections break up what is otherwise a very entertaining Peak District gritstone descent; I suspect that there are a handful of riders who could make the most of this terrain, the rest of us are reduced to taking what we can from the smashing threads of singletrack in between the stupid, lunatic bits of pointy death-rock.
The final ascent around Glossop, up the Transpennine Trail and over Woodhead, in contrast to the two Gates, is a very easy going drag, but surprisingly long for all that. I didn’t allow quite enough time mentally for these spinny bits of scenic pedalling, not that it mattered: I arrived back home in good time, a little over six hours after setting off. My cold hadn’t given me any real grief, I’d covered some decent miles at a fair pace, ridden some entertaining trails, and even managed to get a little bit sunburned, a definite first for the year (and yes, I did have sun-cream on). Here’s hoping that we get a few more days like this before too long.