Sunday 26th

Alun’s new Monster Truck, Adam T’s car and Terry’s mobile bike rack left the Cave around 0915 on a dry, cool but thankfully bright morning to meet Chris D, Lee E, David E and his mate Neil, Louis and his mate Ritchie somewhere south of the Tyne. Together with Mark S, Jen and Peter I counted 15.

And so it transpired that the longstanding and supremely evil plot by Mark S, aided and abetted by other dark, shadowy Midaircrisis figures was successfully delivered with the re-appearance of Terry K, alias The Gollum at his most despised venue, Hamsterley. Even seldom seen racers like Lee E and David E had subversively joined the alliance to trick the BOF into making a return.

From the outset, nothing had changed since my last visit, also strangely enough accompanied by Lee amongst others on a cold, dismal 23rd January 2011. That familiar upward gradient from the refurbished Visitor Centre had changed little apart from having stone chippings sprinkled along its lower course, but from the first firebreak it was the same stuff under the wheels as the cavemen had left there when they first built the trails.

And still nothing had changed up top aside from a daft, gaudy, kiddie-conjured name plaque declaring this trail to be something like “Pikes Teeth”, for goodness’ sake. And it seems like the “secret” trail around to the right had been all but dismantled according to Davey, so we were straight into the waymarked routes.

Even the initial skinny traverse looked just like I had left it many moons ago. We regrouped for the second time at the fireroad crossing before launching into the first downhill section. Had I been misled? Was this rooty, lumpy, technical trot down the side of the wall not also just as it was? Yes indeed, but half way down the new changes kicked in as the trail pulled away from the wall with a series of switchbacks and berms likely to keep the Smoothies grinning but for the Old Bod the surface was just a tad slippery for any flat-out bravery, and the mood of Real Riders like Chris D down below was that it had been spoiled by these changes. Of course the Disbeliever had to agree.

Anyway needs must, so on we plodded along the lower firebreak until we reached one of the gates leading out of the forest to the old quarry area. Interesting to see an overturned car at the side of the extremely rough but thankfully short climb we chose, maybe part of the new trail naming regime so this bit must be “The Scrapyard” I suppose, but the little stretch of singletrack running left along the wall was natural and good enough, with its corresponding descent alongside Cliff Sike Gill, to make it worthwhile.

So far then, not a great deal of change but one neat though cruelly short DH singletrack.

Back on the fireroad and a fair wait for last man down which gave the old bones and muscles a chance to refresh before we moved along to another old favourite which indeed used to be secret but a very long time ago. And again this one hadn’t changed a bit apart from the holes between the roots getting deeper due to the lack of people able to keep a secret! Here’s what I said about this same spot after the last visit:

Gloops!

“The fireroad stretch that follows was absolute glue, soft, soggy and nasty to ride on. It was hard work not being able to freewheel all the way down the hill and especially heavy grinding up the other side. Even super-fit ace climber Chris was feeling the weight of the Mongoose more than normally today. That got us to the next singletrack section over the little tricky gully. A few of us walked up the initial climb and at the top the whole crew had stopped, hovering like vultures to see who could embarrass themselves on the rock drop-off just around the left hand hairpin. One by one we tackled it, some off the steeper right side, some off the lower middle and a few taking no chances by staying left on terra firma! (that's what the wife used to call me on a Friday night, many moons ago). No casualties.

Next was the exquisitely impossible-to-clean off-camber rooty trail down to the river and it's ford. Getting through the trees first was hard enough with the ground very soft and mushy in places, exposing much more of the roots and deepening the hollows between them while that dirty great rock at the end with its metre-high flat face put most of the group off tackling it, only a few feet of flat landing separating it from the chilly water of Ayhope Beck. Yet again Terry's Trek Fuel and those lovely 150mm Revelations saved his face on the landing.”

Looks like I was on my original Fuel that time, history repeating itself? Not quite, as this particular Trek had blown its rear pads a week earlier and not been remedied (sorry). That gruesome climb up Potato Hill’s root-ridden dry stone wall (Root 666) was next after we’d re-assembled over the stream, many different routes being taken to reach the top and at a great many speeds. The fast lads had time for a brew before the back end caught up. The Guest Rider’s rear pads were replaced before tackling another new section of swoopy, bermy, jumpy stuff here on Paddy’s Plantation with another daft name that escapes me somehow.

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Fairly good fun on this bit (Starwars?) not having a clue what was coming next and the uneven doubles needed some care. When the Fuel reached the bottom it didn’t stop much and a clatter into the pack was just about avoided with its very anxious rider squealing like a piggy.

We dropped to just above the Grove next and began the long fireroad drag uphill to the start of a 2012 (or maybe 2013?) Red downhill over Black Midding, stopping at the picnic spot with big rock slab table just a few hundred metres into the trail. A beautiful afternoon by now and we’d already started peeling layers off not long after the start. We stayed about ten minutes for bait with not a midge in sight, probably due to the recent dry spell and stiff breeze.

Pics from Mark:

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I enjoyed the next few sections, apparently “Transmission”, “Accelerator” and “Nitrous” (continuing the overturned car theme maybe?) with plenty of beefy berms, tabletops, doubles and the rest but didn’t risk showing any enthusiasm lest I should be heckled by the Mob. The real fun for me started with the natural stuff and a couple of great races with Mark either behind or ahead of me, while Alun was hanging back to make monkeys of us with some daring overtaking manoeuvres at the most unlikely spots.

Amazingly it was somewhere around here that we bumped into old MacMan Stewart J, Midaircrisis shirt designer supreme and of course ex-downhiller now resident in Witton-le-Wear. Had he heard (or been discretely informed) of the cunning plot? Great to see Stew again after quite an absence due to his work and moving home. he stuck with us for most of the remaining trails we rode.

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Back down at the Grove we headed up to the top of the hill to tackle Section 13, the first real Trail Centre type man-made route in the forest, and although it starts to build into something race-able it still runs into the same old cramped issues further down. The plan had been to do it twice but today we had Justin suggesting an alternative, so once we hit the bottom a group of us headed off for a short, natural bypass while the others waited at the foot.

That meant climbing the hill to the start of the 4-Cross track again, which is a real killer for my little leg muscles and just drains the energy out of the old carcass leaving little for the infinitely more important descent. However it was short and I was so glad about that, as it was as technical as you’d want and sure did rattle the old bones on the roots and rocks that twisted back down to the fireroad once more. Down below the arm pump I suffered was amongst the worst I’d ever encountered after a trail lasting no more than a minute or so! Dead good.

With only natural stuff left I was tired but still looking forward to the finale as we tackled the remaining Black sections including the Bomb Hole where I tried to keep tabs on Davey's back wheel, and at the timber boardwalk we relaxed for a minute as he rewound up the hill to tackle the drop-off he’d cocked up first time around. Most of us avoided it with its tricky left turn immediately following the airborne bit which has seen some casualties in the past.

Next stop the Skills Loop. We did it once after which Louis and Ritchie departed leaving the rest of us to repeat, and the seesaw became the centre of attention with a good many runs taken to try and improve on take-off and distance travelled in the air, a contest won handsomely by Alun, David and Justin but enjoyed by everyone, and awesome to see Ian’s fat bike flying off the end of the ramp!

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Job Done.

Well all-in-all not the huge disappointment I was anticipating (but PLEASE don't tell Mark I said so). I never expected to find Welsh-sized berms in Durham or quite as much opportunity to fly as there is now. My main disappointment was still there with the original man-made Section 13 which really is far too cramped at its lower reaches to afford any proper rhythm and speed. It was bone dry today so no idea if it still turns to yellow porridge on a wet one and it appears to be getting rougher, due no doubt to excessive novice panic braking with the turns coming up so quickly. And it's good that much of the fireroad slogging has been replaced by decent off-road stuff at long last.

“Kudos” seems to be the in-word at the moment thanks to Strava so mine go to Chris (mounted on his OnOne hardtail) who once again took extreme care to keep the pack together and keep an eye on the back of it especially on the longer climbs. And as has become a familiar theme, he also pulled me all the way up that fireroad drag to the lunch stop. So much easier for me to tag onto a steady back wheel when attempting a climb.

Here’s Lee’s fateful video from 23rd January 2011: http://youtu.be/8Exz4BH2MaE

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Next Sunday Ride (plus other odd days) - See our Facebook page.

Next Night Ride: Thursday as usual.

Thursday nighters are 10-25 milers, 7:00pm start at ASDA East car park, Benton, 3-3.5 hours and generally OK for fit new riders but you need decent lights you can see with, NOT CANDLES. You MUST wear a cycle helmet.

Sundays are generally much longer, 8:00am to 10:00am starts from ride venue ending around teatime, and much harder rides.

Other ad-hoc rides are always being organised, see our Facebook page. Gloves, waterproof coat, snack and drink recommended. Carry basic tools.

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