After the success and excellence of the Team MAC’s recent Glentress outing (ignoring Ian Browning’s very unfortunate accident) with ideal riding weather and grippy trails, we could hardly have expected to score again for my second “free” Sunday of a busy racing season. However the sun did indeed shine on us, pretty strongly and we had the somewhat rare experience of dusty trails to ride. Must be about 3 years since I last rode her and today’s weather and turnout was a real bonus.

Those taking part today:
Claire MacRae
Gemma Lynch
Ian Browning
Ian Mundy
Rob Martin
John Rivers
Simon Joicey
Justin Denton
Paul Baister
Ray Foster
David Edgar
Peter Whitworth
Terry Kirkup

After meeting John and Justin in Gosforth Park we travelled up in Ian M’s Tonka Truck, Ray’s van and my bus, being met there half way up the North trail by Gemma and Claire who arrived a bit earlier, around 10:30 for some cheeky practice. Gemma is the latest of our ladies to have upgraded her bike, now riding the Pink Panther! And on that subject, Ray was also sporting his long-awaited new beastie from Canyon, another largely matt black item which seems quite the “in” colour just now.

Incidentally I owe the ladies an apology as they had texted me to see where we were but the phone was ignored on the drive up!

We had one old hand making a welcome return today in the form of Rob, haven’t seen him for ages, good crack as usual.

I’d forgotten how much I hate the initial climb here, almost as much as Innerleithen but I cheated a bit with Paul who led me away from the curly wurly singletrack to use a stretch of fireroad instead of the uninspiring skinny trail up. However it’s the downs that make it for me, I’m no masochist. And the downs surely did make it once again a worthwhile hike to the top. When we arrived at the start of the final descent I thought we still had climbing to do, so unfamiliar did it look after such a long absence, but I wasn’t the only one confused as Justin proved right back at the starting Altura arch when he took us all onto the Blue by mistake!

The blast down the hillside, I have to admit, scared me silly. It’s very much like Caddon Bank at Innerleithen, so fast and swoopy that you can easily get ahead of your ability very quickly with potentially catastrophic results. My run down to the floor was definitely in that category, and I openly admit to not liking doubles although with a few zillion Spooky Wood descents in my pocket you’d wonder why. Fear, as they say, can be beneficial sometimes, but until I came to a halt down below I felt no benefit from it at all and the knuckles were white!

When the last crew member appeared we drifted into the visitor centre car park again while I dived into the van to top up my meagre supply of liquid. I can definitely confirm that not carrying a full backpack, apart from the lifesaving spine protection it may offer, allows me to climb better and descend quicker so I’ll probably stick with the bum bag and its half dozen vital contents from now on. I tend not to drink much on the move anyway (I know, WRONG!) but it’s a weight thing with me.

Time to hit the Blue for real this time as Justin led us out again for part two and the Southern Loop. This little blue intro is pretty short but really sweet if you keep the speed up, as indeed the whole group did through the little twists, turns and shallow berms until we were spat out onto the fireroad to begin the climb. We managed to squeeze past a small diversion as we started out on the singletrack, the only spot where there was a trace of dampness. Half way up the Blue fireroad there at the picnic spot Ian began to feel pain in that badly gashed knee from his Glentress tipoff and decided he couldn’t continue. He stuck with us for the lunch stop and initial clamber up the twisties before parting company before the final slog up the hill. I reckon hauling that stupid fat bike was responsible for wearing him out!

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I finished the climb last with Simon, enjoying probably his first taste of technical uphill and was just as relieved as he was to get to the top. Of course that still left the final kilometre or so to that magnificent viewpoint on Hospital Ridge where a fair old chunk of Cumbria can be seen on a clear day over and beyond Derwentwater to Helvellyn.

We took a short breather there to prepare for the Finale and after allowing everyone at least a short rest I ushered Simon, as the newbie, onto the trail first so we could be confident he’d get down safely without the need for a backtracking search party should anything go sideways. This is, after all, bordering on Black for the first few hundred metres. Justin, Dave, Ray, John, Claire and Rob led the rest of us off the top. I rounded one of the mid-point bends before the main drop to find Claire off her bike with the chain stuck behind the granny ring but got that sorted pretty quickly while the last few shot past us. We regrouped down on the firebreak, grinning madly, all safe and sound.

That left the final chunk of Red, the Spooky Looky-like bike park descent and I leapt onto that behind Justin and Davy. Wow! That was absolute magic and at times I’m sure I was completely flat out, pretty unusual for me in the last few years as ageist self-preservation kicks in. I had warned Davy that I was coming after him and gave it a good go from the start. I did, however, make one huge error and that was queue jumping in front of John. I’m sure I heard his front tyre rubbing my back one several times on the way down, the YT Capra itching to get past me, and not for the first time today proving my “flat out” to be not quite up to the mark in this company. The front two did pull a decent gap on me at the lower end of the run (sorry John!) when I became extra wary of clipping a rock after a few intimate excursions to the gravelly trail edge.

That left only the titchy chunk of Blue back to the Visitor Centre to end our day, once again taken with gusto. We spent a very enjoyable fifteen minutes or so sitting outside the café supping various liquids, devouring cake and having a good old natter. When we left I spent five minutes trying to pay the parking machine outside the Centre by Visa and failed, then the same fruitless rigmarole down in the car park, the stupid machines must run on Windows Vista. I finally gave up and sought some coinage, job done but I’ll check my next statement very carefully.

Although I always describe this place as “up a hill and back down - twice” the juicy bits really do pay off handsomely and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The weather provided a huge bonus and the absence of that so familiar, slithering about in the wet caution jacked the speeds and enjoyment up from what we’re used to, or certainly from what I’m used to. Thank you all for coming, I hope my next free date can produce another satisfying day out on 26th June.

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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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