Downland prospect

Hunting the Trail Snark part 2

This is part two. Here is part one

And then the wheels come off…

So, I’ve spent hours poring over the maps and the internet for promising looking bits of trail. I’ve managed to stitch them together into something that looks like an actual ride. That means it’s time to test it.

What does a reconnaissance ride look like?

Well, it usually comprises these elements.

A total waste of time

You wouldn’t believe how long it actually takes just to get there. The ride never starts from near home: I’ve ridden virtually everything worth riding near the house.

No, it starts from somewhere much further away.

I can ride there, but that takes time and energy. Even if it only starts 10km away, it turns a 2 hour ride into a four hour one.

Or I can drive there which means loading the bike into the car and unloading it again at the other end. More wasted time. Which has to be repeated for the journey home.

And I haven’t even begun “the ride” yet.

What do you mean, closed?

You shall not pass

You shall not pass

Apparently you can close rights of way. I recently went for an explore near Selborne to discover that a crucial bit of trail was shut and barred off. It doomed the ride I had planned before I’d got hallway round. I just stood there for a moment in stunned disbelief. Then I got the map out and redrew the route.

Bovine belligerence

Bovine beligerence

Bovine belligerence

So, you’ve found a trail through some woods, it’s rich in contour lines, it looks good on paper and you’re salivating with the prospect.

Then you see this sign: “beware: grazing cattle in this wood.” Which translates to: “beware: the ground will be churned to a depth of approximately two feet and soaking wet.” So get ready to get off and push/carry your bike through the quagmire.

And that’s if you don’t actually meet any of the cows.

Equine escapades

churned bridleway

churned bridleway

Bridleways are so called because they were originally access for horses. Which means you can often find them on bridleways now. Horses and their riders have every right to be on the trails and they are usually very friendly and tolerant.

However, they can leave problems for mountain bikes in their wake. By which I don’t mean droppings, I mean hoofprints. Hooves often cause a lot of churning, churning makes trails incredibly rough. A group of horses can turn a rip-roaring descent into something that will rattle your eyeballs out. They can turn a tough climb into a carry.

It’s not deliberate but trails that are popular with equestrians are often not great for riding. You only discover that when you get there.

Full-contact botany

Crab Wood Rainforest

Crab Wood Rainforest

One of the true joys of Britain is that it is a green and pleasant land.

That greenness is a double edged sword, especially in the height of summer. Trails everywhere are a location of lush verdant growth. I know the ecological reasons for it, but it seems perverse that the two plants that make the most of this are brambles and nettles. It is into this heady cocktail of pain that the mountain biker inevitably plunges in full flight.

And it really, really, hurts. Especially when this verdance reduces the trail to utter unrideability, and you turn around in ignominious defeat to find another way home. It’s even better when roses are added to the mix.

There’s a reason I keep a bottle of surgical spirit at home.

What’s the grid reference for the Flying Dutchman?

No, I don’t know either but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stood at the precise location where a trail is supposed to be and found myself scratching my head, wondering where on earth the trail is.

It’s rubbish.

It looked great on paper

Sometimes the trail is where it’s supposed to be, it’s not churned up or overgrown. Yet somehow it’s just not very good. It’s not as steep as I thought, the surface is just draggy enough to make it hard work or it’s just too straight to be engaging.

It just leaves you a bit deflated.

Back to the drawing board

Whatever the cause these promising looking trails are all for the bin and it’s back to the map.

I have one ride on paper that’s still not ready after two recce rides.

Why am I telling you this?

I love my job. I really do. I actually enjoy this because, like a prospector, sooner or later you turn up trail gold.

I’m telling you all of this because I’m giving you the opportunity to let me do this so you don’t have to. Allow me to get lost, get covered in nettle stings and bramble scars, dismiss the lovely looking trail as dull and unengaging on your behalf.

Let me do all this stuff I love so you can just ride the best bits once they’re ready. When you look at the rides I offer, remember that I’ve done all this research and exploration to make sure you get to ride the good bits.

Want to know what’s on offer? Check out the calendar

Posted by BackPedalling Andy

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