9.25 tiring miles, and a pretentious reference

I know half the unicyclists in Britain have been Red Bulling it this weekend, but I thought I share this meagre 9.25 mile ride with you anyway. I enjoyed it, mostly.

Yesterday saw torrential rain and gales, and more of the same is forecast for today, but when I wake up, it is sunny and reasonably clear. By about 9:30, I have driven up to my usual parking place in Sherwood Forest, and set off on the Pashley 26.

Instead of my usual route, I go in completely the opposite direction,starting with a long steady climb up a forestry road. At the first bend, I go straight on along a deeply rutted moist sand/mud track. I’m just deciding whether to ride in one of the ruts, or on the cambered crown between them when the wheel suddenly sinks and slips sideways, depositing me on my feet, swearing loudly. 0.36 miles covered - a mere 22 miles short of my longest ever ride without a dismount!

By standing on the pedals, and reading the feedback through the handle, I find it technically easy, but physically hard work to ride the rest of this section, and I then find a long gravelly and muddy uphill slog into the forest. Someone (horse riders?) has put thin logs acros the trail at intervals. I don’t jump over obstacles, so I skirt round the bigger logs, but ride over those up to about 3 inches in diameter. I’m riding quite well (by my standards!) but I’m already out of breath, and there are a few more UPDs before I reach the top.

It’s a fairly easy swoop from the top down a rough gravel and sand path to the main track that leads into the Desert. I walk and ride to the Desert, struggling with some of the deeper gravel sections, then I decide to take a new route: a narrow winding path which sets off at a right angle into the forest.

This is hard work: the path has a definite cadence to it - a series of humps and hollows with a clear rhythm - and the cadence is not quite right for the 26 inch wheel. Sometimes I stall at the bottom of a hollow with the pedals in just the wrong position to power back out. Some of the hollows are 3 inches deep in black muddy water.

I try to skirt round one particularly evil-looking puddle and get it wrong: the wheel sideslips spectacularly and the uni ends up in the puddle, and I end up running to regain my balance. Each time I UPD today, the handle takes another bite at my leg.

This is actually one of the best fun and most challenging sections I’ve ridden for a while. Every part of it is rideable, but it is easy to get stymied - it’s like rding through a maze of obstacles, and occasionally finding a dead end. It’s certainly a good cardiovascular workout!

Unexpectedly, this track spits me out onto a tarmac road which I recognise as the one serving the quarry at the far side of the Desert. I turn along the tarmac, looking for an opening back into the forest, and I notice smoke rising through the trees… black, oily smoke…

A couple of hundred yards later, I come across the burning car. The Desert and parts of the forest are a popular dumping ground for stolen cars, and this one’s still burning spectacularly, with flames licking out from under the chassis and reaching up above the wings. It’s a depressing sight - another empty victory in the senseless war between Beasley Street and Cadogan Square.

So what do I do? The flames are scorching the bushes and trees nearby, although the forest was soaked by yesterday’s downpour. Experience tells me that I’ve seen dozens of burned out cars, but never a forest fire, so the risk is low. I couldn’t give convincing directions to the Fire Service or the Police, and I’m probably trespassing anyway. The number plates are missing so I can’t even report the car as “found”.

Feeling rather useless and uncomfortable, I ride on, nervously aware that if the car’s still burning this fiercely, the little sh*ts who set it on fire can’t be far away - and they might find a unicycle a suitable target for their hatred. The slogan of the disaffected youth: “I can’t have one, but I can destroy yours.”

As I ride away, the rubber and oil tainted smoke in my lungs, I hear pops and small thuds as parts of the car (brake cylinders? electrical components? fluid reservoirs?) explode. Once, someone took delivery of that car brand new, and it was the biggest thing to happen to them that day - possibly even that year.

But ten minutes later, I find myself back in the seclusion of the forest, and my good mood returns. I find the start of the downhill mountainbike course (“Danger: uneven ground, experienced cyclists only”) and ride it in two sections, after one careless UPD when I changed my mind too late at a junction.

This section pops me out next to a bench where I rest for a few minutes before I ride a few artificial humps and hollows provided by the Forestry Commission for unimaginative bicyclists. Two unimaginative bicyclists ride past - 21 gears each, disc brakes, front and rear suspension, fat tyres - but sticking to the wide flat forestry track. The woman remarks, “I have enough bloody touble on two wheels, never mind one! Naaahaaahaaahaahaaa!”

I manage to find the Surprise cafe, where I stop for coffee and a Mars Bar, and I watch the crew taking down the stage after last night’s open air Paul Weller concert. I bet the concert was fun in a force 8!

From here I ride down to the entrance to a footpath through the forest. The entrance is one of those funny “wiggle gates” which stop or slow down bicycles because you have to make a couple of right angled turns. I see a man walking his young daughter (aged about 5) and I stop and idle, politely waiting for them to come through the gate. He sees me and stops in the gateway, and talks to his daughter:

“Oooh look! A unicycle!”
<idle, idle>
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
<idle, idle>
“He’s only got one wheel hasn’t he?”
<idle idle, idle>
“Isn’t that clever?”
<idle, idle, clear throat>
“Look, isn’t he clever riding backwards and forwards on one wheel?”
<Actually, I’m waiting to go through the gate!"
“Oh, oops! Sorry!”

Half a mile later, and I find an area of forest I’ve not visited before. I find a single track footpath, very narrow, which winds up a steep slope into the trees. I ride it with only one UPD, but my feeling of triumph is spoiled just a little by the fact that something has started creaking. Is it the crank? Is it the pedal? Is it my knee? I stop and do a complete check of the unicycle, tightening everything. I think it was the crank. Anyway, I cured it.

By now, I’m pretty near exhaustion. My T shirt is soaked, my legs are a mass of bruises from UPDs and contact with the metal handle. I’m starting to make more unforced errors than Tim Henman in a first round match. It’s time to head back to the car, but where is it? Somehow, I get stranded “off piste” in the forest, clonking my head on low branches, and losing my tyre in deep leaf mould. I give up and have to walk a section before I discover a proper track. One last slog along some sand and mud chewed up by horses’ hooves and suddenly I find the road, and the car is only 200 yards/metres away.

A good couple of hours’ riding, only 9.25 miles covered (14.9 km) but I’ve ridden some of the nicest and most challenging forest tracks I’ve found in months.

Which handle do you have, Mike? If it’s the Reeder, cut off 1/2 - 1", then install a cheap handlebar plug. The handle’s operation is unaffected and you will stop bruising your leg.

i did all that and still got bruises. i had the handle so short too and a nice fat rubber end plug, but it always managed to stick me in the thigh…

nice story Mike. So there is a desert in the forest?

The Forest is one of a few isolated remnants of the original Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame. At one time, the forest was continuous dense woodland stretching up most of the English midlands. Now it is more or less gone, and most of the area of the old forest is given over to agriculture or to towns. The bit we call the Forest consists of a few patches, each a few miles square.

As for the Desert, this is the name given to an area of sand, gravel and general desolation near to a sand and gravel quarry in the Forest. I’ve described it in glorious detail before, so I sort of “short-handed” it in this write up.

So, is no one having a stab at the pretentious reference? :sunglasses:

Re: 9.25 tiring miles, and a pretentious reference

Those logs are water bars. They’re intended to force the water off the trail so the water doesn’t run straight down the trail tread and erode the trail. Without the water bars the water would run right down the tread and turn the nice trail into a ditch or trough. Water bars can also be made of rocks. That’s why you’ll often see a row of rocks forming a small ledge going across a trail.

But water bars can be hard to keep maintained on a trail. They eventually fall apart. And they can cause accidents when they’re wet causing bike tires to slip as the cyclists ride over them. The preferred approach is to make a rolling grade dip that redirects the water off the trail tread without creating a trail obstacle like the water bars.

So it looks like someone has been doing a little bit of trail maintenance on that trail to try to cut down on erosion.

You could be right - I’ve seen similar things made of stone, concrete or timber for that purpose. On this particular occasion, though, I think they’re just obstacles there for the fun of it.

Nice write-up Mike. --chirokid–

Re: 9.25 tiring miles, and a pretentious reference

Its one of those two, I’m sure it is, trouble is I didn’t notice thetennis one for ages and the Paul weller one doesn’t seem pretentious enough.


Re: Re: 9.25 tiring miles, and a pretentious reference

i have no idea and i’m resurrecting this thread to ask mike for final clarification?

I’m wondering if Mike’s still out there. Haven’t seen a post from him in some time.