Four nights of fencing, one night of dancing, and a tough session on the U/W this week, but the weather was good, the day was free, and a unicycle ride was compulsory. The legs would have to dig deep one more time.
I don’t think I’ve had the MUni out since my chin-splitting accident around New Year time, as the 28 has tended to be my uni of choice for the last few months.
I lovingly throw the still-muddy Pashley into the back of the car and I set off to Sherwood Forest, where Robin Hood made Marian.
I park in Deer Dale, the theory being that this will save the local halfwits the trouble of moving my car before torching it, then I leap onto the MUni and wobble off. How humiliating! He who did once be-ride the narrow wood like a colossus can hardly balance, let alone steer! The unfamiliar 150 mm cranks and the wide soft tyre combine to make me weave like a freighter dodging U-boats.
At the first opportunity, I turn off onto a narrow woodland trail, and soon become red faced and breathless - the forest floor is deep in leaves and undergrowth, and I’m having to read the trail in Braille. Soon I come to a dead end, try to turn, and UPD ingloriously. I UPD twice more in the short ride back to the main trail.
From there, I decide to ride some easy stuff for a bit in an attempt to get back into riding the 26. It seems to be pulling to the left all the time, and I can’t keep my hand on the handle for long. This is embarrassing! I turn onto another side track and ride for a short distance before UPD number 4 - and so far I’ve not met anything that looked like an obstacle!
I decide to check the pressure in my tyre. It does seem a bit soft. Hmmm. I put in 50 pumps worth of air. It still feels a bit soft. 25 more pumps and the tyre feels a bit more like it. I mount and ride away as straight as a thing with no bends, kinks or curves on it.
Say what you like about tyre pressure and hopping, I have always found that a tyre you can only just squeeze a bit with thumb and forefinger is about right. You may lose some cushioning on drops (I seldom drop) but you protect your rim, and the uni handles better.
So, from here, I wander at will through the forest, alternating between wide hard packed tracks and narrow slimy single track. I suddenly find myself at the “off road course” where local mountain bikers have dug or built earth ramps and obstacles. I ride confidently up to the first obstacle and promptly UPD. On a second attempt, I make it to the top, then fall off the side. On a third attempt, I make it to the top and pick my way elegantly over the three small humps before descending the steepish ramp down to the forest floor.
Most of the obstacles are either too high or too steep for me to ride up, but I manage to find a small circuit with three or four technically challenging bits that I can ride with a bit of determination. I look round to see that a mountain biker has arrived and is watching me. With commendable nonchalance, I ride a complete circuit of all the difficult bits that I think I can ride, and I manage them all without a stumble. I cruise to a halt next to the mountain biker to be rewarded with the comment that I must be fit to ride one of those things.
The mountain biker seems weak on conversation, and I’m out of breath, so I do a couple more obstacles then sit down to rehydrate - or “have a drink of water”, as we used to call it in the old days. The mountain biker sets off and rides over the more difficult obstacles. There he is, with about 96 gears, disc brakes, suspension front and rear, and more technology than a small motorbike, and he’s doing stuff that I’d attempt on my granny’s bike - in fact, I’ve attempted most of it on my unicycle.
From there, I follow the track into what I think of as the “cresta run” - a narrow winding path, with only a few humps and hollows, but with vegetation crowding in from both sides. The track is so deepl;y rutted that it’s like riding at the bottom of a U shaped ditch, so concentration is required. I make it with only one UPD.
Then I pop out onto the main trail and see the start of the “Off road cycle trail, difficult terrain” and ride past a bemused mountain biker who looks like he’d be happier in a beige cardigan, who says, “You’ll break your neck on that thing down there.”
So, of course, I ride the whole length of the course without a UPD. This is particularly important because three mountain bikers (who look like they’d be happier eating bananas and sitting in a tree) follow me, singing a poor rendition of Fucek’s “Entry of the Gladiators”. (You know: dit dit diddle-iddle dit dit da da…). I end up riding a sequence of obstacles harder than I’ve ever managed before, without a single UPD.
The bikers overtake me. One says, “Respect for that.” One says, “He’s lost a wheel.” The other says, “He must have had a really strange dream one night.”
I carry on and get to one of the ascents I normally find difficult. It is packed mud, topped with pine needles, and with a difficult turn half way up. I once stalled half way up, but managed to crest the hill at the third attempt. This time, I make it quite easily. I allow myself a Tim Henman-style clenched fist and a little yelp of “Yes!”.
By now my legs are well on the way out. I’m dripping with sweat. I need a coffee and some calories. I find my way to the Surprise Cafe, fitting in one more difficult section (showing off to a group of mountain bikers who were resting by the trail). I stop for coffee and a Mars Bar. It’s cold when you stop. It’s still March, and few places are as bleak as the English Midlands on a bleak day.
Recharged and invigorated, I set off in an unusual direction from the cafe, and follow a variety of trails before finding myself on a horrible one.
I have a theory that trails have a cadence. I don’t know what causes it, but most paths have ups and downs and curves which seem to fit a particular rhythm. It could be the spacing of the trees, and the position of their roots; it could be the firmness of the soil; it could be my imagination. However, experience tells me that some narrow winding undulating paths DO fit a unicycle, and others DON’T. This one doesn’t. Every root is in just the wrong place for the power stroke of the pedal. Every turn coincindes with a sudden change of gradient. Every hollow is of almost exactly the same radius as the wheel, so that it’s easy to stall. It’s horrible.
Gentle reader, I confess I resorted to foul and inappropriate language. Forgive me.
As I sit and regain my composure, my phone rings. A friend is lost and needs directions. I do what I can to help, then promise to ring her again when I get back to the car and have a road atlas. I leap aboard the unicycle and ride about a mile and a half back to the car at enormous speed - I could never let down a damsel in distress, even if she does have her husband and two kids with her.
In fact, this long fast ride back to the car is some of the best riding I’ve done all day, fast and smooth, over varied and difficult terrain. I end a hard and challenging ride on a high note - except that there’s no road atlas in the car, and when I ring my friend, she’s found the place she’s looking for anyway.
8.44 miles. Not the longest ride ever, but I rode some stuff I’ve never ridden before, and astounded some bikers, so it was a good ride. Chin intact and no stitches required. ;0)