I don’t know if a trip report is the right name for this waffling drivel, but that’s what we used to call them when we wrote up our kayaking trips years ago, so here goes.
After finally getting round to buying some knee pads (661 4x4, but more of them later) and the weather being too bad this weekend to fix the window I’ve been meaning to do for months (if you’re getting the impression I procrastinate rather a lot, you’re spot on), I decided it was about time that I stopped faffing around riding around on my Pashley Muni in the local parks and trying it out on what it was really designed for, a bit of off-road action!
Not far from here (Edinburgh, Scotland) there is a Forestry Commission owned forest called Glentress. The FC have an ongoing project to attract more people to their forests and be generally more friendly and approachable rather than be known as the government body responsible for scarring the Scottish countryside with thousands of acres of destructive monoculture spruce plantations (sorry, bit of an off-topic rant). To this end they have chosen Glentress as their main mountain-biking centre and have done an excellent job over the last few years in building some excellent off road cycle tracks, even to the extent of recently building some North Shore style obstacles (see http://www.hubintheforest.co.uk/ for more details). I’ve been round much of the original stuff many times on my other wheeled contraption (you know, those things with TWO wheels) so I decided to give it a blast on my uni. It may be designed for bikes, but nobody seemed to be counting wheels at the entrance so the entire network of paths was open to me. Well, in theory at least, my ability needs to increase considerably before I’d even contemplate doing the stuff I do on my bike.
I chose a fairly short and easy single-track downhill section (The Freeride Area on the map) to test myself on and parked in the car park right at the bottom of it, leaving my wife sitting in comfort reading her book (sensible move). Now I must say that I’ve not been on my uni for a couple of months, so maybe I should have practiced my free-mounts somewhere a little less public and a little less bomb site like than the typical FC car park before setting off. I only realised this after many failed mounts and three face plants whilst negotiating the first 30 feet of the car park, accompanied by the derisive laughter of some bikers at a nearby picnic table (the only negative reaction I got all day).
I was going up the forest road at the same time as a family of 3 kids and their father. The daughter (about 6?) was fascinated with the unicycle and was asking loads of questions,
“Isn’t it easier on a bike?” - “Yes, but I can do that already and I felt like a challenge.”
“Doesn’t it hurt falling off so much?” (She’d seen me starting off) - “It’s okay with all this padding.”
“How do you stop without a brake?” (observant kid) - “Easy, that’s what I was practicing when you saw me fall off back there.” (the response to which was the stare that kids use before they learn to say “You’re talking cr*p mister”)
At the top of the run there are two different routes you can take, I chose the easier blue route. If a 6 year old girl can do it on a bike then I can do it on a uni. Yeah right! My first run down was punctuated by frequent dismounts, usually at the foot high bumps/jumps they put in to make it interesting. My mounts seemed to be getting worse, but at least I was getting decent runs in between the jumps. I’ll not give a fall by fall account or this report will get seriously long and repetitive, but it took me about 10-15 minutes to do a track that takes me under 2 minutes on my bike, so you get the picture.
I took a short rest in our car at the bottom and a biker came up and asked if I had any oil he could use for his chain. I was without my bike stuff so the only thing suitable I had was organic extra virgin olive oil (we’d been shopping) so we used that. I told him he’d have much less hassle if he went for something much more low maintenance, pointing at the uni. He didn’t seem convinced for some reason and cycled off on perhaps the only organically lubricated bike in Scotland.
Before my second run down I decided to lower my seat a little, and that made the world of difference. Mounting was so much easier, just step on and go, the slope meant there was no roll back. This time I even made it over most of the bumps/jumps, except the doubles, where I’d lose momentum on the first and the wheel would stop in the dip between the two. Then my wife appeared near the bottom of the track, just before a whole series of bumps in rapid succession. Now I’ll be the first to admit that given an audience I am rather prone to showing off a bit, maybe trying stuff I might not have tried otherwise (particularly if there is a camera around). But this was my wife, she knows what I’m really like, she knows that I’m really a bit of a klutz. So naturally, rather than the show off side shining through, the clumsy prat revealed himself. A dozen failed mounts, a maximum unbroken run of about 10 feet and stumbles over the smallest of twigs. This did nothing to dispel her fears that I was a danger to myself and anyone who walked across my path.
My legs were pretty wobbly after the second run so I decided to call it a day and cycle back to the main car park at the entrance. My wife wanted to follow behind me in the car to check I was okay (such unswerving faith in my skills is very touching) but I assured her I’d be fine and she was more likely to run me over than I would be to injure myself. She drove off then I started the descent on the forest road. It was round about now that I remembered that it was over a mile to the end and my increasingly jelly legs may have meant that I should have just hopped in the car. But as well as being a klutz, I’m bloody minded, so although my wife was waiting round the next bend, I waved her on and continued. Several bikers passed me going uphill with various encouraging and surprised comments. One shouted “Now I’ve seen everything!” I replied, “No you haven’t” then fell off into a puddle and added “Now you have!”
I was given a rather shocked and disapproving look by someone when I mounted and my shin pad rubbed against the knobbly tyre. This produced a very loud, and surprisingly realistic, fart noise. This wasn’t mentioned on the 661 packaging, “Warning, may cause offense to sensitive on-lookers.”
The rest of the ride was tiring but uneventful and was finished off with a big slab of chocolate (as all forms of outdoor exercise should). I was totally roasting, it was only about 9’C (48’F), but I do tend to overheat when I exercise. When I took my shin pads off, there were small wisps of steam coming from my legs (I’m hot stuff!). The pads could be a bit hot for me next summer, but as they’d saved me from having pebble dashed knees several times this trip they are definitely worth any slight discomfort.
So I’ve now had my soak in a hot bath and sat down and written this. I’m a bit stiff and I’ll probably be creaking around the office tomorrow, but there’s no doubt, I’ll be back to Glentress soon. Give it a few more trips and I might try the North Shore stuff (anyone willing to run alongside with a mattress?). If you’ve read this far, thank you, and congratulations on your persistence, us bloody minded people never know when to give up do we?