As the evenings get darker and colder, and the weekends get busier, unicycling has been a rare luxury recently. So rare, I haven’t done any at all!
Today I awoke to temperatures of about -3 degrees, a white frost on the ground, and the beginnings of a cold. It took me ages to make up my mind to go for a ride, and to choose which wheel to take.
I chose the Holy Roller (26 x 2.5" MUni with 170 mm cranks) and drove up to a parking area I know near to Walesby scout Camp in north Notts.
A couple of years ago, I used to ride here fairly regularly. It is less crowded, and a bit hiller than my usual stamping ground in Sherwood Forest.
The first section of the ride is easy bridlepath. The ground is covered with dry golden oak leaves, frozen crisp so that they crunch under my tyre. Gnarled roots break through the surface, sometimes half concealed by the leaves. Two years ago, I used to UPD every few yards on this section, but the combination of a better tyre and more experience now gets me over all of the roots fairly easily.
I pop out of the wooded section to see an apron of rough grass to my left, with a narrow trodden path leading towards the cliff top. The cliff is only 5 metres or so high, and ovelooks a narrow meandering river, and green and frost-white farmland. The sun is shining, the sky is pure blue, and there is a slight nip in the air. It’s lovely.
I follow the trodden path until I reach a timber fence that wasn’t there before. There is no gate, and the fence is topped with barbed wire. I try to ride across the broken ground back to the bridle path, but UPD on a particularly obstructive tussock.
Back on the bridle path, the ground under my tyre is damp sand - but firmer than usual because it is almost frozen. I make good speed, surprising a couple of walkers, but receiving no comment from them. To each side of me is a formidable timber fence. This is new. Thousands of pounds worth of labour, and many trees worth of timber to keep people out of the private Scout camp site - but the people they would most need to keep out are the ones least likely to be bothered by a post and rail fence! It’s a pity, because I feel constrained by the fences. The bridle path that was once a free and open space is now a confined channel between ugly yellow rough-sawn timber rails.
Soon I swerve onto another side path, and this is more like it: pine trees to each side, a soft carpet of pine needles silent beneath the tyre, and a steep swoop down beneath low overhanging branches, a brief but lovely view across the river below, then a sudden steep climb. Out of practice, I UPD on the climb, walk to the top and continue to ride from there.
Several times I UPD for no good reason. My feet keep rolling the pedals forwards and slipping off. I adjust my foot position, riding with my insteps instead of the balls of my feet and it sems to work. I have the forest to myself, and it is silent except for the occasional bird call.
I choose a rough track with long grass, deep ruts, and with undergrowth encroaching onto it. It’s wide enough for a Land Rover, but I doubt anyone has driven along it for months. It’s a nice track, but it comes to a dead end at the river.
I stop and stare blankly at the water for a while. There is a thin crust of ice undulating slightly with the ripples made by a duck that had flown off as I arrived. The water is quite clear, but there are no fish. I realise I already feel tired, and maybe I’m not well enough for hard riding.
I walk a short distance “off piste” until I reach a farm track and ride maybe half a mile or so, slipping off once in deep gloopy mud, just after I’d ridden through frozen puddles, crunching the ice under my tyre. As I ride, finches and blackbirds fly up out of the hedgerow. It’s a pleasant place to be, but I don’t feel like I’m enjoying it as I should be.
I decide that some more interesting riding is required, and divert down a rough grassy track through the forest. Almost immediately, I hit a log, lurking beneath the autumn leaves. I fly and swear. I remount and ride further. I can see problems ahead: deep undergrowth, and the river crossing my path. As I analyse my options. What I fail to see is the prominent leg-thick log stretched across my path, and I ride into it at full speed, totally unprepared.
Much swearing follows. It takes me a while to get my head straight. I’m in beautiful woodland, I have the day to myself, the sun is out, but every set back is more major than it should be. There can be only one explanation: imminent man-flu. I turn back towards the car.
Still looking to salvage something from a disappointing ride, I find myself back at the top of the swoopy pine needles hill, and ride down there again. Instead of riding up the next one, I turn left, and ride down a steep muddy path towards a lake. This descent is only short (maybe 5 metres of elevation in 10 metres horizontal) but uneven and slippery, and near to the limit of my feeble powers. I make it and feel that I have at last ridden some “proper MUni” today.
My route then takes me alongside the lake, then up a narrow winding single track which is moderately steep. Two years ago, riding down this path was adventurous. Now I ride up it in one - and, as my reward, find myself at the new fence with the barbed wire on top! So I climb over, and ride to the top of the sandstone cliff, overlooking the river.
Here I sit for a while, basking in the unexpected warmth of the late November sun. Below me, the river winds past water-carved sandstone cliffs. Across the river is farmland, where a lone horse rider plods amiably along. In the rock all around me, I can see generations of initials and dates carved laboriously into the sandstone. A dog barks and I look up to see two walkers, who nod somewhat bemusedly as they see the unicycle.
Too tired to ride much further, and after less than an hour, I take it steady back to the car.
Possibly my shortest Muni ride for a couple of years, but some lovely views and pleasant moments. Let’s hope this cold doesn’t lay me out badly or too long. Life’s too short to be half-hearted and tired.