foller t' yeller brick

Dartmoor MUni weekend approacheth, and I lacketh fitness. So, after a long hard day at work, the long drive up to Sherwood Forest and the Forest Pines Car Park…

In a rare moment of observational eptitude, as I enter the car park I notice the tiny tiny little notice saying it closes at 7:00 p.m. It is now 6:30. To jump the substantial steel entrance/exit gate is beyond the feeble powers of my car, so I turn round and park semi-legally on the road verge.

Today’s uni is the Pashley 26 inch MUni, with the UDC Gel saddle, 170 mm cranks and the Holy Roller 2.5" tyre. Those loooong cranks - and I am a short-legged dwarf pigmy, used to 110s on the 700c.:o

This area of Sherwood Forest covers about 20 square miles or so, and is criss crossed with wide crushed-grit and ballast roads which are mainly yellowish, but sometimes pinkish in hue. Between them there are grassy tracks, and between these there are muddy rutted tracks. Parts of the forest are planted with pine; other parts are mixed woodland, and there are some areas of old oak and chestnut forest. Almost everywhere is on a slope. The hills are not huge, but you always seem to be going up one or down one.

So, freemount the MUni and set off up the long tarmac drive as far as the car park, looking for a gap into the forest. At the first opportunity, I take a yellow ballast path, and at the first opportunity after that, I veer onto one of the grassy tracks. Somewhere I can hear a cuckoo, the first sign of a long-awaited spring, and possibly nature’s most irritating noise - with the possible exception of the wood pigeon. (The wood pigeon misses out the “cuc”, but makes up for that with rather too much "koo"ing for my taste.)

A mile or so into the ride, I UPD clumsily on a fairly smooth section of path. A couple of hundred metres later, I UPD again on some rough ground when I venture off piste and hit some steep-sided ruts across my intended route. I notice I am already desperately out of breath, and my breathing sounds laboured in my full face helmet. I don’t really like the full-facer, but my open faced helmet needs repairs.

Half a mile later, I see a fox, running away from me along one of the narrower tracks. Several times I see squirrels, sine-waving across the path, their tails following them like oscilloscope traces. My breathing is increasingly laboured, and as I slog up a rough and fairly steep muddy path, I am grateful to UPD and have a rest! I sit for a few minutes, tall pines waving gently above me. Spiders’ webs sparkle in the low sunlight, visible from 50 or 100metres away. Crows and pigeons flit between the tree tops.

My heart-rate and breathing restored to something approaching normal, I remount and with uncharacteristic energy, I scramble up a steep and muddy slope, pause momentarily at the top, then swoop down, splashing through shallow muddy puddles, the tyre sometimes squirming beneath me. Around here, the pines are smaller, and closer together, and I am glad to be wearing a helmet as a sideslip could be nasty. I negotiate some really tricky dips and bumps, then UPD for no good reason. It takes two or three more attempts to get past the “no good reason”, so it must have been a good reason after all!

There follows a long tricky section of deep slimy muddy puddles, some concealing roots. Unexpectedly, the path spits me out onto a long and enjoyable descent that wanders through heather with almost no tree cover, then I think I recognise a section of yellow ballast road, and soon I am on familiar ground at the top of the “Downhill Course - Experienced Cyclists Only”.

With a faint twinge of disappointment that there are no “experienced cyclists” pussyfooting around at the top of the course (as there will be in the summer), I ride straight onto the course, determined to keep my speed up.

I UPD on the tiniest of roots (possibly the only stalk of cress growing in the entire forest) but after that, I ride all the sections with no UPDs, despite doing two bits that are somewhere between drops and mudslides of about 2 vertical feet.

Prudently, (you say “coward”, I say “prudent”) I miss the raised woodwork sections. I have no desire to be face down and injured, with no way of summoning help. I was in that position once before when I split my chin doing MUni off the main path in the snow a couple of years back.

Dusk is starting to descend, and I am very out of breath - disappointingly unfit after a winter of fencing, using the treadmill at the gym, dancing and swimming. I decide to stick to the main ballast roads. Trouble is, this is my first visit to the forest in a few months, and I’ve lost my sense of direction. Everything looks unfamiliar, and there has been some tree felling which makes things look even more different.

I set off in what feels like the right direction, recognise a couple of landmarks, but they don’t seem to fit together in a logical way. I have only the vaguest idea which way the car is. I start to worry, thinking that if darkness falls, I could end up riding a very long way before I recognise somewhere, and then a much longer way from there back to the car - if the local kids haven’t made it easier to find by setting light to it.

Things are looking bad. Not terrible, not disastrous, but definitely bad.

For no rational reason, I feel like I am about to shout, “Help!” I stop myself in time. Strange TV scripts cross my mind (probably taking a shortcut). “What’s that, Skippy? Mike’s stuck in the forest? And he’s on a unicycle?”

It all seems worthwhile for a moment when I have a rare sighting of a jay of to my right in the forest. I see the pink pastel flank, then the tell-tale white rump as it flies away from me. Nice. I’m still lost, though.

I hear distant voices. (Joan of Arc’s got nothin’ on me!) I reason that most people don’t walk far, so if I head towards the voices, I will end up near to the car park. (Forgetting, of course, that the car park closed nearly an hour ago, so these people must have come from somewhere else!)

I ride down a grassy track until I meet a portly young man with his portly young woman, his child, and his dog - the perfect East Midlands family unit! And great: they’re stoutly built, so they won’t have walked far.

I stop some distance away to give the dog chance to get used to me. I idle, and realise I have now sort of committed myself to not dismounting without looking silly. So here I am, lost in the forest, wearing a bright red full-face helmet, idling a unicycle on a rough grassy track, trying not to get savaged by a dog, and asking for directions to a car park that is closed.

The man has no idea about the car park.

So I mention the café,

“Ah! T’ Limes Caffy,” he says, and begins to point me in the right direction.

No, not the Limes Café. That is nowhere near the cafe that I have in mind. Miles away. I point this out, and give him a better description of the one I mean.

“Blimey, yewth. You’re miles away.”

I was sort of expecting that.

“Goo back up hill…”

I was expecting that too.

“Then foller t’ yeller brick to right, then ton left and foller t’ yeller brick to t’ end.”

T’ yeller brick? Ah! That will be the yellow crushed ballast forest road. I had momentarily missed the literary allusion.

Thanking him, I turn 180 on the spot and set off at high speed up t’ hill and ton right onto t’ yeller brick. It is a point of honour to ride fast and smooth, and not UPD, because I am going to be a story this man tells in the pub on Friday, and I don’t want the story to involve me falling flat on my face in t’ mud.

He was right: it was miles. However, on a smoothish surface, the hills are less of a problem, and I make good time without crippling myself. As I get nearer to the car park, I divert from t’ yeller brick and cut along some of the narrower paths for variety. I pass the café, which is closed, and then I’m in the car park.

And here is an unforeseen dilemma: I usually leave the car park in the car, and distance is not an issue. Which is the shortest way to the main exit? I know that the exit road zigzags and isn’t the shortest way.

Tired and confused, I end up going the wrong way. Everything looks confusing, and darkness is falling. How can I get lost in a car park? I feverishly recall my Cub Scout Training: moss always grows on the north side of a tree; the sun sets in the west; cows lie down if they are tired; right over left, left over right; none of this helps. Ah, yes! I remember: signs with “Exit” written on them usually point to the way out. I look for one of those.

I follow the zig zag road. the pines to my left are close-packed, and the setting sun flashes pinkly between them as I approach the exit gate. The gate is comprehensively closed, but I find a way past without having to get off, ride the short section of road to the car, cross the road, and ceremoniously touch the car with my hand before dismounting. I made it from asking for directions to reaching the car in one go without a dismount, and I’m quite pleased with that, all things considered.

GOSH that was long! i liked the story.

and by the way… i couldnt find one flaw in your grammar…hmmm

Great story, I really enjoyed it. Next time that you should happen to get lost, “Close you eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, there’s no place like home.”

i found one

anywho… its great to have good ole mike fule stories again…


remindes me of my grandpas stories… MikeFule, will you be my grandpa?

First sentence, paragraph 5: the verb has no subject. What is this, an exam?:wink: By the way, an elipsis has only three dots. (I assume you deliberately used the lower case i as homage to e e cummings.):stuck_out_tongue: