In Merrie Sherwode

Well, hardly a uni ride for ages, then two came along at once! A combination of shorter evenings, unreliable weather, problems at work, too much fencing, and family problems had kept me off the uni for what seemed like ages, but on Sunday, I was free and able to ride…

So which uni? I’m out of training, and I need the exercise, so I decide to take the MUni. That should counteract my normal tendency to cruise long distances and run up big numbers for their own sake. So the MUni it is: Pashley 26 with 150 mm cranks, Gazz 2.3 tyre, and a handle on the front of the Viscount seat. The Tractor…

There seem to be lots of cars parked at the end of the lane into Deerdale, in Merrie Sherwode (as Sherwood Forest is called in Hollywood films), but there are few people about - just a couple of lads on trail bikes, blatting about noisily, then screeching to a halt and swearing their astonishment as I ride past.

A mile or so up the wide, fairly level track, I’ve climbed a short distance, and I’ve realised how unfit I’ve become. Looking for interest, I turn off the straight and wide onto the meandering and narrow - too much of a mouthful for a cliché, perhaps, but more fun. :0)

Soon, I discover why there are so many cars parked in Deerdale: there’s a ‘special stage’ of a car rally taking place. 75 souped up Ford Escorts, Focuses (Foci?) and Subarus sliding sideways through this ancient forest, man, machine and nature in perfect discord. At every major junction, there is plastic tape across my path, and there are marshals, all important-looking in green safety vests. I watch a couple of cars roar past. The first one is impressive, the second is similar, the third is very similar, the fourth is very similar indeed. I’m sure it’s fun to do, but it’s no fun to watch.

So I dive off into the forest, following the narrow winding footpaths, looking for adventure, but losing my sense of direction. I’ve ridden in this forest dozens of times, but, today, nothing seems familiar - and every time I pop out onto a major track, “Whappo! Blammy! Zoom!” cars screech past, leaving a thin film of grit on my teeth and eyeballs.

I find a narrow entrance into an area of small pine trees. It’s dark in there - the canopy gives almost 100% cover. I have to duck under low branches. The tyre is silent on the bed of fallen needles. I can only read the path a few yards ahead, as it twists and turns, semi randomly, but always downhill. Roots wait to trip me. I UPD a couple of times. Fatigue starts to affect my mounts. Mike, the unicycling Hobbit, lost in the Mirkwood…

And with one bound (and an inglorious faceplant) I am free, on a broad but car-free track, which leads to a junction, more tape, and more marshalls. I stop for a chat. After a classic ‘double take’ at the unicycle, they make no comment about it, but talk to me at length about the rally. They are on a 90 degree bend, and it’s more interesting here as I see the drivers take different lines. These are the last 25 drivers of 75, and the lowest seeded, so their lines and gear changes are less consistent. One goes round the bend like Granny driving a borrowed hearse, another nearly ends up sideways in the ditch. This is more like it.

The marshals show me their map, and point me towards the Surprise Cafe - the one I only ever find by accident - and I make my farewells. I remark that I usually know where I’m going, but the rally has blocked some of my favourite routes. They say they understand; they’ve seen a few other cyclists today, on two wheeled bicycles, though. It is said casually, and the impression I get is that by now they have fallen into the assumption that the one wheeled bike is sufficiently commonplace for them to have to distinguish the ‘two wheeled bike’ as a separate species. Progress indeed!

The cafe, predictably, is full, with a queue as long as a lengthy thing’s longer brother, so I decide not to stop. I turn back towards my car and find my way blocked again by the rally. I see cars 73, 74 and 75 go past, and the crowd breaks up, walking onto the course. Minutes later, I’m unicycling along the special stage of a motor rally, and when people comment, I’m answering, “How far am I behind that Subaru I was chasing?” Merry laughter all round.

From here. I take unfamiliar routes in the general direction of my car, ending with a glorious, gentle and winding descent through the trees which brings me out half a mile from where I’m parked. Soon I’m back in the car, only about 7 miles covered, in about 90 minutes, but it’s been a pleasant and varied ride.

I think I enjoy rides more with a clear objective, but I’m learning to chill out a bit, and be less ‘driven’ to achieve distance or speed on every ride. (Read, ‘getting old’. ;0\ )

And in the afternoon, I’m invited to my mate Andy’s to go out for a ride. I take the 20 with 110s; he’s on a 24 with 125s. Andy hasn’t ridden since July, and last time I saw him ride, he was starting to lose patience with his freemounts. Today, he springs into the saddle first time, and rides a good 500 yards/metres before stepping off on a tight corner. His first three freemounts are ‘first timers’, and by the end of the ride, he’s freemounting way over 50%, and riding stuff which I would have found ‘technical’ 2 years ago. Seems that the ‘Learning by not Doing’ technique suits him! We ride a total of a mile or two, get the obligatory cat calls from the local intelligentsia (junior branch) and then it’s back to Andy’s for a Chinese.

After too long out of the saddle, that’s a nice day’s riding.