Another chance to get out on Dartmoor: Monday 8th Aug.
I started at the side of the small disused quarry, 400 metres above sea level, and set off down the kilometre long rocky track towards the shallow ford. When I rode this track a couple of days ago, the uni was difficult to handle. Now I’m back into the stride of ridng the 26, and I’ve also put a bit more air in the tyre, and it’s much easier to ride.
Half way down the track, I meet a walker with a dog which runs at me barking. “He’s never seen a unicycle before,” explains the owner. There is a slightly ironic emphasis on the syllables,"u"and “ni”.
I take the stepping stones across the ford, then decide to ride up the steep rough track opposite. The surface is ballast and chippings. Some of the stones ping out from under the tyre, others skitter away, some just don’t move. The worst are the ones that start to move, then suddenly stop, nearly tripping the wheel.
I make it most of the way up the steep slope then hit a drainage curb that runs across the track, and I UPD. Less than a mile into the ride and I’m breathless, so I take a few minutes to rest. I’ve dropped down about 20 metres, then climbed back up about 30. Aspenmike has nothing to fear from me!
Continuing up the track, I reach the crest, then it’s an easy gradual descent along a shingly track. I meet a group of walkers. The leader says, “That’s impressive.” I thank him, and the rest of the walkers burst into a round of applause. This is slightly weird, but well meant.
Soon, I pass a portaloo. This really is strange. Chemical toilets seem to be springing up left right and centre on the moor. It does rather spoil the impression of remote wilderness!
There is a steepish section of track down to a deep ford, and I cross via the stepping stones at the side. The next section of track climbs up steeply from the ford, and I take a few seconds to plan my route. To my surprise, I ride the section first time, with no UPDs. Then, of course, I fall off for no good reason on an easy bit.
A hundred metres later, the track sort of fades away into a deep spongy grassy strip that is hard work to ride on. After too many UPDs, I decide to walk for a bit. I come to a narrow sheep track that goes round the contour. For no obvious reason, I find this hard to ride, and I get increasingly frustrated. I start to feel like I’m not that good a rider.
The other day, I exhausted myself by trying too hard when the going got tough. I’m on holiday, and I should be riding for fun, not to prove some obscure Freudian point, so I decide to abandon this route and ride back down the slope to the ford and retrace my steps. Later, when I check the map, it turns out this was a wise decision.
With only a couple of mistakes, I make it back down to the tarmac road that loops around this section of the moor. There is a long slog up a steep hill which I make in two sections. Half way up, I am overtaken by farmers’ boys on quad bikes, who grin as they pass me. 4 wheels and an engine - now why didn’t I think of that?
The next mile or two are steady climbing, mainly on tarmac, but with some unmade road. I stop twice. The first time is for refreshments. My Snickers bar is starting to melt, so I hold it underwater in a clear cold stream for a few seconds before unwrapping it. The second time is when I meet a huge black and chrome 4x4 (US = SUV) coming down the hill.
A quick multi choice test: Michael is slogging up a steep hill on a unicycle in hot sun. Mr. Git is driving down the hill in his 4.2 litre air conditioned 4x4. Who gives way? Is it:
a) Michael, or
That’s right. And cheecky Mr. Git even gives me a self satisfied smirk and a thumbs up as he passes. Can’t possibly put two of his shiny alloy wheels off the tarmac, can he?
I reach the high point of my ride at 566 metres, and have splendid views across Dartmoor. Two Sea King helicopters (we Sea King here, we Sea King there…) are practising low flying manoeuvres, one at a time. One flies high, the other drops into a steep sided valley below.
The road down from here is quite steep, and I have to be careful not to "spin out"and lose control.
A track to the right attracts my attention, and I explore it. It is a long steady climb on sand, grit and loose stones, but not too difficult. I reach a turning point, with a military hut in it, and continue down an ill-defined track across the moor. This gets steeper and steeper until the last bit is beyond my nerves and skill and I bail out.
I sit for a while. Below me is a narrow, fast flowing river. Across the valley is Steeperton Tor, and I can see two walkers, “toiling on the slopes of Mount Doom”, dwarfed by the scale of the hillside. A buzzard hovers overhead. I’m only a mile from the road, if that, but it feels so remote.
The next stage of the ride is difficult. The track is badly rutted, and large rocks are embedded in it. There are also loose rocks and patches of grass and loose stones. I reach the point where I am UPDing every few metres, and missing some mounts. In the end, I decide that the rewards are not worth the effort, and I carry the uni for a quarter of a mile or so.
Eventually, I reach Oke Tor where I stop, rest, admire the view, and tootle on my harmonica for a bit. From the top of Oke Tor, I can see an easy looking track down to the road, and I decide to take this.
In fact, the track is not that easy. In places, the grass grows in a thin layer over the granite. In other places, it is deep and soft. It is never possible to predict how the uni will respond. On moment, I hit a bump and the bump yields to the tyre; the next moment, I hit a similar bump and it stops the tyre dead. It’s like eating meusli blindfolded, not knowing if my spoon will contain a raisin or a hazelnut.
Back down to the road with about three UPDs and much foul language, I decide to follow the tarmac back to the car. I need to pick a friend up in nearby Okehampton, and I’m running late. Progress on tarmac is so slow on a MUni, when I’ve been getting used to the 700c. However, I eventually make it back, hot, tired and hungry, but with the sense of an enjoyable and varied ride in some beautiful scenery.
“Only” 11.25 miles of riding, plus half a mile or so of walking