I know it’s not like me to use a vulgar Americanism, but on today of all days*, I can make an exception: I just had me an awesome MUni ride.
I won’t do my usual routine of giving a step by step account of my ride, because I’ve described most of the paths in previous stories, but I’ll describe a few sections.
It being the second week of Wimbledon, and there being a cricket series underway, it has rained quite a lot recently, and many of the firm packed mud trails are now boggy. Some of the soft shifting sand is now firm and unyielding. The branches of the smaller trees are hanging low, laden with water droplets to soak the unwary unicyclist. Familar routes present new challenges; familiar challenges present new opportunities for disaster.
Arriving at the BMX humps, I find a family playing half heartedly on their mountainbikes and BMXes. I ride past and do a few of the obstacles. To the familiar sound of a father saying, “Oh look at that man - he’s only got one wheel…” I ride off along the top of the earth embankment slipping and sliding on the short sections of cross slope that I need to use to get past some of the trees. A mountainbiker in full regalia, perched on the edge of the embankment and looking short of ideas, notices something in the other direction and doesn’t acknowledge me.
At the end of the embankment there’s a short steepish slope down with a tricky root across it. I usually fall, and sometimes chicken out. Today, there’s a deep muddy puddle at the bottom, but I go for it anyway, swooping down, ducking under the low branch, then hitting the puddle, stalling momentarily, then riding out with a grunted “Yes!” through gritted teeth, and a Henmanesque clenched fist of minor triumph.
Then there’s the cresta run: a long winding and undulating narrow path between trees. There’s a muddy puddle every few feet. Some are shallow, some are deep, and there’s only one way to find out. Heh heh! Using the Progress By Grunting Technique, I make it through this section with only one UPD. That’s pretty good, because I’m not sure if I’ve ever “cleaned it” in the dry.
Later, I’m slithering through a muddy gully, the tyre sideslipping and spinning, but I stay on and keep my feet dry. The mud is about 3.14 inches deep. What does that make it, folks? Come on now…**
Later, much later, I find myself on the Desert, where the soft shifting sands have become an orangey mud. I ride down a gentle slope, feeling the wheel sideslipping but still under control. Then I’m up on the pedals, and feeling the feedback through the handle as I tiptoe through a patch of soft sand, and, surprised at how well I’m doing, I make it most of the way up the next slope. The wheel spins at the start of each power stroke before sinking in a bit and gripping. When the UPD comes, there’s no shame in it at all, although I could do without the distant heckling of one of the Moto X boys on the otther side of the Desert.
Out of the Desert and onto the track, which is a mixture of sand and gravel, with some hard packed bits. This familiar trail is now a minor river: water is flowing along it at walking speed, and about 3 or 4 inches (10 cm) deep - even more in places. I can avoid it, or I can go for it. Glancing down at an imaginary WWKHD*** bracelet for a moment, I go for it, and find myself splashing along the stream bed, the wheel slipping and sliding on the rolling gravel. It’s surprisingly easy, because the degree of slippage is pretty constant, so it’s predictable. It still feels macho though! At times I can’s see the stream bed at all for mud, so I’m riding by feel - similar to what fencers call, “Sentiment du fer”.
Then I come out near the Black Lagoon at the centre of the Cursed Earth: a muddy slimy oily pond full of burned out cars and detritus. I notice a family pretending to enjoy themselves on its greasy shore. Father (in shorts and bush hat!) standing proudly next to his 4X4, a friend (or brother) pretending to be impressed by what the car can do, mother pretending not to mind the kids playing in the mud and quicksand next to the slimy pool, and the kids pretending to be on the beach.
To a mental sound track which is a subtle blend of Fucek’s Entry of the Gladiators (Dit dit diddle iddle dit dit da da… you know the one) and The Ride of the Valkyries, I nonchalantly ride past, angling up the slope slightly. It’s going really well until I hit a deep patch of sand and step off.
“You need more practice,” explains Father. He’s right, but perhaps not well placed to comment.
Mother produces a camera and insists I wait until she can adjust it to take my picture. It’s a simple point and shoot camera, but she takes so long that I get my breath back. In fact, i wish I’d brought a book. Photograph taken, I ride past and set off up the long slimy rutted hill to the top of the railway embankment. I’m bluffing! I know I would have about a 20% chance of making it in the dry, and right now, the ground is a slimy quagmire. I once drove my little 4X4 up it and it was a challenge. The bluff succeeds: I’m round the corner and out of sight before the inevitable UPD.
I hike up the rest of the slope onto the old railway trackbed. This is the most corrugated trackbed in the world, with humps and hollows every few feet. I drove my Suzuki 4X4 along here once and bottomed out on almost every hump. Today, the hollows are deep pools of mystery, and I get very muddy indeed. As I ride along the trackbed past the pond, I take care to be on the skyline, so that father can see I’m taking his advice and getting some more practice in.
Where from here? I try something new and fun: I ride down the side of the embankment. I find a comparatively shallow slope, and notice that the surface is deep wet sand. Sapplings have been planted (or have self seeded) so it’s a bit of an obstacle course. I ride down, stomping back on the rising pedal with each step, and feeling the wheel lock and slide - it’s like jogging down a snow gully: step, slide stop, step slide stop, step, slide stop… it really is most excellent fun.
I don’t make it all the way down because I get trapped between some low trees. Walking the last bit and remounting, I soon reappear near the pond, causing satisfactory cries of surprise from the Family.
Much later: I ride the whole length of the “Off Road Trail, Experienced Cyclists Only” without a single UPD, despite every hollow being full of muddy water. I don’t meet a single bicyclist until I get back on the wide firm forest road.
Then I find another “cresta run” but with low hanging spruce branches. Spruce is horrid; it has spiky leaves which poke through the vents in your helmet and scratch your scalp. As I ride, I’m fending them off with my forearms, and sometimes ducking my head so that my peaked helmet deflects the branches from my face. Then CLONK! I find a branch which is a good two inches thick, and isn’t going to be fended off by any BMX helmet, thank you very much.
I remount and continue, chuckling dazedly.
Much later, I find a track that climbs up through the pine woods. The wheel is almost silent on the carpet of pine needles; I am less so as I grunt and swear at each unexpected tree root. This is one of the most sustained off road climbs I’ve done. It’s not very steep, and it’s not very tricky, but it’s enough of each to make me work hard, and when I UPD, it’s an opportunity to sit down for a few minutes, contemplate infinity, and get my pulse rate back down into two figures.
Later still, and very tired now, I find a timber tower which is a bird hide. I climb up (you have to, don’t you) and there are no birds hiding in it. I sit for a while, the afternoon sun making my wet clothes steam. The forest is silent apart from birdsong… and the drone of an aircraft overhead, the chainsaw rasp of Moto X bikes on the Desert, a dog barking, and kids squealing as they play on the adventure palyground at the visitor’s centre. Oh to be in England.
I could go on, but wow, what a ride! “Only” 13.7 miles (22 km) but that’s long for me on the MUni. About 90% of it would count as off road, and maybe 50% of that was single track. I’ve ridden some of the trickiest sections I’ve ever done, I’m mudded up to the eyeballs, and as tired as a Pirelli store, but I got more satisfaction out of that ride than any that I’ve done for a long time.
- Today of all days: I’m posting this on 4th July. Best wishes to all our American unicycling friends.
**Mud, 3.14 inches deep: a “mud Pi”. You only have to read this rubbish; I have to write it too! ;0)
*** WWKHD: Must I tell you everything?