Sunday morning, bright and clear… I decide to take the MUni up into Debyshire. I drive up to Black Rocks, Cromford, and set off along the High Peak Trail - an old railway trackbed converted into a cycling and walking route.
A short distance up the trail is My Own Personal Everest (MOPE). This is a long 1:7 (14%) incline with a surface which varies from compacted mud and grit to loose gravel to rough bedrock. When it was a railway, the waggons had to be hauled up on a cable pulkled by a massive static engine at the top. My best ever effort was to ride up MOPE in 3 stages, on a 24 with 150s. Today, I’m on the 26 x 2.3 with 150s.
How do you assess the difficulty of a ride when describing it to others? It’s so subjective. There are so many variables. Let’s put it this way: a few days ago, I did well over 2 hours and well over 20 miles on the Coker without a dismount or UPD. I don’t lack stamina, determination, technique or concentration. However, I doubt I will ever climb MOPE without a stop - unless I “cheat” and do it on a 20 with 150s.
I set up MOPE with vigour and enthusiasm… with hindsight, far too much of both. By about a third of the way, I’m breathing so deeply that the trees keep swaying towards me, and old people have to cling to their hats to stop them being ripped from their heads and drawn into my tortured lungs.
I get flustered on one of the uneven sections and UPD. I take the opportunity to regain my composure. This is the most technically demanding section, so I’m still in with a chance of doing the hill “in two”.
Yeah, right! And the Pope never goes to church. After a third of the rest of the way, I’m so out of breath that I step off the unicycle and throw myself onto the verge in despair. It takes me a long time to recover.
Part way up the hill, I meet a pair of volunteers who are doing minor repairs to the trail. One steps across in front of me with his spade and says, “I’ll just move this stone for you.” He flicks the tiniest of pebbles out of my way. I thank him.
“How far are you going?” He asks.
“To the top,” I respond, through gritted teeth.
Another UPD only fifty metres later, and this time, it takes me a couple of attempts to remount. Wherever I try, there’s always a difficult bit (e.g. a discarded match stick) just too close for me to get my rhythm going in time.
And then another UPD and two or three failed mounts. I’m overtaken by a couple of elderly pedestrians.
Eventually, and with no feeling of achievement at all, I make it to the top.
To put this into context: the first two or three times I attempted this hill, I turned back around half way up. This current attempt was probably my second best on the 26. Perhaps cruising up it (I exaggerate!) on the 24 has given me inflated expectations.
Anyway, there’s a small shop at the top, and I purchase Lucozade and a Snickers (the Bar formerly known as Marathon). It takes me a good 20 minutes to get myself back into a state fit to ride. My hands are trembling and I feel like I’ve been fencing all day with no food. As a former bicyclist, I’ve experienced the “Dreaded Knock”, also known as “The Bonk” (before that meant something else!) and this is something different. It’s like I’ve started digesting all next week’s meals, only to find I haven’t eaten them yet.
Eventually, I remount and turn to ride back down the hill. The first few yards of my ride take me past the cycle hire shed, where whole families are getting ready to set of on mountain bike odysseys, still in that stage of excited anticipation before the grim reality of differing expectations, sulky children, and uncomfortable seats sets in.
One witty hirer remarks, “Look… he hired that at half price!”
As I reach the top of the hill, ready to descend, I see the notice that warns cyclists not to ride down the steep incline. I may well have pointed out before in this forum that INclines go UP, and DEclines happen after you hit 40.
I make the whole descent in one. It takes a certain amount of care, but it’s not too demanding. I then turn off towards the quarry, the scene of my chin splitting UPD of a few months ago. Will I have the courage to attempt the same obstacle? Or the sense to refrain? Both possibilities are left hanging because there is a huge family nearby having a picnic, and I really don’t want to spend the next few minutes being the subject of loud and ironic commentary from the males in the group.
I ride back to the car park, feeling a little disconsolate. The ride up MOPE has taken it out of me physically. There’s not an awful lot nearby that I can play on, and there are far too many people about - who would have thought it on a Bank Holiday weekend? Don’t they have a coast to go to?
I decide to ride off into the woods a bit. The first stage takes me past a small flat grassy area where a group of people are playing in a slightly bored fashion with remote controlled cars. “Whizzz!” go the cars. Then they go, “Whizzz!” This is followed shortly by a “Whizzz!” This seems to be all that they do. One of the men tries to make it marginally more interesting by aiming his R/C toy at me and playing chicken. I’m tempted to run over the bloomin’ thing, but I restrain myself.
So, off into the woods, where I ride a challenging packed mud incline, weaving between or riding over a few roots and the odd stone. Soon I get to a bit that’s too hard to ride, and I get off and push. I generally head up hill, half planning to ride the descent. I come to a slightly flatter smoother bit, remount and ride until I UPD for no good reason. Morale is getting low. I sit down for a while and listen to the birdsong and watch a rabbit. I decide the time has come to turn back, mentally and physically burned out.
I ride most of the way back with only a couple of UPDs on the tricky sections. Only 3.76 miles covered - some of that walked - and I’m more beaten than I was after my 22 miler on Tuesday. Am I getting unfit, or did I just bite off more than I could chew? We’ll see.