Possible the most contrived thread title ever, but…
Well, here I am down in Devon for a few days - and purist weirdo or not, even I recognise that Dartmoor is not the best hunting ground for a skinny 700c x 28 with 102 mm cranks! So it’s time to dust off the Pashley 26 inch MUni, with its Gazzaloddi 2.3 inch tyre, 152 mm cranks and metal handle.
I drive up to the moor behind the military camp near Okehampton. I park at the side of a narrow road that stretches across the moor, pause to take a couple of photos, then kit up and mount up.
Wow! It’s like going from a sports car to a Land Rover! The uni is all over the place. The circle that the pedals make is huge and unwieldy, and the uni steers with all the precision of an inebriated sheep on faulty roller skates. This is going to take some relearning!
I set off down a military vehicle track which has an uneven surface of rocks, mostly embedded, but some loose. At least the track is slightly downhill, so that I have time to get used to the handling of the MUni again before I have to start working hard. My immediate objective is to reach the end of the track (a distance of about 1 km) without a dismount. 3/4 of the way there, I pass two ladies walking their dogs. One makes the briefest comment ever: “Blimey!”
10 metres before the end of the track is a shallow ford with a mixed gravel and muddy bottom. It is followed by a short but steepish climb up to the tarmac road. It is way to early in the ride to be getting wet feet (let alone a total soaking if things go wrong!) so I dismount and walk across some natural stepping stones.) I ride up the slope to the road and count that as the immediate objective achieved.
Following the basic rule of always heading uphill early in a ride, I follow the tarmac road and climb some 70 metres (checked later on the map) by which time, I’m gasping for breath and in a pretty sorry state. How Aspenmike manages his epic rides across the mountains, I don’t know. Hats off to the guy, say I. I don’t get hills like this on the Trent flood plain!
I take a left fork and drop down a short distance to a shallow ford. This time, I ride through it. There’s then a short climb up a rocky track until I decide to cut across the grass towards a nearby tor. (For those who don’t know Dartmoor, it is an area of rolling moorland with occasional outcrops of rock on some of the hilltops. These are called tors.)
The first section across the grass is reasonably easy - I can do rough tussocky grass - but as it gets steeper, I come across more and more granite rocks embedded in the soil, and have to choose whether to ride over them or weave between them. I’m highly suspicious of rocks, having gashed my chin on one once when MUniing, and I find this part of the ride very challenging. I reach the stage where I’m stalling, walking back a few feet (being a purist), remounting, then riding forwards to not far past the last place where I stalled. I ride every inch of the way to the tor, and some of the inches two or three times!
At the tor, I recover my composure, and take a couple of photographs. The view is magnificent. It’s sunny, clear, a bit windy, and there’s almost no one in view for as far as I can see. (Checking the map later, I discover that this is Rowtor, 460 metres The lowest point of my ride was about 370 metres.)
From Rowtor, I head back down across the grass, rejoin the rocky track, splash back through the ford, then turn up the hill.
The next section of the ride is very hard work. The track is wide enough for a military vehicle, and is made of granite boulders and gravel. Many of the boulders are embedded solidly in the earth, but some of the smaller ones are loose, or capable of being loosened by an impact. The surface is really unpredictable. Sometimes the tyre meets resistance, sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes a rock pings out of the way, but sometimes it moves slightly then digs its heels in! The track has a steady uphill gradient. Each time I come to a hillcrest or a bend, a further incline opens up in front of me.
Within a few minutes, I am riding this track in sections ranging from 5 to 50 metres. The UPDs, when they come, have an air of inevitability to them. This isn’t a ride, it’s a battle. It would be easier and quicker to walk, but that would be cheating.
In all, there are 3 kilometres of this (checked on the map) and, except for the last couple of hundred metres, it’s all uphill, and the surface is all more or less as bad. On an enjoyment level, this is somewhere between repeatedly trapping my finger in a door, and sandpapering my gums. There must be something at the end of the track. The tarmac petered out into rock - surely it must peter back in again some time?
And finally, after a short but equally tricky descent, I reach the end of the track, and what do I find? A turning circle for vehicles, and four portable chemical toilets. Like Napoleon, I am at the end of the road, and I’ve met my Portaloo.
I later check the map and find that this is Dinger Tor. It offers wild and desolate views over the most remote parts of Dartmoor. It is at 550 metres. The highest point of my ride was 560 metres, only (only!) 71 metres short of the summit of nearby High Willhays, the highest point on the moor.
So, what now? I’d expected the track to take me somewhere, or give me options, but it doesn’t. So I retrace my route along the rough and rocky road, falling several times during the short climb from Dinger Tor, but then finding the long descent a little easier. After about 2 km, I turn right, and ride down a trail of looser rocks and gravel, making the descent “in one”, and joining the tarmac road.
On the tarmac, the uni is almost uncontrollable, constantly pulling to the left. I take the opportunity presented by a UPD (ahem!) to check the tyre. I decide I’ve taken the “low pressure for MUni principle” too literally, and squeeze quite a bit more air in. That makes the uni more responsive, but it’s still hard work compared to the 28!
Bored with tarmac, I decide to cut across a short section of rough track to the next tarmac road. I have to squeeze between two rocks, placed there to discourage 4WD cars. Pedal strike! Wallop! The wrist guards earn their keep yet again. Say what you like about 28s with 102 mm cranks, but pedal strike is not one of their common faults.
Other than that, I make it to the end of the track without event. Indeed, the uni is handling better off road with a bit more air in the tyre, although there is less cushioning effect when I ride up or down small steps or over edges of rocks. This is all very different from what I’m used to as even on the MUni, most of what I’ve done has been on mud, grass, sand and slime - stuff that needs the big knobbles of a Gazzaloddi for grip.
There’s now a short section of road, then I cut across country to a small quarry that I know. The quarry has long been overgrown with grass, and it offers a selection of routes. Unfortunately, after all that climbing on rocky roads, I’m too exhausted to enjoy it. I take a couple of photos, then return to the car. 8.3 miles covered.
This was a day of challenges and er… self improvement rather than raw excitement and pleasure. Photos may follow in a couple of weeks as I have no facility to download (or upload, I can never remember) while I’m away.