There and Back Again (The Habit)

There are two deliberate mistakes in here. They are of a general knowledge type, and should be reasonably obvious even if you are not a unicyclist, and this is your first visit to the forum. If you spot them, please PM me. I will post the answers and the winners in a couple of days. Please don’t refer to the answers in a reply to the thread as it might spoil it for someone else. Thanks.:slight_smile:

The sun is out, the sky is fairly clear, but there is a chill wind. I am feeling lethargic after a very late night, and it takes all my determination to get changed into my clingy Lycra shorts, skimpy T shirt and cycling shoes, and pack the KH24 MUni into the car. It is only habit that forces me - I’d rather be sitting down and reading, but I know that at this time of year, there is plenty of time to read, and precious little time to ride.

On the way, I stop for fuel. The young woman in front of me at the pump has a car about the size of a shopping trolley which must have a concealed expedition fuel tank because it’s taking her a very long time to fill it. Come on, Mrs., it’ll soon be dark, and I’ve got a unicylce ride to do! One thing she isn’t concealing is the cleft between her buttocks. She is wearing the lowest low slung jeans I’ve ever seen, without even the sop to dignity of a cheap thong, and looks like a podgy pink cycle parking facility. Why do people do that?

I park in a layby on the A614, and find my way through a gap in the hedge to the woods beyond. The path is narrow and winding, and my enthusiasm is low, so I walk to a straighter easier bit a few metres further on and mount.

After only 50 metres of riding, I come to a grassy incline. It’s wide enough for a Land Rover, although the grass is fairly long. There is a strip of trodden single track up one side and I use that. To my right is mixed woodland; to my left, a hedge, then fields.

The ride up the slope is just right. It’s technically easy, as long as I concentrate; it’s steep enough to be a challenge, but not so steep that it’s a struggle; I’m gaining height fairly rapidly and feeling pretty hardcore - or at least, mezzocore. It’s the sort of path where witnesses would be welcome, if you know what I mean.

Near the top, I have a choice of a narrow winding path or a broader forest road that follows the contour. I choose that, but a hundred metres further on, turn about 120 degrees back to the left over ruts and bumps (small cry of “Yes!” through gritted teeth as I make it) then I wind between undergrowth and saplings until I come to a fence. On the far side of the fence is what I believe to be grassed over spoil from the former Calverton colliery, although I’m not sure. It’s certainly artifical landscaping anyway.

I turn to follow the line of the fence, ducking and twisting between young birch trees. There are still a few fly agarics around: red toadstools with white spots, as featured in a child’s fairy story book near you. I avoid squashing them - too many people deliberately trample fungi because they can. We’re not a nice species.

As I come out from under the birches, the path becomes more undulating and winding. There are nettles and some briars close by. With care, I suffer only minor scratches and no stings. Then I drop down a short muddy slope onto a path that runs down a field boundary. The main road is some distance below me to my left, traffic buzzing past, the drivers probably not even noticing the woods, fields and wildlife a few metres from them.

At the bottom of the field, I wiggle though a gap next to a rotten stile. I can hear “Clack! Clack!” noises somewhere, almost but not quite like someone is shooting. There must be few sights as tempting as a unicyclist riding past a clay pigeon shoot, and I make a mental note to be cautious. However, a few metres later, the source of the sound is identified. I come to an old disused railway, and there are two bored youths there. One has a small plank and is picking up pieces of ballast and using the plank to bat them as far as possible. He does a double take as I cross the railway line carrying my unicycle.

I climb over a stile. The path beyond it is dead straight, with a barbed wire fence to the left, and a bushy hedge to the right. The ground is slippery mud. I duck and wiggle my way down to the bottom without a fall, then climb over the next stile, and cross the road.

Over the road is a wide track across farmland, and the riding is easy and pleasant. I pass a disused tumbledown farm building to my right. I stopped to examine it once on an earlier ride. It’s full of both satanic and Christian graffiti. Weird. Say what you like about Jesus, but I doubt he intended that 2,000 years later, people would be using aerosol paint to deface disused buildings with his name.

The track bends to the right, and there is a maize field to my left, the crop looking very sorry for itself. The next field is full of sheep, feeding on exposed root crops. One ewe tries to mount another. That’s how you tell the difference between the sexes in mammals. Females will mount each other now and again; males will mount anything that stands still long enough. To my right is a pond surrounded by trees and thick undergrowth. My attention is attracted by something fluttering in one of the branches. A Jay? No, I just catch the distinctive wing markings and crest of a lieutenant pigeon.

I turn to the left again, and approach the next set of woods: a pine forest. The track angles steeply up in a straight line through the pines. There has been no attempt to dig the track into the hillside, so there is about a 20 degree slope from right to left. Pine forests are usually a quiet place to ride, with little in the way of wildlife, and with soft needles under the unicycle’s tyre, and I cruise up the hill surrounded by tranquility.

At the top, the path levels off and becomes more gravelly and rough as it leads across open farmland to a road. I pop out of the end of the track and find that the road is a dual carriageway. There is little traffic and I ride across, then follow the continuation of the track though more farm land. In the distance is a higher hill with more woodland, and I have a vague idea that the track will carry me there.

However, I am disappointed, as I soon reach a small village, and what looks like the continuation of the track turns out to be a private domestic drive. I turn right onto the main road into Oxton village, then left to continue in the general direction I want to go. I’m not really used to riding the KH24 on the road - it’s far slower than the Coker or the Bacon Slicer - but it feels pretty smooth, and the road isn’t busy.

The road undulates a little, gradually gaining height until I reach a T junction with a somewhat wider road. It’s not exactly some larger way where many paths and errands meet, but it would be fair to say, “Whither then, I cannot say.” I randomly decide to turn to the right, hoping to find a path or track to my left leading towards the tempting hills and woods I can see inthat direction. However, a few hundred metres on, I lose confidence. The late afternoon sun is not that warm on a damp autumn day, there is now some cloud cover, and it is just starting to look like it will be dark in an hour or so.

I turn back and retrace my route as far as the top of the track that angles up thorugh the pine forest. I now have three options: back down the angled track, straight on along the ridge, or turn right. I decide to ride straight on along the ridge, open fields to my left, the pine forest dropping downto my right. At the end of the ridge, I have two choices: carry on along this track down the slope, or cut through the pines “off piste”.

Off piste it is then, and I have an enjoyable swoop down through the pine forest and bracken. The hill is steep enough that I have to be careful that the uni doesn’t run away with me. The ground is soft enough that if I try to hard to stop, the wheel will lock and skid. This is good fun… until I see pine trunks laid across my route. I pause and lose concentration and UPD - the first of the ride. I remount and ride down as far as the pine trunks. They appear to have been put there as a deliberate barrier, perhaps to trailbikes.

Looking beyond the barrier to the fence and hedge, and the fields and woods in the distance, I realise that my sense of direction was awry and that I am about 90 degrees off course, so I have to climb back up the hill (pushin gthe uni - it’s far too steep to ride - and I turn left to go back along the ridge, then turn left again and sweep down the long sloping path that I climbed earlier.

As I ride out onto the flat track that runs along the bottom edge of the pinewood, I meet four mountainbikers. Proper riders, actually exploring, away from the official facilities and routes. The leader makes a friendly comment then stops.
“Have you ridden all the way from Sherwood Pines?”
“No. I’m on my way back to the car - I’ve been up to Oxton.”
“I’ve seen you riding round Sherwood Pines, though?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“How far have you been?”
As always, I include the word “only” in my answer. It adds tot he cred, you know.

We have a pleasant chat for a minute or two in which he expresses the traditional sentiment that two wheels is hard enough work for him, but well done, then we go our separate ways.

I stop briefly at the tumbledown farm building to have a look around. It’s quite a den, and just the sort of place I would have played in as a kid. The Satanic and Christian graffiti compete for wallspace as I remembered from my last visit. the roof is half caved in like something built by Laurel and Hardy. The briars and nettles grow high around it.

Back on the uni and I retrace my steps as far as the old railway. the two youths have gone. When I reach the steep field boundary, I am determined to ride up it. I am surprised to meet three pedestrians, a two and a one, walking dogs. The couple remark that “That looks hard.” the bloke on his own says nothing, and conspicuously gives me far more room than I need.

I make it tot he top, and get just out of sight of the walkers before UPDing on a tricky little up slope. This is the third of the day (one happened on some of the single track that I dismissed as “retracing my route”) and I am a bit disappointed as I had hoped to “clean” this entire section.

Soon I am back under the silver birches, riding past the fly agarics, and then I’m out onto the broad forest road. I could turn right here and be back at the car in five minutes, but I turn left and maintain altitude for as long as possible. The forset to my left is mixed woodland. To my right are tall pines, and further ahead is a Christmas tree plantation, the trees standing glumly in rows, looking forward to Christmas about as much as your typical turkey might.

Not wnating to end up ont he wrong side of the hill, I leave it tot he last moment and turn right to ride down through the plantation. The trees are in neat rows, so it’s fairly easy even though there is no proper path. Neatr the bottom of the hill, the Christmas trees are bit bushier and the gaps are tighter, and I have to force my way through a couple of times, dislodging a couple of baubles in the process. Then I am on the narrow singletrack that winds along the bottom edge of the wood, the road to my left as I head back towards the car.

I am now “in trim” after a pleasant but not exhausting ride, and I easily pick my way through the winding bit of path that I walked at the beginning. I burst through the gap in the hedge onto the edge of the main road, surprising a couple of passing motorists, then ride the few metres to the car.

What a lovely and varied ride. I didn’t take any gadgets, but I’d guess it was 5 or 6 miles or so. Maybe a little more. Isn’t this a great sport?

Four responses so far. Keep 'em coming.

Five more answers - and not everyone has got both the answers.

Last chance - I publish the answers tomorrow evening (some time after about 17:30 G&T).

Either you are a super fast typer or you have too much time on your hands.

It only takes a few mins to type out something around that length. =p

I also loved the title of this one. :smiley:

Well, rather a small uptake this time. Only 11 entrants.

The answers were:

  • There is no such bird as a lieutenant pigeon. Lieutenant Pigeon was the name of a pop group, famous for the novelty track, "Mouldy Old Dough".
  • When riding through a plantation of Christmas trees (which really exists, although I didn't ride through it this time) I would not expect to dislodge any baubles. Baubles are added to Christmas trees rather later in the process.

Interesting answers:

  • That ewes don't mount each other. Their "ready for action" signal is to stand still. Maybe, but some ewes (like some cows) do mount others, and this one did.
  • "In trim" really is an expression. It is derived from sailing, but can legitimately be extended as metaphor for any situation in which everything is in balance and you are making smooth progress.
  • "Off piste" is not just a skiing term, and can legitimately be applied to any outdoor activity where you normally travel on a designated narrow strip of land, but can divert from this to cut across country.
  • Fly agaric toadstools. Yes, they were still there, even this late in the year.

Those who entered, in order of entries received:
gkmac, both
dforbes, both
mark williamson, both
pinefresh, Lieutenant Pigeon only
mike penton, Lieutenant Pigeon only
JerryAttrick, both
anam, both
Naomi, both
rob.northcott, both
martin.phillips, both
ian.stockwell, both

named and shamed

I should’ve noticed the baubles… :o
I’ve got some excuses I could use!