Monday, September 30, 2013

The Forest Shortcut

Downhill Lake
"You'll not find much there!" 

I am intensely focused on picking and consuming blackberries at the edge of the woods and the elderly voice behind my shoulder startles me. The man, in his 80s, leans on a walking stick and shakes his head sadly. 

"Two ladies just come through with big buckets you see. Took every last one so they did."  

The blackberries had indeed been suspiciously sparse that evening. But I could still find those juicy few that evaded the buckets, some high up, others hidden deep in the hedge. Quickly I grab a couple and reach my hand out to the man - nearly tripping over my bike in the process, which I forget I am still straddling. He shuffles toward me and critically inspects, then accepts my offering. 

In the lingering twilight, we now stand side by side facing the hedge. I scan the vines for remaining berries, then point to them so that he can pluck them himself. He is smiling now, satisfied, although still shaking his head and muttering "buckets" under his breath, in disbelief over the ladies' behaviour. 

"You get all sorts coming through here." 

You do get all sorts coming through here - most recently, me. There is a forest and a series of smaller wooded clusters that start down the road, stretching along the side of the mountain. What started out as a shortcut home soon turned into dedicated rides with deliberate detours. And so within a week's time I went from "not needing" a mountain bike, to suddenly being unable to imagine myself without one. 

The local forest is like an amusement park, where you get to select your desired level of difficulty or excitement. There are tame trails, with only some mud and loose gravel to challenge you. There are steep up and down stretches with tight turns, the surface all slippery rock with sleek autumn leaves strewn on top for good measure. There are marshy parts. There are flights of uneven stone steps carved into cliffs god knows how long ago and now crumpling. There are lakeside singletrack loops requiring precise control and a bit of luck to not end up in the water. Choose your adventure. 

In many ways, I feel like I'm back to where I started when I was first writing this blog: out of my element, hardly knowing how to ride the bike I am on, and understanding very little about it. Once again, my cycling style is a two-wheel equivalent of a stroll. "Shredding" I am not. But oh my god, I can ride through a proper forest, and it is gorgeous here, and I feel like an explorer in a new land on an indestructible all-terrain monster of a vehicle that is also silent and pleasant and moves at just the right speed, and I'm so happy to be on it. Am I "mountain biking" or just riding through the woods? Honestly, it doesn't matter. 

33 comments:

  1. While I'm a big fan of bombing down hills, there are few things as genuinely pleasant as an easy paced ride though single-track forest with no one else around. The bike is quiet and fast enough to allow you see quite a bit more wildlife than you usually will on foot, especially early mornings or as the sun is setting.

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  2. Aaah, encounters with the wizened are the best encounters. Lovely post, LB.

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  3. It doesn't matter at all. What you are doing is the best kind of "mountain" biking there is, IMO. A good read.

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  4. Wonderful and typical that you're finding a new dimension to your passion. Many things are like that. Over the past bit of lurking we've seen an interest in

    1) style and beauty
    2) transportation and utility
    3) frame building, manufacture and science
    4) bicycle related travel

    And now it seems mountainbiking

    Enjoy the ride. Thank you for sharing

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  5. Yesterday, I found myself struggling on a short dirt trail with my step through rigid old school mountain bike while behind me, my 11 year old son easily picked a line through roller coaster track that locals created in the woods, having a great time on his shocked mountain bike with knobby tires. Clearly, his mode of transportation was the better choice.

    So many types of bicycles, so little time. Have fun.

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  6. Low gearing. I have a Cannondale hardtail I like to ride every now and then. I get myself into trouble climbing up small steep grassy hills that I am afraid to descend due to face plant fear!

    vsk

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    1. I've been too lazy to count the teeth, but this bike has super low gearing. That, combined with it being fairly lightweight, I can pretty much climb anything on it without even exerting myself too much. Descending so far has been less scary than I expected, though I don't do anything too difficult.

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  7. Thanks for bringing us there with you for a little while, if only for a glimpse. Are the blackberries large there, or do they stay small?
    I bet that forest smells wonderful.

    The lives in a forest and suddenly less jaded about it,

    CK

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  8. Velouria, I've followed this blog from the days you were an urban cyclist just barely beginning to explore beyond the world of 3 speeds, through your exploration of road biking and titanium frames and, eventually, racing. Then bike touring, folding bikes, on and on. But mountain biking? When you first mentioned it I thought, well, she'll get over this. But "being unable to imagine myself without one"? Seriously, that is a bridge too far. What's next, cyclocross?

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    1. I remember you went as a spectator -- don't tell me you raced! Argh, my whole world is falling apart!

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    2. I am also a long term reader. I am not surprised at all to see that our dear author has found herself quite enjoying rides through the woods. I don't expect to read reports of Velouria at Whistler; I'm certain there is a hard ceiling to just how ambitious one can get with sensitive hands (A lifetime of "shredding" has me in that boat also, you see) Consider me one more loyal reader, very satisfied to hear more insightful, curious thoughts on another aspect of cycling. I'm always pleased when you discover a new patch on the crazy-quilt of cycling.

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  9. What do you wear when you ride the mountain bike V?

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    1. a stretchy mini skirt with thick tights and boots, either with a jacket or a long sleeve cycling jersey on top (bc I need pockets)

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  10. Always protesting, always won over. It's a tool to do what you want, not a Thing.

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    1. It is a thing

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    2. At times like these, I like to ask myself... WWMHS?

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    3. I Kant stomach that.

      Send the man with the cane my way - huge route of blackberry bushes in my back yard. Curse those women.

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  11. As a Limavady native (now decamped to Dublin), I get irrationally annoyed when a "blow-in" has photos of somewhere I don't recognise! I'm not quite sure how I've managed to miss Downhill Lake--anyhow, it's a beautiful photo.

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    1. Haha. Well firstly I don't think it has a name, Downhill Lake is my name for it. Secondly there are two of them. The lake pictured is... how to describe this... at the back of the Downhill Estate in Castlerock, the part you would enter behind the "12 Apostles" Cottages. The other one is in the actual Downhill Forest, across the A2. I am sure you've seen them both if you're a native, just maybe not from this angle.

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  12. If you getting off-road cycling bug, you have spend a week in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks in England cycling along some of the bridleways, I would recommend spending a few days on the northern end of the Pennine Bridleway, there some photos of ride we did in April along part of it at this link http://www.southlakesgroup.org.uk/2013photogallery/april/6th.html . For route ideals try the Route Archive of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship (which is off-road cycle touring club) at this link http://www.rsf.org.uk/routes-archive.html

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    1. Gawd, Simeon, that is a beautiful landscape just crying aloud to be explored with the perfectly designed off road bicycle. Except for all the frozen water, the landscapes remind me very much of our own High Desert West Mesa (on Albuquerque, NM's westside, looking toward the 10K foot Sandia Mountains on the east.)

      http://tinyurl.com/molaext

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    2. Great Photos! - Looks..... refreshing.
      Geezers Rock!

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    3. Thanks, just lucky to live in one best areas for off-road cycle touring in England with two national parks and two areas of outstanding Beauty on the doorstep and on Saturday off up to Grizedale in the South Lakes to see some Autumn Colour on the tree as the leaves start to change.

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  13. You are totally "mountain biking." That's obvious. (Though it might not be considered "hard core" yet.) But it's also obvious that you still have some identity issues when it comes to that, or you wouldn't ask the question. :)

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  14. It's enjoying yourself on a bike and yes, definitions don't matter. I was just doing something similar yesterday in Estabrook, north of Concord. It was a foggy morning and the area was enchanting as ever. I only saw one other person but at an opportune moment - when I needed four hands to fix my bike. You should check out the area when you can. Some trails are mountain bike friendly but a lot of it can be done on a bike like your Rawland.

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  15. Journeys are like that, one ends up back where they started but the good thing is there's usually a different perspective. Everything is new again. There really is no shortcut.

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  16. If you have the opportunity, I would strongly suggest that you find yourself an old rigid mtn. bike with 26" wheels. Get yourself a set of super fat slicks for it, and enjoy a super-tough commuter/cargo hauler that rides as plush/smooth as a Cadillac. Keep some knobby tires on hand to swap over for when you want to explore the woods a little more.

    Cheap (relatively speaking), comfortable, and super practical.

    I've got an old Trek rigid, and did this very thing. I put on a heavy duty rack, good leather saddle, and yanked the grip shifters in favor of friction shifting for reliability.
    If I had to grab a bike and ride across the country tomorrow, it's totally what I'd choose. Also, totally fun for some off-road puttering.

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  17. Sounds like what the industry calls "cross country" biking -- useful for when you're buying your next mountain bike or entering a race :)

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  18. Yes, sounds like cross country trail riding. Another type would be 'all mountain' riding. A world class venue example of which could be found on the link below. Check out some Vides from there also linked. It's great to see you enjoy mountain bikes, I think UK bridleways lend themselves to the experience. I started riding trail and then added road bikes. Your blog was great for me to get into riding Dutch roadsters. A gazelle basic has replaced the car since then.

    http://www.mbwales.com/en/content/cms/Centres/Coed_y_Brenin/Coed_y_Brenin.aspx

    http://athertonracing.co.uk/2012/08/14/atherton-ride-guide-coed-y-brenin/

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  19. HELL NO YOU WERENT MOUNTAINBIKING! I suspect you suspected as much yourself.

    Where was yer helmet with the flames and skulls? Your body armour and your hydration pack full of RedBull? How about that ridiculous bicycle? No rear suspension, no carbon AT ALL and are those 26" wheels?

    You simply had fun on a bike in the woods. Hell you even had to quantify the experience by talking about the PEOPLE you saw (on FOOT) and the blackberries you picked cuz' you evidently forgot to pack any Blackberry flavored DuPont nutritional gels. Mountainbiking is quantified nowadays by how much time your wheels were out of contact with the ground and the cost of the gear you trashed.

    If you had had the good fortune to have had that bicycle related experience 35 years ago you would have been a MOUNTAIN BIKE PIONEER and we would all wish we were there with you "back in the day", but since you did it last week on a borrowed bike(with STEEL fork stanchions(heehee)) and didn't get ANY air or rail ANY switchbacks or sky ANY sick drops, than what can I say...

    In case it isn't painfully obvious I'm sooo incredibly jealous of some of the stuff you're taunting us with lately. Who among us readers aren't envying you swanning about with random Leprechauns, gobbling berries like some wild she-badger, mooching rides in sailplanes and living in A FREAKIN' IRISH COTTAGE IN WEST COUNTY CABBAGE WHEREVER N.I. I'M SO JEALOUS OH MY GOD!!!
    Please, more, but realize we squirm with resentment and grind our teeth with bitterness as we read your cursed posts!

    Spindizzy

    P.S. That stupid picture of the stupid fake lake is SOOO photo-shopped and cant be real so I'm not falling for any of it and am not wishing I was there.

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    1. Or to put it another way (although me and Spindizzy are on the same page!)…

      “Am I “mountain biking” or just riding through the woods? Honestly, it doesn’t matter.”

      Neither it does, right enough; it’s just exploring, and the mountain bike is best suited to the job. We get too hung up on categories – a bicycle is a bicycle, used for whatever it’s required for. It’s the same with writing, art and music as it is with cycling – it seems everything and everybody has to be categorized.

      As an example, there was a legendary cyclist around Ayrshire, Scotland, called Davie Bell, who for years wrote a column in the Ayrshire Post, the local newspaper, called The Highway Man; in fact, that was how he was known to anyone who didn’t know him personally – as with someone else we know (or don’t!), his real name wasn’t revealed otherwise. I’m too young to remember his columns – they ran from 1930 to 1965 – but recently a book of Davie Bell’s selected writings, published by the Ayrshire Post in 1970, was donated by a lender to Ayrshire libraries.

      On reading the book, it turns out that The Highway Man was a misnomer, at least in the literal sense – he was off the highway almost as often as he was on it – much of his cycling was across country and even up mountains. He used Ordnance Survey maps to find trails, and wherever the trails ran out and it was no longer possible to cycle, he got off and pushed or even carried the bicycle – like you last year when you went by Brompton to the Giant’s Causeway (and that German couple told you to turn back because it was too dangerous!); that was in the spirit of Davie Bell.

      Curiously, even though his life was so bound up with cycling, at no point in his writings did he refer to the make or type of bicycle he rode; he didn’t even refer to it as a bicycle, simply as “the machine” – evidently the bicycle was, for him, a means to an end, a way to explore.

      Incidentally, Davie Bell’s motto was “If I rest, I rust” – like that Carrera’s fork stanchions! :)

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  20. Great to read how much you are enjoying the thrill of riding forest trails! Remember to drop your saddle on fast, gnarly descents. OK, so you are not shredding yet but it will come :-)

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