Josh had decided he wanted to check out Newcastleton. It was a great opportunity to hook up with the waif like one as I don’t get to ride with him (or my other team mates) often enough. The plan was to have two days riding; one at Thrunton (my local woods) and the other at Newcastleton.
The few days leading up to Josh visiting had been freezing with a nice but relatively thin fall of snow. I had enjoyed some classic rides; singletrack that is usually a wintery muddy mess became rock hard and super fast. Did lots of night riding too. It’s pretty quiet round here generally, so mid evening when it’s minus 5 outside the place becomes yours alone… One fairly bizarre incident; a huge owl repeatedly swooped down and tried to grab my helmet with the intention of carrying me away! (Note to self; don’t bring Josh here. He might end up in a tree. Ten miles away).
Anways, after a fantastic few days of frozen fun, I anticipated more snowy shredding. Josh arrived and refused an ice cold can of lager. Hell, this boys serious! Next morning I regretted drinking Josh’s portion but was nontheless itching to hit the trails as the sky was crystal clear and there was not a breath of wind.
We parked across the fell to the south of Thrunton with the intention of crossing the open moorland to enter the back of the woods. Error. The further we ploughed on, the deeper the snow became… The problem was the snow had frozen on top of a foot deep bed of springy heather forming a hard crust that sapped your energy. It also broke across my shins (or Josh’s ankles) and became quite painful!
Like lemmings we pushed on…. The picture actually shows an easyish bit… It got progressively harder…. and harder. But of course, once in your mire, turning back is no longer an option. The last 50m were the worst… now up to our thighs in heather and snow we dodged the hidden bogs. Well, I see we, I mean ‘I’. Josh ended up with one wet foot. I think he was starting to hate me… a process that would evolve as the two days wore on!
We hit the crags above the woods and one of the best traverses anywhere. Normally. Problem was, at some point in the last day or so it had thawed and then refrozen into glassy ice. On really techy rocky trail. It made a trail that is super challenging in the dry a nerve wracking concentration fest as we slithered down ice coated rock steps…. If you look closely at this next pic you will see that Josh is acually riding on sheet ice…
Then the descent proper started… Even half rding, half scrambling was hairy as a river had refrozen down the track… We rode the bottom sections no problem though…
After attempting another open trail, the penny finally dropped that ‘exposed’ was not the future so we headed into the woods where the snow and ice hadn’t penetrated. A few of the classic Thrunton singletrack sections and we were done. We had intended a relatively easy day but conditions made this into a real work out and a great test of handling skills.
Of course we had to have the obligatory curry and we settled down to watch a surf film. Josh now wants to be a surfer. I think it was the shots of tropical islands playing tricks on his head after a day in the freezer.
We got up early to head to Newcastleton. The plan was to start at Kielder, ride over Bloody Bush Road to Newcastleton for a lap, and then back over. This seemed more sensible than driving round to Newcastleton as the roads would undoubtedly be seriously icey.
So we set off. It was ridiculously cold. Josh and I are not built for sub zero temperatures. Between us we carry as much fat as a Weight Watchers ready meal. We both whinged like small children as we lost sensation in our hands. The snow was frozen and rutted. The fireroad climb was gradual to steep in places. Traction was incredibly hard to find but it was great practice blending balance with an even smooth pedal stroke. Well, I enjoyed the challenge… Josh was less enamoured with the snow and at times the air was bluer than our fingertips. However, in this pic Josh looks more ‘focused’ than ‘pissed off’!
We plugged on. It was super hard work and very slow going. The snow got deeper. We reached the start of Bloody Bush Road and it became apparent that carrying on would have been pointless. And it had taken us over an hour to cover ground that would normally take half that. You can see here that there had been a fresh dump of really thick snow;
We turned back. It was great fun retracing our tyre marks and riding the ruts. This has long been a weakness of mine (and Josh’s) but I’ve been developing my technique and it really seemed to come together in the snowy fireroad. In fact, it came together so much that I was going pretty quick…. a couple of out of control fishtails and I decided to quit whilst I was ahead….
We nipped back to Kielder Castle for some food and a coffee and felt frustrated that we had not reached Newcastleton. But we had enjoyed a couple of days of ‘unusual’ riding! Not text book ‘training’, but I for one have enjoyed my rides recently because the weather has forced me to practice some techniques that I wouldn’t naturally spend time on. I hope Josh enjoyed his time here and I know he recognised the quality of the riding in these parts even if he couldn’t see the trails! Hopefully he, and the rest of the team will make it up here for some rides before the season kicks off. You can’t beat a bit of Northern Exposure.