'Trailfinder General' Benji Haworth is back to covering the old ground
I live somewhere hilly. Not mountainous. It’s lumpier than a lot of places in the UK but it lacks any true craggy peaks or proper altitude. I live in the fells.
Fells get a bit of a bad rap among certain mountain bikers. If you hear the word “fells” then you can typically expect an absence of trees and an absence of singletrack.
I’ll not deny that I have to put in the legwork to link up together the modest pockets of playtime trails that are scattered about my locality. I will always be a singletrack addict. It is the raison d’etre of why I ride mountain bikes.
I have to travel along lots of lots of not-singletrack. At first this travelling felt like slogging. It felt like a chore. But after a while I stopped disliking the travelling and began to enjoy the journey.
The weather has undoubtedly helped. Grinding through gales is never relaxing. Growing older and having children has been a factor too. Time spent away from the work desk and the mad house is most welcome no matter how it’s spent. If it’s spent on two wheels then that’s all the better.
Relaxing on a bike whilst cruising along wide tracks is not something that is typically featured in modern mountain bike marketing. I understand why. It doesn’t catch the eye. It’s looks boring. It’s not an easy sell.
If mountain biking was only wide-track cruising then I wouldn’t mountain bike. But it can be a glorious part of the whole experience.
There’s a danger that a lot of riders think that mountain biking is only throwing covershot-style rad shapes on advertisement-style rad singletrack and that anything else is unworthy and disappointing. Riders need to be told that it’s possible to enjoy other sorts of off-roading. And they don’t have to feel embarrassed about it.
Mountain biking isn’t just a series of rapid successive blasts of adrenaline and that’s it. That way lies attention deficit disorder and diminishing returns. Mountain biking can be about the deep, slow burn.
Time to think. Think about one thing. Think about everything. Think about nothing.
Time to talk. To riding friends. To complete strangers. To yourself.
Time to exhale the negative and inhale the positive.
Time to recharge yourself by wearing yourself out.
I went on a ride recently where I didn’t know where I was going. Well, I knew where I was going to go first – up to the top of the hill behind our house. The fifteen or so minutes it took me to get to the monument at the top gave me enough time to work out where I should go.
I had a map in my bag (okay, I didn’t really – I have the Ordnance Survey app on my phone) so I decided to head over the border into lands where I had not previously ridden despite them being relatively close by.
You can’t tell for sure where the singletrack lies on a map – it’s always singletrack that I’m hunting for – but you can find tell-tale signs that suggest that there might be some lurking there somewhere. Contour lines, ravines, viewpoints, trees and such. It’s a complex algorithm that only experienced trail sniffers can compute. It comes from experience really. The more you hunt singletrack, the better you become at finding it.
Anyway, to cut a long story short I did find two bits of singletrack. They were lots of fun. I shall ride them again in the future. But they weren’t the real rewards of my long widetracking day out on the fells.
Soaking up the winter sunny scenery was a reward. Chatting to the old geezer who used to ride a Raleigh Maverick around these parts twenty years ago was a reward. Forgetting about the bank balance for a few hours was a reward. Even stumbling across a touching hilltop tribute to a recently departed family pet was a reward in a way.
None of which I knew were going to happen. None of which will happen again. Mountain biking should be about having unique experiences.