It all began with a plan of utmost cunning. Despite having ridden out to the edge of the peak district on mountain bikes many times in the past, we had always limited ourselves to the tedious drag out and back on the road, whilst keeping our powder dry for a couple of hours of fun and frivolous singletrack once we got to there, creating a banjo-shaped route if you will.
Well, this time was to be different, we'd all heard of a mystical canal towpath that could whisk us, traffic free, form the heart of Manchester out to Marple which is a traditional start-point of one of our routes. As it turned out it was a dream! It was a mud splattered, puddle splashing, dodge the chavs type of dream, but a dream none the less. No traffic lights, no car drivers making imaginative use of the road, just a single ribbon of trail all the way along the canal, with a few locks and spiral bridge ramps thrown in to keep us sharp.
One thing I did realise after a few low bridges, was that like Goretex, I think I am a little 'Hydrophobic', that is to say, not all water, but I was definitely slightly panicky at the brown, horrific ribbon of water that we were flashing past at 15mph. Every time we had to negotiate the small chicane that signalled the entrance to a bridge or tunnel, I would tense imperceptably and stop breathing till I was out the other side convinced that at some point my front wheel was going to wash out on a slippery cobble and ditch me straight into the canal beyond. But I made it, and we marveled at the depth of the ravine as we spun across a viaduct and made it to Marple a mere 15mins later than it would have taken us on the road.
About this time, I also had a true 'do as I say, not what I do' moment as I realised that despite having told myself after riding the 12Hr dusk till dawn race (which was hideous by the way), that I needed to make a small adjustment to level my saddle out a bit to accommodate a different saddle. But a week later I hadn't done it so I was starting to get sore less than an hour into our ride, needless to say I'll be videoing myself before the next mtb outing and making a small adjustment.
After the initial giddyness of the towpath bashing, we settled in to a more sustainable pace for the offroad route proper, switched on around 5000lumens worth of lighting between us (Exposure Lights really are a benchmark upon which all other lights should be measured!), and headed into the hills. Tom, who was on his single-speed was monstering his way up the shorter climbs, James was pacing us up the longer ones and I was somewhere in between, sometimes launching up the climbs with energy gel boosted vigour and bringing up the rear on others.
At about half way round the loop we had the accompaniment of an owl, singing to us but invisible up in a trailside oak tree, you could almost hear him saying "what are you three nutters doing so far up here?". Eventually we left him behind though and pushed on keeping the pace high and heading for the rockiest downhill of the ride, baby-head sized sandstone pummelling us and forcing us to keep as much concentration as we could muster.
After that, there were just a couple of shorter tarmac climbs and two more really fun descents and we plummeted back into Marple village with the biggest grins on our faces. At the top of the final descent, we had stopped to make our customary observations about the lights of Manchester in the distance and how all the people down there watching Corrie had no idea of the world we were seeing, albeit I am sure most of them would have hated spending 4 hours getting wet and muddy with us!
All that was left, was to get on the road and use the extra height of the edge of the peak to our advantage and Team Time Trial our way back into central Manchester. We put on an impressive show for all the drinkers and restaurant visitors as we beat the buses and most cars along the A6. I was feeling strong, at it is at times like that during some rides where I can get a little emotional. It feels so good to know that my body has been through the Big C, a hideous history of medical conundrum, heart surgery and I am still able to feel like an efficient machine whilst propelling another efficient machine (my fabulous Scott Spark MTB race bike) for 60km of dark Derbyshire evening. It re-affirms that I can still do these things and I feel strangely proud.
With that, I am back at home, press stop on the GPS tracking device, take a quick call from Mum on the way to the lift and run upstairs to disrobe and get that recovery shake down my neck as quickly as possible!
Oh, and a shower....
Can you spot the area not covered by leg warmers or socks?