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MTB Weekend Away 24-25 October 2009
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Delightful Weather   Rough Track   Crash   Trailside Workshop
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Youlgreave   Still Working   Day 2 Sunset   Only got 7 pics...

Stockport to Youlgreave Loop

Having learned a few lessons from last October’s mountain bike weekender, it was decided to make this year’s a bit longer, rougher and harder (I wasn’t consulted). Mark probably made sure it rained too. So this year it was over a hundred miles round trip, with 2860 metres total climbing - and just to remind any roadies, yes 102 miles is a lot when you’re hacking through the rock-strewn swamps of the White Peak. Still, there’s no point if there’s no challenge. We’re not those fashion cyclists you see posing round town on brand new fixies – we’re Stockport Clarion and we’re real riders.

Keeping it real at the start point on Saturday was some of the usual Wednesday night crew and a couple of guests, with another magnificent array of machinery. Mark and Dave turned up on long-travel full suspension rigs which, considering they’ve been known to do the average Wednesday ride on silly things like fully-rigids and singlespeeds, suggested we were in for a rough ride. Maggie and Andy were both showing off on titanium hardtails, with Maggie’s old bike, a Kona Explosif, loaned out to Dunc so he’d actually have gears and a suspension fork for the occasion. I (Oliver) was on my old Specialized S-Works, which had been dramatically updated since last year and is now actually fit for purpose, and Bryn had his Specialized Epic, which benefited from full suspension but was let down by sparks flying out of its exhausted brakes. Guests Andy and Sam turned up on two particularly clean hardtails and claimed that they’d done hardly any riding recently, but they certainly didn’t struggle with the pace so perhaps they were being modest.

The first third of the outward journey was dealt with quickly and without incident, that was the easy part. Our habitual route through Woodbank Park and in and out of Marple got us down to the Sett Valley Trail, on which we cruised into Hayfield, having picked up Emmy and her posh LaPierre en route. Then the real mountain biking started. Some killer climbs and crazed downhilling over Rushup Edge and south east through the Peak Forest eventually got us to Wormhill, where the café we had been expecting had disappeared, in an eerie echo of last year’s promised cake shop that never was. Another lesson learned from last year was not to trust Mark.

On the hunt for the food stop we found ourselves briefly on roads, sharing a route with a local sportive event. One rider thought we were in his way as we spun along in a pack, and wasn’t the politest in trying to get past. He was taught some manners by a small group of muddy mountain bikers in Stockport jerseys who decided to chase after him, drop him, then ride along in front of him no-handed and sharing out sweets.

A tarmac slog led us to some sort of bistro/crafte shoppe above Monsal Dale. What sort of café doesn’t do beans? Probably the sort of café that doesn’t like riders who deposit a quarter of a ton of mud off their clothes onto the furniture and wring several litres of brown water out of their socks into the bathroom sink. I hope they don’t remember our faces. Stepping out of there into the wind, still soaked from the morning’s relentless rain, was probably the coldest it’s possible to be, so we had to up the pace for the next section.

We can count ourselves lucky that by the time the mechanicals started it had warmed up and stopped raining, because after some clod-hopping across a heavily rutted route towards Pilsley that was clearly better suited to cows than bikes, it was time to set up the first of several trailside workshops. Bryn was very glad that Emmy had brought spare brake pads, and Mark was very glad that Bryn had brought a spare gear cable. I just smugly took pictures, making sure my own immaculate bike was in shot.

Karma gave me a slap for that. Or more correctly, a full assault and battery. The next big downhill was through the woods to the north east of Bakewell, where I was trying to show off by chasing the full-sus boys down the technical bits. I’d managed earlier in the day and was feeling like a hero, but my lack of skills and the wet rocks had a different idea. On a fast drop into a gully my front wheel washed out from under me and I landed face first, taking the impact on my chin, chest and knees. Thank god Andy was on hand to take a photo. He had plenty of time, I was in no hurry to get up.

A bent right hand shifter and broken fork lockout were the least of my worries as my bruised ribs meant I could no longer do much with my right arm, which made the rest of the ride, especially the next day, quite interesting. Thankfully though, for day one at least, we had all but arrived at our destination.

When we got to the YHA hostel at Youlgreave, the first job was to dump our filthy bikes and soaking gear in the downstairs boot room, and then get cleaned up for dinner in the pub, which thankfully wasn’t a three mile hike away like last year.

Despite the extra hour of kip thanks to the clocks changing, it was a painful business getting back in the saddle, all too early, on Sunday morning. Now down to seven (Emmy had kindly driven home with all our overnight kit, and Andy and Sam had ridden home a different way), we’d decided to spend the morning exploring the trails local to Youlgreave before heading home a relatively quick and direct way after lunch. This meant that two hours after leaving the hostel, we were still only 8km away from it, and by lunchtime we were still as far from home as when we’d started. Nonetheless, we’d more than earned our pub Sunday roast in Hartington, having enjoyed some proper, hardcore mountain biking - zigzagging across some extremely rocky terrain in some surprisingly inclement weather.

It was after lunch that our resident roadie Dunc got his dream: tarmac, for miles and miles, all uphill. He was visibly looking forward to the long climb from Hartington to the Cat and Fiddle, obviously having done it before on some featherweight Italian sliver of carbon. This time, even he must have admitted that doing it on knobbly tyres in a malevolent cross-wind was not so easy. But I wouldn’t have heard him, I was a few paces behind…

The downhill from the Cat and Fiddle to the Goyt reservoirs was very fast, very slippery and thankfully, all off-road. It was also the last big change in altitude of the weekend, and it was a delight to see from the GPS that the route from here back to Stockport would involve a further gentle descent and very little if any climbing.

Just as well, because the flat trails and canal paths that took us back to Whaley Bridge and then Marple felt hard enough as it was. By Marple, long after dark, we finally parted at the canal junction and went our separate ways, and grinding home on the wet roads in the wind and the cold, even my brain was starting to malfunction. It’s true that cycling brings out extremes of emotion: at times like these, delirious fantasies crowd the head - of giving up all outdoor sports, putting the bike on eBay and buying a Playstation. But then of course once home, clean, dry and having fixed the bike, reason returns: this is the best sport in the world, adventures like this are unforgettable, and next time we’ll make it 200 miles.

With thanks to Mark, Maggie and Emmy for organising and transporting the kit; to the YHA in Youlgreave; and to all riders who joined us.