From Dirt Issue 109 – March 2011
Words by Gareth Howell. Photos by Gareth Howell.
You may, and hopefully fondly, remember trails roadtrip articles I’ve done from previous years. Our yearly excursions have become something of an institution for a select group of riders, to the point where around springtime I always get the phone calls and Facebook messages asking me what the plans this year are. At that point I never have the slightest clue, but so far it has always turned out to be a pretty sweet week. This time around someone must have been smashing some mirrors with black cats tied to ladders, as things didn’t go anywhere near as smoothly…
You see you can plan a roadtrip down to the finest detail, if you really want to you could have all your times, places to ride and sleep all scheduled in down to the minute. I personally prefer not to, as the spur of the moment and sometimes questionable decisions are half the fun and usually lead to the most interesting and entertaining things happening. However for this particular trip I’d put an unusual amount of work in. I had spots lined up to session all the way from London to Grimsby and back, managed to talk my way into some spots that big wheelers usually might not get to ride and assembled a pretty varied crew of riders to come along. I’d even spied–out some potential camping areas on Google earth.
Unfortunately there’s one thing you can’t plan for, the weather. In the weeks, months even, we’d had leading up to the date of the trip it had been perfect, warm and dry pretty much every day. As luck would have it though, that all changed the very day we were due to make a start. The plan had been to all meet up at the final round of the King of Dirt series at Wisley and head off from there, making our way up north and then back down, over the course of a week, give or take a few days. However that evening the heavens opened and it barely stopped for the next week. What should have been a couple of hours a day in the van DMR had kindly lent us, followed by a good session and then camping for the night turned into a daily struggle to locate somewhere that might be dry to ride, trudging round a sodden trail spot before realising we were clutching at straws that simply weren’t there. This was usually followed by cracking a tin and topping up the constant low–level drunkenness that seemed to dull the noise of the rain hammering on the van roof somewhat. Ollie (Wilkins), being the driver, and also somewhat more of an athlete than the rest of us, didn’t really approve of this and they became known as the ‘pointless beers’, that just made it all the more amusing though.
I know at this point this is a sounding a little depressing, however it’s wasn’t all doom and gloom. A good crew makes all the difference with this sort of thing. Good people can make a good trip amazing, and a bad trip good, it kind of shifts everything up a level. This time around we had DMR super pros Jimmy Pratt and Ollie Wilkins, roadtrip veteran Luke Cullis, the unique and always entertaining duo of Timmy Henderson and Dylan Stone, and two newbies, Dom Haigh and Johnny Faulkner from a trail spot near Dorking. A few people popped up now and again as well. Rob Newman rode with us for a day, and showed why he was the ‘Duke of Dirt’ all those years ago, and Phil Auckland showed us some spots to ride in a very soggy Coventry. Cheers for letting us crash on your floor for the night Phil. This was a great group of people, I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any other way. One of the highlights of the trip for me was staying up until the sun came up again playing shithead with Phil and Jimmy. If you aren’t familiar with shithead, it’s a card game, a bit like poker for idiots I guess, and is ridiculously addictive, especially when you have a crate of tinnies next to you. I fully recommend it.
We did even manage to get some riding in, as you can see from the photos. BMX tracks were a bit of a saviour, being unaffected by the weather for the most part, as long as you didn’t mind riding through a few puddles. As always it was a treat to watch Ollie shred the shit out of Gosport and Nuneaton. Trails riders aren’t well known for their high levels of fitness when it comes to pedalling flat–out round a track, and it really showed, but everyone gave it a good bash and found tech sections to session. There was even talk of going back for a ride over winter. A few of the trail spots we had planned to visit did turn out to be rideable, at least to some extent. After a lot of spadework we managed to get one line riding at Wisley and had a slippery but enjoyable ride. We also managed to hit up a few other nearby spots, Dom and Johnny’s local for one, which just about rode, thanks to the lighting of some small fires on the dirt to dry out wet patches. A set of trails made from the sandiest soil imaginable also played host to our fun and games, and although the jumps were small it meant that we were able to coax Timmy into his first flip in a long time, and allowed Dylan to break out some of his signature limb variations. Saran wrap anyone?
One of the main spots on our hit list, which we did get to ride thanks to a few hours break in the weather, was one that I can’t name, but is fairly well known from various web edits featuring well known BMXers. According to the locals we were the first group of mountainbikers to be allowed to ride there. The trails weren’t especially big wheel friendly, with really tight transitions and super steep landings. Also being built from rock–hard chalk they were very unforgiving, going down was not going to be pretty. It was this very fact that meant we were able to ride them though, the chalk being so hard means that it doesn’t soak up the moisture, it just sits on the surface and dries. Unfortunately this also means that when they do get wet they become lethally slippery. As discovered when it started tipping down again just as the lads were getting to grips with the jumps and starting to pull the stunts out. A shame, as this place was really amazing and goes to show what can be done by a few dedicated locals in just one winter. Cheers for having us lads.
We even hit up an indoor park. Don’t judge just yet, it was an invite only one built in a disused railway tunnel, so not your run–of–the–mill–overrun–with–park–rats situation. No one on the trip really rides much park, but Johnny stepped up to the plate and put all that time spent nibbling away down Crawley to good use. Jimmy, freshly recovered from ACL surgery, pumped about like only he can and rode the hips and quarters like they were made of dirt.
So, the riding wasn’t amazing due to the weather, we spent what felt like forever driving about only to be disappointed at the end of the journey, and everyone spent most of the time either wet or trying not to be wet. Was this a waste of time? Hell no! These trips are all about the experience, and whatever the situation you will take something away from it. For me this time round it was a love of a simpleton’s card game and the discovery of a way to describe those beers that occur just because it seems the right thing to do at the time. For everyone else it may have been different, but this outcome suits me just fine. Beats being at work for a week anyway. Pointless beer time!