It’s weird where your thoughts can end up some days. There was one time last November, we were pushing bikes up the third highest mountain in England – Skiddaw in the Lake District. A mix of Lakes locals and ‘blow–ins’…Helen Gaskell, Tracy Moseley, Dave Armstrong, James Panton and some guy with a camera. My lungs were burning from the freshly chilled air as we slogged up the steep path to the 3054 ft summit. The harsh winter sun glared across Derwent Water below us and an icy wind stole away any words that we yelled at each other. From our barren spot among the sharp, frozen shale at the top, we watched an old RAF turboprop flying low over the lake below. Carving turns, floating over rugged terrain and threading its way through the valleys at full speed. My mind strayed to fragments of a 60’s war comic…
‘Suddenly they streaked across the path of my shining craft…The controls felt as sensitive as a jewelers scales…like I were riding a shooting star as it sliced through the sky…I pressed the fire control…and ahead of
me rockets blazed through the sky…’
The Plane is a Shorts Tucano T Mk 1
Length 32t 4 in
Wingspan 37 ft
Power 1× Garrett TPE331-12B
Turboprop. 1,100 hp
Maximum speed 345 mph. Can maintain 310mph at low level
Maximum Operating Altitude 30,000 feet
Initial climb rate 4000 feet per minute.
Special Equipment Comprehensive avionics and ice-protection packages.
Ventral Airbrake. Four bladed propeller.
Martin-Baker MB 8LC ejection seats.
Thinking about it a little more, it occurred to me that bikes and single seat aircraft might actually have a lot in common. There aren’t many other vehicles that bank and turn with such agility, that can leave the ground and fly over obstacles at will. With the right skills, a rider or pilot can change their path through the air, flip, whip, spin and roll. The same acrobatic moves have been done in both machines, just the names are different.
OK, you probably think I’m on crack or something. This has nothing to do with riding bikes in the Lake District. Of course you’re right, but it seemed clear to me then that inside every biker, there’s the soul of a fighter pilot – the loner, independent, freeagent, unconstrained, maverick…wild, but in control. Yes it’s as corny and self indulgent as Top Gun, but you’ve got to admit it’s there…right? It’s a part of the feeling
that makes us ride bikes. After all, there’s nothing like slogging your guts out, then flying over rocks at 40mph to clear your mind of trivial things like school, job or mortgage.
Yikes, nearly got sucked into a philosophical debate on Zen and the art of shredding downhills. Sorry ‘bout that. Time to lighten up with a pint of Sneck Lifter Ale at the local pub in Keswick. Whoa that stuff packs a
punch! And what the hell’s a sneck anyway? And why on earth would you lift one? Apparently it’s something to do with sneaking in the back door late at night. But it will probably take you all night just to eat your way through the Gigantic Cow Pie they serve for dinner.
Anyway, on another day we beat our way through the wind, rain and mist along the loose and rocky Garburn Pass. Steep exposed hillside with just a few stone walls and bracken for shelter. Hardcore with a wet
backside. Without even a hint of spiritual enlightenment. But it’s not all windswept, barren and featureless mountainsides. We also found our way to a rocky loop round Grizedale Forest and some leafy trails under oak and beech forest in Ambleside. Plenty of shelter there and also plenty of mud, roots, corners and steep rock slabs. Then there are the slate mines and scree slopes. And dramatic ridge–line trails with a thousand foot exposure on either side. Or how about the rocky bridleway along Ullswater lake?
The Lake District is almost a well kept secret. There really is amazing variety of terrain here. ‘How come I didn’t know about this before?’ I kept thinking to myself. The locals will quietly tell you about the movie stars who have houses in the area, it’s almost like they don’t want to give the game away, for fear of an invasion by the city folk. So here’s the deal, keep it to yourself, there are good bike shops in every town, they’ll tell you where to ride. There are plenty of big mountains and bridleways. They’ve got scenery the length of your arm. Technical singletrack and flat out descents. And horrible bastard climbs too. If you want uplifts and DH race tracks then Wales and Scotland probably have more to offer, but with a mid–travel bike and some leg power you can go a long way before you run out of options. You might even experience a moment of clarity.
Thanks James at Biketreks and Cycleactive. Graham and Nick at Wheelbase. Max, Dave and James at Keswick Bikes. Darren, Paul, Helen and Tracy for just riding their bikes. Darren Howarth
It’s weird where your thoughts can end up some days. There was one time last November, we were pushing bikes up the third highest mountain in England – Skiddaw in the Lake District. A mix of Lakes locals and ‘blow–ins’…Helen Gaskell, Tracy Moseley, Dave Armstrong, James Panton and some guy with a camera.