As winter descends upon our fair land, the prospect of an epic ride out in no-man’s land becomes less appealing what with changing weather, the propensity for disaster, that sort of thing. So it was that the Dons’ latest Big Day Out headed for the relative safety of a trail centre. Purists at the back can shut up.
Glentress in November probably conjures images of waterproofs, crud guards and relentless misery on busy, wet climbs. And momentarily it looked that way as 3 of us stood shivering in the damp, misty car park waiting on the Bishopbriggs Three. The brilliant sunshine of the drives from the cities of Sausage Roll (BMFW and I) and Polo Mint (Baz) had been extinguished by foreboding gloom the minute we hit Peebles. Suddenly my base layer and soft shell didn’t look like a terribly inspired combo. The Bishy Three had been waylaid due to retail confusion: 40 Something left stranded in the car park of his local Tesco while Big Col duly navigated New Guy Dave to the local Asda. Still, as we contemplated an early coffee, Dave’s Astra arrived. We Dons are a friendly bunch: Want to come riding with us? Good – you’re driving.
For once, the usual pre-ride faff was limited, probably due to the cold more than any semblance of good planning, but in any event we were off.
The recent changes to the outward section meant we were quickly off the main fire road and onto the new singletrack climb which made for a more fun, if no less gentle, warm up. BMFW was quickly off the front effortlessly spinning up the gradients, but the remaining 5 were in close proximity spread out in trail behind. The climb towards the Buzzard’s Nest car park was largely uneventful, although did I see someone come to grief on that wee branch?! Of note also was the guy on the Litespeed ‘cross bike who sped by us on the way up and who would continue to haunt us throughout the day.
The Buzzard’s Nest saw a quick stop for Haribos and a top up before heading up to the first ‘proper’ challenge of the day – Pennel’s Vennel. But first, Big Col had to address the not insignificant issue of a soft rear tyre. It probably doesn’t compare with “Houston, we have a problem” in terms of iconic statements of our time, but “anyone got a pump?” rarely means good news. However, some impressive wrist action later and Big Col was back in business. Climbing up past the Freeride Park, we immediately raised the average age of the assembled clientele by about 300%. Marvelling at the newly-constructed wall ride (“it’s just a big berm”) we headed up the short climb before dropping into Pennel’s Vennel.
Following BMFW, I quickly had Baz snapping at my heels, his hypocritical oaths of “off the brakes!” ringing in my ears as the sounds of his Giant and my Shimano discs did the same! Rocky switchbacks make this an entertaining descent and a good introduction to the uninitiated. Towards the end of the section, the trail is narrowed thanks to a cleft rock. BMFW later remarked that he knew when I’d arrived at it because I made the same noise he’d just made. And then onto the final rooty drop-off before climbing once more up a switch-backed ascent ahead of a well-earned stop for jelly babies and – wow – a view over the Tweed Valley. By now we’d cleared the mist and had broken out into brilliant sunshine but the mist remained in suspended animation below us making for a truly stunning scene.
Suitably refuelled, the singletrack climbs continued before we emerged back onto the fire road. This was an unwelcome schlep, particularly in the knowledge that it ultimately led to the foot of the Spooky Wood climb. Of course, we would reap the dividends but not before suitable investment in the form of some (in my case at least) some granny ring action. The switch to the smaller front ring was a wise one for me and I settled into an easyish spin rather than the middle-ring grinding of earlier. Burning thighs were cooled and elevated HR levels subsided. I stopped to take some pics while Dave, 40 Something and Baz continued past, starting the climb to Spooky Wood. Snapping Col and BMFW, I remounted and got on with things. Regrouping at (nearly) the top, we made the final ascent to Spooky Wood, which was predictably busy. It’s interesting to see just how many riders make this section the focus of their trips to Glentress. 40lb DH rigs mixed with hardtail jump bikes, XC and “all-mountain” full-sussers and that bloke on the ‘cross bike. Mental!
What can you say about the descent? Basically it’s as hard as you want it to be. The first 2 jumps always give me problems so it was the chicken run for me but the rest of it was a blast. Trying hard to stay off the brakes (a balance of noise reduction –v- caution) and letting the berms pull me in and throw me out the other end. I sat in behind Dave as his – hollow laugh – tailgunner, should disaster strike but such patronage/patronisation was clearly unnecessary. This guy can descend! Then one by one, we reassembled at the shelter and contemplated another run via the laughably-named shortcut. The term “shortcut” usually suggests “easy bit” but this quickly turned into a full frontal assault on Caresman Hill. BMFW span up as far as he could and I all-too-willingly followed his lead, abandoning beside him. The last 100m was a steep push up, emerging – via a boggy mess – at the approach to Spooky Wood.
Confidence was higher all round and we spread out on the descent. Once more I bottled the first 2 stepdowns/jumps but started to catch more air (man) on subsequent doubles and the likes. I passed a female rider who had momentarily stopped but she rejoined and followed me. Moments later I heard an anguished scream which had me hauling on the anchors, fearing the worst, only to have an embarrassed and apologetic girl come round behind me. No harm done.
And the descending wasn’t over. Over the road and down the Super G saw Dave try out his Super Man impersonation, effortlessly performing a comedy dismount as he ran wide on a right-hand switchback. His front wheel dug in and it was straight to the scene of the accident for him. Laughter laced with relief revealed that only his pride was dented. Body and – more importantly – bike were unscathed.
From Super G to Hit-Squad Hill and still heading down, with some seriously tight switch-back work to be done; all good stuff. The trail brought us once more onto fire road but with the choice of either heading up the hill to loop back round or to simply attack the rooty Pie Run. Opting for the latter, I had the opportunity to conquer a personal demon having come a cropper on one particularly rooty section on my previous visit. This time, no such drama and it was on to the start of the new, short section, Mushroom Pie (so both that the Trek Brothers did it twice) and down into the Magic Mushroom itself. Herein lay a veritable trip over roots, logs, boardwalk and the likes before blasting over the road and into the Tourist Trap.
Of course, what comes down usually goes back up again and having escaped the clutches of the Tourist Trap we were faced by a short but unwelcome climb up to the fire road. After umpteen km of descending, legs were unprepared for this shock and despite granny rings being engaged, this turned out to be a bit of a bale-fest. First I, then BMFW as well as a bunch of other riders gave up the ghost.
A mercifully short climb on the fire road took us up to the entrance to the wonderful Falla Brae descent, remodelled since my last visit, but always a highlight. The trail now has an added blue section for which we opted purely on the basis that it was new. This swoopy rollercoaster featured a number of options for jumps and doubles and it was wheels-in-the-air for most of us at some point. This section also shadowed the outward route which we’d ridden a few hours earlier before actually crossing it. From there it was over the main forest drive and onto the home straight. Or the home twisty bit. Apparently called Good Game (yes, I did consult the web), this wee blue section took us down by the Glentress Burn twisting and turning with some neat jumps before finally spitting us out on the drive (mind the cars!) before returning to the Hub for coffee and cake.
It was big grins all round, not least from Dave who’d survived his first outing with the Dons and – grudgingly – from Col whose Magners-induced hangover had probably subsided. One final twist for a comprehensibly knackered Col was the discovery that he’d inadvertently packed a pair of non-matching shoes for changing into post-ride. Not really a problem until he discovered that they were both lefts…
Brought to you by The Weight by the Band, courtesy of BMFW’s iPod.