Or: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
Was it really 2 whole months since our Drumlanrig trip? Should we take the first turn off or the second? Doesn’t a satnav display distract you when driving? Why on earth did Top Gear do a new version of Jessica when Clarkson came back? Why does Baz remind me of US Postal/Discovery Channel/Astana boss Johan Bruyneel? These were the deep questions being pondered on the drive south from Sausage Roll City for Sunday’s trip to Ae.
By ‘eckers it were cold when we arrived, so much so that when a couple of other riders shouted “frozen solid”, we didn’t appreciate that the poor sod now scratching his head at his stricken steed was referring to his freehub, as opposed to the trails. The Sime Boys were already there along with Big Col and Russell (see, I even remembered your name, Russ!), but TDL B was strangely absent. We learned that Dave had cried off with a sore knee but the reasons for 40Something’s non-appearance cut little of the prevailing ice, especially with BMFW. Was that the best you could come up with, 40…?
Still, the massed ranks layered-up, and were subsequently joined by the Slime Guys – Rossco Potter and Michael – and “Three Of Barry’s Mates”. Sorry, guys, Baz assured us we’d do introductions once the pre-ride faff was done but somehow he never go round to it. There was a Craig in there, tho’, right? Also to join is in due course (“he said, he’ll just catch us up”) was James The Tyre Guy, whom I’d met on my first ever ride with BMFW and co, back in 2007. And then BMFW fell victim to the “frozen solid” routine with his freehub refusing to engage. Fortunately, the stricken Trek started to play ball and We Were Off. It was all looking rosy until I went to click up a few gears only to have a length of gear cable flapping uselessly beneath Stumpy’s downtube. Frozen cables – that’s a new one – and we hadn’t even hit the first bit of singletrack. At least I was stuck in the biggest sprocket rather than the smallest, so let’s give this singlespeed stuff a go. Up the first climb then and what was that about hitting the first bit of singletrack? I did – literally. FFS. Following Big Col round an off-camber (in my mind at least) right-hander, I opted to stay off to his left which proved to be just a little too far to the left. Catching the first slide, I realised that the corner continued and then failed to catch the second slide as the rear washed out. Bollocks. Still, no harm done, apart from a hole in my longs which means farewell to my trusty Ronhills. Sniff! (Note: I’ve just discovered that this section is called ‘Rab’s Slippy One’ – oh, the irony…)
From my singlespeed Waterloo it was on up the trail, crossing over the fire road and down a nice wee singletrack section. Of course, stuck in the granny gear, I was soon spinning out on this section and didn’t want to risk chain crossover disaster by sticking the front into the big ring. Still, there was some good descending to be had here before rejoining the fire road and climbing once again. Our 10 regrouped at the entrance to the oddly-named Granny Green Luv (best not Google that at work, I’d imagine!) before dropping in to the stony singletrack which then started to steepen before introducing some opportunities for some phat air (man), as I believe da kids might say. By this time I’d even found some gears again – just as things pointed up the way once more.
Granny Green Luv’s downhill delights were tempered by the subsequent climb, aptly called The Face. As in North of the Eiger, one presumes. Steep, rocky and twisty, this was soundtracked by the noise of chains clicking down the gears as well as muttered curses, oaths and blasphemy. Or maybe that was just me. However, we made it and were briefly joined towards the top by James who, not only caught us, but promptly disappeared up the trail. And that was the last we saw of him! Epic riding by anyone’s standards. From there we headed off the fire road and out into the frankly bleak Bran Burn Bash. The views were spectacular but somehow the acres of felled tree stumps made it feel, I dunno, somewhat lonely. Of course, this wasn’t helped by being off the back with Big Col. Some more cracking riding here, tho’, which made it a fairly rewarding experience.
Col and I then stood scratching our heads momentarily as the signed diversion looked more fun that the fire road onto which we’d just emerged. Of course, the rest of the group were nowhere to be seen! In some sections the trail was little more than bar-width sewing just that little seed of doubt as to whether you’d actually get through. Emerging, we saw the friendly figure of Ross who hopped up onto the boardwalk section and headed into the woods. Struggling slightly with a now Very Sore Knee (thanks to Rab – and inept handling skills – earlier), I opted to walk this. Of course, this is just a convenient excuse as once again I was faced with my routine nemesis: Things Made Out Of Wood. At the end, BMFW remarked that it was about 100 yards too long and, while tempted to nod sagely, I came clean. With The Edge shut (insert your own U2 joke here) we trudged round some fairly interminable fire road before joining Nil Desperandum. The 7Stanes website mentions “expansive views” but I don’t recall that as much as I was once more reduced to singlespeeding. I do recall the ‘Talking Head’ stane, however. Riding by I was reminded of the film documenting David Byrne and his erstwhile chums on tour called “Stop Making Sense”. Most of the assembled mass on Sunday would have done well to have started in the first place…
So, once again be traversed some fire road before dropping onto the proper trail. Passing BMFW on a climb, I figured that all must not be well with his steed and sure enough after making my own struggle up towards the entrance to Omega Man, I stayed back to wait on he and Big Col rejoining. And I waited some more. In between, I chatted with a couple of guys on massive DH bikes. They seemed concerned that the snow might have caused problems elsewhere on the trails but I was more concerned about what lay down there that required full-face lids, body armour and 10″ travel. Back to more immediate concerns and, sure enough, the elements had again conspired to rob BMFW’s bike of any drive as militant pawls in the Trek’s freehub refused to engage. However, he did manage to coax things back into life once more.
The sign at Omega Man made predictions of doom, warning the uninitiated that there was a mix of red and black stuff (ah, that’s what the armour was for) and that riders should ride within their limits, yada yada. Fortunately there were also decent bail-out options for those of us will too little suspension/skill/insurance and it really was a fab section, even with my limited transmission options. Hell, there was even boardwalk which at least this time was a) wide enough for my liking and b) had chicken wire on it. Hmm, wonder why it’s called chicken wire…?
One final twist in the trail lay ahead before we were spat out onto the fire road back to the car park. Having botched my line-up on a drop-off, I found myself at the very back, shouting “helpful” advice to Big Col who was blasting ahead of me. As a sign announced a split between black and red I shouted “go left, Col!” and my fellow Don heeded the suggestion. I of course then took the right-hand (red) line myself leaving Col to haul on the anchors ahead of a perilous-looking log ride. As Neil Young once said, take my advice – don’t listen to me!
Brought to you by Carry On Wayward Son, by Kansas