I’ll tell you right now. There’s a moral to this story that’s worth listening to if you plan to ride in the dark on unfamiliar trails. But that’s for later, first of all a bit of scene setting.
Last night we planned to go over to Pitch Hill for a ride and a pint. Unusually, we were heading out on a Thursday since Mark and I were required at his 8 year old’s birthday party on Wednesday.
With Dave still recovering from a toe job (he doesn’t tend to come over to Pitch on a night ride anyway), Lee struggling to find guilt-free time away from his wife and young son, Tony sunning himself in Greece and DaveP and Jem busy with work it was a depleted turn out for last night’s ride. Just me, Colin, Mark and Mark (that’s two Marks, not one dog with a hare lip!).
Starting from the Hurtwood Control car park No.2 we worked our way up onto Pitch in warm and humid conditions. The recent rain had given the trails quite a damping down with peaty mud in many of the dips and slippery roots everywhere. So a period of re-tuning was required to get used to the lower grip levels.
We climbed (there’s little option at the start of a Pitch ride) up to the triangular heath where T1 ends and T2 starts, then rode over toward Death Star and turned right up the fireroad, eventually arriving at the start of T0. I’ve acquired some new handlebars which are quite a bit wider than I’ve had before—I think they’re about 710mm—so my first run through the trees on T0 was quite twitchy.
With the mud and general slippiness I found it hard to get a rythmn but things gradually improved as we crossed over onto T1 before turning to head back up the hill toward the T1 crossroads. A bit further on from there and we ducked back into the trees on a more technical trail that contoured back the way we came before crossing a fireroad and continuing downward, past the swooping dips where AndyC nearly crashed into the back of me on his V-braked Univega a few weeks back.
Then it was another intense fireroad loop round to the T1 crossroads and a turn up toward the Quarry. As always at this time of year, darkness fell with an almost perceptible ‘Clang!’ as we rolled along. One minute it was fine, then the next dip through the trees told us it was time for lights.
A noodle round the Quarry brought us out at the steep roll in to the car park near the Windmill on Winterfold, all of us managed quite easily considering how it had suddenly become so dark; it can look quite daunting but is actually any easy roll if you relax.
Passing the Windmill we headed toward the Bombholes. I rode all of them, fortunately forgetting the tree stump in the third which thereby enabled me to clean it just fine! Had I remembered I think I’d have minced at the top of the black drop.
After that it was off down the trail which brings you out near Gone in Sixty Seconds. Unfortunately, that’s where the problems began. I was running second and caught my helmet momentarily on a low branch; new Mark was behind me followed by MarkJ (I don’t think he’d like to be called old Mark!). As we pushed on down the trail to catch Colin, me and new Mark came out of the trail and turned sharp left to climb up to the next stopping place.
MarkJ on the other hand had lost a bit more time and didn’t see us or which way we went. He also had no idea where he was. So instead of turning left, he turned right and disappeared off down the murderously loose and steep descent to the next fireroad. Finding us absent, he then proceeded to follow one bad turn with another with the inevitable result!
Meanwhile, Colin, new Mark and myself had started to wonder where Mark was. After a few minutes of chatting I decided to head back up to the bombholes thinking Mark was lying with a bike on his head in the undergrowth. Despite shouting for him I could see no sign, no light, no sound.
Returning to Colin and new Mark we tried phoning but of course phone reception in the hills is notoriously bad. So we tried taking the steep descent it turned out Mark had tried but found no sign of him. We returned to the Bombholes for a three man scan of the trail, still nothing.
What to do? We were properly stumped. I knew Mark had no idea of the area so was unlikely to find us if he’d wandered off. And we weren’t entirely sure he still wasn’t stuck on the Bombhole trail as it was by then about 10:00 and very dark.
Returning to our original meeting spot where there was some phone signal I sent a text thinking Mark’s phone would deliver it when it hit a signal itself; except I wasn’t sure he even had his phone. Eventually, we got a call from Mark who was standing outside a house in God knows where with no idea where he was at all.
After a bit of discussion, and relieved that Search and Rescue wouldn’t be looking for an injured person, Mark said he’d knock on the door (at past 10:15 at night!) and ask where he was!! It turned out, although he didn’t realise it at the time that he was possibly at the cottages near the end of Christmas Pudding. The kind lady he spoke to actually gave him an OS map to navigate his way to a road and back to Peaslake!
So with sighs of relief, we turned back ourselves for Peaslake, knowing we’d lost not just Mark but valuable drinking time. A quick dash across the hills brought us back to the car park via the ridegline, lots of fun and fast moving all the way.
By the time Mark arrived at the Hurtwood Inn the three of us were well into our pints. Not knowing where he was or when we’d see him (and having run out of cash) we couldn’t stretch to a fourth pint for Mark when we ordered, so Mark missed last orders, much to his regret!
So all’s well that ends well, if a little later than planned (I got home at 12:00). And the moral of the story? Well, if you’ve lost touch with your mates, don’t go wandering off into the hills but stay where you know for sure they must have been. Had Mark waited at the end of the Bombhole trail without going right (or had he returned there) we’d have found him a hell of a lot sooner without having to worry about whether to get a helicopter out or not.
It did have me wondering about whether DaveC still has his walkie talkies though… Breaker breaker, what’s your handle, do you copy?! Worth investigating even if you do end up being a bit Roscoe P Coltrane at times!