The ubiquitous early start (for Jase, I hid under the covers until after 6 as he was driving over to mine…mmm, precious sleep :D), the drive along deserted motorways and still sleeping roads that get progressively wigglier and narrower and the arrival at another empty car park.
The frantic fumbling to get kit together and overly enthusiastic sprint off up the first fireroad as the local wildlife started to scratch it’s head and begin hunting for breakfast.
The shock and delighted surprise as the fireroad ended in double quick time, firing us down the first, long, swooping, dropping, curling, berm railing, tree lined, step-down laden bit of singletrack of the day.
Railed. (Apart from the bit where I overcooked a drop-down into a corner and shoulder barged a soft, loamy, grass bank…it’s alright though, I don’t think anyone saw…)
Short bit of double track to catch your breath and regain some height then repeat the singletrack.
Continue the same theme for 10 miles before finding yourself back on the starting bit of fireroad, now convinced that bikes are utterly awesome and that trail centres can offer damn good riding.
OK, that’s the Newcastleton red route done. Now dive onto the Cross Border route and spin through wonderfully remote scenery for a few deserted miles, slowing only to pour food and drink in the general direction of your mouth and watch as herds of white-arsed deer glide across the path in front of you, before instantly vanishing. Let the rising sun start to warm your back as you make quick progress along well maintained tracks to the bridge that marks the boundary between Scotland and England.
From here on in, it should all start to go pear shaped.
Literally, the second you leave the confines of the bridge you should find yourself pushing through snowbanks that just didn’t exist on the other side of the border. Rideable sections should be interspersed with random wild flailing as hidden ice spits you off towards the trees at either side of the wide, pine tree lined track.
“Proper” sinuous singletrack should be notable by it’s absence, replaced with yet more pushing through deep snow on two foot wide, rubble paths that, after what seems like an eternity, bring you to long, wide sections of ‘north shore’ timber.
(OK, the timber bits were quite fun – lethally slippy, but nice and fast with some superb, brooding scenery)
What should be fast descents through darkened woods, no doubt designed to be like a rollercoaster, should be slow going as sporadic deep snow grabs at wheels. It could be fun, but what little excitement there is in these conditions feels forced as we (try to) plummet down to Kielder Castle.
From there, a hastily redesigned and shortened route leads us (after some “these trails aren’t as well waymarked as the Scottish ones” moments) right back the way we’ve come. Literally. Up the downs as we knew no-one else would be Daft enough to attempt the Bloody Bush and Lonesome Pine routes when they were under this much snow and straight into a full on blizzard as we reach high, exposed moors.
Bravery takes over from sense as we decide not to retrace our steps any further and instead complete the loop back across to Scotland. Despite it being higher up, more open to the elements and, to us, suddenly very far from safety.
The “trail” becomes unrideable, then invisible. I’m navigating by wading through what looks like a wide enough gap between the rows of trees, in the sprawling forest we’ve entered, for a man made path to have been built through. I’m also falling through great holes in the snow carpeted trail, up to my waist at regular enough intervals to keep Jason amused and me on the verge of screaming.
Occasional ‘boardwalk’ sections offer reassuarnce that we are still on the route and not meandering, totally lost, in circles, but that’s it. They’re unrideable too.
The Bloody Bush memorial is trudged past and from this point on in the route more rideable sections appear. The tops of berms, tabletops and kickers built into the trail poke out from the snow and give you something to aim for. The loss of height gives you enough momentum to stay on top of the bike and after only a few more hike-a-bike sections and a pause to consider how far away from everything you are
Wham! You’re suddenly back next to the red route at Newcastleton, a million miles away from the inhospitable, unpleasant trawl across the moors just an hour or so behind you.
Time to cheer yourself up with another couple of flat out laps. Chase the person in front/escape from the person behind. Regroup on the linking sections. Escape/chase again on the next narrow section. Get back to the once again deserted car park (with signs of other people having been and gone in the mean time) as the light finally fades.
Agree that a return to do the original plan should be on the cards when the weather improves. Eat.
We’re daft, we are.