Well, sometimes you do a ride which, with hindsight, you think: ‘Why did I do that?’
And now there are any number of mountain bikers who are considering that very point after the 2011 Rough Ride. And there are now also some 500-plus riders with that steely look in their eyes who can bore their friends rigid in the pub with the tale about how they first tamed the Rough Ride.
Firstly, I like the rough ride. It’s the third time I have done it, the terrain, with stunning views, can be fantastic, the route is well signposted and the whole event is well organised and friendly, plus you get a free t-shirt after some amazing climbs and superb descents. However, 2011 was not like that, so let me tell you my Torq Rough Ride story.
Sunday dawned with me glancing out of the bedroom window in Oxfordshire at 6am – and it was not raining. It’s June, we are officially in a drought and it has not really rained in months. The forecast is for rain, but with it being so dry I guessed that the ground would just soak it up, and how much can it rain anyway? So it’s off to pick up my riding buddy and off we go in the car for the two-hour drive to Kington, a very pretty little town in Herefordshire. And then the rain started.
Having negotiated the huge puddles on the main roads it was into the campsite field that was also the car park, this in itself almost caused me to slide the car into the main organiser’s tent as it was right at the entry with a river slowly flowing down the slope. I was glad that I had left the knobbly tyres on the bike; this was no place for summer tread! A quick glance at the thermometer read six degrees – glad I had brought all my winter kit as well.
After picking up our pre-registered numbers (there seemed to be a lack of people registering on the day, for some reason) it was time to kit up. On went the heavy base layer, winter waterproof jacket and for me, Montane feather light waterproof trousers (more on these later). After meeting up with another two rider mates from Witney Mountain Bike Club, who had camped the night before and showed some surprise that we had bothered coming at all, it was up to the start line.
This is when the rain really started, proper big rain, combined with the low cloud and reduced visibility on the hills down to less than 100 yards, which is a shame as the views from the Rough Ride are stunning. The ride started, the wind got up and everyone set off. To say it was wet is an understatement; it appeared that the first two inches of top soil was just a sponge, totally waterlogged, with every dip or undulation on the trail now a puddle or pond. The small river crossing at about 15kms was fun, certainly when it went up to bottom bracket depth!
As the main double-width trails, which had by now become stream beds, started to become single track, the mud started. The only good thing was the mud was too wet to be claggy; it was more a sludgy mud that caught quite a few riders out on descents with an inability to shrug any speed once gravity had taken over. This was possibly the biggest shame for me about this ride, I had chosen to take my full suss, 150mm travel, with the plans of enjoying the descents, but I soon found that this claggy mud was massively abrasive and by halfway round hearing the sound of metal on metal and full application of the brakes was doing little to control my speed.
At the halfway point came a suitable bail out point there was a steady stream of people choosing the road route back. There were already a number of riders who had just not appreciated how bad the weather was and were succumbing to the first signs of hypothermia. Again the Rough Ride team were wonderful with car transport available to those who needed it, wrapped up in foil blankets.
Having refuelled on ginger cake and Torq energy drinks it was time to push on, something which is a harsh reality on the Rough Ride. The hills here are big and, in the dry, me as a mere mortal can make some headway on them, but this time it was more of a walk on the climbs. After the halfway point riders started to form small groups, encouraging themselves on and having small rests together, telling people who had not done the ride before what was to come, that we were over the worst of it.
Still the wind and the rain continued and the remaining bikers plodded up the climbs, rode the flats and wobbled and skidded down the descents – or walked them. Even the last piece of great wood-lined single track was more of a challenge to keep your speed under control and stay on line. After five and a half hours I was back to Kington and into the car park for the free t-shirt, stew and endless tea.
The ride is an amazing one and it would be great to get the view of the few who did the long route, especially the guys who finished in the top five and certainly the guy who I believe came third on his single speed rigid 29er. For me it’s a good story, one of just gritting your teeth against the flying mud and spray, and it’s not often I find myself out in such conditions, which were truly some of the worst I have ever been in for any time of year and just so unlucky for June.
As a note, I am looking forward to seeing my ride photo and it was quite amusing seeing a photographer attempting to get their whole body under an umbrella while kneeling on the floor trying to get photos and stop the umbrella flying away. Also I hope the guy who appeared to have had a nasty off on the descent just before the halfway point and was being treated by the Rough Ride medical team in an emergency shelter is not too bad and makes a quick recovery.
As for the Montane feather light trousers, nothing was going to keep that much water out, but they did a good job, keeping my legs warm and I was only wet not soaked, although they will now be shorts after the right leg met my outer chain ring. Will I be back? Yep, but with new brake pads.
Did you ride the Torq Rough Ride? Pictures of most riders are available from www.rightplacerighttime.co.uk