Ice Bike Ride

I’d arranged with the Singletrack editorial board to head up to Calderdale and drop into the new Singletrack Office to discuss the possibility of an article for the mags. I arrived armed with cakes from the bakers around the corner and left with some inspiration and a list of objectives. Chipps’ real coffee tasted fantastic and it was great to see the place.

The bike was still in the car from Sunday and I’d taken it and kit just in case there was a possibility of a ride, but in the end the opportunity didn’t materialise and as the afternoon was pressing on I decided to head off to familiar territory. From Milnrow I headed cross-country on a nice drive via Delph over to Longendale. I say nice, but really I was playing roulette with the fuel gauge. Was there enough Optimax sloshing about to make it?

That didn’t really seem as important as taking in the stunning scenery up on the moors. The tops were dusted with snow and it reminded me of the icing sugar on tops of cakes in the Bakers. I rolled in to the car park in Royston Vasey, parked up and kept the faffing to a minimum as I changed kitted up and headed out of town. The bike was completely caked from Sunday, but the car had done a good job of drying it out so it was dry mud rather than wet and the drive train had that crunchy not working very well feeling for about 30 seconds until a big puddle splash was sufficient to get it wet and working again.

For those that don’t know it, the Longendale trail follows the old railway line up the valley from Hadfield to the Woodhead Tunnel. It’s a good route a because it’s low risk in Winter, is reasonably short and is a bit of a test. Today the long climb up the valley was into a bitter headwind. The Endura bibknicks with their three-quarter length cut left my shins exposed to an icy chill, so they were red with cold.

The noise of an emergency services siren caught my attention as it approached over my shoulder and a look up the valley side showed a fire engine out of Glossop heading up towards the Woodhead Pass. I guess someone’s patience had run out, they’d taken a gamble and run out of luck. I’ve diced with death on that road in the past and now know that it’s not worth the risk – your better to sit tight and wait it out, rather than try an overtaking manoeuvre on one of the many blind bends or crests. It’s a road that has taken away many lives including being accredited with the macabre defeat of JMC.

I thought of this as the sleet bounced off the shell of my jacket. It made the same static hissing noise as a TV tuned between channels. The degree of snowfall was only really apparent from the reduced visibility and its slow build up in the folds of my jacket. Even rubber necking to look at the accident on the Woodhead was a problem due to icy chills making my ears hurt. I was climbing, no point getting the beanie out yet. I’ll just end up too hot.

The thrup thrup thrup of a chopper overhead makes me think of one of Jo Burt’s Mint Sauce cartoons. It’s up above somewhere, probably an air ambulance for the accident, but I can’t see it anywhere. Forty-five minutes after leaving the car I arrive at the Woodhead Tunnel. I crouch down behind a wall on the gravel out of the wind and stop for a mini packet of Fangtastics. The sugar rush is great, but you can feel your teeth dissolving as you chew on them

I contemplate taking the route straight back out the way I’ve just climbed, but decide that since I’ve earnt the height it’d be a shame to waste it. Heading further up the valley is where the interesting trails can be found, but it’s a good two degrees colder up here, so the helmet pads come out, the beanie goes on and I’m back on the bike. I think riding the footpath out into the Open Access Area. There’s that trail that always looks so inviting from the car as it switch backs down the slope from the moorland summit.

I decide against it today and head up from the carpark an out onto an eerily quiet Woodhead Pass. It should be buzzing with Trunk Road traffic, but it’s only a solitary passing ambulance that reminds me what has happened about half way up. I grind on into the wind, riding in the gutter until I find the turn off for the Bridleway. I’m right on the shoulder of the valley now and the double track farmer’s access route contours around the hill maintaining its height.

With the wind at my back I carve fresh tracks in the snow, which is a lot deeper than expected. It’s amazing to think that it was only Sunday that I was taking pictures in the sun wearing only a gillet and long sleeved winter top. Today I’m wearing two layers of long sleeved merino and an XCR Mountain Jacket and I’m toasty once I get going, but the water repellent properties of my board shorts have long since expired and while they’re keeping the wind out, I’m wet through and I get the distinct impression that the fabric at the back of my knees is near to freezing.

The sheep are hard to make out against a landscape of greys, blacks and white. They’re only given away by their movement as I ride along the trail. As I pass though a gate, a cacophony of baaing signifies my arrival and soon a whole flock is starting to converge looking for food. I know I’m out of shape and have a green jacket, but surely I’m not so big that they’re associating me with a hay carrying Land Rover? The gradient increases and soon they’re long behind as I fly down the hill. Strange hoof tracks in the snow, make me think of recent yeti rumours in Papua New Guinea, but the rounding of the next bend reveals that the owners of these tracks are in fact a herd of cattle huddled in a hollow on the double track. I have to slow to a crawl and the cold wind makes me pleased that they soon part and let me pass.

As I descend back down to the road, the backlog of traffic shows that I have emerged just below the accident site. Ambulances, fire engines and police still there, but there is no obvious wreckage. I cruise down on the asphalt until the turn off for Glossop and head over the reservoir. `As my speed increases, I’m aware that the tyres make a buzzing sound like a turbo prop plane building up speed. Across the dam and I’m back on the trail. The moorland bridleway was a much better descent, but the snow and standing water in puddles and two stream crossings mean water has tricked into my winter boots and overcome the ability of my wool socks to keep my feet warm. I used to carry an extra pair and Goretex socks when I was using the train to get places. That was you can get warm dry feet, even if they have to go back in the same soaking shoes. It’s a trick I picked up from a Captain on the Royal Artillery range down in Wiltshire years ago.

Cold feet aren’t too much of an issue right now. I’m hammering back on the trail with a downhill grade and a tail wind. My soaked feet are at the back of my mind as I pop manuals over puddles, trying to cut the spray. It feels like I’m flying home, compared to the grind I was enduring an hour ago heading up. Before I know it I’m back to the car. Changing into a full set of dry clothes is a big bonus and warms me up instantly. As I put the bike in the car the ice on the frame and components is a reminder that it really was cold up there today.

Author: Cris Bloomfield

Usually mountain biking in the North.

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