The Route: Altura & Quecha | Distance: 19km | Time: 2.5 hours
Start: Whinlatter Forest Lodge | Map: OL4 | Date: 26/06/2010
IS THIS TRAIL FOR YOU..? The sign begged the question, and I was only too eager to give an answer!
I rolled up at the Whinlatter Mountain Bike Lodge so early that it was not even open I was that eager. I steamed up the window of the door as I pressed my eager face against the cold pane. I was also the first to hire a ‘Cube Acid’ MTB with hydraulic disc brakes and a multitude of gears. I was so eager it was embarrassing!
“Have you ridden before Sir?” – the kind lad behind the counter asked,
“yes, yes I’ve ridden Thetford Forest, even Kielder Forest and that’s up north you know with real mountains and everything” – I replied
“maybe you should try the ‘Quecha Trail first sir” – the kind lad behind the counter advised,
“OK” – I replied, and then set off determined to have a crack at the red graded ‘Altura Trail’ instead.
I put the bike through its pacers on the fairly tame ‘Quecha Trail’, a couple of frights aside and some nice scenery along the way and I had convinced myself I was ready for the bad boy red route. The sign at the start point read: IS THIS TRAIL FOR YOU..? Are you kidding, I thought, and steamed off bunny hopping over roots and launching into berms. My nice shiny rented Cube bike seemed the real deal and I was enjoying the feel of it under my body. So I sped up some more!
The climb was steep but magnificent. I revelled in the scenery, (compared to the flats of Essex this was MTB nirvana!) As I already mentioned I had ridden Kielder Forest red trail ‘The Lonesome Pine’ with its steep descents and boardwalk sections high up on the desolate moors of Northumbria. I had been blooded on northern trails before and in extreme wet and treacherous conditions to boot. OK I had come off at Kielder and spanked my pelvis so badly that I had bruising for a month, but that was when I was knackered and fatigued, at the end of the ride. I would be fine on this route.
The tight twisting and technical track climbed higher and higher. I was now way above the trees getting higher and higher as the track grew narrower and narrower.
I was living the dream biking in the great wilderness among the awesome mountain scenery of Cumbria. How many wet Sunday mornings pedalling around the same muddy small wood close to home in the south had I spent dreaming of just such an occasion?
Before long the trail began to flatten slightly and I neared what I knew must be the summit. Not only that, I had passed younger cyclists on the way up belying my advancing years into middle age. I was that 20 something buck again, full of vim and vigour. Ha! I had beaten those young wipper snappers to the summit, the old boy still had it in him.
At the summit I took my summit shot as proof of my achievement (see above). I mounted my bike ready for a fast and exhilarating descent. I dropped off the rocky summit. I hit my first tree trunk and bounced wildly in the air. I careered through the air onto the next protruding tree trunk. The front wheel having met thick wood instantly seized to a halt, my body however was still full of kinetic energy and continued to travel forwards. The bike upended in mid-air, I flew through the air like a rag doll unable to arrest my fall. Luckily for me, my fall had been broken by the only rocky outcrop around for metres, (oh what luck). Also luckily for me I had landed on my rib cage, additionally luckily the rib cage fractured as it took the brunt of the fall. The flex in the clever design of a rack of ribs acting like a taut spring as I bounced when I hit the rocks eventually ending up some metres downhill from the point of impact. And there I lay rolling in agony unable to stand.
My glorious day had come to a bitter and quick end. My body was reeling from the impact and the pain began to filter through after the first shockwaves. The bike had not fared better either, the brake cable hung limp, the saddle all battered sideways, the paintwork all scratched, and the brake lever broken in two.
Somehow I had to make it back down the mountain and back to the Lodge and quickly. But quickly was out of the question, I could not even get back on the bike. Even if I could the brakes were completely finished. The only option would be to walk it down the steep trail. I limped down for what felt like hours until eventually I could see the welcome sight of the wooded lodge. Welcome probably only until I handed back their busted bike to them. I timidly tethered the bike outside the main office and crept in to tell the young lad that I had returned the bike, while all the time keeping making sure that my bloody and dust-covered left hand side kept out of view of his field of vision. Now I had to blag it and in a big way!
Having successfully (and to my utter amazement) blagged the return of my bike I left as quickly as a 40 somethings battered body can, back to the car and back as quick as I could to the campsite. I could only change into 3 of the gears in the car as my body refused to move as requested by my functioning brain. I kangaroo’d the car back down to Keswick and back eventually to our tent.
And that was it, the end of my adventures for the week, the end of our trip, and the end of the summer season for me. In no condition to sleep another night under canvas we decamped as quickly as was humanly possible, with me only able to pass on instructions on how to get a 4 man tent down with only one set of hands, (Tracy’s hands). The poor long-suffering girlfriend also had to drive all the way back to London with me slumped and very uncommunicative in the passenger seat beside her for hundreds of miles like some refugee fleeing a catastrophe.
The season over for any more adventuring I cut a forlorn figure for weeks, and today am only just getting back to being able to do any sport what so ever. A disappointment – yes, a setback – yes, but next year I will probably be back and my focus will be to complete that red trail all the way to the bottom and guess what I just can’t wait. Wild sports, a bit of adventure, and travel are the most addictive drugs I know and once you start you just can’t stop, I’m hooked and don’t want to dry out. So to end these blogs about our northern lakes trip this year I give you a quote from the one and only Bear Grylls –
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Champagne in one hand – strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, “WOO HOO – What a Ride!”