Dried fruit, mixed nuts, M&M’s and a whole lot of determination.
This is what was required to get me and my good friend Matt through the hellish and seemingly never-ending climbs offered up by the route we picked from Manchester city centre out to our campsite at Monsal Head.
It was an early spring day, the sun was shining and we pedalled off without a care in the world. That wonderful realisation that I was only getting further away with every pedal stroke washed over me and I revelled in the knowledge I’d be under canvas that evening.
As is the way of things, we took a rather indirect route that promised the least traffic and the best scenery. And we took our time about it. We rolled along, chatting about everything and nothing. We stopped for coffee. We went the wrong way. We didn’t have a care in the world.
“HILLS ARE OUR FRIENDS!!!” cried an over-enthusiastic roadie (with a mountain cassette & rear mech, I might add) as he crested the climb we’d just ground up on our loaded Surly Trolls. We quietly returned our gazes to the view and had another handful of Matt’s Special Trailmix.
Soon we found ourselves crunching down the Monsal Trail, marvelling at the scenery and scaring the bejesus out of wildlife inhabiting the trailside hedges. “You’re not exactly sure where the campsite is…?” I asked Matt as we examined several questionable looking side trails.
Naturally, we turned down the wrong one and soon found ourselves faced with a decision: ford the obviously-deeper-and-faster-flowing-than-it-looked river or somehow portage the bikes & luggage over an extremely narrow concrete bridge. Forming the least efficient two-man chain in history, we took option B and passed bag after bag to each other before we took turns hoisting our heavy steeds over our heads in some kind of obscure strong man competition.
Safely on the other side of the river, I turned right up a slightly sketchy looking bit of single track which very quickly ramped up to at least a 10% off-camber incline through the bracken as the trailside drop to the river grew ever deeper.
Defeated by all that nature and gravity threw at us, we pushed the bikes the final few yards to the top of a much better manicured trail that would’ve brought us to exactly the same spot without the ridiculous river crossing. Dammit.
10 minutes later, we were parting with altogether too little cash for a pitch in a beautiful secluded campsite we had almost completely to ourselves.
In the local pub, we demolished an excellent plate of belly pork, mash & gravy and sampled a couple of pints of local ale. In the interests of science, you understand.
Wandering back to our campsite, our bellies full and the inevitable cold snap settling in, we spotted another pub. Well, it’d be rude not to…
Continuing my scientific experimentation, we sampled several more pints of local ale and (here’s the ‘genius’ part) shunned the siren call of the open fire, preferring instead to drink our beers outside. In early spring. In North Derbyshire. Atop a hill. “To acclimatise ourselves”, I said. Matt shivered, unconvinced, but stuck it out all the same as we put the world to rights like only 2 drunk men can.
Dressed in every scrap of clothing I’d carried with me (including wooly hat and gloves), I crawled into my sleeping bag and spent the night desperately (and unsuccessfully) willing my body to sleep. Dang, that was COLD.
We packed up and made our way into Buxton where we descended upon an unsuspecting cafe for a very leisurely second breakfast. Man, that was good.
The cruelly named ‘Long Hill’ out of Buxton mocked us and, by the time we reached the Pennine Bridleway, Matt was starting to regret that extra piece of fried bread.
In my defence, I did try to warn him, in between mouthfuls of extra black pudding.
Sufficiently warmed up again, our usual childish ways came to the fore as we tore up the trails, jumping the bikes over everything we could find on the way home.