Fun with stone covered hillsides

[Photos are on flickr]

This month’s TRF run was to be lead by Nic and therefore was looking like Alston. Someone mentioned Walna Scar in the Lake District being open to traffic and quite a challenge and a plan formed to head over to that side of the country for a change. I love the Lake District and have many memories of the place but I’d never tried green lanes over there so was keen to go.

On Thursday and Friday evenings I’d repaired the previous run’s damage to the numberplate and rear light, changed the rear tyre, fitted new chain and sprockets and lubed and fuelled it ready. I got up at 5:30am leaving for Hexham just after 6. It was dry when I set off but was raining after a couple of miles. I filled up with fuel in Hexham and then loaded the bike into Nic’s van to go the rest of the way over to the lake district.

We arrived at the meetup point near Tebay and the M6 ahead of schedule so had time for a coffee whilst everyone else arrived for 9am. Either of us set off into the lake district, initially on some trails that didn’t seem so bad. On the small loose stones, the new C02 rear really lived up to its design as a stone tyre and gave immense grip.

Things got more interesting when we came to the first major ascent of the day. The terrain was mostly bits of broken up slate rock but with significantly larger lumps around than I’ve ridden before.

I managed the first bit fine whilst others were struggling, but after a while my energy levels flagged, I lost the momentum and I ended up stopped. Getting going proved tricky and I tried to climb up the grassy bankside that some people were using to cheat the tricky rocky bit and failed. I ended up with the bike on its side resting on the top of my boot which was different. I got the bike upright and took a bit of a breather at this point.

Recovered, I tackled the next section and was doing really well, got to within 3m of a gate being cheered on by the others waiting there when the front wheel hit a rock and went off the wrong way meaning the bike ended up orthogonal to the trail and stopped. I had nowhere to put a foot down so ended up falling off the bike heading downhill, landing heavily on my hand. With a little assistance we got the bike pointing the right way and I got past the gate.

At this point we took a break and I took the first photos. We also talked about letting pressure out the C02s that most people had as they’re a hard tyre and we needed them to flex. Lower pressures meant increased risk of punctures though. Having been there for a short while my hand was visibly swelling which was a little worrying.

The rest of the hillside wasn’t so bad and we descended the other side and crossed the ford at the bottom. One bike stalled halfway through and wouldn’t restart but we managed not to drown any bikes. Further less challenging and very scenic lanes followed along with another ford, notorious for its slippy stones but again, everyone made it across.

I was last man and was sitting after a gate waiting for the person alongside just behind to pull away. I heard him do so, then saw his front wheel go airborne alongside me and then his bike stopped dead, he didn’t and he went flying as he highsided in front of me. The cause was immediately apparent as somehow he’d managed to get his footpeg caught in a reel of fencing wire which had firmly attached his bike to a nearby fence. Thankfully both he and the bike were fine.

We made our way into Bowness-on-Windemere and took the ferry across the lake which is the first time I’ve ever used the ferry by bike. Over on the other side we took some trails around Grizedale. On the first section of one of these I rounded a corner to discover a bike on its side and its owner in a ditch :(. The owner was sheet white and severely winded. After considering the options we left him in the ditch where he was and set about picking the bike up and checking it over which was fine. Eventually he recovered enough to be helped out and had turned a slightly better colour. He was certainly suffering bruising with the possibility of fractured rib(s).

He’d come off as he’d rounded a corner at speed, ran against the side of the trail and found a hidden rock which had caught his footpeg and launched him into the scenery. He was not up to riding any more trails but didn’t look seriously unwell or unable to ride roads so we got him and the bike back to a main road and sent him to Ambleside where we’d meet up with him later.

The next uphill section of forest had to be one of the most fun pieces of trail I’ve ever ridden. It was a mixture of mud and loose stone surface with sudden very steep short rocky steps which looked like they’d stop the bike but it would just ride up and over them if you gave a suitable commitment and carefully tweaked the line. You quickly learnt that changing lines was very risky and that even if the obstacle looked impossible, pointing the bike at it and carrying momentum worked best. It was amazing what the bike would actually ride over without complaint. I didn’t come off anywhere, I kept reasonable speed up, dealt with each obstacle as it appeared and never felt I was exceeding my abilities. Great fun :).

Throughout the day so far, one of the more experienced and talented rider kept telling us this was all easy and the Walna Scar was going to be the challenge. Giving the difficult we’d had on the first hill, this was making some of us a little apprehensive but we were up for trying.

We arrived into Coniston and out up the hillside at the back which marks the start of the trail. As an incentive, the lunch stop was planned on the other side of Walna so if we wanted to eat, we had a hillside to climb over first!

The hillside was indeed a worse version of what we’d already struggled on earlier in the day. We’d form as a group at the bottom of various sections, then take it in turns to get X distance up before falling off, stalling or becoming otherwise stuck.

My first incident was triggered by someone in front falling off on the line I was planning to take, I avoided them but 5m further up ran the front wheel into the bank side and ended up with the bike up on its end up a bankside. No harm done and looked good from below apparently.

We came to a scar which we had to thread the bikes through which proved a little tricky but not so bad. At this point I took more photos. Out the back of here, it looked like there would be a tricky section but it turned out to be fine, even the last rocky steep climb was just a case of keeping the throttle open and powering up it.

This then lead to a particularly long steep climb which even our talented rider got stuck on. At this point I gave in and let some air out the rear tyre as I could use any extra grip at this point. I awaited my turn and set off making it about half way and to the point our talented rider was standing pointing out the best line before going offline and having to stop as the alternative would have seen me off down the hillside.

Getting the bike back on track was fine. Getting going again proved harder, even with two of us. It was whilst doing this that the bike suddenly hit the power band and also gripped, launching the bike totally into the air. The two of us simply ran to get out the way and the resulting crash of the bike hitting the ground was heard by the onlookers below and echoed around the hillside. I was fine and an inspection of the bike showed a totally destroyed brake light and bent number plate but no other damage which was something of a surprise. We got it going again and around that section in a slightly different way and I made it up the rest of the section despite stalling once further up.

We were still being told the worst was yet to come so it was a surprise when the ground levelled out and we started downhill. Initially this was a gravel track which turned into slate stones again and the final 50m was tarmac as apparently that section had washed away recently. We were now back on roads and lunch was a short distance away and welcomed by everyone. Cumberland sausage seemed appropriate to me.

After lunch, it was back over walna scar the other way. Someone tried my trick of falling off sideways on the initial slate climb in front of me and I helped out. On the gravel section the CRM started showing temperature warnings. I stopped and it had a literal hissy fit throwing out coolant and clouds of stream. After a short break I rode it to the top where the main suggestion was to rev it more and keep the coolant circulating.

Going down the other side was easier than going up but involved going slowly as if you built up any speed you’d just slide and not stop. I was second last and kept an eye on the last man as I didn’t want to have to go back up. We all made it to the bottom, back into Coniston for fuel and to reinflate the tyres as some people had let a lot more air out than I had.

Some further minor trails followed but it was getting late and people were getting tired so we were heading back towards the vans. On a fun wooded trail I rounded a corner to see people standing around. I’ve captured the view I had in the photos. It was only as I was stopping that I saw the bike nearly completely buried in the bracken at the side of the trail.

Thankfully whilst his new plastics and stickers were scratched, the bike and rider were both otherwise fine. With the large tree in front and the dry stone wall further to one side, it could have been a lot worse. After taking suitable photos much to the riders irritation, we did get the bike out the ditch.

I was told at this point by someone who’d turned around and come back that there was a lovely little jump ahead with a safe landing. We set off and based on this, I did carry a little more speed over it than I otherwise would have done but I was thankful I’d not tried to use it as a jump when I saw the landing as it was all jaggered slate. Even with the small amount of speed I had, I was airborne and the bike shot sideways when landing, concerning the people behind as well as me but thankfully it was controllable. I rode the next bit of trail in spirited fashion as once again as earlier in the day, it was a flowing section which somehow just came together for me. The temperature warning light on the bike was intermittently coming on and off at this point.

The group now had to make a decision on what to do about getting back. The trail route back was back over the hillside that caused so many problems at the start of the day. Given the time and our state, we decided to head back the road way which involved 18 miles of the M6. By the time we reached the vans, my right hand was numb with the vibration from motorway speed. We found the rider who we were going to meet in Ambleside had got bored and come back to the vans, then decided to ride back home.

The bikes were loaded and we headed back to Hexham. There, we unloaded and I set off for home with darkness arriving rapidly. Careful readers may note a problem here which was certainly a source of concern for me.

With a further fuel stop I made it home and I had overheating warnings most of the way. I also wondered if I could hear bad noises from the engine but this could have been my imagination. I arrived back at 10:30pm.

It was a great day, I really enjoyed it.

The bike now needs investigation to find out why its overheating and repairs for the damage done. I’m a little bruised but will survive :).