We get so brainwashed with clever tech, we barely have to think anymore. Follow the map, click here, do this and that. Oh was that natural terrain I was on or was that a computer as well?
To see whether I could still function without it, I set off to complete a loop which I had never done before. In the dark.
Whizzing down the opening lane, frost crackling under-wheel and thick pockets of mist hanging in the valleys, I became aware of my first error; I had no additional layers with me. If I were to stack it, get a flat, whatever, I was going to get cold very quick. This was stupid. Remembering to pack right kit is essential for this sort of ride (see end).
The first incline was steep, gradually easing, and eventually the road became mud. A long slog of a climb later ensured I was heated through as the summit was reached. A quick lights-out to revere the awesome dome of stars overhead, then onto the eagerly anticipated singletrack that would begin the descent.
That was when my second error was highlighted. Having not scouted this section for over a year, I had not calculated the growth of the surrounding gauze bushes in that time. Make sure the trail sections you are planning to ride still exist before riding it in the dark! After some daft perseverance, I decide to exit this section early, legs polka dotted from the thorns.
My escape route is a ridiculously steep chute between trails, the glow of the towns on the horizon sitting at 60ish degrees as I plunge into the valley. Valuable height lost, but a necessary escape from human error.
The trail I pick up now is new to me. This is where the guesswork starts. As long as I keep the ridge line to my left, I should be ok. I think. This section is fast. Pockets of unfrozen mud attempt to snag the wheels as the throttle is opened up fully, dodging and pumping over the dark terrain.
But soon; a junction. The treeline I have been skirting is now beginning to envelop, and the trail that heads in the most logical direction hits a dead end. For the fist time I am wondering if this is going to end well. The silence and darkness of the woodland presses down but the desire to not be beaten keeps me fired.
Back to the junction, and not far down option ‘B’, another junction. This time neither route seems to go the right way. I opt for the left option, partly because it feels safer - this direction would at least complete the loop in a weird ‘P’ shape. But the bike light only reveals so much here. The trail continues to bend in the wrong direction - it’s too far to start tracking back to the summit now!
So it’s all or nothing, with my stomach in my mouth I make a U-turn and gun it back down the hill. If this doesn’t work I realise I am in a spot of bother and running out of options to complete the loop. Eventually though, I pass a vaguely familiar gate, and shortly after, the road! The sense of relief is somewhat overwhelming.
It was slightly humbling, realising that what felt the wrong way was actually the right one, and helped me realise how this sort of approach to a ride could be very dangerous in regions more remote than the south east. A good lesson learned then. Riding mapless at dusk is definitely an exhilarating experience though, just remember to pack the right kit for the job:
Puncture repair/spare tubes/tools