Saturday, 24 June 2017

​ A day in the lanes with ATR

My recent renewed interest in off-roading had me thinking I should do some local dirt again to brush-up on my skills as I hadn't done much for quite a few years. Through the magic of Facebook I was invited to join the ATR guys and gals again as it just so happened that they had a camp and trail weekend coming up. Good timing and great opportunity!

I planned to head to the campsite on Friday night and camp ready for the ride on Saturday. I am about a two hour ride away and didn't want to hold up anyone or miss them entirely if I got there a bit late on the Saturday. I could only stay for one night too as I had other stuff to do at home on Sunday. Friday evening rolls around and I'm tired and just feel like being lazy but I know I'll enjoy myself once I'm out. I had prepared the bike and gear the night before so didn't take too long to get moving.

As I approach the campsite I spot bikes and a familiar face through the trees. I know they're off in a small "private" field but I don't know exactly how to get to them. Now I'm in the main field, circling, trying to spot the entrance. There's a seemingly roped-off area in the way. Then I spot one of the guys waving at me and acknowledge that I've seen him. I immediately see a young family waving for me to cross where they're holding down the rope fence, I cross and thank them. How thoughtful.

I park up and say hello, mostly new faces. I can be a bit of an antisocial misery at times but these guys make me feel welcome and considering they're all riding proper dirt bikes no one makes any comment or made me question what I'm doing there.

I pitch my tent, it's gone 20:00, I think most people are eating/prepping but I ate before I left. Before long everyone's sitting around the camp fire and the conversations give me a fascinating glimpse of who these people are. Daylight fades and heat of the fire is welcome. We all eventually retire around 23:45.

Morning. Think I'm the first up. I cook myself some breakfast as others start to emerge. Last night's stories of travels I can barely imagine leave me feeling like bit of an imposter, an outsider, I haven't done anything near to what some these guys have. I only became a biker in 2008. I have varied interests and too many hobbies. I have limited holiday and spare cash and family to think about. I'm used to these thoughts and they seem to disappear down the plug hole soon enough, along with the water as I soak my BMW "Cooldown vest" in the sink at the shower block. I got it used off eBay in anticipation of a trip into the Pyrenees. I don't want to cook on the bike. Haven't used it in anger before, only twice in the office :-P. Today will test it!

Ferdie, the main man for today's antics, tells me that I've "ridden most of them before" when I enquire as to what's planned. When I ask if I can expect any deep water or rock steps, he reminds me "it's Norfolk, nothing too serious here". He's so full of energy; "high on life". I like that. I could do with some too.

We're rolling and get waves from kids and parents as we leave. Nice to see. A series of minor back-roads delivers us to the first trail and from that point on I'm pretty much totally disoriented. I recognise the occasional junction or landmark but I'm just along for the ride.

I remember thinking that I was doing rather well and that I hadn't crashed yet. Then the ruts got weird, hidden in the grass. I don't mind riding ruts as long as they're not so deep that I'm catching my pegs on the sides, that's no fun. It's all about appropriate speed. Whoops at speed on a big bike are a different matter. It would be my main complaint about my GSA but given that I do 98% road (even the bad ones) I'd be silly to try to justify new suspension. The danger is it's easy to gain speed and the relatively smooth sections lull you into a false sense of security. Riding with trail bikes the speed creeps up until you hit another dip that snaps you back to reality. Even with the ESA jacked up to max and set to HARD and I was still whacking the skid plate. Newer models are probably better.
I hit a particularly badly spaced set of whoops hidden in the grass that threw me and the bike in the air and then crashing into the upslope of the next making me think I was about to break something. I was surprised I stayed on. Maybe I should back off a little.

I think that was before Roger came off on a fast section and landed quite heavily. We thought it was really serious at first. There's headcam footage online somewhere, but couldn't find it again to link it. But after a break he seemed to be riding fine, though sore, I'm sure.

A well-deserved calorie intake at sunny Hunstanton and it is actually sunny, blazing but with a nice breeze. Battered-sausage and chips with a bottle of coke goes down very nicely. The lady at the chippy re-wets my Cooldown vest for me, which seems to be doing its job.

Photo by Philip Harvey
Heading back to camp and I get cross-rutted but seem to be traveling along sideways quite happily, until traction changes enough to spit me into the verge of three foot high nettles. Luckily there's nothing in there to hinder my progress and I continue on and get back on the trail. I hear shouting and whoops from the guys behind. "Great save!" they said later. There was no skill involved, I replied.

I can feel I'm fatigued and consider bailing before I do some serious damage but I'm enjoying myself so I decide to stick with it.

Later I hit a deep rutted section that throws me into the verge. Ben helps me get the bike pointing the right way again. It's a big machine to man-handle back into line when it's across deep ruts. A busted DRL (cheap ones) and the right indicator has be pulled out slightly. No biggie, but must take it easy. Ben had come off in the same place previously, so it's not just me then.

Backing off wasn't an option on a slight climb up a length of track that had been "surfaced" with loose fist-sized rocks. I couldn't do it slowly and just had to let the bike move around underneath me. Scary as hell.

Photo by Philip Harvey
I'd almost forgotten how dusty riding off road can be (technically they are roads). I have half of Norfolk in my eyes. 8 hours and 142 miles of knackering, dusty, heart-pumping fun. Thanks to all!

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