Riding my bike has long been a way of keeping balance in a World that moves at a million miles an hour. Losing myself in the rhythm of the spinning wheels, finding places and moments of calm.
But somehow, slowly, I’ve lost my balance. My way to de-stress has become my work, guiding people day in day out, and the line between which rides are which has become blurred. Outside of work there’s no rest either. I’ve become addicted to personal adventures on an epic scale, the ones that challenge and push you to your limits physically and mentally. Aspiring to always do something bigger, harder, longer, faster, than the last adventure.
But the body has a way of letting you know when you need to slow down. When it’s time to re-address that balance. For me, and my good friend Rachael, that time is now.
So when the time came for our most recent trip together, we decided we didn’t need an epic, we needed a trip that reminded us that riding bikes can still just be a way to relax, and to keep the balance in our hectic lives.
What better way to fully immerse ourselves in the “Go slow” theme of our trip, than to use a form of transport hailing from a pre-digital era to access the trails? A 19th century heritage steam train! Quite a contrast to the modern technology of our carbon Juliana bicycles.
Stepping onto the old platform was literally like stepping back in time, like walking onto a film set from the Railway Children. It was a glimpse into a romantic bygone era when these grand elegant works of engineering art ruled the rails.
Our first stop saw us ride to Triscombe, where damp tree branches overhung to create a leafy tunnel above the lane we climbed up. From the top, trails seemed to shoot off in every direction, criss-crossing each other through the trees.
We crossed through fords and over old packhorse bridges, past thatched houses with tall chimneys, and beautiful manicured cottage gardens, before stopping in tea gardens for a proper English cream tea with freshly baked scones. Jam then cream, or cream then jam? What a luxury for that to be the most difficult decision of the day.
It was lovely to sit in the warm afternoon sun and not feel rushed or pressured to be doing more or getting immediately back on the bikes. I had forgotten how much pleasure can be found from slowing down, taking time to appreciate where you are and what you are doing.
In some of the forests we rode through, it was so dark that no birds sang, silent save for the rustle of branches high above as the wind blew through them. Like a fairytale forest, so still and enclosed, enchanted. Centuries old stone walls lined the sides of the tracks we climbed, covered with thick, lush green moss, new trees growing from the old walls. Dark, but with surprise open sections where eyes struggled to adjust quickly enough to the contrast in light.
It felt like we were miles from anywhere, hidden deep in these enchanted woods, whereas in reality civilisation was very close by.
In another forest we found dark lines of perfect sinuous singletrack descents, winding through carpets of vibrant green moss and grass. Steep sections, alternated with easier flowing sections, all on loamy ground that made a hollow, muffled sound as you rode over it.
Twisting trails wiggled amongst ferns, fallen trees, and fungi. It felt almost magical. A place enhanced by the rain, the dampness had made it come alive, made everything sparkle. When we stopped to find our breath after swooping gleefully down another fun trail, I became aware of the sound of the rain dripping through the canopy of tall trees onto the loamy soil below. It was soothing, just standing in silence, listening. It had been a while since I’d done this…stopped and let my senses take over, all other thoughts and anxieties fading away.
I was beginning to remember that some of the best riding days are often not the most epic, just the ones where you are out having fun with friends. That biking can still be a way to keep the Balance between work and play.
Fallen leaves of every colour blanketed the ground and beams of sunlight pierced through at points to bathe sections in rich golden light, highlighting more leaves, falling softly like snow from the tall branches above. Tyres crunched through dry leaves and wind-fallen twigs and branches. Again, sights and sounds, and intense focus on what bikes and bodies were doing filled our heads, leaving no room for outside thoughts. It was wonderfully refreshing.
It seems that every beautiful piece of English woodland has its own character, even those relatively close to each other. We found that we didn’t have to go far, or fast to have a great time on some wonderful trails in beautiful places.
The statistics of distance, height climbed and descended during our few days away are completely irrelevant. It wasn’t “epic”, nor was it hard or challenging in any way, but we had explored a new place, had a brilliant time, and weren’t going to return home with the need to spend weeks recovering. The steam train set the pace for the trip, reminding us that it doesn’t always have to be about how fast or how far your adventures are. Our balance had been restored!