Memories of a MTB Road Trip - Part Two - Pedal Progression


6 March 2021

Memories of a MTB Road Trip – Part Two

To read Part One of this story, click here.

…Day 5

Sheffield Steel is a term synonymous with the city’s hardy industrial exports but perhaps to us mountain bikers, more the true grit and determination of World Champ and local legend, Steve Peat. Peaty carved out his name and trails during his early career in Wharncliffe and Grenoside woods, situated on the outskirts of his hometown.

I’d heard about this spot from the Steel City downhill race that’s held here; a community event, that celebrates Peaty’s legacy and the huge biking scene in the area. Local kids, eager amateurs, seasoned pro’s and the man himself come together each year to race their bikes and have a good time.

After our plight of the midges the night before, we were woken early from our itchy nights sleep by a group of walkers and their dogs. They appeared to be meeting up for the first time since the lockdown so were all in particularly good spirits. They were either really impressed or totally bemused by my mini camper, which by this point was a total mess. “Did you really sleep in there?!” one lady queried with a raised brow and a smile. The air was cool and the midges had vacated, so we took an easy morning with cooked breakfast and coffee whilst lazing in our camping chairs. Having put in some climbs and miles the previous days, we decided to change things up with some downhill trail riding at ‘Wharny’ and ‘Greno’. 

As were the general conditions up North, the ground was wet however it was set to be a hot one. We ventured into Wharncliffe in search of the natural steeps and rock slabs it’s known for but still feeling ultra zen from a few hours rest. Consulting the Trailforks app, we oriented ourselves and located a long ridge with dozens of black trails zigzagging down. The trails were short on the map due to their sheer gradient, covered in sloppy dark muck, blown out ruts and exposed roots that were hellbent on sniping our tyres. Being stiff from the days prior, it was hard work climbing the long fire road over and over for what were intense but brief runs.

There was a handful of red graded trails too, with swooping berms and jumps that blended with the gritstone bedrock. One trail featured a high step-up that landed you onto an enormous steep slab, with sheer 15ft drops either side and no room for error. In a dense forest populated by towering pines and steep rocky terrain, it felt like we were on a mountain in British Columbia, not a woodland just 20 minutes from Sheffield city centre. It was a little too early in the day for risking life and limb so we moved on to some more kinder jumps and flowing trails, that were much more sympathetic to our mellow moods that day.

After a sandwich and a warm can of dutch courage in the carpark that helped to loosen my stiff limbs, I donned my goggles for the first time and pedalled into Grenoside woods to find Peaty’s race track. The trail had a gentle start with smooth berms and sweet doubles that we hit confidently. We rode the full track, scoping out the rest of the trail before returning to session each section methodically. It felt like a proper downhill track with a good mix of terrain from start to finish. Fast sections at the start the trail quickly changed to technical rock gardens in an instant, tight and rooty woods spat you out into wide and open jump lines. Like any race track there were multiple line choices which gave you plenty to think about in terms of riding with speed or style.

The heat was now radiating through the trees. I was sweating buckets but by this point the adrenaline was high as we obsessively repeated sections, completely hooked on the feeling. That is the feeling i’m always seeking when I ride, like a dragon i’m chasing: it’s a pure high and real thrill. It was hard to take a pause to head back for more water, only giving in when the dust and heat had turned my mouth into a desert. I guzzled down a bottle of warm water, barely quenching the thirst and poured another over my head.

On the return, my mind refocussed and I challenged myself to clear every jump on the track, including the larger doubles I scoped out earlier. We continued the session for another hour or two in the mid afternoon sun.

Jamie and Joe were running out of steam so took refuge beside a large drop on the trail and waited for me to wear myself out. I pushed myself for one more run at the end of the day. I must have cursed myself by saying those fateful three words… Taking some contemplative deep breaths and switching on the GoPro to capture the action, I pumped down the trail and sailed over the first few jumps, railing the bike into a sharp right hander. I was in the zone. Then, I opted for a line that I hadn’t taken previously, hitting a small kicker to clear a rough and rocky section. I wasn’t set up properly coming out of the berm and the kicker bucked me forwards as I went airborne. It tried its hardest to throw me over the bars but somehow I managed to hang on, landing nose heavy but leaning back enough to stay on the bike. I swerved out of control and into a fence.

I was buzzed to have avoided a big crash but my attention quickly turned to a shocking amount blood gushing down my arm! It was a vivid red, almost luminous. I was in shock for a moment or two as I’d realised it was barbed wire that had brought me to a stop. Who on earth puts a barbed wire fence just a few metres from a downhill race track?! It was completely insane! Without hesitation I grabbed the bike and carried on down the track, this time at a much faster pace than before. I was perhaps a little panicked but still determined to finish what I had started. In my peripheral I could see my arm becoming redder and redder as I rode. The blood saturating my arm was enough of a distraction to send every section and jump on auto-pilot, letting muscle memory get me safely to the bottom.

Adrenaline really is a miraculous thing. I was higher and more alive than i’d ever felt on the bike. Jamie and Joe were shocked by my bloody finish and considered our options on getting me to hospital if need be. Luckily it looked far worse than it actually was. To my relief it was my high heart rate that caused such a gush rather than piercing any serious arteries. Giving it a clean revealed maybe 15 scratches, some quite deep but nothing to worry about. Relieved, I considered this to be a massive win and a pretty badass end to an awesome day. Improvising a bandage out of my t-shirt I bound my arm. All covered in varying levels of dirt, sweat and blood, it was time we called it a day. We were cooked. Despite the mishap this was probably one of my most memorable days on the bike, and although I didn’t make a clean run, the GoPro footage still cracks me up. It’s gold entertainment but probably NSFW (not safe for work) with my dialogue of expletives that followed the crash. With the right search terms you might be able to find it on Youtube…

That night we headed back over to Stanage Edge where we met our mate Andy. He had driven up after work that day and was joining us for Saturday and Sunday, the last 2 days of the trip. We had a good catch up among some rocks on the ridge, sank some deeply soothing beers and relaxed into a golden sunset across the valley. It was a peaceful and perfect way to end another epic day.

Day 6

Another hot and crusty nights sleep in the van, I woke acutely aware of a suffocating stench that i’d been cultivating. My arm was looking a bit gammy and shower was in order. Obviously I didn’t account for such luxuries, so my best option was a dousing with a few bottles of water and a scrub with a flannel. I then attended to my arm with some wipes and bandages from a first aid kit.

Andy was our trusty guide for the day. He’d ridden this part of the world many times before, so was keen to take us on a ride that included some of his favourite descents. He had a 25 mile route planned with about 3000ft of climbing with four main downhills. We all had a few mechanicals to resolve over breakfast and sensibly prepared snacks and supplies for the ride.

The route circumnavigated the same reservoirs that i’d ridden on the first day, but luckily it was a completely different route. We were back on bridleways and the first climb out of Hope village was typically rocky and technical, something I was a lot more familiar with by now. As we picked our way up, magnificent views over the valley to Mam Tor opened, our vantage point across the whole of the Dark Peak expanded as we climbed to the first summit of 1,350 ft. After a few minutes pause at the top we went straight into the first descent, a wide bridleway of bedrock scattered with loose stones of varying sizes. As usual there were no nice lines and no soft landings as Andy very quickly discovered. I was riding behind him, Joe and Jamie were up front. Andy’s rear tyre had blown within the first 100 metres of the descent, throwing him sideways and onto the hard ground! I pulled on the brakes, skidding to a stop. He was shaken, his rear tyre flat and the wheel rim dented beyond repair, there was no hope for him continuing the ride despite efforts to get the rubber back on. With a broken bike and bloody leg, he insisted we carry on without him. 4 miles into the ride he had a long way to hobble back. At least there was a bike shop and a pub waiting for him at the end. What a hero.

I caught up with Jamie and Joe at the bottom where they had been waiting for quite some time, unsure what had happened. They weren’t exactly surprised it was Andy who had the dramas. Even though he’s an experienced and very skilled rider, he happens to be notoriously accident prone. Perhaps it’s just bad luck. I felt terrible for him. Without our guide to lead us we turned to technology to save us. Good old technology! I connected to Komoot on my phone and plotted a new route, ensuring it included some of the descents Andy had mentioned but sacrificed a few miles and a few hundred feed of altitude. No problem.

We pressed on, grinding out the climbs that skirted up and around various hillsides, then thundering back down again. A particular favourite part of the route was a highlighted section on Komoot named ‘BMX Track’, a mellow, undulating grassy descent with perfect rollers that you could pump or jump down the hillside like a natural pump track. It was so good we pushed back to the top to do it again, this time racing each other to the bottom. Jamie, in his usual style spotted transitions in the terrain that he boosted high and far. That boy spots gaps that most people wouldn’t even notice and commits 100%. A group of hikers watched and cheered as we raced passed. Jamie won the race by a clear margin which was no surprise, but we were all loving it; a natural gem and welcomed relief from the harsh and stoney terrain.

Down at the waterside of Derwent Reservoir we took a break and read a sign that outlined the history of the dam there. This was the location where the British Dam Busters trialled their famous bouncing bombs during the Second World War. Sucking on an orange segment, I visualised the planes swooping down through the valley and how terrifyingly awesome it would have been to witness. This was about the only bit of history or culture we experienced for the whole trip but that was enough, we weren’t tourists here, we were mountain bikers.

The last ascent was brutal. It had 3 stages to it, each tricking you into thinking you were about to summit. By the last we weren’t feeling so talkative. Heads down, pedals cranking, keeping the cadence over the rough climb. We drifted far apart from each other, going at our own pace. It was a steep straight line climb, up a narrow track lined either side with tall pines and once again smothered with mud and large rocks that we weaved around and scrambled over. It was a tough slog and one of the more technical climbs i’d done, all managing it without dabbing a foot (well, almost). As always the rewards were worth it, greeted by spectacular views and a cooling wind. Still not feeling very chatty, we sat there quietly and enjoyed some mindful moments overlooking another grand vista.

Coasting down the last descent at an easy pace, our spirits lifted once more knowing it was the final stretch and downhill all the way to Hope. Andy was in a drizzly pub garden, nursing a sore body and a half drunk pint. Still clad in our filthy riding gear, we joined him and sank one with a few bowls of hot chilli nachos from the pub kitchen.

Huddled around the small table, Andy recoiled in disgust as he got a nose-full of our combined stink: 3 boys and 6 days worth of B.O and general filth. It was probably for the best that we had to sit out in the rain (due to Covid restrictions), rather than inflicting our ungodly stench upon the patrons inside the pub. We decided we needed to find a swim spot, immediately. As usual, I was prepared for such an instance and dug out my Wild Swimming guide book, a road trip essential that I keep in the van for spontaneous river dips. I located a spot a few miles up the road on a quiet stretch of river. Bikes stowed, we hiked following the book’s directions down a valley and under an impressive viaduct, where we found the described place above a cascading waterfall. The whole place was ours, and once we adjusted to the freezing water we swam and relaxed here for quite some time. Time however, was not on our minds.

Day 7

It was the last day of a long week. In fairness, we were all absolutely fried by this point, sore and aching… apart from Andy of course who’d barely ridden at all. Having had his bike fixed the day before in the village, we felt we owed it to him to have one last trek, and I’m glad we did. He suggested we check out The Shattered Road near Castleton and mapped a short route for our weary legs. It was a road that cut across the South face of Mam Tor that was highly prone to landslides that was abandoned in the 70‘s in a state of disrepair. What remains is literally a shattered road. It looked like the aftermath of a violent earthquake that created an apocalyptic scene, strewn rock down the hillside was evidence of the multiple landslides that occurred here, huge cracks and precipices swallowed sections of the road.

Riding up was confusing. I was riding on a road up a hill, however this was no ordinary road climb and it definitely wasn’t roadie terrain. With large sections broken and washed away, you’d to drop from hard tarmac onto loose rubble, scrambling not to lose cadence, then before long hopping back on to the smooth asphalt once again. It was like this for several hundred metres up the hill, always with a vast views to our left.

With temperatures in the late twenties and skies blue, it was an absolute scorcher. Jamie and I resorted to riding shirtless for most of the way. Being the bike nerds that they are, Andy and Jamie played a game of ‘What tyre is it?’, identifying tyres by the tread impressions printed into the dry mud. Maxxis Minions were common as muck. I was impressed, or perhaps I was perplexed by how much they seemed to know about tyre treads! Nevertheless, it was utterly pointless knowledge in my opinion. 

Our route looped around Mam Tor for 12 miles, choosing to do it this way so we could finish the ride into Cavedale with a massive descent that began at the highest point of the ride, 1,675 feet all the way to the bottom. It was another classic Dark Peak bridleway descent, infested top to bottom in loose rocks and boulders. By this time I was feeling at ease on this harsh terrain but was surprised at the gradient, which looked to be much steeper than any of the similar descents we’d done yet. We also had the extra feat of negotiating the queue of walkers coming up the other way. People gave us space and watched in amazement as we cautiously rattled past.

There wasn’t any part of the descent I could let loose and go fast, there were way too many people but it did provide a new challenge to modulate the brakes and adjust my position in order to control the speed and stay balanced. With an unexpected audience, it was a different sort of rush as I made every effort to ride well while trying not to dab a foot or hesitate. All making it safely down, we collapsed on a grassy green in Castleton and devoured our first and last ice creams of the trip…

Bike slung in the van and high-fives all round, we parted ways beeping horns at each other  as we left the carpark, celebrating a wicked week. It was great to end on a high. On the 3 hour drive home, my mind drifted back to the many moments and highlights. I was exhausted and sore, in serious need of a decent meal, soapy shower and a real bed but I couldn’t have been happier. It was as good as any other holiday i’ve had and it costed no more than the meagre price of fuel and food! Super cheap, totally care-free and hugely memorable. It delivered everything i’d hoped for: A sense of freedom and adventure, prime weather and conditions and quality mountain biking in stunning scenery. Most importantly of all was the good times with pals, which were sparse and rare in the year of ‘doom and gloom’. Acting spontaneously and seizing the small window of opportunity that we had was our only way to evade the trappings and angst of the pandemic, and doing so offered us an escape we all needed more than ever. I think we all deserve the chance to rinse our minds in a fresh mountain stream, which is exactly what this trip did for me. I was so grateful for it.

The end of the road..

Thank you for sticking with me on my road trip write up. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. It’s been an amusing escape into these memories whilst stuck in my house during these drizzly winter days. However, the trails are drying up, evenings getting longer and the year ahead is looking a whole lot brighter… so ride forth on the trail of hope and optimism and start dreaming up your own mountain bike adventure. Anything is possible for 2021 and I hope it’s filled with realised dreams, achieved goals, happy memories and plenty of mountain biking for you all. Peace out.


Written by:

Phil Simpson