John goes to see the mountain bikers

It’s time to get sporty again with the adrenaline-fuelled mountain bikers as they cycled their equivalent of a double black ski slope at the weekend as part of the Aston Hills black run competition.  Just like ski runs, mountain bike trails are graded according to difficulty from broad flat paths to cross-country single tracks and extreme forest roads.  While most normal people try to avoid obstacles of roots and rocks when they’re taking a stroll through the woods, these mountain bike enthusiasts seek them out.  The sport requires endurance, good balance and core strength and is performed anywhere from a gravel road in the Lake District to a sand dune in the Arizona desert.  It seems the larger and more unavoidable the features, the greater the challenge!

It is for this reason that I decided to stay at home and leave John to the high speed outdoor action.  No lethally positioned jutting out branches or sudden vertical drops for me!  Last time I accompanied John to a mountain bike shoot, I came home with dust between my toes and spikes of sticky pine leaves all over my belly.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the woods and the wonderful trees that provide homes for wildlife and give us clean air and water, but last time I had a tick scare and thought I caught Dutch Elm disease!  After much persuasion from John, I finally accepted that only elm trees can be stricken with this horrible sickness but I have since developed a phobia of fungus which I swear is a result of my experience.  Every now and then I get a flashback it sends shivers down my spine, so my lovely John helps by giving me a vigorous brush down, one of my favourite non-food treats.  Good times!

Shad storms the Aston Hill Mountain Bike Mash Up

I have no idea what a mash-up is but I can tell you that mountain biking is not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for a cat of my delicate disposition.  I got my first clue when the organisers rounded us up for a safety lecture before the event began and I got my second clue when we walked along one of the tracks that the bikers would be descending later and I counted 5 vertical drops along the way.  When John asked me the previous night if I’d like to head up to Buckinghamshire for a mountain biking event in the beautiful woodland of the Chiltern Hills I thought it was an opportunity not to be missed.  At no point during this conversation did he say that great valour would be required.  I think it was the speed with which the riders came down the hill coupled with their proximity to the photographers that set my feline senses on edge.  But I’m a daring black cat with bravado (plus I’ve always got John to rescue me) and I’m plucky enough to rise to any challenge (as long I’ve got John to rescue me)!

Aston Hill Bike Park is a dedicated site for mountain biking located in Wendover Woods on the ridge of the Chiltern Hills, a designated area of outstanding natural beauty.  It features a number of cross-country and downhill runs for beginners through to advanced riders, the more difficult routes being named ‘black run’, ‘root canal’ and ‘ricochet’.  (This was my third clue)!  The tracks are regularly changed to keep things interesting for the riders and the trail designers work closely with the Forestry Commission to ensure that the nature of this beautiful wooded landscape is not compromised by this bizarre human fondness for a burst of adrenaline.

The photographers took their positions as someone blew a loud horn (my fourth clue) and I took a few steps backwards when the sound of tyres bouncing across loose gravel crackled through the forest.  As the noise got louder, riders emerged from the dense canopy of trees down the narrow sloping trails and my nerves were soon forgotten as the riders tore past looking euphoric, some waving madly, others gripping on to their handlebars for dear life.  Then the RAF team cruised past us with apparent ease, twisting their wheels in the air as they flew off the ramps and skidding around bends with their knees scraping the ground in what they call a ‘bar dragger’.  Now I know why one of the trails is called ‘surface to air’.  It was all very high-energy and far more exhilarating than I could have anticipated.  John and I wandered back down the hill to the finish area to talk to the riders as the dust settled and they got their breath back and some of them were as young as 8 years old.  Audacious little tykes looked tired but happy and I was overcome with an urge to nap.  While John carried me back to the car, I planned my marathon napping session for the journey home to the finest detail including position, timing and dream cycles.