This week I kicked off what some might call my 2017 campaign. With a heavy frost and bright sunshine it seemed like a good day to get wrapped up and go riding. I even banked on the thick clay on some of the fields on the ride to the East of Hertfordshire being frozen solid and ridable.
This was a major mistake.
The first few sections were beautifully frozen. Iced-over puddles thrillingly held my weight and creaked under the wheels. Mud was formed into hard-edged grippy ridges, like riding rocks in the middle of summer. I was smiling and cruising along battered by the ruts but skipping over the land.
This continued for a while and I elected to risk a section that should really only be reserved for the dry of the summer or a hard frost. There are a number of field crossings, skirting along the edge of ploughed up earth, sometimes cut up by horses and always based on clay. It started well and shady patches were frozen hard but more and more out in the winter sun the ground was thawing. All too soon the bike was clogging up. Huge lumps of clay jammed themselves into the crown of the fork and in between the seat- and chain-stays until the wheels stopped going round at all.
Climbing off and scooping huge handfuls of mud off the bike allowed maybe a half wheel turn before it all jammed up again and in the end I was reduced to pushing and dragging the bike along, now both about three times its usual weight and with tyres dragging through the mud rather than rolling over it. I was trying to find the small patches on the shady side of small ruts that stayed frozen and seeking out the icy puddles that either helped me drag the bike forward or broke through and added some water to release the clogging. This was not in the plan of a light skipping, sparkling ride.
There are two or three sections like this and they seemed to go on for ever before I found firmer land and was able to free the bike up and ride on, with my shoes widened by the clay and rubbing on the cranks. Sapped of energy through these sections I hung on to make it back, muddy and tired, to the car.
There are lessons to learn and they are either to go very early before the ground thaws at all, or to keep those paths for the summer and focus my winter riding on the firmer-based tracks all over the county. However, let’s not forget the fun of those moments riding through a sparkling frozen wonderland of the countryside with the low hazy winter sun meaning I could go back to sunglasses for a brief memory of the summer.