First and foremost I’m going to start this post by saying thank you to those who responded so positively to the last one. I won’t deny that it took some courage to write it and let the content loose upon the internet. For reasons outlined therein I’ll do my best to be more honest from now on, staying away from making up excuses in order to cover the real reason why training might not be going especially well. Anyway, on with the post.

Only in the UK could we be greeted with the news that having had a relatively mild winter the first day of Spring was likely to result in heavy snowfall. Honestly I was cynical, the weather forecast in this country does have a tendency to exaggerate somewhat. Sure enough, when I looked out of the window on the morning of March the first there was a dusting of white that appeared to be melting already. Nothing to worry about then. What I wasn’t expecting was the subsequent rapid temperature drop and five hour long blizzard. For once the weather warning was justified.

Exeter Quay at sundown

Snow is a very rare phenomenon in this part of the country, if memory serves it’s been at least five years since we last had anything substantial. It’s rightly perplexing to people from certain other parts of the world, how the snow and ice brings everything to a halt – public transport stops running, workplaces close and we’re left to sit at home and wait for it to melt. A sensible person would have done just that. However, I’m proud to say that I don’t fit into that category very often. To me the snow meant quiet roads, good photo opportunities and the chance to have an adventure. I therefore followed my base instinct and got my bike ready.

Wrapping up warm was essential. A lesson I learnt the hard way following the last time I rode in sub-zero temperatures. On went four base layers, two pairs of gloves, wooly socks, overshoes, my trusty castelli gabba jersey and the warmest pair of bibtights I could find. No way would I head out in those conditions on a road bike, that’s a surefire recipe for coming home in an ambulance or worse. Therefore the task fell to my trusty Mountain Bike, a machine that I think could be pressed into service as a tank with only minor modifications. Going against my roadie instincts I inflated the tyres to mere 25 psi, the lowest I though I could get away with.

My ride didn’t get off to the best start. A layer of ice had formed on top of the snow that had fallen the day before, making it next to impossible to ride along the road on which my student house is situated. I was forced to admit defeat and walk. Getting out of the city proved relatively straightforward after that aside from one particularly icy lane, one that I’ll admit I resorted to going down with my feet out of the pedals – it took all my concentration to stop the bike sliding out from underneath me.

Once I left Exeter behind the going got tough, in typical Devon Style there wasn’t a flat road to be found. Getting enough traction on the climbs was a real challenge, the only option being to follow the tracks left behind by cars and use my very lowest gear (a 36×40 for the geeks amongst you). Once again on a few of the steeper sections there was no option but to walk – pushing a 15kg MTB up a steep gradient is a workout in itself. The descents weren’t much better, I soon lost count of the number of times I almost lost control – even the knobbly tyres at low pressure couldn’t always maintain grip on the icy surface. The lesson I learnt was that on a Mountain Bike a slide isn’t the end of the world, ninety percent of the time you’ll be-able to recover without crashing.

The further away I got from the city the harder it got, soon the roads were almost unrecognisable. That said this was not without it’s advantages, there was something very liberating about being able to ride in the middle (where grip was usually the best) rather than having to stick to the edge for fear of being hit by a car. It soon began to feel very remote, with only occasional dog walkers & families going sledding for company.

My planned destination was Haldon Forest, our local trail centre. Not for a second did I think the trails themselves would be rideable but the forest itself was sure to be a stunning sight. It did not disappoint, being at the top of long hill it was clear that very few others had attempted to reach it. It was an eerie sight, nothing but snow covered trees as far as the eye could see. No doubt it was beautiful but I can’t deny it came with an element of foreboding. It felt like a true adventure into the unknown, with my phone having died in the cold I had only myself to rely on. Yes it was scary but at the same time remarkably exhilarating.

After revelling in the scenery for a few minutes and taking on food in the process I decided to quit while I was ahead & turn for home. The journey back was more straightforward, I simply had to follow my own tracks. Having had a crash course in snow riding on the outward bound journey I was now able to enjoy it more, no longer panicking every time I lost grip or came across an unexpectedly deep drift. Suffice to say I made it home in one piece.

I was hesitant when buying that bike. At first it seemed like a heavy and cumbersome machine, a world away from the carbon fibre road bikes I’m used to. Now though I wouldn’t be without it, for the very first time Winter Riding has actually been enjoyable. The freedom that comes with being able to ride off the beaten track and push my technical skills to their very limits is something that was missing from my riding before, I just didn’t know it.

Thanks for reading.

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