Winter. What a magical season in which to be immersed. I’m not talking about dashing from the bus to the front door on a Monday evening, struggling to hold the umbrella as you battle against the lashing rain in the dark. I’m talking about what it feels like to wake up on the weekend, and greet that cold, wet winters day with a sense of courage; wrapping up against the elements, clipping into your pedals, and pushing off into the countryside to truly immerse yourself in this, the toughest of seasons.
This December, a group of women and I set out to achieve just that. Inspired by the Rapha Braver Than The Elements movement, come rain, come wind, come fog- we were going riding that day. But this was not just any sort of riding, we were going on an off road cyclo-cross adventure, out of the city to find the urban green spaces. After a small amount of encouragement for some, and no encouragement at all for others, we had a group of adventurous souls who were ready to get immersed.
The art of possible is held in the hands of those with open minds. Adventures can be found in the strangest of places, even within the confines of a city in the middle of winter. Muddy tracks and dog-trodden trails, leaf lined paths and tree framed forest corridors all lie dormant, ready to be brought to life. And that we did. The joy of winter riding is that very often you are experiencing things that not many others have, or will, as they stay indoors on the turbo trainer. A treat for the senses and the best rewards are not experienced by many.
The winter rider experiences the true change of the season. As we rode on that day, we saw the skeleton like bare trees creep up towards grey skies and reveal to us the intricacies of their forest existence. We felt through our bikes the softness of the carpet of leaves that we rolled over, and were challenged by the constant questioning of the right line to take through the next muddy puddle or ditch. Even though the air was cold and damp, the body was kept warm as the legs dealt with the ever changing terrain. Stopping once or twice in the forest clearing enabled the brave to catch their breath against the winter air and take in their magical surroundings. The leg work didn’t seem like too much trouble at all now.
As the terrain changed so did the senses. The forest tracks ended and we joined a hedge lined chalky path, which snaked its way across the top of a ridge line. The patchy winter hedgerows gave us a rare treat not often seen in the summer months of revealing the jigsaw puzzle of green fields beyond, and the grey skies opened up to show us the already fading light. The wheels started turning more quickly as the sticky mud was released from by the hard packed track underneath. Jackets were zipped up against the rush of cold air as we took a fast descent off the ridgeline, but they were soon unzipped again to welcome the cold air as tyres were naturally slowed upon reaching the next section of muddy track.
As the adventure continued back through forests and parks, over commons and through fields, the challenging and ever changing terrain was approached by the group in a whole new confident way. Gone were the fears of slipping over as the wheels don’t quite go in the direction you had planned, gone was the perceived lack of power in the legs that surprised some when we had first set out. Here were the brave who within a small space of time were now riding off road in December as if they had been doing it for years.
Determination pays dividends. Rolling over the lumps and bumps, from mud to chalk, chalk to gravel, then eventually back to the slick city streets brought with it a whole new experience of winter riding, a proper adventure, some might say. No one really cared all that much that their feet were a bit soggy, their backs showcasing a muddy canvas, and their faces sporting this seasons latest natural beauty treatment. Together we had visited new places, conquered fears and seen the true beauty of the English countryside in December. The elements were welcomed, and we were rewarded.
Photography by James Corlett. Not to be reproduced without permission.