It started with a wet wet forecast for the weekend in true Lake District November style. But despite the weather about 20 poor souls with nothing better to do gathered on a Friday evening in Kendal Youth Hostel for the formative meeting of IMBA UK.
IMBA, the International Mountain Bicycling Association, has grown into the leading off road advocacy organisation in the USA and is working extensively with Forest Enterprise in developing off-road cycling facilities on Forestry Commission Land. But the UK mountain bikers had no central voice to coordinate off-road trail building and maintenance and rights of way advocacy.
Tim Blumenthal, President of IMBA and two of his colleagues, Jay and Steve, flew in from the US (thank you Forest Enterprise for sponsoring them) for this inaugural meeting and were joined by several noted UK figures - Dafydd Davis, Phil Lee, Adrian Carter and Colin Palmer amongst them - and a bunch of interested hangers on such as myself
While the serious workers, Colin and the 'mericans, got down to the serious work, the serious bikers got down to serious riding. First stop Wheelbase in Staveley who laid on a guide for a ride on freshly watered trails. A steep tarmac climb coated with slippery leaves soon got the blood pumping and then off right along a nice bit of singletrack threading across the hilltop of Mickle Moss as the sun broke through. After a quick splash through the river it was time for a group photo and a decision - the short way or the long way back. The long way won and a few minutes later we were riding a wet and peaty but remarkably firm single track across the moorland hilltop. Apart from one boggy bit where the bike stalled, the feet failed to unclip and I enjoyed a soft sideways landing into a mudbath!
A few enjoyable moments of twisty singletrack bought us back to the road at Ulthwaite Bridge. Then left up the valley to Kentmere and a right along Lowfield Lane to join the bridleway climbing around Green Quarter. A double back at a ruined barn took us across a boggy plateau to Staveley Head Fell
Partway down the trail as last man I paused to let a couple of walkers through. He paused and then couldn't resist asking why we had to ride on the trails. I quickly decided a slanging match was not in the spirit of inaugurating IMBA-UK. So five minutes of diplomacy and noting that footpath erosion was perhaps a reason to ban walkers as well led, I like to think, to a better appreciation of our sport and we parted on amicable terms - just as the rest had started back to find out where I'd got to.
Left and down through a rocky rolling descent through the forest bought us back to Ulthwaite Bridge and a speedy downhill run on the roads back to Staveley where the Wheelbase bike wash returned the assembled bikes to pristine in a few minutes and the assembled bikers to wetter even quicker..
We got back in time to pick up our Youth Hostel lunch pack and join the workers for an afternoon meeting that ran late into the night on the aims, objectives and organisation of IMBA UK and the merits of single malt whiskies..
Colin was to be our esteemed leader, ably assisted by an interim Board of Directors. The initial objectives were agreed (just in time before the whisky set in) as
Meanwhile Chipps - middle of November and he is still wearing shorts - turned up to interview Tim for Singletrack and whisked him away to a private room.
Sunday dawned miserable - low misty cloud and the sort of drizzley mizzlesy rain that penetrates even the best waterproofs. Breakfast was a leisurely affair interspersed with quick panics about how to get Tim and co to Gatwick on time for their flight.
Lots of those present realised they had urgent appointments that had nothing to do with the weather and had to leave, leaving a hard core of the real bikers yet again (funny how it was mostly the same people)
Jenny needed a new granny ring and so the hard bikers set off back to Staveley at 10 o'clock. Chainring fixed, supplies stocked up on, route decided, we set off in convoy for Hawkshead for a route Adrian knew that he promised would be rocky rather than muddy. Not only was he true to his word but he laid on the weather as well!
Passing through Ambleside the sun started to break through and on the road down to Hawkshead we were treated to scintillating white forests as the light from the low sun was refracted through the water droplets hanging from the leaves and branches.
Hawkshead car park, bikes assembled and fettled amongst the crowds of tourists and then off up the road. Yet another damn tarmac climb before veering right onto the climb over Arnside. Smooth track gave way to regular rocky outcrops sticking out of the path and several false summits before I finally caught up with the pack, resting and taking in the view of the sun on Coniston Old Man. Then into the gravity gear for the downhill shooting out onto a plateau for a regroup before a ride down a river of slate - literally a river of broken slate down a gully that was running with water.
Down across the A593 and then a pause for puncture repairs and a bask in the sunshine. By this stage Jenny was getting seriously interested in Adrian's new model Pace forks - a perk of owning the company -and could feel a new purchase coming on.
The zip down to Little Langdale was followed by a tarmac climb back to the A593. Left or right? We took right and shot off down the A593 - thinking all the way "bad choice, we're going to have to regain this height". And sure enough we swung right onto the bridleway climbing up over Arnside. This was the muddiest part of the whole route but after a regroup at the top we rejoined the original bridleway and shot back down the rocky track and tarmac to Hawkshead. Tea and cakes followed before we all headed back to the car park, said our good-byes and headed off home.
A wet and windy weekend without a drop of rain on the rides and plenty of sunshine and the start of IMBA-UK. A weekend to remember - except the Virgin Train trip back home but that's another story