Everyone is crazy except me

 On Friday evening, the general consensus was that with a feel-like temperature of minus six, and a bitter East wind, it would be no weather for mountain biking on Saturday.  No one wanted to come. Madness! It turned out to be beautiful conditions for cycling.  Ok, it was cold, but that was nothing that a few layers of clothing and a flask of warm coffee could not fix. It was sunny with a clear blue sky and once in the woods, the wind was gone. The seasonally low sun shone through the autumn leaves, and it was glorious. 



MTB Route Den Treek-Henschoten

Den Treek-Henschoten is a mountain bike route on a private estate which is only half an hour's drive away from Wageningen. Although of course that half hour is not counting the unpredictable amount of time faffing around trying to attach three bikes to the back of a car. With three hardtails, it wouldn't have been so bad, but the rear suspension was in the way of the attaching struts almost no matter how we arranged the bikes, so we had to be quite creative to get them all attached in something approaching a secure way. But in the end we succeeded and arrived at the start. Within a few meters of the car park, we were on the trail and with no chance for a warm-up, we were on a winding, twisting route. Although the route as a whole is virtually flat, with no big hills, especially in the southern (red) route there is hardly any section which is actually, flat, you are climbing and descending the whole time, but each climb is only a few height-meters. Nevertheless, that means that there is hardly a moment of rest for kilometres at a time, especially as the turns and mini-climbs are all together. The northern (blue) route is 25 km and the southern (red) is 16 km long. There is a slight overlap, but that is a particularly nice bit, so that is no problem.

We were lucky to be there in autumn, as the colours were quite spectacular. There were also loads of mushrooms everywhere. Lots of fly agarics (the red with white spots toadstools that gnomes sit on, Amantia muscaria) and huge amounts of birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum). It took quite some discipline to keep my eyes (and therefore wheels) on the trail and not to peer at them as I went past. I was also happy that there had been some rain in the week before, as some parts of the trail had quite loose sand, and at one point I almost spun out of control. If it was a bit drier, it would have all been much more difficult and the flow would have been lost. The trail is nearly all woodland, with a few bits of open heathland for variety. There is one stretch on tarmac, but that is a very small proportion of the total. There are lots of walkers around, and we came across a few on the MTB route (not everyone knows that the international MTB sign looks like), so you have to keep alert for that.

The trail is on private land, and it is necessary to buy a permit to ride it. You can do that online. If you go there often, that will be quite expensive, but the day ticket is a reasonable price. Note that if you buy that one, you need to buy it on the day you ride. In general, the Utrechtse Heuvelrug can be very busy at weekends, so having to pay for the permit might mean that these trails are less busy than the nearby Zeist route. A definite plus point is that it begins and ends at a pancake restaurant, which has good food and welcomes mountain bikers.



Web of life

After a long hot summer, all of a sudden (or so it seems to me), the autumn has arrived. The trees are turning spectacular colours, their scary slippery leaves are covering the mountain bike paths, and there is picturesque mist in the morning. Not that it is cool; it is in fact bizarrely warm, perhaps even as much as 20 degrees today. The misty start meant that, in places, the spider webs were quite spectacular. There wasn't just the one shown below, but dozens, perhaps even hundreds, all catching the sunlight filtering through the trees at a low angle.

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It was not only the glorious autumn weather that made yesterday's ride special. After two and a half years of doing my best to avoid covid, last month I finally succumbed, which meant being confined to my house for three weeks and for the last week barely going outside. But I finally felt well enough to get out again yesterday. It was a joy to be out on the bike and a joy to be out in the woods. Even better, we only had a short ride, so there was time on the way back to stop off for delicious homemade cake and coffee. What more could you want?

Rhododendron ponticum

This plant is a serious threat to natural areas in the West of Britain as it loves the wet conditions and spreads rapidly, killing all other plants with its dense leaf litter. But round here, with the dry summers, it just looks pretty for passing mountain bikers, without doing much damage to other vegetation. #BotanicalMountainBiking

Rhododendron ponticum

Pink purslane

Claytonia sibirica is not a native plant here, it comes from North America, but in recent years you see it more often in the woods. It doesn't (yet) spread enough to be a problem, but it is enough to be spectacular in places for the passing mountain biker.

Claytonia siberica

Wild strawberry

It has been a while since I wrote a mountain biking blog. That isn't because I haven't been out cycling in the woods, I've been out most days during lockdown (the advantage of flexible working hours working from home). I suppose it came down to nothing much to write about. However, Spring is here, and I can resume my Botanical Mountain Biking series. Last year I did a few articles with several photos in them. In the coming period I'm going to post the photos individually as I join in. If you also see interesting plants whilst out cycling feel free to post photos of them (ideally with your bike in the background) on social media with the hashtag #BotanicalMountainbiking.

Fragaria vesca
Fragaria vesca