An ‘epic’ is something usually reserved for the weekend. But what if there was a suitably challenging ride you could tackle in a few hours after the daily grind? That way you could keep the family happy by making it back for tea, have your kit cleaned and still be in bed by 9pm. When it comes to the ‘evening epic’, my brother Joe and I are past masters. Read on and let us guide you seamlessly through the process!
A flat-topped beauty
We’ve picked Ingleborough, the second-highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales, for today’s ride but there are plenty of other suitable venues dotted around the UK. Ideally, you’re looking for a climb of around 600m (2,000ft), hopefully including some form of carrying (it’s not an epic without some hike-a-bike!) and the reward of a non-stop, balls-to-the-wall, constantly exhilarating descent.
‘Out-and-backs’ are usually reserved for only the most gnarly of weekend epics, but they’re not as frowned upon in the world of the after-graft ride. The streamlining of transport and ride timings means that any kind of drop-off/pick-up further down the valley is out of the question. What’s important is to gain the most height possible during the specified timescale. And if that means an out-and-back, then make it so!
Come rain or shine, the aim is that you get back to your vehicle needing the UK’s number one hostage negotiator to talk you out of immediately tackling another lap, even as the idea of doing the same thing again the following evening starts bouncing around in your head.
Clocking in at 723m, Ingleborough’s easily accessible nature and flat-out, gravelly singletrack make it a perfect evening epic candidate. The peak is visible from numerous local workplaces, where any riders on the staff doubtless spend considerable time staring at its vast flat summit, thinking of the bone-shaking steps from the top and the velvety-smooth throttle-jam of an adrenaline rush that follows.
Poor prep, big fail
The key to the evening epic is preparation – if you try to organise it on the fly, it’s doomed to fail. A prompt bail from work is essential for a smooth-running ride that stays on the rails. After numerous attempts, we’ve found that a ‘change before you leave’ strategy streamlines the whole affair, as casual back-of-the-van changing chat can push back your plan by as much as half an hour. All members of the party must be vetted and selected based upon their exemplary timekeeping. They must also be committed to not answering that phone call or email that comes in just as they’re due to leave work, because that can prove to be the nail in the coffin for even the best-willing of participants.
Once out on the trail, stops must be kept to a minimum. This isn’t a Sunday outing for Scouts – you’re deep in epic evening territory and the odds are weighing heavily against you. The ever-present suggestion that you’ll fail is tempered by a small glimmer of hope, though. As height is gained, morale starts to build.
What goes up must come down
Once Joe and I reach a height where we can look down upon the kingdom of work that had claimed us, suddenly all of the effort makes complete sense. The flat-topped peak that, just half an hour ago, looked so far away is now looming above us, almost within reach.
In the world of the evening epic, summiting is key. The ride must provide all the drama of a full-size weekend epic, just in a smaller time frame. Hauling our bikes above our heads for the final slog, we can almost taste the peak. Pausing for a moment, to look back down one last time on the increasingly darkening view, teeth are gritted and the final push commences. Peak protocol outlines that once the summit has been reached, picture-based evidence is essential. Snap a few shots of your pride and joy, but always remember that time isn’t on your side.
Ten minutes is all you need to gather your thoughts, and then it’s time to drop back in. Ingleborough throws you straight in at the deep end. Some trail centres have what they call ‘qualifying’ features at the top of black or red runs, to make sure you’re ready for the challenges ahead, and this must have been an idea borrowed from the ’Bourgh. If you survive the rock gardens with limestone snipers, which are ready to rip you off line at the first opportunity, then the bone-shaking double stair set is the next subtle qualifier designed, by Mother Nature, to solidify your commitment.
After being bucked into all kinds of shapes you didn’t know were possible astride a mountain bike, the following eight minutes of white-knuckle, corner-drifting love are what’ll leave you begging for more and unable to wipe the grin off your face.
When you catch sight of a workplace nemesis during the following day’s commute, your thoughts will immediately return to your evening epic and you’ll smile in victory (which may look a bit strange to any onlookers). Ingleborough’s rollercoaster of Yorkshire hardpack is ideal for even the deepest of winter evenings, when snow isn’t uncommon, but on a still summer’s eve, the combination of the views, the riding and the total peacefulness is unmatched.
There and back again
Once you’re back home, the pressure is far from lifted, the next challenge being to get in before the table is laid – and maybe whip a garden hose across your kit. But after an evening like this, settling down on the sofa only classes as waiting and planning time. The bug will have hit and the clock will be ticking down to 5.30pm the next day. Work is but a waiting game – which hill next? How much can you squeeze into this new-found world of evening possibility? Never mind hard drugs, as soon as you get hooked on evening epics, you’re lost to a world of twilight rides…
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