The annual Solstice mountain bike ride that leaves from the Pomfret Arms in Northampton has become a bit of a tradition for me.
It departs on the closest Saturday to the Solstice and takes mountain bike riders on a 100 mile loop through Northamptonshire and surrounding counties – as off-road as can be managed.
The first year I tried it I was woefully unprepared (in both fitness and equipment) and managed about 82 miles riding from 6am to 10pm. It was a defeat but it felt like a victory.
The furthest I had ridden in one day before that was to Market Harborough and back along the Brampton Valley Way – a round trip of about 30 miles with coffee and cake in the middle. So my failed stab at the Solstice busted all kinds of personal distance records for me.
But the experience of the ride – crossing the countryside on bridleways, woodland tracks and country lanes – was sensational. The weather was brilliant (which actually made the cycling harder work because of the heat) and along the way we had Santa Pod, Millbrook, Woburn and countless other little beauty spots and points of interest.
You get a lot of satisfaction just from completing a long journey on a bike but doing it off the grid of the main road system adds a kind of subversive thrill. If you enjoy your mountain biking in a non-mountainous area then that rogue buzz is often what it’s about.
So despite scratching my first effort when I lost the light on the longest day (there is a kind of special humiliation in me squandering the one resource I had a lot of – daylight) I was completely hooked despite not being in the same league physically as the riders who were rolling in after completing the course in six hours.
The organisers, Mtb Epics UK, introduced a 50 mile little brother event and in subsequent years I’ve been doing that. Since then I’ve done 100 miles on road in about ten hours, and although I’m older and getting my old man ailments I would say I’m fitter than when I made that first attempt. I still nurture a secret ambition to get the Solstice 100 done.
Thanks to Covid-19 it won’t be this year (it wouldn’t have been anyway but let’s blame the virus – I reckon it’s going to get blamed for a lot) but the Solstice crew have put together a route for a Solstice Quarantine ride you can do in social isolation.
It’s about 50 miles and has a lot of the flavour of the first 100. An event segment has been created on the Strava app, so if you complete it by June 21 when the event officially closes your effort will be included if you upload it.