I went back to one of my old mountain biking haunts at the weekend. Nestled away in the Shropshire hills lies a forest with many acres of fine singletrack, steep climbs and fast flowing descents. The names of the all the trails came back to me immediately: Garlic Run, One Eye, Ariston (a climb that goes on and on), Off Camber, Foxglove and so on. Its a place that was kept quiet for years and used by only a few locals – its since played host to the National Champs in 2005 and also a Trailquest, so I needn’t be so secretive now.
If you’ve read my Nerve post, you’ll have noted my observations with regard to trail grades. I remember a good few test pieces in the Mortimer Forest, but as was the trend at the time they were all UP. Having also done some rock climbing, a system of grading the difficulty of something was very familiar, and we tried to adapt a similar system for our local trails but without much success.
However, the one thing that did prevail was the use of a quote from a Mint Sauce cartoon from December 1993. Mint climbs a long grass climb that ascends up through the clouds and eventually to the seat of god (who incidentally looks the same as Mint). God says to Mint “tough climb eh?”, to which Mint replies “middle ring all the way”. “Oh” says god.
Once you’d managed a climb in the little ring, it seemed a natural progression to attempt it in the middle ring. And by doing so was to downgrade its difficulty so you could poke fun at to your friends doing it in the little ring, but increase its difficulty relative to you doing in the little ring. Which kind of brings me back to climbing where we had our own simple system that graded boulder problems based on percieved difficulty. H-, which wasn’t hard; H, which was hard and H+, which was so hard you couldn’t do it. Simple.