The 2023 Spring-Forward Bivvy

I’m embarrassed to say it took me a couple of nudges before joining the GUTM gang for a ride out. Firstly, years ago when my friend Charlie suggested them after we’d hosted an event with the Rough Stuff Fellowship Archive folk. I put it off at the time with only a very sturdy commuter to my name, affectionately nicknamed the ark royal for it’s grey paint job, boat like turning circle and a heft of weight that can only be explained with some kind of anti-matter lining the frame. A few years pass-by, lockdown rears it’s ugly little head and like a lot of folk riding a bike becomes about more than getting from A to B. I eventually invest in a stealthy all black ninja mode Salsa Vaya with help from the ever-knowledgable Shona and Rich at Keep Pedaling. I start clocking up a few more miles leading up to a couple of tours with a group of friends, Lon Las Cymru which I would recommend to anyone and Hadrian’s Way, a beautiful route albeit misleadingly named as I think I managed about three glimpses total of the eponymous wall. Fast forward to about a month ago and new friend Jack mentions the GUTM Spring Forward, a party-paced gravel route culminating in some pints and a bivvy out at Macc Forest. Not one to turn down the savour of that most delicious of pints, the one earned after a few miles, I finally said yes to a group ride with GUTM.

The night before I fretted about what to pack, what layers should I take will it be cold, but I don’t want to be too hot. People put less effort into their outfit choices during Paris fashion week. Finally after approximately 26 hours of packing, re-packing and ultimate faffing the morning comes and a small group of us meet outside the Charity Bike Shop in Chorlton. We roll out to Riverbank Coffee to meet the rest of the group.

Immediately I’m getting bike envy, why does everyone have such big tyres? My 38s suddenly look like I’m prepared for a day out on the tarmac thrashing out KMs like nobody’s business. Immediately we get into some soft mud somewhere around the Chorlton Ees, the rest of the group charge through confidently. I’m a little more nervous and rightly so, I’m fishtailing pretty quickly but you know what, I love it. It’s woken me right up. I’ve not even ingested coffee yet and I’m grinning from ear to ear.

We make it to Riverbank and we’re met by a lovely welcome committee, and most importantly a decent coffee. I also pick up a sausage roll for brekky on Jack’s recommendation and am not disappointed. Soon after we settle down into a bit of introduction chat. We inspect everyone’s bikes it’d seem most of us have been to Keep Pedaling with a variety of Salsa’s and Surly’s now propping up the Picnic benches. At first there was the bike envy but now comes the camera envy, I’m introduced to Matt who’s holstering a beautiful Fujifilm X100V, I shoot on the T model and absolutely love it but will soon be justifying to myself why I need the newer model and another bike with fatter tyres (n+1 and all that).

Eventually we’re all appropriately caffeinated, stomachs are lined with some type of pastry combination and we roll out. We follow the Mersey out of Sale, a word of advice stick to the narrower raised path, like everyone else in the group and not the wider lower path. I the maverick, rogue lone wolf that I am decided to take the low road and end up bouncing about like a packet of Walkers Salt & Shake (I’m thinking again about some girthier tyres). We follow this route along soaking in the unseasonable sunshine until we eventually reach one of the 8th wonders of the world, the Stockport Pyramid.

From Stockport we ride some glorious Cheshire (/SK) lanes and make for the Middlewood Way.

We then chew some perfect British gravel all the way out to the Vale Inn, Bollington ready to be washed down with one of those aforementioned pints. We chat a bit of nonsense whilst supping on some Bollington Best, which lived up the name, and we settle down to eat.

I’ve packed some Jamaican patty’s, which are now more a patty flavoured crumb after being crushed in my bag, but they hit the spot regardless. We’re ready to make the last push to our (almost) final destination the Leather’s Smithy. More country lanes ensue and I momentarily lose the group after stopping for an unannounced piss stop (my bad).

We’re back together and rolling to the pub. Dragged by the greatest magnetic pull I’m yet to appreciate, warm food and a roaring fire. Eventually after a short climb we’re all in the beer garden together photosynthesising in the last rays of the golden hour.

Soon food is up and I’m pretty happy with my choice of deep fried white bait followed by a hearty bangers n mash. After all what is the point of burning all those calories if not to immediately top them up with pub grub and cask beer? We’re later joined by Shona and Rich from the previously mentioned Keep Pedalling, who manage to do the ride that’s taken us the best part of a day, they manage it in what seems like about an hour after closing up the shop.

After a warming evening of story sharing, (Adi has one or two involving an audax) food, drink and laughter we’re ready to head out to the bivvy spot. I’m told it involves a bit of a hill but what I’m soon met with I could not have prepared worse for. I’m beginning to think I should have packed my hiking boots. It’s in this moment of reflection I spot the lights of Shona and Rich merrily cycling along staying true to their ship’s name.

A bit of huffing, quite a lot of puffing and I’ve hike-a-biked to the top. Maybe I should have just stuck to the one course at dinner, nah don’t be so ridiculous Luke.

We make camp, compare tent / bivvy setups and eventually tuck in for the night. I’m breaking in a Wild Country Zephyros 1 and feeling pretty smug about head room and a porch. Looking over at the lads with open bivvy’s my nose is cold just thinking about it. Thankfully it’s a beaut of a night, clear skies and next to no wind. Soon we’re met with the sound of a roaring engine signalling loud and clear that one of the party is fast asleep. At this point I’m grateful there is another snorer in the group as I’ll soon be partaking in the night time orchestra and initiating a duet of snoring. It’s about 3am that I wake to find the sound of our secret snorer has been replaced by that of a howling gale and sideways rain. I’m now feeling even more smug about the one-man ten, though still pretty chilly none the less. My porch is open having unzipped itself in the wind and at this point a wiser man would have thought to bring his cycling shoes inside. I not being a wise man zip up the porch, toss and turn for a bit and eventually get back to sleep.

We wake at dawn and set about taking down our set ups and packing up.

I step into my now sopping wet cycling shoes and learn a lesson about shoes and tent porches I won’t soon forget. It’s a beautiful morning, the weather is clear and there’s barely a car in sight. That big hike-a-bike on the way up, it’s all down hill now baby. It’s at this point that my diet of beer and pizza has me flying past those more suited to climbing hills. One of our group Sam opts for an emergency stop to avoid meeting with a deer springing over a fence and into the road. That wakes us all up for sure!

We head back to Macclesfield and make way for the breakfast of champions, the McBreakfast. Mine’s a Sausage Egg McMuffin ta very much. We chat around the table suitably rubbing the sleep out of our eyes as we come around. Rich starts talking to me about the virtues of a Salsa Cutthroat, the bike my friend Harry is riding and that I’m (not so secretly) becoming increasingly jealous of. N+1 the perfect amount of bikes, right? I currently live in a matchbox of a flat so this conversation will have to be picked up another day.

The ride homeward is a slightly quieter affair than the one forward. I get the sense the orchestra of snorers and the howl of the wind might have resulted in a few less than the customary 40 winks. We make it back to Manchester in good time and I head in for a Sunday afternoon nap. It’s a few weeks on from the Spring Forward now and boy am I feeling like a great dafty. I wish I’d joined one of these rides sooner as I know I’ll be joining more in the future. It truly is a joy to ride out with like-minded folk and just have a bit of a daft laugh.

Big thanks to Jack, Harry, Aiden, Sam, Matt, Adi, Rick and Steve for a wonderful intro to GUTM. Cobwebs are shaken off and I’m ready to put in some spring / summer miles.

Words by Luke Broster. Pictures by Jack Makin and Matt Martin.


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