Thursday, 27 November 2014

The story of Darkmoor

The story of Darkmoor probably began when I landed a new job. In my previous job, I cycled to work, along well-lit roads, and only needed little LED lights to be seen. In the new job, however, I had to travel to, and between various customer sites, and therefore needed to drive to work. That meant I was losing out of valuable cycling time, and the only time I could fit bike rides in turned out to be quite late at night - typically well after 10pm.

Now while I could simply have cycled on well-lit roads, I really wanted to go cycling up the Plym Valley. This was a problem, as the Plym Valley trail gets very dark. Of course, no self-respecting geek would be stopped by such a minor things as total darkness, and I started experimenting with various lights. Given that I rate Instructables.com as the absolute best website in the world ever, it would come as no surprise that I wanted to build a light, instead of simply buying one.

The first light was a 50-LED frankenmonster, powered by an old-school Nokia mobile phone. It was alright-ish, and allowed me to cycle in total darkness for up to around 45 minutes, but only at slow speeds as it simply didn't give off enough light.

The next light was better: a 12v 50 watt pin spot with a 30 degree angle, powered by my laptop's extended battery. I had to make a custom adapter to connect the light to the battery, but it worked and worked well. I had light, and plenty of it! Equally importantly, it lasted for hours.

At my new work there was another fellow geek, but he was almost permamnently working at a customer site. When that changed and he returned to the office, I found a kindred spirit: he was a geek, he liked building things and importantly, he was a cyclist, too!

What I didn't know at the time was that my new friend Simon had a very dark (or perhaps light?) secret: he had a terrible addiction! Specifically, he was addicted to lights and had an impressive array of torches and bike lights. Simon has specialist electronics knowledge and skills, too, and is an absolute fountain of knowledge.

As we were talking about bike lights, it soon became apparent that we'd need to test the various lights out. We planned a night ride that was called a Dark Side Ride (as in Darth Vader saying "Luke, come to the Dark Side"). The very first Dark Side Ride started off at Princetown, Dartmoor, along the disused railway track, at midnight, during a storm. We couldn't have picked a worse date for it, but as we'd invited various other people, we couldn't cancel. In the end, nobody else was foolish enough to go riding in that weather, and we braved the horizontal rain all on our own.

Following that shaky start, later we organised a second Dark Side Ride. On south Dartmoor there is a body of water called Crazywell Pool, and legend has it that if you looked into the water at midnight, on mid-summer's eve, you'd see the face of the next person in the parish to die. This was as good an excuse for a ride as you'd find, and on mid-summer's eve, during another storm and battling strong winds and torrential downpours, we cycled up the rough track to Crazywell Pool. The pool's surface was so whipped up by wind and churned by rain that it was impossible to see anything reflected at all, and so we left the legend as neither proven, nor disproven, and made our way back.

The third and final Dark Side Ride was a dry one, but it was bitterly cold. This ride was from Yelverton to Tavistock and back, along NCN27, crossing over the then newly built Gem Bridge and passing through the then newly opened Grenofen Tunnel. This ride proved conclusively that there isn't anywhere in Tavistock where you can buy coffee or hot chocolate out of hours, unless you want to go to a restaurant (which we didn't want to).

By this stage I'd moved on to a Cree T6 bike light, while Simon had progressed to a triple Cree T6.

Somewhere during all this, we found out about the Dunwhich Dynamo and later the Exmouth Exodus - both well-established through-the-night bike rides. In 2013 we were toying with the idea of doing the Exmouth Exodus, but in the words of John Lennon, life is what happens while you're busy making other plans, and indeed life did happen, resulting in neither of us doing the ride.

Just because we couldn't do a specific ride didn't mean we couldn't plan a new one though, and so at some stage the idea of Darkmoor was formed. Now creating a ride of half-decent length requires map work, and both Simon and I are map-geeks, too. Various route options were discussed, many rejected, until finally we agreed on the route and the date. Picking the date is slightly tricky: you want a Saturday night in June or July (so as to have the best chance of good weather) nearest the full moon.
What compounded things was that both Simon and I had entered the Dartmoor Classic for the first time in 2014, and the Dartmoor Classic is always on the third Sunday in June. Luck was on our side, and Darkmoor 2014 was arranged for the weekend before the Dartmoor Classic, the day after a full moon.

Now the first Darkmoor ride was meant to only have been 52 miles, from Okehampton to Plymouth, but I soon realised I may have a logistics problem, and that by far the simplest and least disruptive way of solving it was to just cycle from Plymouth to Okehampton. I made it known that this was my plan, and a few other riders decided to join me.

Simon's daughter was born not long before, so quite understandably, with a baby that didn't let them sleep much, he couldn't do the full ride, and instead rode down from his home to Plymouth, then cycled along with us almost to Horrabridge, before he had to peel off.

The first ever Darkmoor was done by only 12 riders, which is a very modest start. However, it was also a roaring success, as it proved that there were at least 11 other nutters out there who were willing to join us.
And if through actually very poor marketing we could attract 11 other nutters, chances are that as word spread we'd attract more of you guys.

There are a few things about Darkmoor that is worth remembering though: it doesn't "belong" to anybody. As organisers, we may pick the dates, but that's about it. The ride belongs to whomever does it.
It isn't a race, but if if you wanted to beat everybody else and finish first, well, someone has to be first, so it might as well be you.

As for me, I'll just be riding my bike and enjoying the experience, while making new friends. Life is good.