While I was in Sussex, I did a fair bit of riding, and stoked I finally managed to bump into someone I'd been wanting to catch up with for ages. I thought it would be pretty cool to write about him too as, without him really knowing it, his hard work plays a big part of my life when I'm visiting my elderly Mum and not so well Dad, and provides much needed respite away from that.
I reckon 30 years ago, myself and Percy, (aka Adrian Parsons), were both youth workers at our local village youth club in Sussex. Both spending many an evening misdirecting the youngsters, or bouncing them of cliffs whilst abseiling. The usual activities like rock climbing, canoeing and fun days out with the kids were par for the course, and always a laugh. Myself and Percy also played football for the same team, never really taking it too seriously, we drank in the same pub, and when we were suitably drunk, would somehow come together to re-enact scenes from Life of Brian together, probably to others annoyance.
Percy was always the had a slight screw loose, but in such a funny way, the kids loved him at youth club, following his every word, whilst other football teams feared him as he was never one to shy away from a tackle, if you get my drift.
Time passes by and with my college, move to Cornwall, I had not seen Percy for twenty plus years at least. But on my visits to Sussex, I'd heard rumours that Percy and his mate Paul, had taken over the building and maintenance at the Steyning mountain bike trails. When I visit my folks, I always ride the trails. Nestled within the woodland above the chocolate box picturesque village of Steyning. you have to find them, I'm not telling where, but when you find them, enjoy them, respect them, and whatever you take up, bring back down.
On my last run one evening I bumped into Percy. I called over to him shouting his name about five times, until he realised that behind the crash helmet and goggles I was still wearing, it was indeed his old mate.
Percy was up there checking the trails and doing a little maintenance, as he puts it. Like dragging a wacker plate and bags of sand, cement and tools up the steep gradient to fix a berm. He also checks the trails regularly for safety reasons, as some people have a tendency to add a little bit of their own imagination, and then, less experienced riders might then see this creation, try it and crash. Case in point...the creation of the worst wall ride you have ever, ever, ever seen, directly after a jump on a straight line. We arranged to meet up later that week for a ride with my mate Dan (Team Beamish) and what a fun evening that turned out to be.
Like many places there have been some bad accidents up there. Whether it's people riding outside of their ability, or simply pushing their progression, the air ambulance has been called in a number of times. In readiness for this eventuality, the grid co-coordinates are posted at a variety of spots around the trails. To keep the landowners happy, some parts of the trails have changed and a few of the more extreme gaps and drops that were pretty large, have been toned down. Having Percy ride with us that night was so much fun. I thought I'd ridden a lot of the lines, but there were lines linking into others that we did not expect, lines I had avoided, are now firm favourites and the stoke was super high.
Percy has a great relationship with the landowner, based on trust and respect, they also have a partnership with the Steyning Downland Scheme, and this is a designated mountain bike area now, meaning no walkers, who on occasion seem to be disgruntled by removing safety signs, strangely at their own risk at the end of the day. The trails do cross a bridle path at a certain point and these are clearly signed, and unless you can squeeze through the barrier with your 780mm Renthal Bars, you have to stop. Even these little touches are admirable, safety of other users is paramount in order for the trails to remain. No one wants to see anyone hurt, rider or walker, but as Percy says, the trails are clear designated and if a walker ventures into the area and gets injured, then this is down to them, they have been warned.
A regular visitor to the Alps and beyond, I also love the fact that Percy has had complaints from riders claiming that the Blue run is too technical, and should not be blue. Percy's obvious response could be similar to...'get used to it'. The trails just need to be sessioned, and the trails have been carved from the terrain that is there. Granted, the blue probably is a red, the red is on the light grey shade of black, and the black, well I've not ventured onto that yet, but I have the grid coordinates ready. Myself, Percy and many others that have ridden there, agreed that they're not the groomed, aggregate packed, smooth flowing blue runs you might find at many Bike Parks, and there is nothing wrong with that, these bike parks are super fun. I supposed the Steyning blues are more rustic, raw like enduro trails, winding through the willow woodland; rooted, loose chalk, off camber, tight and technical and I'm sure many would be impressed. There are drops and gap jumps, fast rollers and tight tree laden sections that Percy and Paul, with other riders, work hard to maintain. They rebuild the jumps, pack the berms, build the 'northshore', clear the trails from an endless falling of leaves in Autumn, or the larger, lumps of chalk that get churned up. A little rain is great, and the trails come to life; too dry and its loose, like riding on marbles sometimes; too much rain, or too many leaves and you might want to make sure you have those coordinates handy.
I absolutely relish my time in Sussex now that I live in Cornwall, I take my bikes up every time and squeeze in as many sessions as possible around family time. It's become an escape that I'd lost when moving West, and thanks to the people like Percy and friends, there is a value and contentment, to my visits beyond family.
I've promised to grab a shovel and pick when I return, get amongst the digging and building, and then I'm sure this will provide me with a little slice of ownership of the trails, that I take so much pleasure in riding.
Footnote. I did take a photo of us on that night but it was so dark by then, the photo was unusable, so I stole one from Percy on his recent trip to Skyline, in NZ.