With clear blue skies the Halton Army Training Camp at 7am this morning was 3°C. It was absolutely freezing as I met up with ex-clarionista Andy and got registered ready for the ride. The Rotary Club of Lancaster were organising this event and so far everything was smooth, with registration quick and easy, and a cup of coffee available to take the chill off.
The route started off running parallel to the coast up through the TT-ers favourite of Levens and then darting south-west to trace the edge of Morecambe Bay, before heading north into Cumbria. It covered a lot of busy roads – a little too many for my liking.
Apart from the odd lump there wasn’t much in the way of hills for the first 40 miles, and we were averaging 17-18mph. At Gawthwaite that changed as we got our first real hill, taking us up 500ft in a couple of miles with an average 9% gradient. As we headed north again through the Duddon Valley it was easy to feel a sense of foreboding, as there were steep hills closing in on both sides making the ride feel somewhat claustrophobic.
At around about 48 miles we started the climb that culminated in the highest point of the ride at just over 60 miles. Apart from one short descent that was pretty much 12 miles of constant climbing. As we approached Wrynose we could see Hardknott on our left, and Andy helpfully told me that we were going up the “easy” side. To be frank we could see the pass in the distance and it didn’t look much from a distance. Then as we got closer I spotted a yellow dot on it. The dot wasn’t moving much, if at all. And at that point I realised it was a cyclist grinding up the hill. Oh shit. Andy had also remarked that there wasn’t much traffic and as if by magic a line of cars appeared behind us on the single track road. I flicked the Garmin onto the screen that has the gradient on it, took a deep breath and tried to get into my “climbing rhythm”. Andy was ahead, a line of cars behind. Someone was cranking up the steepness now, 14%, 15%, 16%. I couldn’t find my rhythm and was breathing hard. Andy was worse though – with a cold and a bad back – and so I went past him. Three cars went past me. Then they stopped! FFS, a car coming down and they couldn’t pass! At this point I’m thinking that if I stop behind these cars I’ll never get going again. 17%, 18%, 19%. There’s a massive scraping noise as the down car presumably hits a rock on the grass verge and the 3 up cars get going. My heart rate has hit maximum and then some – 191bpm – and I was running out of power to turn the pedals. 18%, 17%, 16%, thank God for that, 15%, 14% and I’m hitting the peak. A coupe of marshalls at the top clap me up and I stop on the peak to wait for Andy. That was tough, and if it is the easy side then I don’t want to know the hard side. But it didn’t end there. I let Andy go first as he’s a much better descender than I am and off we went down the hill. Oh. My. God! I have never been so terrified on a descent. My arms and shoulders were sore at the bottom from pulling the brakes. At times the poor road surface had me oscillating to the point that I thought the bike would come apart, or even just throw me off. I felt the rims of my wheel at the bottom and they were very warm! It seems not everyone managed to keep control. We chatted to one rider who’d hit a rock on the descent and ended up in a field, his bike a write-off.
Mistakenly we thought that was the worst of it over. At 80 miles there was a horrible climb at 15% and then, as legs were failing, at 105 miles one at 10% in a cruel sting-in-the-tail trick.
The countryside in the Lake District is absolutely stunning. Some of the views we were treated to were fantastic. Unfortunately it’s popular with motorists and walkers (who get there by car) and so there are far more cars than in other rural areas. And to get to the good bits you have to use (relatively) busy roads. But the weather was good, the clouds dissipating to leave us with a warming sun.
The organisation of the ride was excellent. Signs were good and marshalls were posted at key points, such as dangerous descents like Tow Top, or key turns. There were a number of feed stations but these, unfortunately, were not as good as they could be. They offered bananas, gels and energy drinks and towards the end had run out of anything but gels and water. I much prefer food to gels so this was a bit of a pain. At the end there was a free goodie bag and a really nice pasta meal. Overall a great ride with good organisation. I think this ride must attract more “serious” riders as whilst I was 30th out of 131 in the Peak 100 last week, in this my time was only good enough for 74th out of 117, and my average speed was higher!
I’ve run a guess the time competition at work to aid my sponsorship. Here’s the stats.
Ride Stats : 112miles in 7hrs 33m 16s @ 14.9mph average. 6708ft of climbing, average HR of 136bpm and 5602kcals of energy used. Top speed 45.6mph