Sunday, 8 April 2012

Climbing up t'Moors

Having ridden a hilly 80 miles towing along an enormous mountain biker the previous day (sorry Barry, that sounds like it was a chore - it certainly wasn't!) my legs were feeling pretty sore on Saturday morning. Needless to say, there was more faff involved in getting out of the house and up to the North Yorks Moors, but I eventually managed it and arrived in Helmsley about 10am. A town known for its biker congregations (the type that wear leather, not lycra), I did feel slightly out of place while getting changed into my kit on a side street. However the weather was that cold that I didn't really care at the time; it was just about getting as many clothes on is as little time as possible.

Setting off in the rain is never fun, but after a few miles I reached the familiar town of Ampleforth (the rival school to my alma mata) and also ran into a friendly (and very Yorkshire) fellow cyclist from Clifton CC. Riding and chatting along made the first ten miles whizz by, and my legs soon felt much better for just turning the pedals round. Even better, I was shown a shortcut to the base of my first climb, allowing me to knock a few miles off what I knew was going to be a tough ride (90+ miles and 7,000 feet of climbing, according to the route-mapping software). Arriving at the base of White Horse Hill, I instantly recognised the road from many walking trips and knew that I was in for a hard climb. Ramping up at 25% in several places, the surface was pretty gravelly and the amount of traffic made it difficult to get in to a rhythm. When I eventually reached the summit, I was steaming due to all of the extra layers and I needed to stop to let out some heat. Fortunately the reward for such a tough climb was a great view from the gliding club where they launch off the cliff-face, and a fantastic descent back down on the main road.
Top of the White Horse
After winding my way through some small villages, I came to the town of Boltby, and my next challenge - the ominous looking Boltby Bank. As you exit the village, the road kicks up and up in the distance, pretty much in a straight line, and looking incredibly steep all the way. This climb certainly didn't disappoint, and had me crawling up as a set of mountain-bikers came past in their tiny car, engine whinning under the strain. Just as I was about to get off and walk, the summit came into view, and a final push had me over the worst of it. Unfortunately, to keep face in the presence of the enemy, I was forced to keep pedalling past the carpark where the mtb-ers had stopped, in order not to look ruffled by the 'bump' in the road. However, as soon as they were out of sight I stopped and rewarded myself with a peanut butter Clif bar in the snow on the roadside. Pathetic, I know, but these things run deep...
Boltby Bank looking much easier than it was

For perfection, just add Clif Bar
After this, my legs were feeling fairly shot, so I tried to spin on in a smaller gear to revive them slightly. This wasn't 100% successful as the route essentially crossed the moors (which aren't flat)  so the changes in terrain made it hard to get into a regular rhythm or provide any restbite. After finally reaching Osmotherly and the main road skirting around to the North, I was feeling very tired, and already harbouring thoughts of jacking the ride in early at Helmsley (the planned route was a figure of eight which went past where I had left the car), purely to avoid the Rosedale Chimney. There was, however, the small issue of making the next 25 miles back to the car at the very least, so I necked a gel and promised myself solid food at the next town - Carlton-in-Cleveland. Disappointingly, this was a much smaller town that I had expected, and I was forced to carry on up the hill out of the other side, Carlton Bank. Anything that paragliders jump off to catch thermals counts as a steep hill in my book, so judging by the number that I could see in the sky ahead of me, Carlton Bank was going to be a hard hill. In retrospect, it probably was the easiest 'categorised' climb of the day (the nature of these rides is that there are any number of hills between the ones listed in the book, but these don't get a mention). The difficulty of any given hill is a hugely personal issue and depends entirely on your state of mind and body at the time. Unfortunately for me, both mind and body were at an all-time low, so Carlton Bank was a bit of an effort to say the least!
Carlton Bank
I took the main Moors road back to Helmsley, bisecting the hills for the most part and making a good compromise of extra traffic for less gradient. By the time I got back into the main square, I was absolutley ravenous and devoured a hot roast pork sandwich which tasted like the best thing on earth at the time. In some respects, I was lucky that I was riding by myself that day, because if I was with anyone else I probably would have talked them into finishing the ride there and then - after all, 60 miles and 3 of the 100 climbs isn't bad for a day's work! I knew that I had another 30 miles to go, and the hardest hill yet to come, but somehow the combination of Coke, pork and willpower kicked in and I soon found myself back on the bike and heading over to Rosedale.
Very persuasive
The ride over seemed much longer than I expected, and filled with thoughts of how daunting a climb it was going to be. The Chimney comes with all sorts of tall tales in the cyclists' world - anything that's 1 in 3 for many parts of the way up, and which is unmanegable in all but fine weather conditions, makes for fine folklore. So it's fair to say that after 15 miles of wondering just how hard the climb was going to be, I was almost happy to finally turn off the road to the base of the climb, having seen the ascent from some distance away. All-in-all, it was an incredibly tough road to ride up, but not the longest, and with forgiving hairpins which allowed for at least some let up in the gradients. After that, it was just a case of gritting your teeth and pushing on to the top - walking up in cleats would probably have been just as hard anyway... There weren't many people round, but the sheep did seem to take quite an interest in watching people suffer up the hill - maybe this was just the fatigue kicking in but it did feel like that were staring at me!
Not exactly inviting

Stunning views from the top of the Rosedale Chimney
Off the top was a much more gentle, but dead straight, descent down into the fantastically named village of Hutton-le-hole (just the right amount of 'Frenchness' added to spice up what would otherwise be a pretty derogatory name). Then it was back into Helmsley, and time to recover with a slap up pub meal and few of the micro-brewery's finest recovery beer - a great tonic for any would-be athletes.

Yarrrkshyre Hills

A quick drive up to York after work on Thursday saw Selene and I up to my parents to stay for the Easter weekend. It had been a busy week, and the planning for the weekends' rides had been minimal to none. However, determined to make the most of non-rainy weather and proximity to more hills, I dragged myself out of bed at 7am on Good Friday and hit the computer to start mapping out the routes. After a lot of faff - planning, eating and getting everyone out of bed - it was decided that Barry and I would head out to Pately Bridge to ride up Greenhow Hill, before heading over to Otley to meet the rest of the family for lunch.

Setting off towards the towering dark skies and into a block headwind, the ride was starting to look like a bad idea even from the outset. Even worse, Barry casually mentioned that this would be his longest road ride of all time (he's a dyed-in-the-wool member of the hairy legs brigade) and that the wheels on his bike that he had just built up the week before didn't appear to like staying in true (fortunately Barry is also a bit of a bike wizard, having worked for a long time in a bike shop). Pushing on with fresh legs, we raced each other over my home training roads before getting deeper into the Yorkshire Dales and roads that I was less familiar with. We had been climbing up for some time, and we soon emerged around the back of Brimham rocks (where I spent lots of my time when I was younger, clambering over the ancient rocks) only to find that a couple of the spokes on Barry's wheel had loosened themselves off and were clanging all over the place.
Spot the mechanic
A quick fiddle with a spoke key and we were on our way again (great skills - a broken spoke with the usual Surrey gang would normally result in twisting it around the rest of the spokes and limping home with a dinged wheel). It was clear that we were on the tops of the Dales, and there was still a lot of snow around, although fortunately the roads had all been ploughed so there was nothing to trouble a set of skinny tyres. This did mean that the sawtooth profile of the ride was about to come into play, as we basically descended off the tops of the hills, into Pately Bridge, and straight back up the other side to the same height we had started at. In between us and our distination in Otley was Greenhow Hill - described in the book at equally divided into four segments. This was a 100% accurate reading of what it was like to ride the hill, which almost seemed to have 3 false summits which tailed off to 3/4% before quickly kicking back up into the twenties again. That said, it was a great hill to ride up as it felt like a proper accomplishment to get to the top at a reasonable pace, and meant that we climbed a long way up without having to hit super hard gradients.
Finally summiting Greenhow
 A quick stop established that the headwind had put us behind schedule (we had arrange to meet the rest of the family in Otley for lunch at 1) so we pushed on without remorse for the terrain. Barry was beginning to suffer with the extra distance, but the thought of food kept him going as we eventually descended down off the tops and into the town where we found the Yum cafe - a hungry cyclist's version of heaven. Several ham and cheese paninis later (plus cake for everyone except me) and we were ready to go.
Support CREW!
Only the finest china at Yum
Probably shouldn't make a habit of doing this in public
 Out of Otley was pretty much straight up the climb of Norwood Edge. Another one you can see coming from a distance, it has an Alpine feel to it with gradients only getting up to the high teens, and pine forests on either side.
Dragging our bellies to the top of Norwood.
After that, the rest of the ride home was fairly pleasant, largely downhill and on good roads. One noteable exception was the town of Harrogate, which is very well to-do, but filled with awful and hugely inconsiderate drivers. For all the wealth in the town, people seemed to be driving really crap cars, and had little regard for cyclists at all - Barry was nearly killed turning off a roundabout by a woman oblivious to his presence (despite the bright red jersey and the fact is 6'3" and shouting his head off), and quickly after we were nearly mowed down by a family car overtaking when it was obvious he wouldn't have enough space to get around the traffic islands. Fortunately, we made it in one peice and arrived home to devour everything in sight (well, some of us did...)

The Three Counties Ride

An early morning start called for this ride, as we had to travel out to Princes Risborough before setting off. Meeting Rich at 6.15(ish), we cycled through the deadly quiet City before meeting Paul who was sat serenely in the middle of Marylebone station (on a bench - I don't think he makes a habit of sitting on floors). I had booked us on to the 7a.m. train, and as we had arrived at 6.50, Paul and Rich decided to grab some breakfast. Nothing much was open, but they made do with tea and paninis - leaving Paul wheeling two bikes and Rich with his arms full of supplies. Needless to say, getting through the ticket gate was a palaver and, as we found out, Platform 6 is quite a way from the gates. With thirty seconds before the train was about to set off, and the conductor shouting at us to hurry up, I think we made quite a sight as we were made to hurriedly clip-clopped to the far end of the train -especially for the drunkards heading back from an all-nighter in town. Fortunately the rest of the journey was less eventful, allowing Paul to regale us with tales of his local supermarket and Rich to get rid of his hangover. We met Clive in the station carpark, and promptly set to work putting his bike together (well, Rich and Paul did - I took pictures and offered verbal encouragement)
The route took us straight up the climb of Whiteleaf - a 6 out of 10 on the Warren Scale - and we could see the climb right from the start, rising out of the landscape like a very pretty pimple. It was a cold day (typical - the whole week, while stuck in the office, was brilliant sunshine) but this climb got us warmed up quickly as it kicked up from the main road out of town. Not especially hard, it was very picturesque as it wound up through woodland before emerging out in to the tops of the Chilterns.
The Whiteleaf 'pimple'
The ride from here headed South, through constantly rolling countryside, making for fairly slow progress. This probably wasn't helped - once again - by Google Map's assertion that minor B roads are the same as bridleways, gravel tracks and other not-suitable-for-skinny-tyre surfaces. That said, the inclusion of some pavé (and gravé) was apt given that the pros were riding the infamous cobbles of the Tour of Flanders the next day.
Oxfordshire's finest
Weaving through delightfully pretty villages (which, almost to a tee, all had fantastic looking pubs, a myriad of thatched roofs, and a cricket square), we made our way down Southwards to Streatley and ran into a bunch of beardy-audaxers, including a chap who looked like he had packed a rather large picnic in his panniers - the sort that contains a set of deckchairs, a large blanket, wicker hamper etc etc. Streatley Hill was a lovely little climb with just enough steep and flatter bits to keep up plenty of momentum

With rumbling stomachs, we pressed on to the village of Kintbury, where we fell upon a local artisan baker, who was probably as surprised to see us as we were to see him. Nevertheless we secured what seemed to be his entire stock of quiche (plus chocolate coated flapjacks for those who hadn't given up cake for Lent) and tottled over to the local church where there was an empty bench in the graveyard. Eating between gravestones was a unique venue for a picnic, but it was still delicious and the local congregation were no doubt entertained as we gorged and giggled our way through large quantities of food.
Manna from heaven (eaten in God's house)

Three men on a bench

Proof that I did exist on this ride
It wasn't far after our picnic stop that we hit Coombe Gibbet. A climb that you can see coming from some distance away, it rises up a ridge and looks formidable to the approaching cyclist. From the perspective shown in the photo, Rich does somewhat dwarf the climb, but I can assure the reader that it was harder than it looked. However, again a smooth surface and great views back over the valley made it another fantastic climb, well worth its place in the book.

With just over 70 miles gone (and all the major climbs done), spirits were high and we rode on at a decent pace, back through Newbury and alongside the M4. Soon, however, the headwind and remaining distance took their toll and the pace dropped, making the rolling coutryside seem like hard work. I had forewarned everyone about the length of the ride (estimated at 110 miles), but as the miles racked up, it seemed like some people (Clive) were counting down the distance to the end of the ride. Now this is a fantastic strategy in a race, where you need to time your effort to perfection to make sure you arrive at the finish line having spent all of your energy on the course. However on a ride where the exact distance is yet to be determined, it can have negative consequences. At around mile 108, we went past a road sign declaring Princes Risborough to be 11 miles away, which did not go down so well with Clive at all. Almost immediately after passing the sign he turned to me and asked "Is that true?" before insisting on an immediate 'stretch' stop on the side of the road. After some under-the-breath grumbling, he shot off in the same manner he had done after riding over Exmoor a few weeks back (think Cancellara on several cans of Red Bull), leaving the rest of us trailing in his wake with tired legs and resigned to seeing him again in the carpark.

Fortunately, it wasn't too tough an 11 miles and we made it back to the station just in time to catch the next train to London (with even enough time to raid Clive's recovery snacks box and take a picture in the carriage). The overall ride (including too and from Marylebone) worked out to be 124 miles, so we were understandably tired, and probably smelly enough to put off the rugby fans who piled on to the train at Wembley as the Scaracens match finished...

All in all a fantastic ride with good mates, making for a perfect way to rack up a decent century (and a quarter).