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.

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