Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Riding with the llamas - Peak District Day 1

Been a while since I updated this blog, but riding has continued in earnest. Another 3-lap challenge (another PB for me, only to be out-performed by Selene), some riding in Surrey with Clive, and an extremely wet/muddy crit race at the Cyclopark in Kent (leading the pack most of the way round, only to be rolled on the line to end up in 6th place – bloody tactics) have meant that life on two-wheels has been as vibrant as ever.

Racing at the Cyclopark with Chris

Getting quite used to this packing-for-riding lark

Several busy weeks at work on the trot and a packed out schedule for makes Nathan a tired boy. Nevertheless, rushing to get all my work cleared down on Friday evening, Selene and I hopped in the car for a 4 hour drive up North to stay with my sister over the Bank Holiday weekend. Arriving late and pretty pooped we flopped down into bed and it's fair to say that getting up the next morning was a bit of a struggle - especially as everyone else was having a lovely lie-in.

The ride started from Wilmslow, part of Manchester's 'golden triangle' (think footballers and WAGs in unfeasibly shiny Range Rovers), so the early part of the ride was spent playing the spot-the-fancy-car game, albeit with slightly disappointing results - the nicest out on the roads early on a Saturday was an Audi R8. It wasn’t long after leaving Wilsmlow that I reached Alderley Egde – another side of the ‘metallic three sided shape’ and a place well named as the ‘Edge’ in Alderley really does rise out of the middle of nowhere to dominate the horizon. With only a few miles in my legs, when I turned a steep corner to see the cobbled ‘Swiss Hill’ rising up into the distance, I have to say that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to getting up it.

Cobbles are innocuous enough to look at (see picture below), but nothing can describe the feeling of trying to get up 20% gradients on skinny tyres, pumped up to maximum pressure and on a bike with very little put aside for comfort (let alone any suspension to help push the tyres back into the ground). Being bounced all over the place, it’s almost impossible to stand up out of the saddle without completely losing traction from the back wheel – so there is little alternative than to sit on your saddle, absorb the bumps through your arms and backside, and grind up the hill to the top. It’s not a particularly long hill, but it is cobbled all the way to the top and has enough bends in it to stop you from seeing how far you have left. All in all, a real killer!

Swiss 'Belgian' Hill
After making the top, I managed to settle in to a fairly decent rhythm and started moving across the Cheshire Plains at a decent rate of knots. Yet another mix-up with Google maps led to a good stint on a cobbled/muddied/graveled bridleway, but fortunately I managed to get through upright, without any ‘p-words’ (bit like Voldemort – their name must not be invoked for fear of retribution) and without covering my nicely clean bike in grit. This was clearly a ride to increase my empathy for the professional riders who compete and Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders with plenty of ‘textural’ challenges along the way… However getting back into a decent cadence, the flat terrain meant that I made pretty good progress for the first couple of hours. Sitting at speeds of 20+mph, I did start to get a slight sense of complacency that the rest of the ride was going to be pretty easy – so much so that I started to take note of quite how many fields of llamas there seem to be in this part of the country:


More llamas! (And a plastic zebra...)

The incredible (tree) hulk

Maybe it’s something about the quantity of rain that they get here that they like so much…

Reaching the Southern-most point of the ride, it was time to get up the climb of Mow Cop. Just like Alderley Edge, Mow Cop rises out of the largely flat skyline and is crowned by a crumbling castle making for even more of a landmark. Starting off at a railway crossing, the climb rises up fairly sharply before tailing off and then kicking up viciously for the last few hundred metres. As cycling commentators say, a good way to assess the steepness of a climb on TV is to look at the angle between the front doors of the houses of the street and the road heading down from them. Although this video isn’t of me, as you can see here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uay5nFDFS6A) the last kick up past the pub is pretty steep.

Top of Mow Cop
25 miles into the ride and with two climbs under my belt, I was feeling great before I crested Mow Cop and was hit by a stiff Northerly wind, which I had been largely sheltered from on the flats – ahh the false sense of contentment that can only come from cycling with a tailwind! However, knowing that there was little alternative from the hard and lumpy section heading North across the Peak District, it was just a case of gritting my teeth and getting on with it. Still, it would have been nice to have a big lump of a rider to hide behind. At points like this, I often find that particular songs get lodged in my head, which is great for shutting out the external difficulties and just concentrating at spinning your legs around in time with the beat – even if you do look like a bit of a fool to passers-by as you mouth/sing the words. In this particular instance, it was Genesis by Grimes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olP3279j5_0) which worked for me, despite Selene describing it as something like her Yoga instructor would play early in the mornings!

More tiny, tiny roads and llamas later, I ended up on a farm track open to livestock and separated by gates/cattlegrids going across the tops of the hills. At this point, I spotted a couple of heffers with a new calf, as well as a very large bull sitting extremely close to the track. Slightly nervous at approaching the set of probably protective bovines, I took the ‘safe’ option of hopping over the fence running alongside the road and walking around the lot of them up to the next gate – not before taking a photo once I was on the right side of the fence, of course!

I ain't scared of no cow. But I am scared of a narked bull
(Note tactical position of fence)
Although this blog is starting to get quite wildlife-centric, the cycling did continue up to Flash – the highest village in the UK – before descending into Buxton for a disappointing greasy sausage roll and instant coffee.

Flash! Ahhhh!
(And a pirate that looks a little like Jesus)
After getting extremely cold, I headed on to Chapel-en-le-Frith without any feeling in my fingers or toes and looking forward to the Peaslows climb out of the town as a way of warming up. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint and although not the hardest or most technical hill ever, it did rise up pretty sharply and go on for a decent mile and a half before summiting giving great views over the surrounding hills. I didn’t hang around at the top as I had only just got feeling back, so I completed the loop back down to Chapel and pushed on with the rest of the ride.

At this point, I deviated from my planned route, as in my rush to map it out I had built in the ascent of the Cat and Fiddle (the final climb) from the wrong side – meaning that I had to head West to Macclesfield before tracking back East up the hill. This essentially meant crossing High Peak, descending 600 feet, and then climbing back up to the highest point of the ride – probably not the best way to plan the ride but at this point there wasn’t much alternative! Rather than starting all the way in the centre of Macclesfield, I decided to start the climb from the steeper (but shorter) Rainow side up Bull Hill Road. After getting over this section, it was a case of sitting in the big ring and getting up the final 5 miles of climb. To be honest, although it is a much lauded hill, I found the Cat and Fiddle a pretty boring ascent, on a busy road, with not much to look at and little variation in the gradient to spice things up. Still, one bonus is that there’s a pub at the top – even if I only indulged in a Coke this time…

Pretty bleak up the tops
A long descent and a few final climbs later, I was back in Wilmslow and pretty knackered. What was supposed to be the easier of the two rides (with only 4 ‘categorised’ climbs) had turned out to be a bit of a beast with 9,000 feet of climbing and some heavy winds. Happy to have got round with a reasonably respectable average moving speed and good distance to bosh out solo, it was a great ride to celebrate with a steak back at Laura’s house in Broadbottom. Unsurprisingly, I was knocked out after a couple of beers, and as Selene and Laura had been drinking wine since 3pm, we were all in bed by about 11 – very tame for a Bank Holiday Saturday, but I think we were all perfectly content in our own ways!

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