Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Riding in a hoolie – A weekend in York (with no riding there)

This blog has had something of a break recently – a bit like silly season in Parliament where they all go off on their holidays and leave the country to run itself (not that anyone seems to notice) – and I haven’t been out on my bike as much as might have liked. Still, there has been plenty of cycling action, what with the Olympics, Tour of Britain, the world-famous 3-lap challenge, and of course some racing of my own – so below are a few pictorial highlights of what I’ve been up to since riding the Dragon

Olympic watching
Croatian bike-based wine tasting
Marmotte-ing (on the Galibier)
It’s probably fair to say that having reached the 70 hill mark, I’ve become a bit complacent with ticking them off, and have managed to leave myself with quite a challenge to fit everything in before 31 December (not to mention making the task harder by doing the rest of the hills in the deteriorating weather). Although, that said, I’m not sure I could have relied on there being better weather in July/August after the summer we’ve had, so perhaps it’s for the best that I’m planning a trip to the Scottish Highlands in October – at least there won’t be any midges at that time of year (I hope).

It probably comes as no shock to you, dear reader, but it turns out that spending 10 days in the Croatian sunshine, drinking wine, beer and Negronis, and eating anything and everything (from courgettes stuffed with brains to copious amounts of gelato) isn’t great for one’s fitness. I was, however, suffering under the delusion that this wouldn’t have too much of an effect, and I would be able to carry my form into September’s 3-lap challenge with ease. After an ignominious round, I limped home to report that I’d managed to add over one-minute to my time – setting me back to where I was in May. Turns out that progress has many guises.

A trip up to Yorkshire was next on the cards, to tick off the climbs that are close (but not that close) to home – much to the chagrin of my Mum, who decided that a visit home ‘just to go cycling’ wasn’t on the acceptable scale of things! We drove up on the Friday night, and being the party animals that we are, even made our own cheese sandwiches to have as a car picnic. Not many people spend their Friday nights in a service station car park (and those that do generally leave the lights on and are expecting people to be peering through the windows…) but we were there, living the high life as usual.

Friday night cheese sandwich based fun
Early on Saturday morning, I struck out to the Yorkshire Dales, scene of the Etape du Dales and a notoriously hard place to ride – always up or down hill, and with fickle weather designed to beat you into submission. However on this particular morning a strange glowing yellow ball appeared in the sky, bringing warmth and light – no idea what that was (never seen that in the Dales before) but it was very welcome. It was still pretty parky, however, and the wind was up blowing the car all over the road on the drive there, and bending the trees so they were parallel with the ground.

First hill on the list was the 7/10 Park Rash, which is one of those hills you can see coming from a decent way off

Park Rash climbing out of the valley
Actually not as bad as it looked (or maybe it’s just my legs were feeling fresh), it starts off with two wickedly steep hairpins before getting to a more sane gradient for the rest of the climb. The sign says 1:4, but I think that’s an average as I’m pretty sure the corners were more like the 1:3 that you get on Rosedale/Hardknott.

Anyway, with that out of the way, I made my way North, only to be stopped on two separate occasions by cows. More accurately (on the first occasion) it was an open field of playful bullocks. Playful isn’t an adjective you often associate with bulls, but this lot seemed quite happy to play fight over the road all day, and they certainly paid no attention to my shouting and waving of arms. Rather than weave through them, I decided the prudent (although slightly less dignified) solution was to walk around them – man beaten by cow.

Didn't fancy arguing with this lot
Black and white cows
Having reached the Northern-most point of the loop, it was then time to head up the Stang, which turned out to be a fairly gentle ascent, with the requisite mid-climb cattle grid and plenty of road-kill from the nearby pheasant farm (stupid birds). There is a rule that you can’t ever pick up road kill that you’ve hit, but if you come across it then you’re more than welcome to help yourself. As appealing as that sounds to someone who loves a good money-saving scheme, I couldn’t quite stomach the idea of the next 40 or so miles with a rotting pheasant carcass in my back pocket…

Sadly I forgot to take pictures at this hill, and at the next, so here’s a picture of the future Queen of England instead

Probably not the picture you were expecting
(but no lawsuits here - and that's not me!)
After the Stang it was a case of following my nose to pick up some food. My stomach had rumbled as I cycled through the picturesque village of Reeth, and it turned out my instincts were spot on – there was a bakery blowing out it’s delicious scent and open for business. I may not have many talents, but I do have a nose for a good bakery…

One massive steak and ale pie later, and I was good to go (after washing the gravy off my chin/hands/legs etc)

The 'Dan Dare' bike size pie
Out of Reeth, the going got harder as I turned into the gale that had been mostly behind me for the outward leg. This also coincided with a number of short but steep inclines, meaning that I tasted the pie again on a couple of occasions – sorry if this is more detail than you needed to know…

And of course this wouldn’t be a 100-climbs ride if there wasn’t a road that looked like a road on Google maps, only to turn out to be a lumpy gravel track down a steep hill

Gravel again, thanks Google
Up and over the tops into the wind, I was really starting to feel the lack of endurance rides, as well as the strong wind, so the ride up Oxnop Scar was pretty tricky especially the steep kick at the start. Nevertheless I persevered and was rewarded with a view of…the moors that I had just crossed and had been looking at all day. Who says that you don’t get anything back from hill climbing.

After that it was just a case of rolling back, into the wind or course, to the car in Grassington – where it turned out that the sleepy market square I’d parked had been transformed into a tourist mecca, and wasn’t the most subtle place to get changed out of my lyrca. Oh well, needs must…

Sunday was a difficult morning to lever myself out of bed, especially after sinking a few ales at a folk gig (don’t ask) the night before, and seeing the wet windy weather out of the window.

Relaxing folk music. Very relaxing, as it happens
Still, I knew I needed to get going, as I’d promised to be back in York by lunchtime, and needed to fit in three hill-climbs and a drive to and from Durham into that 5 hours…What I hadn’t gambled on was the A1 being full of traffic heading up to the Great North Run. Damn you charity-fundraising-fun-running swine. Fortunately I flipped into rally-driver mode, and hit the minor roads with a vengeance, making it up to Lanchester ahead of the expected time, and with a good adrenaline rush to boot. Good thing that the roads are quiet on a Sunday morning ;)

Predictably, Lanchester was dead at 8.30 on a Sunday morning, meaning there was an undignified rush to find the only open place with public conveniences - cue a bemused conversation with a sleepy garage owner while dressed in lyrca. Joy.

I had originally planned a 70 mile circular  ride linking all of the days hills, but didn't have enough time to get round the route so decided to climb the first - Park Rash - and then drive to Stanhope where the other two were in hitting distance. Park Rash was a lovely re-introduction to Northumbria, with no cars on the road and the sun poking through the clouds, and a hill big enough to get the blood pumping, but gentle enough to make sure that I still had both of my lungs by the time I reached the top.
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A quick stint in the car up and over the moors (incidentally the scene of my soul being crushed by the wind when I toured from Coldstream to Wiltshire last year - it seems this is always a hard road to ride), and I was down in Stanhope and at the base of the Crawleyside climb. This must be nodder central, as there were tons of people milling around on old mountain bikes (and even a Brompton) - but to their credit they were mostly straining and struggling to make it up the same climb. Which made me feel somewhat overdressed and a bit of a Flash Harry with my sparkly race bike - all extra motivation to climb at a decent rate I suppose...

The climb itself is a long beast, with some killer steep slopes from the off, and a second kick about half way in. However, there was an enormous tailwind blowing me up so all in all it felt pretty manageable. Not one to hang around on the top of, as the wind cut through everything I was wearing and the dark clouds were looming ominously in the foreground
Bleak Pennine gloom from the top of Crawleyside
The descent was incredibly hairy, with the headwind blowing me to almost a standstill in places and making it hard to stay in a straight line. At the bottom, the trip to the base of Chapel Fell was a long old slog along a fairly busy road and still into the wind - I think I averaged only about 12mph despite putting in some decent efforts. At this point I was pretty glad I didn't have to do the whole loop...

The presence of a rainbow close by provided a brief restbite, although this was broken by the realisation that a rainbow means rain...
Rainbow - it's there, honest
Needless to say, the rain did start to come down as I got to St John's Chapel, and as I turned up the road to Chapel Fell it started to come down in stair-rods. Chapel Fell is the highest paved road in England, and at its base there is a sign which does the opposite of leaving you with a warm fuzzy feeling:
Nice to know
As well as the rain, there was the wind to contend with, and with almost no-one else around (besides the odd sheep farmer driving past and staring incredulously) the overall level of 'bleak' rose to about 11/10 on my bleak-o-meter. Still, there was a hill to climb so I grit my teeth and pushed on, up the hill and along the undulating gradient. It's a long climb, and one that I think would be great if it wasn't for the weather as the surface is good, the road quiet, and the views spectacular. However, this wasn't the best of days, as my photo at the top shows:
Pretty sure this is the face I was pulling
all the way up
That said, the ride down and back to the car was amazing - pure unadulterated tailwind. Bliss!

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