Friday, 22 May 2009

New Improved Blog! Now with Added Stuff!

Yep, I've got a new blog! It's a magical place full of pretty colours and nice pictures. From now on it's all happening at

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

English Coast to Coast. 7DS5.

First up, I want to clarify my route. I followed the unabridged Coast to Coast designed by Tim Woodcock. 210 miles of Great British Mountain Biking: warts and all. It’s an incredible route but far from ‘the perfect ride’. On a normal day, you would avoid many of the sections like the plague. But this wasn’t a normal day. The idea was to ride what I consider to be the toughest mapped version of this classic challenge, come what may.

I have investigated accounts of ‘The’ Coast to Coast being ridden in one hit in under twenty hours and found them to be variations on Tim’s route (and other coast to coast hybrids). I have still not found any evidence that anybody has ridden Tim’s route in one hit and unsupported. If anyone knows differently please let me know. If you would like a copy of the GPX file, please contact me and I will pass it on. This is the Seven Deadly Spins 5 challenge.

As things turned out, I don’t expect my ride time to present a great problem for the ‘usual suspects’ who may take this challenge on (and I hope they do; it’s a fantastic experience). Conditions were not conducive to a fast time. The weather played an ace by hitting me with a South Easterly headwind and plenty of rain; the absolute worst case scenario. However, with the 24hr Solo World Championships being so close, a postponement would have involved months of waiting and I had an insatiable urge to just get out there and get it done. So I did. It was a ride I will never forget. Put the kettle on, I want to tell you a story…

It was necessary for me to wake up and get up quickly on Saturday morning so Dave and Charlotte could drive me from Morpeth to St Bees. For me, this is one of the most stomach wrenching feelings involved in a day / night / day ride; knowing I won’t be reunited with my bed till Sunday night. At 7am on Saturday morning, bed felt a long way away…. The weather didn’t look too bad but I could see the high cloud still flowing in exactly the wrong direction.

As we cruised South on the M6 my now fragile optimism took a big kick in the shins. The sky went black, the rain lashed down and wind buffeted the car. I finally resigned myself to the cold reality that this was going to be far from perfect. The rosey coloured glasses came off and the adrenalin was flowing faster than the rain down the windscreen…

Reserved confidence returned as we hit the coast. White horses whipped across the Irish Sea but the cloud was broken and there was some warmth in the sun. We pulled up at St Bees car park with twenty minutes to spare. Quick scramble to get ready, and off!

Through the lanes and tracks towards Ennerdale I started to relax and remember I was out to enjoy this. How many people have the chance to do something like this? Recently, some friends and relatives have suffered some shattering health problems. I would absorb every minute good or bad, just happy to be fit and healthy. Did I want the ride to be ‘perfect’? What’s perfect? Did I want an Experience? Hell yes!

Cruising up the valley I prepared myself for the hit of Black Sail Pass. It’s my least favourite part of the Lakes section and I just wanted to put it behind me. But it was in front of me, a misshapen contorted ascent that has no redeeming features on a nice day…. Just as I started to climb, a weather front passed over. Suddenly the wind blew up and seemed to hit me from every direction at once. The rain came down in vicious swirls. It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to reach for my waterproof. Dragging my bike up the tussock ridden slope I felt pretty low. This was not a fun start. Over the top I dropped my saddle and stared straight down the now slick and steep rock steps. Gulp. The crags below Red Pike looked far steeper than I’d ever noticed before, sheer in fact. They were inky black and ragged swirls of rain clouds skittered around the horseshoe. Deep breath. And down… The heavy bag on my back lurched and tried to pitch me over the bars. Not only this, but it also seemed to ‘stabilise’ my weight, making it very hard to make the fine body movements required on such a technical descent. I felt something give on my bike and I slid to a precarious nose down halt. My saddle bag bracket had snapped. It was a big saddle bag which held the bulk of my energy bars. My back pack was packed to bursting. My pockets were full, but it’s amazing how creative you can get with space when you have to! Up my top, jammed hard into my backpack and down my shorts! I must have looked like some kind of deformed Michelin Man! Onwards and downwards…. I must admit at this stage to being completely unnerved. I was shaky and nervous. My arms were trembling. I fully expected to crash. Past the rocky gully and some semblance of belief returned. I popped out at Wasdale Head and felt a wash of relief to leave Black Sail behind me.

The grind and carry up towards Bulatt Bridge began. As the ground levelled I was hit by the true wind direction and it wasn’t good. This plateau gives an honest reading and it was straight in my face. The marshy ground was saturated and sucked my wheels in making me feel like I was dragging a small parachute… Surely things would get better….

Down into Boot the release of a rocky surface boosted both my speed and my spirits and I cruised towards Hardknott. Apprehension grew as knew I was traversing Harter Fell soon after. Another ‘bad bit’. Well best to get these out the way. And it was bad! A long carry and then across the flat… Sawn off tree stumps, ankle twisting rocks and unpredictable pools of treacle like peat continually tripped me up. Eventually it becomes mostly rideable down to the river Duddon but with my confidence and skills on the floor I was making a real meal of everything, over compensating for the dead weight on my back which seemed to neutralise and straighten my every turn.

Walna Scar loomed. I felt tired, weak and demoralised. Half riding, half pushing my head was down and I knew I needed something to give. I’m embarrassed to say it but I felt like pulling out (even though I couldn’t). Dark Thoughts Sir? After three and a half hours Sir? What was going on?! Then I got the boost I needed. The perfect boost for any rider; standing at the top of Walna Scar with my saddle down, not a person in sight and one of the best descents in the country snaking endlessly down in front of me! Cheeeearge! It all clicked and I nailed it; fast, furious and sketchy. Reserve went out the window. This type of descent is my strength and I wanted to make the most of it. Out and through Coniston my legs whirred away and I was in race mode. Through Tilberthwaite, down the rock fest to Skelwith Bridge and up the road climb to Loughrigg Terrace. It was deserted bar one person sitting on a bench. On a Saturday afternoon. Incredible! This is normally one of the busiest walking routes in the Lakes and rendered unrideable at any pace unless you’re up very early (or very late!). This was a common theme for the whole ride and part of my logic for choosing this weekend. The weekend before a Bank Holiday is always quieter in the Lakes as people are saving themselves to hit the place in a concentrated mass…. More the fool them!

Jenkins Crag was a grind and again my head went down… What was happening? My negativity confused me. Some kind of psychosomatic goings on I suspect… Onto Garburn and the rock was nice and dry, the spirits lifted once more and I chuckled to receive a text from a friend; ‘Fancy North York Moors tomorrow?’ it read! ‘I’ll be there’ I replied! Garburn is another favourite and again I hit all the lines. The brain was starting to engage. But again the cloud and darkness closed in. No signs of life anywhere. It was bleak. And time was getting on. I dragged my bike up Gatesgarth knowing that when the rocky surfaces ended and I hit the bad lands of Mosedale my momentum would fall once more.

It was horrendous. Like a bad dream. It’s a wet place at the best of times but this was truly awful. I literally dragged my bike through knee-deep marsh grass and at points ended up thigh deep in freezing black watery peat. One gate was virtually impossible to open because either side was three foot deep in water. The spectre of submerged barbwire, fence posts and rocks swam in front of my eyes as I hauled myself through the quagmire. Even going downhill proved impossible at times as the bike just dug deeper and deeper into the gloop. I pushed and dragged for a good few miles. Just before the descent towards Shap it started to go properly dark. The gloom was accelerated by an incoming black wall of rain and I knew this was no light shower. My waterproofs were on simply to try and keep warm but they were about to get a proper workout… The heavens opened and the daylight ended in a split second. Exposure light went on and its solid dependable beam gave me a much needed boost of confidence.

Down into Shap to a tap stop. Dave and Charlotte were there to tell me I had turned off my Spot tracker by accident! Nobody had known where I was! (Apologies to anyone who was following the early stages of my ride!) I stopped for the essential water stop and wolfed down a lovely bag of compressed M&S pasta. (Well I wasn’t slumming it you know!). I was shaking and freezing. I literally couldn’t stop for a minute longer than necessary due to my plummeting body temperature. I seriously considered pulling out for safety reasons. I was desperately cold and couldn’t feel my hands or feet. Grim. But of course Dear Reader, like a lamb to the slaughter I carried on…

The rain was relentless. I could hardly hold my head up because it stung my face and filled my eyes, even with my glasses on. I was in a maze of narrow country lanes, green lanes and bridleways. It was pitch black and unrecognisable. Thank goodness for my Satmap! I just whacked up the scale and followed the dots! There was no other way. What a fantastic bit of kit. It would have been impossible without it.

Climbing past Crosby Ravensworth my pulse quickened as I headed towards. Woofer Gill. This is a section I had been dreading from the start. After a few miles of gradual road climb I hit a track that petered out into soft grassy field, which disintegrated into waist deep marsh grass, broken gates, barb wire fences, angular rocks and cunningly disguised ankle twisting holes. The dreaded Back of Tan Hill! I pushed and dragged my bike across this army style obstacle course and felt the energy literally being sucked out of my legs. It was 2am. I realised I was half way. I was two hours behind my predicted schedule.

After what seemed like an age, I scrambled out of the steep grass bank and popped out on the road that led to Tan Hill. Again the relief of tarmac gave me a boost and to be honest, this was a bit of a turning point. Positivity returned (apologies if my account has been depressing reading so far – I am just telling it how it was). The rain stopped. The centre of the low pressure was obviously above me. Still calm descended as I rode down towards Keld. The ground was soft, but it had clearly not rained here as much as it had in the Lakes. A watershed. Down into Swaledale the descent is a classic; swooping and fast with some steep switchbacks to berm around. I was enjoying myself now!

Across the valley floor to the next killer hit; Low Houses Bank. This is one of the ‘warts’ I mentioned! There is no way you would ever usually take this route! A remorselessly steep grass bank riddled with mole hills and short greasy sheep sheared grass followed by a precarious boulder field and a classic steep marble strewn Dales bridleway up to Whitaside Moor. The sun was just coming up and the still calm air was freezing but clear. A brief and uncharacteristic moment of ‘Ah, aint it purty’ and it was head down once more. A fast descent and then over and down to Fremington.

My ride was unsupported but being an enthusiastic Coast to Coaster, Stuart from the Dales Mountain Bike had decided to wait up to cheer me on! What a gesture. Cheers Stuart! Dave and Charlotte were also there, simply to keep an eye on me, and they had spent a few hours in Stuart’s good company as I was way behind my predicted time. Quick hello and off….

Now I like wildlife and stuff but riding a bike in the early morning in the Dales is just plain hazardous. Rabbits flew like pinballs across the road at three second intervals or less. Animal collision is the cruellest fate… Besides that, it just made me jump every time! It’s the randomness that got me…

There are nearly as many gates in Yorkshire as there are rabbits and that is saying something. Rusted gates, jammed gates, immovable gates. My months of press-ups stood me in good stead as it was time for my upper body to take a bashing. As for the wall passes through Applegarth, don’t even go there….

Out through Richmond, the early sun disappeared and the fog came down. I was cold and damp again. My feet and fingers started to tingle and seize as the mist penetrated. The roads snaked their way towards Osmotherley and again I sensed the low pressure shifting… The South Easterly wind was picking up again and it blew the mist away. I knew this did not bode well for the North York Moors because much of my route headed into the steadily increasing gusts. Another deep breath. This was the final eight hour stint. I was twenty hours in. There were some brutal climbs to come and the hurt was happening.

Fortunately, the ground was pretty firm throughout the Moors. I say fortunately because even with decent ground the push out of Scugdale put me on my back foot, struggling to keep moving forward. This four hour stint was grim. Dark thoughts crept in again as I pondered over what I still had to do. My appetite had gone and I was desperately trying to force food down my dry and sore throat, knowing that if I didn’t eat progress would halt altogether. I dragged my bike up yet another bouldery, grassy and unrideable slope and onto flat moor top. The full force of the wind hit me and I had to stand in my pedals just to keep an eight mile an hour pace… the surface looked innocuous enough but the sandy base peppered with small angular rocks beats the hell out of you and saps energy.

But consistent with the emerging theme, a high followed a low. Traversing both Skinner Howe Cross Road and Cut Road were probably the best parts of the whole ride; boulders embedded in dry (yes, dry!) peat. Kind of trialsy. My ‘relaxed’ (pulverised) body allowed me and the bike to flow over the gritstone rocks like mercury. No dead end ‘dunks’ into angular rocks. No dabs. No messed up lines. I was riding like it was a two hour Sunday spin. When this happens after 24 hours it makes it all worthwhile. How does this happen? The body and mind are strange things.

Besides a few ups and downs, one major obstacle remained. The 33% road climb out of Grosmont. I had quite literally been dreading it from the start. It was more the humiliation of potentially pushing my bike up a road (horror!) than enduring the pain in my legs… But the red mist came down. I hit it hard. And just kept going. It was surreal. I couldn’t have climbed it any better on any other day. Weird!

My euphoria was dulled somewhat as the exposed road headed straight South. Standing in the pedals for what seemed like an age I reached the next stretch of bleak moorland bridleway. Riddled with motorbikes ruts, I wondered if my head could deal with balance and accuracy needed. Again, it was a dreamlike experience. Despite knowing deep down I was exhausted my body and mind were working in perfect unison. I balanced on six inch wide ruts like I had stabilisers! I rode in them without even clipping a pedal. I started to imagine I was playing that Operation game. You know the one; the hoop touches the wire and ‘BZZZZZZZ’!!! Your out! Well the hoop didn’t touch the wire and there was no BZZZZ! I started to get cocky. Bunny hopping in and out of ruts and crossing lines just for the fun of it. I could have stayed out all day! (Maybe I was going delirious). One or two patchwork fields to cross, a dip into a bit of slippery woodland singletrack and the last climb remained; straight East across the fells into more cold misty rain towards Raven Scar.

Onto the road, swoop down onto the railway track and on the final road stretch to Robin Hoods Bay. It looked just like an English Holiday resort should look like. Families huddled in doorways eating fish and chips, billboards flapped in the wind, rainwater streaming down the street. But to me it was Nirvana! I had made it in one hit and I realised that deep down I was always going to.

28 hours and 31 minutes of non-stop pedalling.

Char and Dave looked worse for wear though! I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again; being on the sidelines of a ride like this is harder in many ways than actually doing the ride itself. Whilst they didn’t support me in any way, they kept an eye on me (from afar, as much as they could). I can’t thank them enough. They know this.

My confidence is sky high for the worlds in two months time. My coach, Will Newton, has got it just right. I’ve never felt so strong. And after the mental battering of the Coast to Coast, I know my head can cope with pretty much anything!

The big question: Can the Tim Woodcock Coast to Coast be done unsupported in 24 hours? A good rider on a good day with a big dose of luck could do it. A lot would have to go right. It was certainly not possible in the conditions I experienced. Will I go for it on a better day? Maybe…

Perhaps the most amazing thing in the whole escapade was that I did not have a single mechanical. Not even a missed gear change. My Ironhorse Bootleg performed flawlessly. Beside the snapped saddlebag nothing went wrong. This is incredible considering that at 2am I was literally throwing my bike over dry stone walls and scrambling over and under barb wire fences in howling gales and lashing rain in the middle of nowhere… But you know what? Screw the time; I wouldn’t have had it any other way….

Friday, 15 May 2009

So close you can smell it...

No, I’m not talking about Dave’s Old Spice. The Coast to Coast is tomorrow! 7DS 5.

It looks like riding a fast time could be tricky…. ‘When the wind is in the East, no good for man nor beast’. That’s what they say in these parts…. Well, the wind is in the east; I’m a man and this is a beast… How often do we get an Easterly…. Grrrrr! The spectre of heavy rain AS WELL loomed for a while but it looks like showers could be the worst of it. To be honest, my only real weather concern is carrying stuff (on top of all the stuff I’m already carrying!). I have a superb super light Deuter hydration pack especially for the ride… but include waterproof pants and gloves and the capacity will be exceeded and a bigger bag may be required….

Anyways, here’s the deal:

* I will set off at 12 noon from St Bees with my back wheel in the sea at the bottom of the landing ramp (it’s a bit twee but people like that type of sh1t).
* I will receive no outside assistance at all
* I can collect water from taps or buy it from shops
* Or drink it from streams…
* I will carry everything I need for the duration, including all food and equipment.
* But if I kill it, I can eat it
* I will scream ‘Have It!’ at all I pass: walker, cyclist, rider, man, woman and child
* I will arrive at RHB some time later…. And ride into the North Sea. Unless it’s miles out. In which case I’ll just order a pint at the Bay Hotel


Here is the link to my web tracker. I’ll be pressing ‘play’ at 12 tomorrow:

Many thanks to Spot and Satmap for ensuring we all get where we want to be quickly and safely. And would you really use any lights other than Exposure on a ride like this....?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The best laid plans...

From the conception of the one hit Coast to Coast attempt idea, I’ve been exceptionally (blindly?) optimistic. My planning has been meticulous and this has bred confidence. I’ve studied maps, reccied the route, and planned my water stops. I’ve measured, weighed and counted my nutritional requirements and I’ve kitted out my bike with, (what I consider to be) the perfect mix of components for the ride. Oh, and I’ve been training hard and specifically.

Despite this preparation there is one variable that is completely beyond anyone’s control…. The good old British weather! We’ve had a great Spring so far; very little rainfall, gentle winds and dry trails. It was set to get even better; gradually becoming more conducive to the perfect conditions for a fast time. Mid May has been looking ideal for the last month or so.

And then I looked at the BBC website last night…. Words like ‘settled’ ‘calm’ and ‘dry’ had, in the blink of an eye, changed to ‘unsettled’, ‘blustery’ and ‘wet’. Aaaargh! Surely they can’t do this? Are they not regulated or something? Why have a forecast at all?

I’ve had the opinion from the start that a sub 24 hr time may (just) be possible as a result of peak fitness, meticulous planning, luck (big dose of) and last but not least… firm ground! Soft ground could result in a huge ramping up of time. And then there is the possibility of dealing with bad weather on the day… Maybe I will have to rewrite that kit list… revise tyre choice… (Or toughen the **** up and stop panicking I hear you say!)

Or I could just ignore the forecast and carry on with my rosey coloured glasses on… when have the BEEB ever got it right anyway? And why do they always smile?

Thursday, 30 April 2009

A week of two halves...

It’s been another blur of a week... It’s just really dawned on me how close the Coast to Coast attempt is and how much there still is to do... The weekend was a bit more laid back though. Well, for me more than Josh and Dave (sounds a bit like some comedy double act! I will resist the cheap laugh here). They were racing the Kielder Enduro Avalanche and along with Rob, Zoe and Emily came to stay at our spacious and palatial residence... Both Friday and Saturday nights we furnished ourselves with the finest Indian cuisine (the takeaway round the corner) and everyone slept like sardines on the floor... perfect race preparation! Charlotte and I went to watch the prologue and I personally loved watching everybody getting all nervous and unnecessary for a change (I usually don’t go to races; just do them. A very different experience). After wandering around the course and watching Josh ‘n’ Dave floor themselves in four minutes of lactic turmoil, we headed back to Morpeth, kidding ourselves we would get an early night. I had a 6 hour training ride scheduled, with threshold intervals, so it was important that I ate well and slept.... ahem...

Rob and Zoe didn’t go back to Kielder on the Sunday and I suggested that, along with Charlotte, they headed up to Thrunton Woods where I would find them, briefly show them a few trails and then continue on my merry way. This worked a treat and I managed to follow my nose, as if in the boots of a stranger, and bump into them. Like some kind of tracking hound. We whipped round some of my favourite bits and had a jolly good time. It’s funny when you take others around your own patch it transforms into The Best Ride in the World.... Why does that happen?

Anyway, I boshed out my six hours at a good pace in constant undulating hills. The early intervals had their impact and by the time I pulled up at Morpeth Mansions I was bushed.

It was great to have the team up and have a bit of a social. Something that doesn’t happen often enough. Well, if they choose to live in the South....

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Road trip. Northern stylee.

What a wicked week! Had little time to write because I’ve been so busy riding! On Wednesday I met my good friend Dougie from Fort Bill up at Glentress. As I’ve said before, I’m not really a great fan of trail centres but if there is one that I always enjoy it’s Glentress. Maybe it’s the constantly evolving trails? Maybe it’s the cafĂ©? Or maybe it’s because when I ride there, it’s usually a bit more of a social. Despite heavy damp mist crossing the border, Glentress seemed to sit in a bit of a pocket; not clear but not muggy and cold as it was when I left Morpeth.

It was good to catch up with Dougie and we meandered around at a steady pace chatting away. We then bumped into two couples and all ended up riding together. Maybe it’s the way when some bikers get together but we really had plenty to talk about and it was change for me to not be focusing on ‘Training’. Well, I say that… as time went on, one of the guys, (riding an SX Trail – you know who you are!) and I engaged in a bit of friendly ‘duelling’ on the descents and fast singletrack sections…. He was pretty quick and it took some big efforts and a dip into the lactic to occasionally pull away from him… A good rider and a great sport!

Managed to talk Dougie into a night and a day in Northumberland so we drove back down over the border. Thursday dawned and I wanted to show the big man some of the great trails around Thrunton. I knew conditions would be perfect as I imagine they have been up and down the country recently. It was perfect, and as usual for this little known gem it was deserted.

My plan for the week was to spend the weekend in the Lakes, and watching the excellent weather forecast unfold I realised this was going to be a classic weekend. (Not difficult to talk Dougie into another night or two!) I had big back to back rides pencilled in; 6 hours on Saturday and 8 on Sunday. This isn’t really Dougie’s scene so I sent him off round the classic loop: The Back of Skiddaw. He’d considered going to Whinlatter but I talked him round! The Skiddaw loop really is an absolute classic and gives an experience that could never be matched by any trail centre I’ve ridden. As Dougie had never visited the Lakes before, it was the right ride as there are virtually no navigation issues. (I set him round clockwise as you face Skiddaw from Keswick; going up Dash Falls. It always amazes me how many people do it anti-clockwise and loose all the height on the road towards Bassenthwaite….).

I set off up Lattrigg and headed out to Skiddaw House but with no intention of descending Dash. This has to be some of the best and most scenic singletrack anywhere. I continued out towards Mungrizedale along the flat but fast and fun trail that remains generally walker free due to the distances from Keswick and the roads. This is the type of place that is stunning on a good day but grim on a bad one…. Well today it was springy peat joy and the sun was already generating some real warmth.

I turned right and settled in for a few road miles. The next instalment was to head toward Matterdale End, turn off the Coach Road at and climb the ridge to just under the peak of Helvelyn. This climb is a beast; it’s the shallowest angle up to the peak but is essentially grass, peat and draggy moss that never seems to dry out. Friendly duel number 2 started! Mountain Biker versus Fell Runner! Despite an apparently un-athletic gait, this guy just kept going like some kind of remorseless running zombie… Regardless, his style was brutally effective and he pulled away from me as my wheels were increasingly pulled into the ground. It was really hard work for a good twenty minutes before the ground firmed up. As the ridge levelled out I caught The Running Man again… I commented on how hard it was to catch him and he gave me a knowing look. It was the type of cheeky grin that could only be made by those who are secretly aware of their magical abilities…. (I actually passed him 4 hours later in his car; sweat still glistening on his brow…). Respect to that man!

After desperately trying to look like ‘it was really nothing’ to go past him, I turned off left to head down Sticks Pass. Unfortunately the track has been sanitised substantially, (sorry; I meant to say sustainable improvements have been made) but it’s still a steep fast, slippery, rocky and sketchy descent all the way down to Patterdale. Next, I headed round the back of Ulswater for one of the best bits of trialsy singletrack in the Lakes. The bone dry and ultra grippy surfaces had me riding up and down things I didn’t think I was going to make on several occasions…. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden here and I totally forgot what a long road slog it was to Pooley Bridge and round the lake to start the climb back to the start of the Coach Road. Oh well, good to get the legs spinning after the stop / start / balance fun of the last section.

Up the road, past The Smiling Running Man, across the deserted and sun dried fell track (yes; sun dried!) and down the high speed rocky plummet to St Johns. Home. Curry. Relax!

A good early night set me up for Sunday’s 8 hour beasting…. Dougie was heading back up the coast and he kindly dropped me off at St Bees. The plan was to ride a solid section of the Coast to Coast just to get an idea of average speed and consolidate a couple of navigational issues. Out of St Bees, I joined the Coast to Coast cycle path. Surprisingly for me, I actually quite enjoyed this section! It’s a nice smooth path, the morning sun was slowly creating heat, glinting through Spring green trees and there were many cheery locals out walking. This will be a great warm up come the day.

Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of the Lakes fells and it reminded me why I was here…. I dropped alongside Ennerdale water and in the distance Black Sail Pass loomed in the hazy sunshine. I breathed deep in anticipation of the big wake up call lying just beyond Black Sail Hut. Off the bike and carry. I have decided not to force these sections. Get off and push earlier rather than later. Conserve energy. Steady not fast. Save that for when it can make a marked difference. My pacing was perfect. In fact it took me forty minutes to get up and over. Well pleased with that! Next slog was up to Bulatt Bridge. More pushing across ankle twisting round rocks. The pedalling got easier past the bridge and the unpredictable swoop down to Eskdale began. Great fun, but plenty of random big holes to catch you out….

Slog number 3… over Dunnerdale. Even the flat on the top is unrideable…. Sawn off tree stumps and peat bogs make running the quicker option before the singletrack gets fast and fun again, down to the steeping stone crossing. Nice hot day; just jump in the water, wade, clear the peat of the legs and cool down.

I’m sure the short section of road to the bottom of Walna Scar has been placed to strategically intimidate…. The pass faces you directly and puts the ‘loom’ into looming…. It’s a monster. Long. Long. Long…. And just the sort of gradient that has you spinning the granny ring, fighting for traction, getting off, getting back on… But a focus on good pacing had me cresting the pass having exerted just the right amount of energy… Not too fast. Not too slow.

Then the fun began! I love this descent! Fast, steep at points and the odd major feature thrown in for good measure. Bizarrely, I did not see a single person all the way down! Weird on such an amazing day. Seat down and sliding round corners in blazing sunshine it was a far cry form the last time I rode down here with Paul Errington in the pitch black… Both great in their own way.

Through to Tilberthwaite. Up the road to the Loughrigg descent but I chose to dip left into Grasmere, (and then back on the road to Keswick) rather than attempt The Terrace on a sunny Sunday afternoon. My years of working in Grasmere and Ambleside taught me that that is a no no… So far I had ridden for 6 and a half hours. I calculated that I would have reached Troutbeck about forty five minutes later if I had continued. This bodes well. 55 miles of gnarl at about 7.5 miles an hour. The average I need to achieve for a sub 24 crossing is 8.75mph. My speed will pick up once the Lakes are behind me. Some days I think ‘Yes’ it’s possible. Other days I say ‘No it’s ridiculous’. Today was a ‘Yes’ day. It can be done in under 24 hours. Will I do it? I hope so. If I don’t, somebody will crack it eventually and the best of luck to anyone who decides to give it a one hit run. I’ll be happy to complete it no matter what happens. It’s an awe inspiring and intriguing challenge that has really caught my imagination. So many variables to consider. The calculating and wondering will get its final resolve next month. I can’t wait.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Another quick one.... had such an amazing week. Coach let me loose on some big endurance rides (without the hard efforts apparently! Ho! Ho!). Just check this view back from the bottom of Black Sail Pass. Try getting to this spot without blowing a fuse!

Mountain biking means many things to many people. We all have our own ideas about the 'essence' of the activity. But if you asked me to describe what I love about riding, I couldn't express it in words as well as this picture does.

More about an amazing and enlightening weekend soon.