Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Only one finish line

December. 6 am. Pitch black. The horizontal misty rain wraps around me, blown on the blasting but unusually warm south westerly wind. It was far from ideal conditions for a mission over Garburn Pass. But, being a ‘prepare the night before, get up, go, and ask no questions’ type, creates a robotic response that overrides logic and reason; the body acts and the mind follows. Habit is a very powerful tool. Getting out this early on a Sunday morning also stirs magical childlike emotions; a bit like having a midnight feast whilst everyone else is asleep; a deserted Lake District all for me.

This entry could have also been titled, ‘Baptise my Bootleg’ as this was my first big ride on the new team bike; how would we get on...? This entry could have been called many things because riding in the Lakes stirs so many emotions; it empties my mind of the day to day junk and fills me with focused enthusiasm for mountain biking. I just love the type of trails you find here.
Speaking of enthusiasm, my upcoming Coast to Coast attempt has given me plenty to get animated about over winter... what a fantastic challenge! Fitness is obviously a factor but this is hardcore mountain biking. What will prepare me for the challenge? Why, lots of hardcore mountain biking that’s what! (‘Really dear, I would love a lie in but unfortunately I MUST do this bit of reconnaissance...’).

So that was the plan; over Jenkins Crag, Garburn Pass, out to Mosedale and back. Joystick on helmet I scrambled up to Jenkins; half decomposed winter leaves had fallen and formed a thick slimy sludge that made traction elusive. Despite having ridden over this hill a hundred times, the plunging bridleway down past Town End and into the valley bottom was not a route I had used before. My Coast to Coast reccy missions so far have taken me on routes similar to those I’ve done so many times, but added some interesting new twists...

Onto the start of Garburn. First light was just breaking faintly through the mist as I struggled on the edge of traction, kicking just enough to clear another rock maze. The ridge above me started to take shape but as I gained elevation it was clear this was not a good day; the wind swirled and gusted and the rain turned from misty to heavy... By the time I crested the pass the gale was so strong it was drowning out the blasting techno playing on my MP3... and it was time to think soberly about the descent. On a clear day this steep, loose and technical drop is ‘challenging’. In half light, with a river flowing down it and buffeting gales it leaned towards suicidal... Drop your saddle and hang on to your hat; we’re going down! The surefooted confidence of my new Bootleg blew me away. I hit all the lines to the inch and at no point was I in danger of loosing it. The steepest section has some big boulders down the middle that are raised above the rest. This is the fastest but hairiest line. I pinned it and dropped out the other side at full tilt dying to hit the switchbacks.... oh yes; we were going to get along just fine!

Down in the valley I got some respite from the blasting wind up top. Cruising over to Sadgill I rode another track that was new territory; a BOAT with some of the steepest, rockiest hairpins in the Lakes... just what Traffic could you get over there?!?

It was soon after that I realised what a serious undertaking the Coast to Coast is. Bad conditions made me lazy; I should have got the map out again but even in the valley, the map would end up wrapped around me like a big soggy sheet of papier-mâché (The Satmap has many advantages!). I turned right too early and ended up on exposed, marshy and wind swept moor land. I pushed on for quite a while before I realised my mistake.... and I wasn’t even tired. Yorkshire Dales at midnight after fourteen hours in the saddle? This will demand pure focus and concentration.

Anyway, at this point I decided to call it a day; I had cracked another key section of the route. I retraced my steps back to Ambleside.

My schoolboy error on the fell had really made me think. There will be no margin for error on the epic solo ride I will be attempting. There will be no friend to keep me on track when my head goes. No lap times to gauge pace by. No, ‘Is it one or two more laps till the end?’ No pat on the back or words of encouragement from friends and spectators. Most crucially there is only one finish line. How long will it take to get there?

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