Tuesday, 17 March 2009

How hard can it be?

First off: what a fantastic weekend! Best in a long time for a host of reasons. To start with it was impromptu. Life has got back to some degree of normality recently, enabling us on Friday to say, ‘Let’s sling the bikes in the car and head to Keswick’. So we did.

Up at the crack of ten o’clock, the plan was for Char and I to plug in a small gap in the Lakes section of the Coast to Coast that I’d missed on previous reccies. It would be an out and back, over to Sadgill, left along the valley, up Gatesgarth and onto the saddle above Mosedale Cottages. On the map it read as about 10/12 miles all in. Saturday was planned in as a rest day but at a gentle pace with Char I figured it would work as ‘recovery’ after a high effort week. 10 miles. How hard can it be?

‘Very’ is the answer… (Well, you know relatively speaking). The wind was absolutely howling. It was on our back to blow us over towards Sadgill. The decent down into the valley is rocky, loose and fast. The middle section is also pretty steep with a tricky entry and hairpins interspersed with eroded water breaks. Already, Char was loving the romantic weekend she had been promised…. (‘We could go for a nice walk or a gentle bike ride dear’).

As we dropped into the valley and turned left, the full force of the wind hit us. Even though the trail was only climbing slightly, the valley acted as a huge funnel, which sucked the consistent gale force wind though like a vacuum and made progress very draining.

Then it went up. In my na├»ve optimism, I’d looked at the OS map and not really clocked that this was a serious climb… The trail winds up to the right as the valley head closes in and it gets increasingly steep…. The surface changes from small round, loose and slippery rocks to the eroded and ancient paved bridleway which makes these Lakes passes so distinctive. And then… it got steeper again. Like a wall in fact.

This is the thing with the Coast to Coast; because the ‘headline’ Lakes climbs spring to mind, (Black Sail, Walna Scar Road, Garburn Pass) it’s easy to forget the ‘smaller’ climbs. I’m thinking of places like Carter Fell, Jenkins Crag, the road up to Loughrigg Terrace, and this monster… It will be so interesting to experience the physical impact of these huge successive hits… How will this effect proceedings further down the road? What is best pacing strategy? How will I feel ten hours later?

Desperately trying to keep my heart rate down, I got off my bike and the pair of us walked. This was a serious slog and the higher we got, the more we were hit by the full force of wind. And then, unusually for such a huge climb, we popped out at the top. Almost like stepping over an erm… step and onto a plateau. I did a quick spin up to the right to confirm Mosedale Cottages were where I thought; the ground changed from solid rock to boggy and soaked. Yuk. Rock I can deal with, no matter how steep, but wheel sucking and soft is my most hated surface. There were the cottages. Job done. I turned back to rejoin Char who was sitting behind a dry stone wall with some water and a banana. (Well, I had promised her a picnic with stunning views…)

We headed back down the incredibly steep rock cobbles. I like steep stuff but how it looked from through Char’s eyes I can only imagine… It’s a good job she doesn’t suffer from vertigo. To her credit, she rode most of it… We had to resist the wind constantly trying to push us too fast, and then as we approached the valley floor, we could finally let rip and surf through the loose pebbly stuff. Great fun!

It literally took minutes to gun through the valley. That put us back at the start of the climb from Sadgill. I knew this would be hard work. I was getting tired (we hadn’t eaten anywhere near enough) and fatigue finally got the better of Char. The push through the rocky sections was tough but by the time we got back to the car the hard bits had began to fade into memory and the spectacular valley views remained.

Despite her concerns that she was slowing me up, Char was seriously impressive on what was a very physical ride. The fact that she never spat the dummy lead me to a couple of conclusions:

(1) Char really should race endurance as she has the ability to put one foot in front of the other… just to get through the present moment (a core endurance skill).
(2) Regardless of our level of fitness, we can all do more than we realise. It was interesting to be alongside someone pushed to their current limit… and then doing a bit more.

Sunday was my planned training ride...

I got out around nine-ish and rode out into probably the warmest day of the year so far. Bootiful. I’m not really one for trail centres (especially when in the Lakes!) but intrigue got the better of me so I headed up to do the new South Loop at Whinlatter. And I had some intervals to do and figured they could be integrated into a trail centre better than a loop of Skiddaw (for example). I got stuck right into the road climb out of Braithwaite.

I was struck by how many cars I saw going up there with bikes on the back.... Come on people! I’m sure most were just coming from Keswick... Anyway, I really like this climb; steep turn at the bottom; nice steady gradient for a while and then it ramps up again through a few turns, and then provides great views across Bassenthwaite Lake to Skiddaw. Great warm up. After a chat with the guys in Cycle Wise I climbed up to the start of the descent. Fun I suppose but give me sketchy ‘is there a line.....?’ Lakes descent anytime over a downhill BMX track! Once in the hill valley I found a long climb that ramped up slowly. Perfect for my intervals. Six times up and down that a full steam and I was well and truly warmed up! Another quick couple of laps of the climb / BMXy descent and I was a happy man. It was more fun with fully pumped legs!

Back to base for a huge dose of mushrooms, scrambled eggs, toast and tea. Marvellous. We then sat with credit card in trembling hand to finally commit to the Worlds.... Went on the advice of Mike Cotty and booked a couple of weeks in the Quality Hotel Chateau Canmore. It looks spot on; an apartment (as opposed to a room; my dad is coming too) and a short ride from the race HQ. A quick search of some Google images for Canmore sealed the deal... British Airways also got the Barclays treatment. Tis done.

However, before we left to drive back to sunny Northumberland, we made a pact to never discuss the price again.... unlike a great weekend, some things are best forgotten....

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