112 miles, 9545 feet climb
These iconic words which ignite a glint in the eye of every cyclist; they are stamped on the cover of the rider briefing and also I discovered in my brain. Once I had this quartet of climbs under my belt I was still a long way from the finish. I was almost broken, battered by an unrelenting wind which had followed me since I set off from Threshfield at 6.30 am.
The evening before, enjoying a suet pudding and a glass of wine in the pub near the event HQ with Alun and Steve, savouring the lovely moment of warm comfort, I predicted that I would not remember anything of the following day. You really live in the moment of every second at times like this, and savour if not remember each second and every minute. Like I said, you are not competing against anyone, just enjoy it.
As I set off walking from Wood Nook campsite at 5.00 am the next morning to the start at Threshfield, near Grassington, I caught a glimpse of the sunrise and hoped the weather would settle down for the long journey ahead. Checking the forecast the previous week, the forecast had gone from heavy to light to no rain, but the pictures of the wind were getting bigger.
As I sat in my car I had left at the start the day before, cold rain fell and the cold wind bit. The rain stopped but not the wind.
The Dave Rayner Fund has run this sportive for over ten years. It was to be my fourth sportive and I knew it was going to be hard when I entered. I then spent the winter months separated from my bike instead of cycling every day like I like to.
In an attempt to get fit fast I spent a couple of days cycling in the Dales, taking advantage of the balmy weather just after Easter. I set off with a map and no plan and toured the Dales with panniers. I had also picked up a late place in the Tour De Yorkshire and used that 142k sportive to get some miles in, that was a fantastic day out. I was proud to be taking part in the inaugural event. Maybe I would do it every year and one year manage all the climbs.
So, here I am in Threshfield setting off with the first group at 6.30 am, overcooking in three layers underneath a Gore waterproof top, I quietly get on with the ride. From Grassington, to Kettlewell, Buckden, Hubberholme, and along the newly emerging River Wharfe, turning right and uphill at the confluence of Oughtershaw Beck and Green Field beck. Now here the wind feels pretty vicious and the going was difficult from the start. The first climb up Fleet Moss, and instead of relishing this, I felt forlorn. It was so hard, trying to get up the hill in the wind - I thought my brakes were on, or my gears had broken, I could not see me finishing and felt so despondent.
Nodding at the curlews being blown around to my side motionless on the wing, the climb was soon over and the joy of the long descent to Gayle and Hawes was dampened by the buffeting of the sidewind, more than the usual care on a fast descent was needed.
Sailing through Hawes, a fleeting visit to the feed station for drinks and flapjack, food in mouth I set off for the climb up then down Buttertubs Pass. Stationed in key places around the route are ambulances. Aside from reassurance they really flag up where you need to exercise extreme caution. There is one here. Down and along to Muker, Gunnerside, Low Row, Arkengarthdale and left to Tan Hill (taken from the rider booklet as I have little memory of this section).
I have been to the Tan Hill Inn when I walked the Pennine Way and I was excited to be cycling up here on this classic Yorkshire road. Of course the wind driving me back was tiresome and the times I saw the Tan Hill Inn on the dark moorland ahead only to find it was the reflected light in my brain I was following to keep me moving forward were many. Men and women were quietly toiling up the hill on foot and I was pleased to arrive at the Inn on the old pushiron (mile 38). Having no time to queue for coffee and food I refilled my water, inhaled a banana and headed off into the new direction which could only be down. Yes, what could be more savoured than that long sweeping downhill down Stonesdale Moor.
Through Nateby to Garsdale Head, arriving at The Moorcock, a few hours later a feed station offered weary travellers food and drink, and I could not mask my hunger nor could I remember my manners, I just stuffed those butties in my mouth. Ham and cheese and onion, in they went, like a craven heiffer. I was pleased to be able to rest a sandwich on my rear rack, while I went to fill up my water bottle. It had come in handy after all, as I told those who later laughed at my "suitcase rack" as they passed.
Coal Road next. Sad to say that I walked some, then on the bike some then walked again - although I have cycled up it before with Ian Roberts on one of our days out on the Pennine Bridleway today I was defeated.
On to Ribble Head, through Stainforth, alongside Pen-y-Ghent where from Upper Hesleden there is a steep descent to Halton Gill, for soaring and flying down - the carefully placed ambulance denoted extra caution needed and the limestone boulders on either side of the steep narrow road down looked pretty menacing in the event of a fall. Along to Arncliffe, Hawkswick, past Kilnsey and back to where I was just over twelve hours ago, Threshfield. A cup of tea and a ham and chip butty. Banter with tired folk with ruddy faces.
That's twelve hours of my life I'll never get back. I can't remember where the congestion was but a group of cyclists waited most patiently for the road to clear of the sheep. I can't remember where the puncture happened but the lovely cyclist could not have been kinder who changed my inner tube.A glorious ride spoiled, say some, by the cruel wind. A hard grind and time to think. Some endure extreme weather conditions with no feed stations for respite and no shelter at the end of the day but I did that for pleasure. That must be a privilege?
Some riders are dedicated athletes who train and focus. Some are proud to wear "fat boy at the back" cycling shorts to make you smile as you overtake. Some are out for a day with friends and I am on a long bike ride because that's what I like to do. Fellow Striders coaxing me with encouragement as they passed me up the hills were good to hear and thanks are due to those and all involved who made this day quite memorable.
The Dave Rayner Fund, Etape du Dales
17 May 2015