The Long & Grinding Road

Back in January I made some vague waffle about New Year Resolutions generally not being kept and wanting to do something different as a result, so I’d signed up for a charity ride and dragged a couple of other friends into the madness along the way, although various reasons meant that the final number had dropped to three. I thought I’d spent long enough getting ready for it all but September rolled around and then things didn’t quite keep to plan and a last minute trip to Edinburgh meant that I wasn’t quite as prepared as I’d like but there was nothing that could be done about that.

The Saturday rolled round and I woke up early, half excited and half nervous, got a decent breakfast (an extra hour to pootle about the kitchen helped), loaded up the car and drove over to the start which was only half an hour away. Driving down into Castleton the car was enveloped in a thick mist, not ideal as this would limit the visibility and make certain sections properly dangerous – the temperature also dropped to near freezing which wouldn’t help. There was nervous banter on the car park as people hoped that it would lift as no one wanted to ride in those conditions. Come 9 o’clock the skies were clearing and the five hundred odd likeminded idiots lined up at the start, listened to the brief safety briefing before starting. Hour one of what would become eight began relatively innocuously.

Everyone knew it was going to be a properly long day when there was a mass stripping off jackets at the bottom of Mam Tor, the temperature was rising just ahead of the day’s first major climb. It was a case of just dropping down the gears and plugging away till you reached the top, this was where the pattern of the day was quickly established. I noticed the first flaw in the training, I’d been concentrating on the ups and wasn’t quite prepared for how brutal some of the descents would be – these weren’t smooth dirt tracks but rock infested fields, the lightweight hardtail I was riding suddenly felt very skippy underneath me and whilst I wouldn’t realise it at the time, my upper body was going to take far more punishment than I expected.

Climbs two and three quickly followed, three marked the first injury we saw as an ambulance carried someone off with a suspect ankle, Potato Alley sapped a lot of energy (and led to a fellow rider remarking at the bottom “I think a little bit of poo just came out”), the climbs got steeper and the mist had left a greasy residue everywhere, this was no longer a ride but more a case of grinding to the finish line. My bottom bracket started to make alarming noises which by the end of the day sounded as if it had been reduced to paste. We reached the cut-off point where the twenty-four mile and longer routes diverged, two of our number decided that it was a little more than they expected and decided to take the shorter route back at that stage, the other guy and I decided to plug on quickly joining up with another rag-tag band of misfits who’d decided to persevere.

A grim humour kicked in at this point, we saw another guys brakes start to smoke as the toll of too many descents began to make its mark on bikes as well as bodies. At one of the feed stations another bloke came in and asked if anything could be done to get his gears back – he’d lost his rear derailleur and was forced to go single speed. The mechanic just laughed and he cheerfully went on his way under a single gear as nothing could be done. I meant a mental note to remove the single speed clause from the fundraising if I did this again. The climbs became more manageable, but at times you were forced to dismount and start pushing. My legs no longer ached but other parts were beginning to feel more delicate, by now we were well past the half way stage.

Small moments kept spirits up, both of us overshot the course at various stages as we went just a little too fast. Half heard comments (“Are you ready to push your bike up another hill?”, “If I go fast enough the ambulance won’t be able to find me”) kept thing lighter and we made our way up the final hill before the descent back into Hope. Nearly seven hours had passed since we started and there was one last descent, it started out as a smoother piece of singletrack before the rocks returned, we hit the road at the bottom, relieved that it was nearly over. Crossing the line all we could think about was the burger van and getting as much food into us as possible. We’d all enjoyed it, but we knew we’d done a full day in the saddle.

The greasy burger in the car park afterwards was welcome, as was the pub later. I didn’t really ache that night, although I did fall asleep in front of the TV well before 9 o’clock and the next day some of the bruises were starting to come out, but the euphoria of having completed it more than compensated. So much so that I’m probably looking at signing up for next year, although I may do some things a little bit differently next time.

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