Sunday 9 May 2009

OK so it’s not running, but what a fantastic event!!! And anyway our CCC could well stand for Cycling Challenge Club?!

This was my first attempt at this modern classic cycling challenge – 110 miles and 10 000 feet – and I’m still buzzing with the thrill of it all – having finished it within my target time and not having written both myself and my bike off on either the mentally steep/slow or scarily fast 30-40 mph descents. An early start of 7.45 at Coniston meant I had to pass on a cooked breakfast at the lovely White Hart Inn in nearby Bouth, where I had a great meal and real ales the night before. The weather was spot on in that it was cool and overcast, though it brightened up nicely later on before heaving it down for about 15 mins later in the afternoon, with some snow even on the top of Wrynose Pass. I headed up the first minor hill towards Hawkshead, being paced for 100 yards by a friendly local squirrel and then a speedy descent down to Clappersgate and round by Ambleside.

The route avoids the more famous, and far steeper, climb to Kirkstone Pass called "The Struggle" which I had cycled up a few times back in April, and instead heads down Windermere for a few miles before a couple of steep climbs up Briery Close over to Troutbeck. The approach to the Kirkstone Inn this way is a lot easier and I was up at the top (454 metres) no problem. There was then a brilliantly fast winding descent between the stone walled narrow roads down to Patterdale, before I tagged on to the back of a speedy gang who dragged me along at a nice speed along the valley floor to Glenridding. I knew this wouldn’t last when we hit the climb up to Troutbeck North on the A66, but as we were approaching Glenridding I heard a nasty clunk/grind from my bike and slowed to have a worried look down. Nothing seemed amiss so I continued on but realised a few miles later that it had actually been my pump that had fallen off, oops, so I had better not have any punctures for the next 90 miles.

The climb up out of Ullswater to Dockray and Matterdale End was steady, as was the procession of wiry club cyclists effortlessly zooming past me. The road down to Keswick is the worst part of the whole route, being on a major A road, though it was lovely and fast and effortless. After a quick pit stop in the bushes, due to my frequent rehydration, I tagged on to another group for the beautiful cycle down through Borrowdale, dodging the potholes and traffic while trying to sneek glances at the majestic hills, lakes and forests around me. Easing up going through Rosthwaite was necessary before hitting the foot of the mighty Honister Pass, where the tarmac rears up seemingly vertically before you. Lots were just walking up here, but with the aid of my trusty granny ring on my triple front gear, and big licks of effort, I stayed on the bike all the way to the slate mine at the top (356 metres).

The descent down into the Buttermere valley was tricky, with the road being bumpy, so it was full on the brakes for the first part before I could feel safe enough to zoom along at full pelt. The next few miles to the first checkpoint at Buttermere Youth Hostel (50 miles) were pleasant along the shoreline, avoiding the walkers and cars. The feed stop was well organised, with water and lots of goodies for refuelling, and after a brief few minutes here it was off to the right to climb steadily up to Newlands Pass summit (333 metres), fortunately nowhere near as steep as Honister. The 6 mile descent then down to Braithwaite was superb and fast, with good road surfaces.

Whinlatter Pass was next then and I was feeling pretty good still as I climbed steadily up through the lovely forests to the 318 m summit. Another excellent fast smooth descent followed down to the lovely hamlet of Lorton. The views on the way down the B5289 to Loweswater were superb, seeing the western edge of the Lakes hills from an unusual angle, with rolling farmland adding to the scene. Although there wasn’t a "proper" mountain pass till Hardknott in about 30 miles, this section through Ennerdale, Croasdale, Lamplugh and the 2nd feed stop at Calder Bridge (87 miles) contains plenty of small steep testing hills. They were compensated for by the stunning views out to sea on top of Cold Fell and the cracking fast open descents. At Calder Bridge the sun was out and after refuelling and getting the long tights off, "all" that remained (!) was the infamous Hardknott Pass and lesser Wrynose Pass.

The ride along to the foot of Hardknott through Santon Bridge and Eskdale Green was sunny and scenic, but still with a few little tough climbs to test you. Unfortunately the dark clouds that had been keeping away from us opened up along the valley approach and one by one I stopped to don a gilet, then a waterproof and then a balaclava as the temperature dropped and it got pretty miserable. With Hardknott rapidly approaching this wasn’t good. At the foot of this vicious 1000 feet climb I donned my long tights and prepared for a good bit of hauling the bike up on foot, as the gradient was so steep, especially as the road was greasy with all the fresh rain. I managed to clip back in the pedals on a less steep part and crawl along in the granny rings most of the way to the 393 metre summit. What a relief to get that one over with at the 100 mile stage!

Still had to get down it though and the descent is a devil, very steep and twisty, needing total concentration, good brakes and plenty of old fashioned muscle power in the arms to maintain the brakes, as the slightest lessening of pressure led to the bike whizzing away at a dangerous speed. I made it to the bottom of the hairpins and turned left at Cockley Beck (102 miles) to start the approach to the final climb up Wrynose Pass (393 metres). It was a bit of a drag along the valley floor with tired legs steeling themselves for the last hard push. I almost stayed on the bike the whole way, only one steep section forcing my legs to surrender for a few yards before being able to clip back in and hit that wonderful LAST summit, though hold on is that snow at the side of the road, ooh!!

Yet again the descent was a tricky one, the road being uneven and slippery and, of course, scarily steep as you try not to think you are about to fall over the handlebars. Despite being ultra cautious I still had a few hair raising moments when the rear wheel skidded slightly on some bumps, leading to a snail’s pace from me for the final part of the descent to Fell Foot. From here on through Little Langdale my dander was up and the adrenaline pumping, as I knew I had cracked the Fred. My ambitious sub 8hr time was not now happening, but I was still determined to crank the pace up and give it all I had left and the last 5 miles were hard but great fun, as I urged my wee legs on and on, racing the dozens of other fellow cyclists back down to Coniston. I dibbed in at the finish in 8hrs 17mins, absolutely chuffed to bits. I was probably half way along the field of approx 800 cyclists. A lovely certificate and print at the end are mementoes of an epic event, that challenged me greatly, but ultimately as is usually the case, rewarded me many times over. Many many thanks to all who helped out at this fantastic event, I won’t forget it in a hurry.

www.fredwhittonchallenge.org.uk

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