Sunday, December 23, 2007

Winter Solstice 200k - in which Trepid Explorer Discovers Some Courage

The Winter Solstice ride is a 200km route from Bredbury near Stockport to Malpas on the Welsh border, Whitchurch and back to Bredbury.
Getting ready to go

It was icy in the station car park at 7.30am as 15 or-so carfulls of nervy cyclists unpacked their pride and joy and cycled around the corner to Mike's parents house for tea, registration and use of the facilities. Our start was slightly delayed by TSK picking up a puncture between station and house but we rode out of Bredbury and through to Wilmslow with a small group of riders, chatting of sunnier times.

Noah's Ark Lane was our first taster of conditions on un-gritted roads and thankfully a number of riders had stopped to warn oncomers of the icy slick in the road. I already had my feet unclipped and posed as out-riggers so I could gently coast to an upright halt on the black ice.

We rode in the gutter or pushed our bikes for the next mile then finally began to ride again as the hazard eased.

The hazard was not gone from my mind though and as we neared Lach Dennis I was still flinching at every sparkle on the road surface, tensing at the slightest glimmer as my muscles made every attempt to have the bike levitate instead of sliding sideways.

Despite the temptation to stop, I continued beyond the end of the road leading to Jo's house and not recognising any more directions on the route sheet, declared myself committed to finishing the ride. Not so difficult on an A-road but the true Crise-de-Confiance came as we turned onto yet another frosty back-road. It was about 11am and the sun had still not warmed away even this open patch of ice-road. There was no blood in my feet and no courage in my soul. If this was what it was like at 11am, how would it be at 6pm, in the dark?

Recently I read Catherine Hartley's book about her being one of the first British women to walk (shamefully assisted and critically laboriously) to the North and South poles. I was remembering the rules of keeping going - just taking one more step. TSK did not want to leave me on my own, terrified - as I was - so I think he was very relieved when, seemingly out of the blue, I agreed to keep going. I didn't want to hold him back from achieving this 200km ride but truth be known, the ride was hard but allowing myself to quit would have been harder. Gradually, one more pedal stroke became one more laborious, slithering, braking mile.

I didn't skid properly again until we arrived below Beeston Castle, a fortified stone building atop a rock outcrop at the top of a very big hill (which we thankfully did not need to climb up). Shortly after, without due regard for the timed check-point we stopped in the in-aptly named "Ice Cream Café".
TSK ponders the sport of fishing in Vale Royal Park
Leaving the toilet block I finally felt the warmth emanating from the sun and inside the caf, I reversed my socks to put the dry side next to my feet and put the lambswool insoles in my shoes. Fuelled with soup, cake and tea, we made it to the check point with 5 minutes to spare and the organiser was gleeful to see us. They had actually given up hope and started to take down signs. Mince pies, bananas and a chat - later we started the next 3-hour leg of our ride with renewed hope and improved stability. The ice truly was gone and we arrived at the next check-point in Market Drayton with 30 minutes to spare. I sheepishly purchased 2 chocolate bars asking to pay for each separately and get two receipts for proof of our time. The attendant was now used to this but quite incredulous that we were part of the group that still had to get back to Stockport tonight.

Leaving Market Drayton with our lights lit we began what seemed like a never-ending folly of km clocking, constantly turning in the direction of towns we never arrived at or those we'd already been to earlier. However, some companions caught us up and we chatted for a while.

About the same time I took my tumble last year in freezing fog, they had been retiring from this event, beaten by the foul conditions. I didn't think it could be any worse! The young boy we rode with was quite accomplished at Audax, holding the most points for his youth category and having some all-year-rounder award for completing a ride every month of the year. After a while our body clocks parted company and we leapfrogged each other for the rest of the evening in between food stops and considerations for the route sheet.

At Middlewich stop my only craving at the petrol station was for peanuts for the salt content - crisps can not be eaten whilst riding. Stopping to get a receipt for food I did not want or otherwise that was not in the shop was low on my list of priorities and I was very snappy with TSK. My bad. I recognised the source of my irritability and added my waterproof layer to my legs to stop heat oozing out of the only part of my body still not protected from the wind. Sadly I was later to discover the freezing temperatures combined with sweaty waterproof pants gives me terrible nappy rash and I spent the rest of the week avoiding knickers with nothing less than the finest cotton on the list of ingredients.

The uplift of the evening was arriving in Goostrey - now about 6.30 pm when most people were thinking of dinner. The roads had been warmed by the sun all day and now thick clouds started to roll in to capture the heat. We seemed to burn along, the weight of ice lifted from our muscles as the tarmac puddles shimmered in the full moon light instead of the twinkling of ice. For once TSK was surprised by some ice - protected from the sun under a big tree. I, fatigued and oblivious, steamed through without a quiver.

At 7pm we phoned home with the update that the ride was taking 1.5 hrs longer than expected. I then had to ride 15 or so miles to Bredbury instead of taking the shorter route directly home to a steaming plate of beef casserole and a glass of warming sherry. I decided Audaxes on home teritory are not the best idea.

In Alderley Edge (where Posh S and D. Becks used to live) we lamented the lack of Christmas decorations (all at the ski lodge in Klosters probably) and decided the back road would be safer than the main road - never mind gritted, they probably get it de-iced with one of those sniffer vans with a big can of de-icer on the back. All those fancy cars and good lawyers. No council could let this road get icy.

We saw our little friend and his dad stopping off for more food and happily they arrived back at Mike's dad's house about 20 minutes after us. In the end we had reached the finish with 1hr 35mins to go before time was officially up, meaning we made excellent time in the last 50 miles of the day. Despite of an abysmal time of 12h30mins we were not one of the DNFs and I figure if I can do a 200km in winter, I can sure as hell manage a 300km in summer.

There's a space to be watched.

1 comment:

Just a Girl said...

Oh your poor tush!

You are very awe inspiring.