Monday, October 01, 2012

3 Peaks Cyclo-cross

Sunny morning
You can hear it
Siren's warning
There is weather on both sides
And I know it's coming
Just like before
There's a black dog
That scratches my door
He's been growling my name saying
You better get to running
Can you make it better for me
Can you make me see the light of day
Because I got no one
Who will bring me a
Big umbrella
So I'm watching the weather channel
And waiting for the storm
Sheryl Crow, Weather Channel

Over and over going through my head all day long.

We left Helwith Bridge in a great big group and quickly settled down into scraggly  clumps of people.  I resolved this year to avoid the mele and ride at a simple pace to catch dad up somewhere outside Horton village.  The plan worked and we climbed the last few steep roady hills together before the turn off to farm tracks.

From there I said my "see ya laters" and headed off into the rain.

There were no flocks of sheep frolicking in the fields this year.  They were mostly huddling from the rain.  It was soon obvious that it was going to be a difficult day when I found myself walking across bogs that I'd normally ride over.

I caught up with my friend Anna at the bottom of Simon Fell, amusingly disgruntled that I was passing her.  Quite frankly I was merely surprised.  I took the fell runners route up Simon Fell, choosing to slough across the grassy wall instead of hauling up the stone wall.   Joined, as usual by an army rider, we zigzagged slowly up.  It went by quicker than usual - not that it hurt any less - I think I'm still relatively hill-fit after Scotland.

Reaching the styal over the wall, the wind hit.  No blustering, simply consistently around 50-60mph, the rain flying sideways across the moor, passing in a blur like a ghostly high-speed train.  I started riding my bike but  was soon blown sideways towards the wall at high speed.  Trying again, I went to ride to my left so at least I had 3 ft before hitting the wall but I was constantly blown into sharp and lumpy rocks and risking flying off the bike.  The bogs arrived and so we all reverted to walking again.

Keeping dry feet had at least gone by half an hour earlier so bog-stomping ensued.  Someone tried to zip my waterproof pocket up for me but we really didn't want to stop long enough and his fingers couldn't release the zip in the cold.

A final ascent through the rocks to the summit.  A gentleman asked what our challenge was.  "The three peaks" I said.

"Are you nearly finished?" he asked.

"Nope, this is the first one!".

The summit plateau was more difficult than usual.  It's never rideable - despite it being so flat - because of the chossy rocks which bounce out from under wheels as I try to ride it.  In these conditions it was hardly walkable.  Carrying the bike wasn't an option.  The wind would blow so hard, its pressure on the bike would accelerate me to a speed where my feet could not land on anything fixed and I floundered to put a foot on a solid rock.  I put the bike down and tried to lean into the wind.  That meant the bike was upright and my wheels were getting blown up in the air. I resorted to pushing my bike at 60 degrees to the ground, leaning into it to put some weight on the wheels.

We battled back to the edge, to the drop off and started the run down.

Once it eventually became rideable the descent off the mountain went by quickly.  Dropping out of the cloud to see the bottom 100m of the valley was a relief.  The view was finally back in colour.  I continued to ricochet of the side of the footpath but finally it was controllable.

"It shouldn't be that difficult to get this far" was my overriding thought.

Near the base, TSK was shouting directions at me from the other side of the bog.  I think I resorted getting off and running over to meet him for my food stash and drink, dodging the crash site to the side of me.  I left saying that Anna Cipullo was behind me and dad wasn't sounding healthy.  He'd been wheezing a bit on the hillclimbs.

As I departed I asked for a change of shorts, a wool top and another pair of socks at the next control.  I'd been thinking about them all the way down the mountain and not asking for them seemed silly, so I asked.

The marshal called out to me, "you'll have to do the ride of your life now!" which I took to mean, I had to rush to get to the next checkpoint before cut off time.

He was right but the road section to Chapel le Dale was heavenly and panic subsided.  The roaring wind which had plagued us was now on my tail and I ripped along the road, all the way stuffing food and drink down my neck as it's the best place to consume.  A turn onto the steep hill leading to the turn off for Whernside made no impact on my legs and I knew that I'd be in good shape to finish as I'm normally struggling by this point.

I passed a man heaving himself up the hill in a massive gear and thought, "what a tosser" but then realised that he'd snapped his derailleur on Ingleborough and had done his best to shorten his chain and drag himself along fixie style in the middle of his block.  We had a brief laugh about the turn of events before I headed onto Whernside.

The marshal at the bottom said, "You're over the cut off time so you can stop now if you want to but I'll let you through".  Thank god.  There was no stopping me for I had found my legs and still had a lot of places to make up from waiting for dad.  A small man in a red coat with a little beard?  Get thee behind me Satan, I am going up this 'ill.  It was 12:03.  We had started at 9:30.  The only saving grace was the warmth of the weather.  Any colder and the windchill could've been deadly but the mountain rescue team are clever about exposure and they were content for us to continue.

I had a snicker with a man sporting a white beard about how we'd sneaked through by a whisper, though they continued to let people through for some time after.  I didn't know it but dad got through at 12:09.  At the water station I said hello to Eric Taylor, rivalling my dad at 39 events.

On the trudge up Whernside I passed on as many tips as I could to people carrying their bikes like a big kite or paraglider instead of putting it to their backs like a sail and using the wind to help with the climb.

I was alone on the climb, passing everyone I could, yet not catching anyone in front. I thought of Andy Smith face-planting on the descent last year and of the lady who broke her ankle and of the man who crashed on the way down Ingleborough two years ago and over strained his neck and I looked at the rain flying sideways across the hillside and I realised that there'd be no helicopters today.  I concluded that if I died on that hill that day I'd die happy.  I grinned and kept going.

On the summit ridge a Mancunican lass and I talked of the North and epic weather.  On the descent I ran past her teetering on the limestones slabs as I skipped by in the bog - feet already wet but happy to stay warm by running.

I caught up with an old friend - Ruth Gamwell on the bottom of Whernside in more ways than one - physically and verbally - our annual exchange of news.  I passed her and two people with her, jumping on my bike to finally find a rideable section.  We passed another man having a stretch with an agonising wrangled face of pain protruding from his helmet.  That was me a few years ago - completely unprepared for the task at hand.  I'd sworn my way all the way up PYG that year.  This year I felt good and bounced my way across bridges, stepping stones and river crossings - all over 12 inches deep in bubbling peaty water.

I saw Po at the signal box along the railway line and reported that I didn't know whether dad was coming or not.  I passed the same message on to Andrew.  Because I was still warm, I didn't take on the dry clothes or the warm top but carried on as I was and it wasn't a problem for me at all.

The ride to PYG was frustrating - back into a headwind.  I just got on with it though.  Phil Thackary passed, offering up energy gels from his car.  I declined but others sat in his slipstream which pissed me off quite a bit.  To be honest though, I wasn't bothered about trying to catch a wheel as I didn't want to use excess energy pushing myself on the road.  Ruth stuffed a sarnie in her mouth as she sat on my wheel and I got a lift back off her for a while but once I started taking on food, I couldn't be bothered with racing.

Arriving at PYG I caught up the Mancunian lady again and we both sighed with relief that we only had to do this howling wind one more time.  This year it wasn't about the mountain climbs.  The crowd at the bottom of PYG seemed louder than ever and most had assembled around a large puddle part way up the road.  A voice shouted, "it's rideable on the centre left" so I rode as fast as I could at the spot where I remember the land rover tracks used to be.  Water sloshed around my hands and thighs and soaked through my shoes but I pedalled and pedalled and popped out the other side to rapturous applause.  On I rode around the corner, up the side of the corners until finally, my strength ran out at the 90 degree bend.  I pushed for a while and me and Manc lass rested on our laurels for a moment for there were no more deadlines.

Eventually we got back to riding.  It seemed just recompense for the weather that they (I assume the parks authority) had resurfaced parts of the climb on PYG making it mostly rideable up until the first passing through the gate.  All of the steep rocky sections have been filled in with shaley gravel saving the legs both coming up and down.

Just as I started wallking, Lynn Bland flew by warning me that she couldn't squeeze the brakes and then I noticed through the corner of my eye the shaddow of the main that was Crispin Doyle and his broken collar bone, walking off the mountain - carrying his bike in a sulky fashion (who can blame him?)  There was too much noise in the wind for me to hear what had happened to him.

I took some water off the ever-present helper on PYG which was very welcome to wash down the last of the energy bars that I had guzzled on the road.  Jo Jebb sprang past me on the summit climb with Owen Henrickson close by and Andy Smith updated me on Crispin's status when I saw him walking the opposite way down the mountain as I was on my way up.  They were a welcome relief from holding up my hand to protect my face from the searing stinging rain blowing straight at me at 60 miles per hour.  When I went to put my bike down, a large puddle had built up inside my waterproof coat in the crook of my elbow and it sploshed down my arm and through my already sodden glove.

The top of PYG is where I usually put on my waterproof to give me warmth on the long descent.  This time I was a little worried about what I'd feel like without another layer.  I ran away as quickly as possible, bog hopping to avoid the rocky path then dropping steeply away wherever possible.  It didn't take long to get to a point where I could get on my bike but as I did my hips slid forward, the bike started to move but my fingers didn't.  No matter how much I wriggled by elbows to get the brakes to pull on,  my fingers would not respond.  I simply reverted to dropping the bike and running away before it took over on its own.

A second, flatter attempt to get on was more successful.  The drains flew by in a blur and I was back out of that wind before I knew it, though still shifting my gears with the opposite hand to make it feasible to manipulate the lever.

Only now did Queen take over in my head, "Don't stop me now, I'm having such a good time, I'm having a ball".  The man behind me said, "just don't fall off infront of me".

The puddle on the descent was about 6 inches deeper and slippier.  I went to take my previous route but sadly my pedals released and I reverted to getting off the bike to push out.  A disappointment for me for riding it would've been so satisfying.

I was dismayed to see dad's bike on the back of the Vanu when I returned to the road and at the same time relieved that he had come down off Whernside and that Andrew wasn't stood around still waiting for him.  I also knew that it meant the vanu would be waiting for me at the finish so I wasn't going to have to go and camp out in the Norton Wheelers camping park until Andrew and Dad returned to the finish.

Four of us hit the road together.  Me and Steve Loades both agreed to ride together nice and steady on the basis that we both get leg cramp on that final hill to the finish line.  The Manc Lass and Karl Brown rode off ahead (obviously not been trying hard enough).  To combat the cramp I reached into my tool bag and recovered the 3 inch slab of Kendal Mint Cake that had been lurking there in a plastic bag.  As the Vanu rolled past I was ripping into it with my teeth and after I'd eaten a chunk I shared it with Steve.  We both made it over the hill top and freewheeled into the finish line together.

It's a relief to get to the end of every Three Peaks but this one was especially satisfying.  I didn't do a great time but I didn't bomb out either.  I enjoyed every moment of it and didn't do too badly considering I'd had 2 months off training to get married.  I hope there will be more 3 Peaks and I hope that one day there will be another one just like that.  For me it's the hardest thing I've ever done.  Harder than ADIL this summer because of the wind and the terrain.  It's given me a yearning for another event and an urge to go further and be fitter.

This years 3 Peaks has sent my head somewhere special & I think I'm probably quite looking forwards to getting there.

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