Sunday, July 28, 2019

Peak 200 - a First Attempt

I was going to attempt the Peak 200 last weekend but my heart just wasn't in it after a long, hard week at work including a return trip to Derry following a weekend in Guildford the week before.

With boiling weather in the week, I wasn't deterred - in fact the heat would enable me to travel super-light (by my standards).

On Thursday night I checked the forecast to pack the bike.  Bivi, thermartex blanket only.  Took the pegs out.  At the last minute on Friday morning, I threw in my Oh shit coat and a pair of leggings, more as a monument to filling my saddle pack than thinking I'd need them but the light rain forecast made me think that I might take a change of clothes to wear in bed.  The stove, fuel and matches stayed at home.  I took a few snacks and packed my lightest waterproof coat.  No need for trousers.

The Peak 200 is a route of 2 loops, starting from Edale but you can join the route from anywhere.

My plan was to cycle to work on Friday on my loaded bike and, to be honest, most of the way home, except for the big hill at the end.  I'd then continue up from Hillsborough and join the route on the A57.  If the weather was hot, I was going to ride through the night in the cool air and stop when I ran out of steam or when the warmth of day arrived, continuing later to complete the course.  I set off on Friday because I wanted the whole weekend to make a go of it if I did end up travelling slowly in the heat.

The week was no more hectic than any other so my Thursday night packing had been somewhat hasty on the back of a Wednesday night hangover (a one-pint athlete hangover).  On my way to the office I realised I was wearing the wrong shoes.  I have a pair for the gravel bike and a pair for the mountain bike (for some reason, one bike is much wider than the other).  Mixing the cleat positions doesn't work and by the time I'd ridden 7 miles on the mountain bike I'd had foot cramp twice.  I also realised I'd forgotten my asthma inhaler which in dry, dusty conditions makes a huge difference.

In the office I realised I'd forgotten my phone so I made arrangements with TSK for him to meet me at the bottom of the hill and hand over the forgotten items and change my shoes.

The days work dragged on until 6 so I stopped in Hillsborough MacDonalds to get a massive stash of calories.  I knew if I cycled up the hill to home I'd not make it out again and besides which, there'd be nothing to eat there.  MacDonalds had the reassurance that I could sit outside and watch the bike as I had only a flimsy travelling lock.

At the designated meeting point, I duly changed my shoes and raised the saddle on the bike which had somehow loosened off since the last time I rode it.  TSK informed me that I needed my lights on as he couldn't see me riding in the trees, even though it was still "daylight". A reminder that I still hadn't tested my Revo light which was fitted about 3 weeks before the longest day back in June

I was on the course by 8pm and happy to be started on something big.  Even my new light worked well.  The first few miles are on the road but with views across the moors.  Grouse flitted as I passed and martens hunted flies in the hedgerows.  Lapwings cried and I watched a kestrel diving into the grass.  I stopped to put a waterproof (only windproof layer) on before descending into the valley.

On my lightweight bike I rode a few of the rock steps up from Devil's bridge before reverting to walking the steepest.  A minor mistaken detour towards the Ladybower pub off-route left me swearing over my own failure to check the directions that are in my own back yard.   

As I rode to the top of the moor, I relished the thought of the view from the top, looking down the valley, yet it was not so spectacular.  There was more of a general fading to grey than a sunset.  I was not alone though - a few hikers or climbers were making the most of the last good weather at the Derwent edges and their voices drifted across the heather.

I plunged into the Derwent valley, damp heather pulling at my socks.  I wondered if a summer attempt was, perhaps, a bit foolish and I'd be slowed by the undergrowth.  I arrived at the barn above the reservoir, a place I've always wanted to pull a bivi camp but never been there at the right time.  I looked at my watch.  It was only 9:40pm.  I carried on down to the "road".

Not knowing my route led to a feeling of riding a course in a different county.  I'd expected to be heading for Cut Gate but instead the route turned left towards the A57 again.  It was time for my lap of Ladybower and Win Hill.  That's OK, I know of plenty of spaces I've been wanting to camp up there too.  I passed the traffic paraphernalia closing the A57 for resurfacing and a few angry motorists on diversion but they didn't concern me as I turned onto the bike lane and crossed the Dam to start the track alongside Ladybower reservoir.  A remembered an advantage to night riding in summer - avoiding the crowds as I took descents at speeds I'd never dare in daylight for fear of small-children-crossing.

I cycled by the place I'd been dreaming of camping for a long time - it was a little too early and the air was very still, it would be midge-hell by the lake.  

Finally I turned up into the forest again and my dynamo light dimmed to nothing on the push.  I turned on the backup light and realised I'd forgotten my helmet bracket and my new helmet.  Oh well.  Scoping for a sleep spot, I identified a flat bit of forest mattress under some pine but a squawking ground-nesting bird prevented me from making camp and I trudged on up to another place I'd always eyed for a sleep spot but had forgotten about until I walked straight past it in the darkening sky.  As the drizzle started, I locked up my bike for the night.

Mattress inflated to iron out the tree roots, bivi out, quick change of clothes, sweaty stuff in bag for pillow, electronics inside.  The rain ceased long enough for me to eat an apple in the dark then I pulled the bivi hood over and curled up.  It was about midnight.  A passing creature woke me once and I lay still, listening to chomping and breathing, ready to pounce if it interfered with my snacks.  Otherwise I was briefly disturbed by maniac motorists on the A57, including one who stopped in the carpark on the other side of the valley with music blaring.  It was too far away to be loud though and they soon left.

My watch alarmed at 4:30am but I didn't feel like getting up so snuggled down for a while.  At 5:15 the light was sufficient to drive me out of my cocoon.  I ate leftover cake from my work lunch on Friday then actually enjoyed getting dressed - it was warm enough to make it a relief to take my coat off and my shorts had dried out over night.

I had Win Hill to myself until I met a group of eager mountain bikers riding up at 7:15.  Then I met Ian, the Race Organiser's dark side as he sent me up the side of Win Hill to the summit to join the top Bridleway.  I mean, Ian is currently in Scotland but this route was like having him along.  Occasionally I'd look over and nod in appreciation at his decisions and sometimes I'd ask, "really?" and sometimes I'd say, "I've not been here before! Cheers!".

So now I have a Bronze trophy for being the third woman to carry a (presumably loaded) mountain bike up this bit of moorland.  I also have a hole in my left ankle where I stood on it with my right foot because it was the only tenable thing left, attached to the mountain.  My shoes slid in the heather (but they are comfy though!).

Time to descend into the valley.  Would I get some breakfast?  I thought I was heading into the Hope valley but again, that route threw me a curve ball and we turned left towards Hathersage instead.  Down a lane I didn't know existed and then UP Shatton Moor.  Well, that was a climb and a half on a part-empty stomach.  I'd never ridden the Bradwell descent either which led to a short off-route and I started to think about all the little improvements I can make to my ride next time.

At least in Bradwell I knew about the Co-op.  Suitably fuelled for both breakfast and lunch, butties packed into the unreasonably baggy saddle-pack.

The final ascent of the morning was Pindale then the broken road to Mam Tor, descending to Edale.  It's so long since I've ridden Mam Tor.  Another nod to Ian. Thanks for taking me places I'd forgotten about.  It was still so quiet.  Only a handful of Japanese tourists braving the grey and no-one on the descent except an e-biker coming up.  

At the road junction I turned left to visit the Edale caf.  Coffee was needed.  It was only here I thought I'd read something that I didn't have to go to Edale if I started the route elsewhere but I wasn't sure and by the time I might have stopped to check, I would have been there so I sucked up the extra 2 miles road riding, enjoyed a scone and coffee in the presence of 2 e-bikers from Doncaster.  This was where I first heard tell of the "heavy rain" forecast that had, apparently, changed this morning.  I was resolute not to be talked out of a finish by some middle-aged men and set off again full of determination, the tail wind back onto the route improving any misgivings about the sense of my detour.  
The floral coffee before the storm
My Garmin indicated 145 miles to go, I had to remember to keep subtracting the 45 I'd done already.

It was back up Win Hill side next, the Heavy Rain starting just as I went into the covered bridleway and I thought, "maybe it will be over by the time I get out of this thicket".  Not so, and on it rained. 

I seem to have ridden to Wales
I trudged further up the hill for me to cross over with my earlier self, 3 hours since I'd last passed that way first thing in the morning.  I always love this route West, the whole of the Snake valley exposed.  The descent is lose and on "Potato alley" I skooted too far up the bank and toppled back in, rolling sideways onto my hip.  At least it was the other side this time.  With no other riders around, I sat in the middle of the trail, recovering my Ow and staring at EmVee - who got a bit of the blame for this despite it being my own stupid fault.  At least, I thought, I didn't crash on my new helmet.

We seemed OK and still rolled out the bottom then I dropped down to the river crossing and A57 and clawed my way up to Rowley Farm, the rain coming down more heavy now which made the Lockerbrook descent a little slower.  I was tempted by pie n peas in the cafe but decided to press on for fear that I wouldn't get going again. Sitting about outside in the rain didn't appeal.

There were still a few people about at Derwent, starting with the normals, hiding under brollies, smelling good, like town.  The further up the valley I rode, the hardier the visitors got.  Finally, a long-distance trail runner and a mountain biker were the last people I saw, then two old-man hikers who warned me about the mud on Cut Gate then felt the need to comment on the size of my saddle bag.  Strangely I wasn't in the mood to chat so resisted the urge to say, "you haven't seen it full made" as I rode away, my cheese sandwich still slopping about in there.

I suspected I wasn't going to get to eat my cheese sandwich until I got to Langsett barn but the hunger was more persistent than the weather.  Well, the weather was pretty persistent so I found myself a sheep scoop with a rock in the bottom of it and sat, soaking wet, to eat my well-preserved, only slightly squished, cheese ploughmans.  The chocolate bar and marmite cashews didn't make it into my gob, I was too cold but I wasn't doing the descent on an empty stomach.

A few pushes and leaps and the Bog of Doom was done.  The descent of Cut Gate always seems shorter than I expect since I ran it in the Mickelden Straddle fell race.  I was still very happy to see the reservoir looming out of the fog though.  

A sixth sense told me to check my Spot was still on.  TSK likes to follow it when I'm out and worries if it doesn't update.  Not excessively but it's usually so reliable... The spot was off.  I suspected the batteries were done but started it and tried to send an OK signal.  At the bottom of the descent, the spot was off again so I got my phone out to text.

Sure enough, I had a message asking if I was OK and another, acknowledging the spot I'd sent from the top.  I tried to text about the flat battery but the phone screen wouldn't work as it couldn't distinguish fingers from rain drops and there was no escaping the rain drops.  What didn't come out of the sky or off the trees, fell off my helmet.  Whilst I'm sure there's shelter at Langsett Barn, I also thought there was a bus stop further up the route so I carried on.  

The bus stop didn't materialise but I thought there was a bridge on the Trans-pennine trail.  I continued through the field, the trail now riddled with reeds that soaked my socks and shoes through where they somehow hadn't got wet yet.  I paused to talk to some runners, suffering the same.  It was a relief to get on the Trans Pennine trail in all its tarmacced glory.  At this point I was still positive about continuing.  It was easy riding from here to Glossop and out again.  Then there would just be the last bit to do - on home territory. It didn't matter that I didn't know it all, I'd recognise it when I got there.

I rode up to Dunford bridge - there was no shelter on the way so the first opportunity I got to shelter was in the bus stop at Dunford.  My hands weren't really working so I opened my saddle bag and pulled out my dry teeshirt and Oh Shit coat then I found a dry tissue and cleaned the phone and sent a reassuring message home.  The warm dry tops felt wonderful.  I changed the batteries on the spot and whilst I was doing so, the phone miraculously connected to the internet despite it's one-bar H+ reception.  The weather report came through just as the rain tried its hardest to look ominous and lashy and the wind swirled the trees.

Heavy rain streamed across the phone screen from now through tomorrow and into Monday morning, with intermittent improvements to lighter rain.  Dark skies scrolled across.  The temperatures, previously forecast as 17s and 18s, even over night, now dipped to 12 or 13. 

My visions of finding some shelter to lay down my bivi faded into a few dry stone walls without cover or bus stops by roads in random villages on the edge of Glossop.  It was not an attractive thought.  I couldn't think of the route beyond Kinder.  At the rate I was going, I wouldn't get much further before dark.  I was already looking at late dinner in Glossop and the thought of walking into a pub in my present bedraggled state was not one I relished.

I unfurled the hem on my coat to stick my hands in the pocket and the sodden edges from where it had sat on my shorts brought home the sogginess of the situation - oh if only I'd packed water proof trousers or even just my shorts.  How dense!

The chocolate bar eaten did not affect my resolve to quit.  It wasn't that I couldn't manage any more it's just that I didn't want to bother.  The Peak 200 will be there, on my back doorstep forever.  I can pick any other weekend I want.

My bivi was wonderful.  My Friday night was amazing.  My Saturday had, until that point, been really enjoyable.  What point in ruining it to the advantage of mild hypothermia and the possibility that I would get a shit time on the basis of me electing to start the ride at 8pm on day 1.  My fatigue and speed meant that I'd need another sleep out, whether I wanted one or not.

So there ended my first attempt at an ITT, the advantage being that I had a wonderful time and I'll enjoy doing it all again.  Until the next try.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Ground Clearance

I've been reading a book that has brought nature back to me.


This week has been epic and stressful but reading has helped me lift myself out of the sofa, sit in the garden and look at the sky.  I've started to notice the birds - on the river, in the trees, in the skies.

I invested in a bird-book to replace the Canadian book which isn't really much use to me anymore.

I've started reading Nan Shepherd too.

This weekend I needed to de-stress gently.  Every time I've been upstairs to do yoga I get slightly depressed by my cyclo-cross bike which is propped upright by the wall, asking to be fixed up ready for next season.  On Saturday morning I brought him down, put on a new derailleur, fixed the gears and gave him his first bath since he stood-in for my mountain bike in December.  After that I got the mountain bike out and re-tuned those gears so it doesn't annoy me when I ride it.

In the afternoon we walked into town.  Not a very nature-oriented activity but as we sat outside at the cafe I thumbed the bird book and learned some new things. 

We got home and I started attacking the garden.  One of the trees in the garden is being strangled by vine.  I hadn't realised how bad it was till I saw a few spindly branches with yellowing leaves on the end in stark contrast to the over-riding evergreen vine leaves. I gradually, over the course of the entire afternoon, peeled back all of the vine from the tree.  I then cut back the grapevine that's moved in from next door from the elder, the dog rose and the pine tree. 

The patio was more "dappled shade" than "basement" now.  The brambles gone.  I fear for the future of the elder tree, it was damp and rotten in many places where the vine was rooted between branches. I'll need to keep an eye on it but it seems reasonably strong and I hope it survives.

This morning I sat outside to eat my breakfast.  There were no birds singing.  I couldn't see any either except a few darting around high in the sky above the valley.  Suddenly I could pick out the different varieties - house martin, swift and swallow - against the blue sky.

I spent the rest of the day trundling around town to buy a mower (the old one broke) and some bags to take the garden rubbish to the skip where we also deposited the old mower and a bunch of waste electrical equipment and old batteries.

Back at the house we managed another load of garden waste and sat and watched the birds again whilst drinking tea. 

In a world where I've tended to shy away with the computer on my relaxing days, it was great to work hard, outside, on my space.  It no longer feels like a lost cause.  It's now a planted out, slightly tidier, slightly lighter, more thriving space to breathe.

Nature is supposed to bring me out and I would have liked to ride today but my self has been exercised at home and is immensely grateful for it.

I might be quiet on twitter for a while.  I feel incredibly middle aged and I really don't give a shit.

Monday, July 08, 2019


I shouldn't really need to explain or note just how much of a relief it is to find a body, my body working normally but I am happy to report that my normal, old fashioned heart rate monitor gave some normal, old fashioned readings on Sunday. Zone 4 felt like zone 4 and I managed to get out of zone 2.

I wrote myself off for a day today except for a small mountain bike trip that was satisfying for 30 minutes and left me with the feeling that I should do this more often... but I never do.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Something Edgy

Something has woken up this week. It's a while since I have felt like going quick - in any way. The Highland Trail always just felt a bit like I was surviving it. I had an excellent base of long distance strength but never ever felt like I was pushing myself - except to go further, later.

Perhaps I was just riding the waves of tiredness, always cruising the rollers before catching a wave. This week, by Thursday I felt like trying so on the way home I did a few intervals. I didnt really watch my heart rate, just got out od breath then recovered and repeat till I got home.

I tried again on Friday but this time I was broadcasting my heart rate from my watch to my Bike screen. Disappointing that I didnt really get out of zone 2, despite blowing out my nether regions so either I am dead or my watch is.

Today I needed time to catch up on life. I did household chores!

This isn't the normal chores people would think of. Sure, I put some laundry through the machine - my bike's nose bags are now hanging on the line - their innards exposed to the sun trying to bleach the last of the black mould out of them.

I also removed the soggy packets of Lockets from the plastic box we know of as oue bathroom cabinet. They had leaked into the bottom of the box and were seeping into bandages and sticking plasters, infusing with athlete's foot cream. Their best before date date was 2011.

TSK once said, "we're like ferel cats - someone should really take care of us but if we stick together we might just be OK". I sometimes wonder at the sanity of two endurance athletes living together.  Certainly few other people find our lives appetizing.

I've done nothing but tidy all day. Since we actually got our gutters fixed I have found the enthusiasm to at least treat this like a home and not a bivi spot (think of more black mould and wall paper hanging off).

As I mused about the house I wondered on my heart rate and my lungs and my sudden urge to race. Perhaps I am fit. Perhaps on Friday I was too fatigued to raise a pulse (I ran at lunchtime too). Perhaps the inhaler I have been prescribed since early May is actually making a difference to my life.  With my head in mountainbike land I haven't had time to ponder these things.

I wrote a blog post about it so I don't forget.