Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Thoughts on finishing the Peak 200.

I woke up this morning, absolutely exhausted and thought, “How the fuk do I finish the highland trail when this is how I will feel at the end of day 1?"

This is almost a rhetorical question because most of my exhaustion from yesterday can be put down to the heat – and given current performance, there is little chance of heat exhaustion occurring when I turn up to actually race an event. 

Joking about the weather aside, I did at least realise that the main source of my exhaustion at that time was lying in bed with nothing to eat.

So despite my sore ankles, heavy calf muscles and aching wrists, I got out of bed and went to the loo where I realised that I should be congratulating myself on getting to the end of day 2 on the Highland trail as “yesterday” I rode over 235km and it was a 29.5hour day.

Still, I continued to contemplate all the people I know who have completed the Highland Trail.  How awesome you are (Alan – of course, Lee, Jennie, Ian, Karl, Sean, Javi, Dave, Rich and Tom, Martin, Clem… I could go on). 

I have a colleague at work who is a coach for a regional archery squad and close to the national team and he likes to try his skills out on me from time to time.  He likes to remind me that I’m pretty special too (but I’m too humble for that).  After I entertained him once with tales of my old Triathlon racing internationally and insisted that I still wasn’t that good he told me (in a nice way) to take a look at myself and what I just said. 
You too can be aero on a cyclo-cross bike
that just did 500 miles over the Rockies

In a way he was right and I fully appreciate what he was trying to do but I still maintain (with Triathlon in particular) that if I can do it anyone can – all you need to do with Triathlon is get reasonably fit, train with a modicum of effort in a semi-random way and then, most importantly, bother to fill in the form and have enough money and enthusiasm to travel to whatever championships you qualify for and spend exorbitant additional money on the kit and the race fee.  Tick – but there’s only so many times you get to milk this* cash cow.
I had a think about what I did yesterday.  There were so many times towards the end that I just packed up and went home.  It would have been an easy ride.  From 1:30 to 5pm, I did three small “loops” of my local playground before I finally turned for home.  I thought about all the time I could have saved here and there and it would be good if I paced it better and just, it’d be easier to come back and do it another time and then I realised that doing it another time might not be an option – so better to get it over and done with, having put the effort in so-far. 

Those last “loops” were so so painful.  I think every race has a hateful part – and in most cases it will be the end of the ride, regardless of your preferences for terrain and scenery.  For me, the end of this ride was atrocious – those same trails I know and love day in, day out – even finding some new ones didn’t help a bit.

So back to the Highland Trail.  I made my toast and a cup of tea and thought of the inconvenience of not having those recovery tools to hand in Scotland – just a packet of crisps and a bit of chocolate saved over from yesterday and some water from out of the stream. 

I thought of my mousing experience from Tuesday and was glad that in Scotland I will be carrying my superlight tent – that’s all that came from that. (also, I know from experience that the tent isn't completely mouse-proof).

My ankles have already stopped aching enough to walk mostly normally and my feet could see the inside of a pair of cycling shoes again, without flinching too badly.  As Lee said in joining the dots – I can’t walk today, but of course I can.

I remembered that not only did I ride day 2 of the “Highland Trail” yesterday, I also rode the last day – through the night to get back to the finish - give or take the 1.5 hour stop which mainly consisted of warming up again and eating a packet of Rolos… and it was easy! 

The pitch was easy, the sleep came easy, I woke up with the daylight – not the alarm - and I got easily back on my bike.

I contemplated a discussion I had last year about whether big rides were even an essential part of the Highland Trail training package and I think they still might be – for me at least. 

I’m still learning new things with every adventure I have – sometimes major, sometimes so minor as, it probably was worth popping home to get that extra light because riding in the dark would’ve been so much easier with it than without it… or maybe get myself a better headtorch as dedicated spare. 

I learned all these new things about the day after recovery and I think that I need to do the longer rides to get my joints and tendons ready for the strains of day-in-day-out riding again.  When I finished Ireland (after a brief rest) I was ready for more, not less.

So the plan for next year will get a little tweak - a good tweak - to stick me back in my comfort zone of being out, not in.  So when the "how the hell?" kicks in again, I will at least have an answer - just like you did last time.  And for that reason, I'm extremely glad I persevered with the Peak 200.


Monday, May 25, 2020

The Peak 200 - finally dunnit

I signed up for the virtual highland trail but (unless they’re counting pathetic little runs), I hadn’t actually started it yet.  I’ve been thinking of riding the Peak200 as part of this week’s holiday but actually, putting off doing so until after the bank holiday weekend – just because I have an aversion to crowds, especially in the hills.

The two thoughts collided as I lay in bed on Saturday evening after a particularly lazy day.  

The Peak 200 would at least get me on the board in the virtual Highland Trail and the Sunday’s forecast was not set to be great but not dreadful either.  Overcast, some rain, some wind – perfect Highlands conditions.

I made my mind up but didn’t get out of bed to do anything about it so consequently it was a late start as I put all my devices on charge, took the van out for a run up and down the motorway to make sure its engine and battery were up to scratch after 8 weeks sitting still, just in case I decided I needed to be rescued… and then I loaded my bike with some emergency bivi stuff.

I spent a good half hour packing up all the sandwiches, crisps, chocolate, cereal bars and fruit I might need for 24+ hours in the outdoors, with refuelling stops likely to be shut or have long queues  outside.  For all that I meant to do this ride at race-weight (no excess clothes, no fuel or stove), I was a pretty hefty lump.  Homemade sandwiches don’t come in a convenient cardboard box to protect them until they’re eaten and you can dispose of later.  Homemade sandwiches will get the inside of your new rucsac completely disgusting given half a chance so I packed everything into a plastic box… then another as I made breakfast sandwiches and another as I packed a bunch of perishables like cheese and tomatoes.

When I’d ridden a good 6 of the 8km to my starting point, I suddenly realised I’d left my spare light on charge at home.  It’s non-essential but supplements my dynamo light when I’m not moving fast enough to get the dynamo light to work.  The headtorch I carry is extremely light and only really suitable for use in camp as it’s on a piece of paracord and is either unstable or uncomfortable.  Still, I decided an extra12k, the climb up the hill to home and the even later start was not worth the effort.

On the 8km out from home, I tightened pedal tension, straightened out my saddle after a bike-topple last week and texted TSK about the light situation. It was a faffy ride in but as I flew around the corner of Onkesley lane, I put the pedals down – literally it goes straight up hill - but then remembered to ease off as I had a long day or more ahead of me.

I generally tend to ride at around 10km/hr average and so technically the ride would take me 20 hours if I were fresh all the way around.  Plus stops – of which I was planning a limited amount means in theory I could be done within 24 hours plus slowing down time.  The BB200 took me 35 hours including a 6 hour sleep and a lot of dicking around with brews, camp food and café stops.

Past the barky dog who was out for the first time since lockdown and some other people walking dogs.  As they started fighting amongst themselves, I rode away – dog fights, one of the few things that always reminds me why I don’t have a dog anymore.  On the top road, the dog walkers caught me up again as I changed my clothing choices.  The dog was fine.  The forecast rain was a little late and it was pretty chilly up on the top road of Rod Moor.  It was the kind of wet air that you can hardly notice but tends to accumulate and won’t dry out too quickly.  I decided I didn’t need it on the descent to the Ladybower.  I put my waterproof coat on and cursed myself for not packing baggy shorts to just add a layer of warmth to thighs and knees.

Going over Ladybower was enjoyable.  I got off and walked when the going got tough instead of trying to power up stuff for training.  I was in the long game and I like the long game.  I rode across the new trails smoothly, picking the best lines for once instead of upping my boulder-hopping game.  I descended past the cutest daschund, complimenting its owners on their dashing hound before dropping into the stone bivi hut for my first lunch.  The more of this backpack I can eat, the better.

As a pleasant surprise, the next mountain biker around the corner was Colin Papworth, a friendly podiatrist who has, in the past, been a big part of my Triathlon life as he fixed up my feet so I can actually run a marathon.  He was riding a new Sonder and we had a good chat about challenges ahead.  I told him I’d probably forget him in this post so I’m quite proud I still remembered.

Colin went on his way and I finished eating as much weight as I could manage then packed my waterproof away again before heading over to the other side of the hill to Ladybower reservoir.  The crowds were massive here but everyone was friendly and in a good mood.  I dreaded the dam crossing but everyone stepped to the side to distance and all went well.  

I nearly wore the bell out on the traverse of the Southern edge but people thinned out as I climbed up the hillside through the trees towards Win Hill.  Finally I felt there was enough separation for me to leave my bike in a ditch and hide behind a tree for a pee.  Cue appearance of a dad and his 3 sons who had to stop and have a faff metres from me before heading off down their downhill lines all of which overlooked my pee spot.  I just about maintained some decorum whilst sitting in the pine needles with my bum exposed but didn’t half find it difficult to “go” after that!  Guys, if ever you find a bike lying in a ditch on its own, move on please, move on.

The pine needles I picked up were to become ingrained in my skin over the next 20 hours. 

So, on to the final push up to the top and over to the Hope valley side before the long, laboured Hike-a-Bike up to near the top of Win Hill (most PRoW up there are footpaths so there is some sketchy transfer of bikes between Bridleways to get elevation and transfer from one path to the other).  My bike was heavy, I had to put it down several times then haul it around me and put it back down in the heather, just to get elevation when I couldn’t carry it any more.  That’s the weight training wearing off through Lockdown.  

Finally I hit the second bridleway and dropped down into Aston then Thornhill and then on to the climb up towards Shatton.  Steady grind – remember the end game – but I couldn’t be bothered to get off and walk so twiddled a tiny gear to the top.  A couple on e-bikes dinged their bell and I took the less steep outside line on the bend to allow them to undertake me and got a “Brilliant effort” from the bloke on his way past.  Nice.

I love the drop down to Bradwell and I love it even more on my new bike.  Last time I was here was just after the floods and half of the descent was closed so I had to walk EmVee down a footpath. This time we had a clear run at it.  I had to finesse the last steep bit as a family sat and watched.  (secretly, I metaphorically pooped myself a bit).

After my lunch it had started to niggle with me a bit that I might not have enough calories on board to last me through the day. I’d saved a sandwich for Monday lunch if I needed it and it suddenly started to dawn on me that there wasn’t an “if” in there.  I was still going to be out for Monday lunch – or at least a second breakfast.  Besides, I didn’t fancy more beef sandwiches straight away and so I popped into the infamous Bradwell Co-op to get something different for my second-lunch and some additional supplies for the rest of the ride. 

If you’ve missed the news, Bradwell residents have been particularly shouty about scum from Sheffield coming to ride two-wheeled contraptions through their village during lockdown.  There were no angry villagers around – in fact there was no-one else in there and I realised that it was 3pm and the sandwich shelves had been stripped almost bare already.  

I had a sausage roll (win win) and staggered to the till with an arm full of sweets, a sweet sugary drink, a bottle of chocolate milk and some more chocolate for good measure… oh and some Soreen.

Having shoved it all in my rucsac (now even more bulging), I felt like I’d overdone it so set about drinking both the fizzy sugary drink AND the chocolate milk as well as eating the sausage roll and the Soreen.  I hoped the chocolate wouldn’t melt and looked forward to the sweets overnight.
The Old Mam Tor Road from above.
From Bradwell it’s back towards Edale via an ascent of Mam Tor old road where more folk were enjoying the sunshine responsibly.  I passed over the top of the Mam Nick road then flung off to the downhill to the road where last time there had been an Indian wedding at one of the houses, the marqee throwing out sounds from Bollywood and glorious colours of silk flowed through the garden.  

This time it was just the flow of tyres on gritstone with the occasional squelch from my forks where I got it wrong and trying not to vomit chocolate milk mixed with sweet, fizzy drink.

Last time, I turned for Edale to fuel-up at the café.  Last time some other bikers warned me of the rain to come but I continued regardless then bailed when I remembered I didn’t have any waterproofs with me.

This time I didn’t bother with Edale, I just set off up the road to the next turn-off – a lovely little path that makes its way up the side of the valley at the perfect rideable steepness, just avoiding all of the houses and farms.  It is the perfect off-road alternative which then turns into the crossroads that leads to the rest of the route.  Two lads passed me on full sussers as I bounced my way over the rocks / fell off then waited for me at the top to see which way I was going so they could get the gate.  It was nice but I was going the “other way”.  No-one is ever going the “other” way at 5pm – the way that leads to more – the way that leads to the potatoes.

Potato Alley is a descent of around 150m which leads to the bottom of the Ladybower valley and the A57.  The only place to go is Manchester or the Derwent valley with the associated consequences of then having to get back out and go somewhere else on top.  That’s why not many people are heading down potato alley at gone 5pm.  I always know I’m on an adventure when descending Potato Alley late.  Last time EmVee through me off a steep bank on Potato Alley.  I know you shouldn’t have favourites but Sunshine delivered me safely to the bottom in one piece with a PB and a smile on my face.

I picked up a couple of sheep as sweepers at the bottom.  Without causing a massive stampede or worrying pregnant animals, I generally don’t tend to change my riding style around sheep.  They will do what they do regardless of how much time you take, how careful you are, which way you shoo – or not.  So I carried on riding.  I tried stopping – that didn’t work. The little lamb was clever.  The little lamb wanted to run off the road but every time it left its mother’s side she would barge it back into the road or bleat so that it followed her back into the road.  

As we approached the busy A57, I backed off completely but there was nothing to be done.  She’d either stand in the road and stare or run along the road ahead of me.  Even when I stopped, they started walking towards the road until eventually they were stuck between the road and me.  I didn’t move.  They stopped, looked, listened, looked again and then crossed safely.  Fuckers.  Crazy, clever fucking fuckers.  I crossed the road too and together we climbed all the way up the hill.  

It seemed they were local.  The sheep in the field above the A57 bleated back in recognition until we all reached the farm, complete with the rest of the herd on the other side of the fence.  The Ewe and her lamb wandered nonchalantly into the yard at the house and demanded attention in order to dob us in.  I climbed on up the hill assuming my role as a shepherd was done here.

The sheep above were more sophisticated.

I was rewarded with a solo ascent to the top of Hagg Hill and a clean descent down the other side to an empty Derwent reservoir for the second time that day.  Finally I had the place to myself.  

As I rode down the road I placed a hand under my rucksac and jiggled about.  There was still plenty of water sloshing around in there so I didn’t need to divert to Fairholmes to fill up.  I didn’t want to if I didn’t need to – I had a long climb ahead of me and the less weight the better.  

I thought about my lighting situation – I didn’t want to be on Cut Gate in the dark, picking across the bog with a mediocre dynamo light so it was good that I was there before 8pm – but I did start to get a move on.  The ride along the valley side was pleasant with the occasional walker still out.  Up at the top a couple tented at the conflagration of two rivers asked me if I was out for a bivi, “Yes, somewhere, maybe” was my answer.  We could have continued a conversation for longer but by now I had an eye on the clock and eye on the light.  If anyone is reading this and recognises themselves, sorry I didn’t stop to chat.

I climbed up as the sun went down.  Had I been out for fun, I might have bivied up there and watched the sunset and climbed over the top for the sunrise but I wasn’t nearly tired enough.  The usual swimming-pool sized puddles were absent, replaced with dry, dusty pits.  Quite literally perfect conditions.  Places where people have scrambled up the peat walls to avoid a drowning have become unused because passage across the ocean-beds is now possible.  

Sunset hues on Cut Gate
Emley Moor and Wind Turbines in the twilight
I took the descent on the other side a little cautiously as the light faded and I knew I’d be completely alone if anything happened.  Before I knew it though I was at the last, rocky descent which I cleared for the first time ever thanks to the new bike and dropper post, again.  Also, a complete lack of other people to point and laugh does wonders for confidence.

Through the trees and out to the Woodhead road crossing then over to the Trans-pennine Trail.  On my way an owl furled around in the sky above the fields and I heard its young calling from a nearby tree.  I added my fleece layer and leg warmers as I’d started to shiver on the descent and the Trans-pennine Trail isn’t steep enough to stimulate much increased energy levels but climbs ever higher in elevation up towards colder air.

I took great pleasure in flying past the bus stop where so many long rides have ended in a reluctance to leave that bus stop and go back out there.  Beyond this point I had merged the most technically challenging section of the ride to the longest out-and-back section of the ride and I felt like there wasn’t any stopping me now.  

Over to the Woodhead Road again – on the other side of the hill.  The Trans-Pennine crosses it a few times on its way down to Glossop.  Earlier in the day, I’d driven past the motorway signs that indicated the Woodhead road would be subject to Night Closures over the coming weeks.  It always makes me think of the BeeGees “Night Fever” and I sing “Night Closures, Night Closures” at the signs in a silly, high-pitched voice.  At the time, I hadn’t realised the consequences but now, every time I came to a road crossing I could see for miles that nothing was coming and happily sailed across every one without having to stop.  Pure bliss.

Sheep scattered, bunnies hopped, lapwings whirled and Peewitted, curlings mewed into the darkness.  The dynamo blazed bright as I dropped downhill.  I stopped above Crowden Reservoir to sit on a bench, eat some more food and put my gloves and an extra layer back on.  I took off my shoes to rest my feet.  As I stayed longer, clothing turned into adding a fleece along with my waterproofs.  Putting shoes back on, the inside of my left shoe felt like it was engrained with sand – or cat’s’claws – and I couldn’t face sinking my feet into it.  I checked with my hands and yes, the fabric was very prickly.  Why I haven’t noticed this before, I do not know.  I took the wrapper of a chocolate bar I’d eaten and used it as a barrier against the prickle.  Totally worked and I was especially proud of myself, even if I did rattle from time to time for the next 10 hours.

The continuing descent took its toll on my body temperature but I was OK.  I shivered my way into Glossop and thanked fuck I didn’t try this last year when I was soaked to the skin.

The route merely skims the edge of Glossop and there weren’t any refuelling opportunities in Hatfield. It was 11pm by the time I got there and everywhere was shut. I was thankful I’d taken the opportunity in Bradwell.  In Charlesworth I had my first walk up a road climb. I needed the waterproofs for warmth on downhills and exposed moorland but they were too sweaty to make an effort in.  Eventually I gave up on gloves, my hands were so hot, and stuffed them into a food pouch for later.

I don’t really know where I am when it comes to a lot of the bridleways around there, I simply recognise gates or particular features or road signs.  I remembered Littern Pike for a couple sunbathing inappropriately on a hot sunny day and the non-parking space sign at the bottom of the hill, “Please don’t park close to the edge, the last car that was parked here is still missing”.  I ignored the request for cyclists to dismount for the steep hill and then worried when my brakes made a complaining little squeaking noise after I’d let them off.  Nothing came of it, thankfully.

Above Charlesworth, I took my turn onto (what I thought was) the bridleway only to find myself faced by a Range Rover parked right across the gateway.  Thinking a farmer had just dumped his vehicle inconveniently, I continued to walk by until the engine fired and the vehicle started to move slowly yet ominously straight at me!   I hopped off sharpish onto the steep banking alongside, pulling Sunshine up behind me as the vehicle rolled passed, driven by a young guy in a teeshirt.  The odour of weed poured out the cracked window.  Whatevvs… but don’t drive me over chick!

Through the gate, after a while, the Garmin chimed to tell me I’d gone the wrong way so I had to retrace to find the bridleway proper, heart in mouth that wasn’t where my friend had gone to finish off his joint or worse.

I know there are bits that TSK and I did before on this route and I only recognise them by the wheel ruts and pedal strikes.  They all came and went in the darkness to the same amount of swearing as before – but more so in low light conditions.

I tried wearing my head torch on my helmet but it just didn’t work comfortably.  I tried wearing it around my neck (as it’s designed to do, and works pretty well in camp) but the shadows just moved as I moved on the bike, distracting me from my view of the line and giving me a sea-sick sense of balance for where me and the bike were going.  The downhills were fine – once the Dynamo was up to brightness - but the uphills were going oh-so-slow.  I could just about ride stuff but only with the headtorch on full beam and I didn’t want to completely kill the only light I had available for emergencies / a bivi pitch later.

For mile after mile I just endured the route – not really having much to look at except the moorland passing in front of my tyres and startled sheep.  Manchester put on a show from a distance in one of those, “Bloody hell, I can see my parent’s house from here” moments of “I am actually closer to them than I have been since Mothers’ day when I accidentally* bumped into them the weekend before lockdown started”.

*no, really.

I kind of made a plan to stop somewhere on my own territory. Somewhere that I at least knew where I was.  There’s no logic to that except for knowing that there’s not a better spot just around the corner.  If I’d got sleepy sooner, I would have stopped sooner but as it is, given all the rest days I’ve had recently, I didn’t get the overwhelming fatiguing urge to stop that comes from a long ride that immediately follows a hard week at work or a long journey to get to the start of an event.

When the bright lights of the quarries around the industrial side of Stanton in the Peak started to hum in the darkness, the lights of their 24-hour operations reflecting off the limestone they mill, I knew I was back on home ground.  The random bridleway signs became Pennine Bridle Way specific and I passed the pub that I’ve inevitably stopped at for dinner more than once on a long ride based loosely on this route.  It was all closed for the Covid, its campsite empty of partying stag-nights and children running feral, up past their bedtimes on family weekends away.

I’d thought about bivvying at Parsley Haigh as Landslide had mentioned it on Thursday when we went out.   I couldn’t remember how far it was from this pub to Parsley Haigh. Unfortunately a map check revealed it to be too far away to be in contention.  What was nearby was a big oak tree near Rushup edge that I’ve had my eye on ever since my first recce of this route in 2017 before the Torino Nice Rally.  Anything better en route would be an acceptable alternative.  

I carried on my merry way, chucking Sunshine down anything that the Peak threw at us – mostly with a successful level of gusto yet occasionally I would forget I have a dropper post and become lodged over the edge of a big drop whilst I sorted out my balance and got off and walked.

Finally, a descent I recognised (in the dark) and we bounced down the steps like Tigger on speed to the gate at the bottom which separates two land-owners and two field systems.  Through the gate, I remembered the stream – ridden through and walked through when too high for me to have the confidence in my old wheels.  I skittered through it on the bike.  It was no more than 3cm deep and 24 inch across, although a little slippery on the bottom.  

There’s a second gate but the place spoke to me – another of my “on the list” bivi spots and here I was at the right time and in the right frame of mind.  It wasn’t so much that I was sleepy (though I was ready to sleep) but more that I was hungry and knew that in my wet and sweaty state, as soon as I stopped I’d start shivering with cold.  I’d been supping heavy amounts of water for hours to sate the sweat but had eaten no food to replace the electrolytes so was feeling washed out as well as a little hungry.  The fact I was still guzzling water after 15 hours riding is testament to the weight I carried out the door when I left the house.

A quick check for civilisation – what was I doing?  It was 3am! Still, coast clear.  The worst thing was, it was between two streams which were emitting an air of cold but to be honest, everywhere was starting to emit and air of cold so it would do.  Three sides of a dry stone wall meant it was totally sheltered from any breeze and I had running water should I mysteriously run out and need a top up.
The mat went up inside the bivi, quilt out and fluffed.  I got quickly (very quickly) changed into dry baselayers then sat in the bag and ate some more beef sandwich before I realised I was putting paid to my lunch for tomorrow – should I still be out at that point.

The chilly air got the better of me and I lay down to get the mat’s insulation on to my back.
For all that it had been cold, it turned out to be the perfect bivi spot.  I warmed up pretty quickly in my bag.  The Rolos I’d bought in Bradwell for dinner desert softened up nicely and I lay on my back looking at the outline of a large Oak, the Plough constellation underlined with dry stone walls and the rise and fall of the moorland… and popped one chocolate covered caramel after another until they were all gone.

I quickly fell asleep. No rustling, no mice, no beasties, no surprises.  Well, one.  1hour, 20 minutes later, I woke up to a grading of colour in the landscape and a meadowlark sitting on the wall for an alarm clock.  I hit the snooze button on my brain only to be woken up 10 minutes later by my actual alarm.  I felt reasonably refreshed and OK about leaving – best bivi “night” yet at only 90 minutes.

It was still quite chilly and had got cold in my bag – unless I lay a certain position – a position which had already got uncomfortable- so I packed up.  I can easily say that getting dressed inside a bivi bag is easily the best warm-up exercise I have done.  Without much time to dry out my damp, sweaty clothes, I took to rubbing them vigorously to get the fabric warm before putting them on.  To get my feet warm I put my damp socks underneath my sleeping socks as it was just a one-night trip.  I also put my damp shorts on over the top of the leggings and wool top I’d been wearing so no heat loss there.  I was packed up and ready to move within 30 minutes.  A bit of a record and as I climbed out of the stream bed, a nice uphill to warm up on.  

About half a kilometre along the trail, the big oak tree came into view.  The sunrise, now developed a little further, was warming the spot with a pink-purple glow, absolutely beautiful.  Though to temper my regret at not continuing that bit further last night, a lamb decided that I was definitely its mummy and proceeded to run along with me bleating.  That attracted the attention of other ewes… and their lambs and soon I was being followed across the hillside by a small flock, all demanding… who knows what?  Given my Welsh Ride Thing experience from this time last year, I think I picked the best bivi spot in the end.

Now the sun was up I could enjoy the glorious technicolour of Rushup Edge before heading out to Peak Forest.  It was still oh-so-cold and little patches of valley fog weren’t helping.  Watching a foal chase three calves around a field helped much more. Watching two leverets playing in a field helped a lot.  Then I plunged into the darkness of the White peak Dales where I did a little lap up and down a hill trying to figure out if there really is a quick route onto the Monsal Trail or if I really do need to drop all the way to the bottom and ride back up again (there isn’t).  At the station, I was relieved to find the toilets open and I piled in to re-fill my Camelbak for the day ahead.  Although I’d not completely run out, there was about an ounce of water left.  The café looked like it has the facilities in place to re-open too but it was only 6am – so no luck on the coffee front.

I sat on a picnic bench and ate my peanut butter sandwiches and any other savoury food that was left, saving my remaining sweeties and biscuits for the rest of the morning.  I couldn’t remember exactly how I get from Millers Dale back to Sheffield and hadn’t done any time analysis but all I needed was enough to last my 24 hour timescale – so one more breakfast then.

Back on the bike and I did the math.  Hm, 4 hours to do 55km.  Arse.  There wasn’t a chance I was going to speed up, no matter how many long railway trails I had left to ride – I started to let the 24 hour dream go.

The tunnels hurt my cold.  I set off riding with my synthetic down coat on and out of the sun I was cold.  I positively shivered through the tunnels and didn’t warm up enough to remove my down layer until I got into a flow.  I kept the fleece on till I reached Gratton Dale – where the long stretches of railway trail finally turn into something with a bit more oomph. 

The baby’s head boulders didn’t really bother the bike – unless someone has been tidying up down there?  The line I usually miss into the valley bottom was actually spotted this time before I overshot it and even the nasty bumpy bit at the end was a complete pleasure as the usual peanut butter mud was now nicely crusty – although still pocked with horse hoof-prints.  

A couple hiking in teeshirts, sunhats and shorts reminded me I really should lose the extra layers and knee-warmers but I didn’t want to stop really until my hopes of 24 hours were truly dead and I was ready to add some sunscreen.

After my bail-out point last year where I ended up sleeping in a bus stop in Baslow completely fatigued from trying to find a perfectly obvious path in a field, I was a bit dubious about the section between Youlegreave and the “finish” for me.  I never have ridden the path in the field and at the end of the route, I just kind of assumed I went up Stanage and then home, but how to get from Baslow to Stanage???

On this day, the path in the field was just fine and obvious in the day light, as it had been on Google Maps after my last ride when I looked with incredulity at my squiggles in a field. 

Further route-finding chaos laid ahead though as I selected the wrong path out of a thicket and only realised when I rejoined the path I should've been on.  The little angel on my shoulder whispered that I should follow the route at all times.

The devil on the other shoulder said, "play dumb, the route-checker won't notice".

The Angel said, "we might not fucking be coming back to do this again, do it right soldier".

The devil sulked then said, "Anyway the time limit is 24 hours and you're going to miss that so we might as well just go home"

and the angel said, "no it's not"

and the devil said "yes it is"

so we sat on the grass and got the phone out and used some data to google Peak 200 ITT and that shut up the devil so I went back down the hill and rode up the right path before carrying on.

Through the next gate and all was forgotten.  The route through the woods above Chatsworth is my absolute favourite woodland path.  I think there is magic in those woods.  Sadly, it was not worth visiting the excellent café in Edensor as it would have been either closed or packed.

I was beeped at for riding out in the road after Chatsworth.  As a notoriously bad road, I adopt a position in the road which makes drivers think twice about passing me – and if they do decide to squeeze past, I have somewhere to go to save myself.  Whilst this guy did feel it unsafe to pass me on a blind corner, obviously that was my fault for being too far out in the road.  He had the decency to beep at me from behind so I had the wonderful opportunity to firmly show him two fingers.  When he finally did pass I hissed, “I’m looking after my safety, what are you doing?” through his open side window.

The brake lights came on, though presumably he thought better of it given the number of other people waiting patiently behind me or the very camera-esque light fitting on the front of my bike.  The next driver waited patiently, then on an open stretch of road drew up alongside with the window down while his passenger asked if I was OK.  There are lots of good people in this world.

Baslow was decidedly busy so I opted not to get any food – only Stanage and home to go right?
I climbed up the hill to Curbar – Not Stanage - stopping half way up to consume most of my remaining sweeties and half of yesterday’s beef sandwich.  Still, not far to go.  Curbar was also busy.  

Presumably, if I’d been on cue for my 24 hours, I would have been here at, like 9am, in the quiet, but at least there was still enough room to ride and distance from the hordes going to stare off the edge. 
On my way up I was passed by a skinny middle aged bloke on a full susser.  Cheap looking bike and the fella looked more like a fell runner than a rider.  The rather round woman walking down the hill assumed we were together and joked “I was just saying to my daughter, I’d be the one like you”.  Instead of sarcastically saying, “COOOL, you rode 135km yesterday too!” I kept my gob shut and smiled.  I hope you’re proud of me internet.

At the top of the climb the bloke was stood on the grass with his poor bike upside down.  I checked to see if he had everything he needed and he responded with, "I've got a flat".  It sounds terribly selfish but the clock was ticking so I took that to mean he had everything he needed (and more) and continued on my way, leaving him to tip his bike up the right way and start hitting the quick release to get it to undo.

At the end of the cliffs, there was an ice cream van selling hundreds and hundreds of ice creams  (mainly to cyclists) but I didn’t bother – only Stanage to go and then home.

I turned left and then right onto a trail I only discovered last week (I’d been riding on the footpath instead and only realised last week that I had it wrong – woops).  It’s a lovely trail and the *actual* bridleway takes in a small woodland with a reliable stream running through it.  Where, last week, I stepped carefully from stone to stone, this time I stomped through the puddles and ground my cleats into the mud, hoping desperately that the cool moisture would seep through to my sore, hot feet.  

I found a nice tree to lean my bike against and opened my frame bag to pack away my fleece and wool top and pull out my thin, air holed, Norton Wheelers jersey.  The dry bag is, unbeknownst to me, a pretty good heat reflector and the jersey was wonderfully cold, still soaked with yesterday evening’s sweat and nicely chilled to a very cool temperature.  I stank to high heaven but was completely happy.  I slathered some sunscreen over my exposed forearms and removed my knee-warmers now that I was taking the time out to do suncream and could protect my leg skin (I might have got sunburn 2 weeks ago that’s still healing).  With the 24 hour limit gone, I could afford a bit of skin safety.

When I got up to leave, the Garmin had that annoying flashy “?” on the screen that says, “GPS doesn’t really have a fucking clue where you are but will this do?”

Given that this track would be my proof that I did the ride, I needed to know it was good.  I hiked out of the trees to get reception, to no avail.  I checked the battery – 53%.  I started the alternate Garmin to load the route and started my watch GPS so I could start riding whilst the new Garmin recalculated.  The watch still had a bloody big think about finding satellites.

By the time I got to the Fox Hill road, the new Garmin couldn’t decide which way the route was going but the old one finally had us on-screen.  Deciding it was a battery issue, but I was close enough to home to capture both routes, I left two Garmins to record but put my main one onto battery charge, just showing the route on screen so I could navigate by it.

I turned left.  The Garmin said Right.  Fuck? What?

Cue: lots of zooming, scrolling, screen swiping.  Oh yeah!  The loops.  Bollocks.
Now: had I thought about this, I should have bought ice cream.  But no.  

I bombed off down the road to a turning onto a track I’d not ridden before.  I should have been relishing the opportunity to learn something new in my own back yard.  I don’t really get over Ian’s side of town so their trails are a bit of a mystery to me.  Instead I was annoyed I had to start doing laps of my garden at the end of a particularly difficult marathon.  

The sun was shining but in my head it was raining.  The loops are a part of the ride and to be honest, they’re quite a nice part but when I did my reccie last year, I gave up on them and went home when instead I should have been out there, finding out what they do and where they go.  I put it on a to-do list somewhere and never did it.

The Garmin sent my little Virtual Partner blokey off down the trail ahead and showed that I was right on its tail.  So I turned.  The sign on the path said, “Footpath” but there are a lot of permissive bridleways around these parts so I thought it might be one I don’t know about.  It wasn’t that kind of terrain though and I soon started to drown in heather.  The Garmin had changed its mind and now I had to back-track.  The Garmin went in the bag.  Stupid fucking Garmin.

Back onto the road and took the next turning which, although more accessible and bridlepath-like was still pathetically un-rideable for my weak legs.  Cue a period of wandering around the moors with my bike and a bunch of teenagers.  Where usually speakers playing music in the outdoors does my head in like you wouldn’t believe, I found a bit of Dance was exactly what I was in the mood for (yes my Eastern Moors Teens were playing 90’s retro).

Up towards Houndkirk, a poor dad who had been mithered to take out his son’s bike was refusing to push the bike up the hill – making the son do it himself.  It turned into a race game which, I confess, I let the boy win – but only just because I am a nice person.  Having reached the finish line, I just about managed to get back on my bike and ride off to do my loop of Lady Canning’s Plantation, relieved that the route only made me go down the kiddies’ run in front of 16 young men, 4 dads and 12 children… whilst rocking full bikepacking bags and crazy-old-lady-hair.

And that was when the water ran out… but never mind, I only have to get away from Houndkirk and then it’s just Stanage right? NO???

Down there??????

As I got to the bottom of the Dale, passing a couple I announced, “I’m verrrry tired, this might be funny”.  Still: I nailed it (it's all the bike), rode out, back up the climb. Please oh god oh god oh god, just Stanage right?

There was no ice cream van at Stanage to scavenge a drink from, never mind an ice cream.  Still, I’d saved emergency measures – about 125ml of home water (none of that skanky tasteless limestone stuff from Millers’ Dale station).  I sat under the only tree casting a shadow at the plantation below the Causeway and downed the entire thing then ate the remainder of the chocolate bar I’d taken from home.  I had officially drunk all water and consumed every calorie I had brought or bought on the trip.  It just about worked.

I rode about 2/3 of the way up the Causeway then the enthusiasm just waned and I walked the rest.  At the top, walkers swayed off their socially distanced line to accommodate my wobbling progress over the stones and then finally, that was the top of the last climb.  A Monday Pole to mark the almost completion (bar the descent)…I took a picture of myself but the grin is screen-splitting so not sharing.

I opened it up on the downhills.  Sprinting for the line – you can’t beat it.  Most people that were still out were somewhere else enjoying the sun, not walking in the woods so I had a relatively clear line to the finish, the tiny incline to the A57 was suddenly no bar to my enthusiasm and I set off at full tilt down the A57 to Onkersley Lane.  

I flipped up the hill to cross my own start-line and considered getting off for a finishers selfie but was too interested in eating some more and getting a drink of water and not causing offence to the residents by flaking out on their driveways in a sweaty mess so I just did a U-turn and continued my down hill trajectory to home, toast, tea and a nice, long bath to soak the pine needles away.

Distance: 237.8 (including from/to)
Elevation: 5554m
Time: Around 29.5 hours (Subject to confirmation).

Saturday, May 23, 2020

May Bivi - Of theft

Much of the day was physically lazy but over the course of the last 2 weeks I have finally drawn together a new plan to get me out of the non-Highland Trail frame of mind and back into the 3 Peaks and out the other side into next year.

This task usually takes me around 2 days.  This year it took 3 because rather than tackling the next 6 months, I couldn't resist rolling it out to next year's HT in an attempt to convince myself I can do it.

I recently drafted a chart to remind me to live my life and stop being such a slave to my job. 

Put simply, I realised that if I:
  1. make a plan
  2. make it achievable
  3. stick to the plan
I can finish the race.*

Today I have achieved 2 of the three things and it feels like I am incrementally closer to my goal.

Once complete, I looked at what is left to do this week.  Most of the big things were ticked off my a couple of medium length rides in the Peak this week (in glorious weather) so I went out and ticked off the remainder - a 2.5km run on hills and strength training which has been almost exclusively dropped since lockdown through a lack of enthusiasm based on the crap weights I have at home and the sun being out.

Cue weight-free squats and lifting baked bean tins whilst feeding the cats and cooking dinner.
The bean tins weren't heavy enough and replaced with 750ml water bottles.

The cats came upstairs to walk underneath my plank.

So I registered to do the Highland trail virtually.  That was a silly thing to do.  After staring at the plan for the ride for 8 hours yesterday, I got all excited and registered at the last minute on a bit of fun basis.  This morning I was wide awake at 5:30 am - perfect for a good start but I went straight back to sleep until 8:30 am. 

As I ate my breakfast I realised the wind was still blowing and the motivation to ride deserted me.

Yesterday, you see, I had a rather pleasant morning.  Mr Landslide sought company for a bivi.   I'm rubbish at making long term plans but he's clever and we agreed to meet on Thursday evening at 8:30 then ride local, sleep local and ride home again (him to home-work, me to my holiday at home).

We socially distanced through the neighbourhood and up the North side of the Rivelin Valley.  Though I'm sure his Escapade would have been fine in the rock garden, it was an evening for bimbles. 

Along the lane of 100 puddles, we rode through dust pits then had to decide to ride-on or go to pitch camp.  Mr L chose to make a twilight camp instead of burn more miles so we dropped back into the river bed and made our way over to my chosen spot. 

I gave my guest the flatter spot with the view but due to prevailing wind direction bringing showers in the morning, the tarp, unfortunately, had to have its back to the view.  I delved into my comfort zone in the trees amongst the twigs with somewhere to lock the bike to a pine.

Mr L pitched in no time whilst my attempts to pitch the Ugly Tarp in the trees just led to rucked material and guy lines that were too short, insufficient headroom and poor slopes.  I gave up and pitched traditionally with a pole and some sketchy pegs in the pine needles, moss, lichen and tree roots.

We spent the next 2 hours talking shit and whittling, consuming snacks, whisky and beer and scaring away a deer which wandered into camp, it's white rump prancing away in the darkness.

The owls serenaded, the squawked then bedded down eventually.  At 1am we went to bed and I lay awake staring at the trees for some time before drifting off.

I woke up first to the sounds of mice scurrying around so stuck my earplugs in.

Mouse:1 Trep:0 

The noise persisted and I found my rucsac was over a mouse hole dressed as a tree root.  I moved it. Mouse:1 Trep:1

The mouse continued so loud I was convinced the deer was back and rummaging through my food bags but a quick look over the tarp yielded no beasties or thundering hooves.  I tried reassuring my senses by removing the earplugs but the noise of the stream made me think it was raining heavily and I got cold... but my bivi was dry.  I put my earplugs back in and slept through the rain that eventually did come at around 4am.

I was wide awake at 4:30, ready to get up and race but persuaded myself to go back to sleep - finally - and very convincingly - till 8am when I woke very delirious and physically stiff from an awkward sleeping position.

After a discussion with Karl about pillows and a bit of research, I tried out a new Thermarest inflatable pillow which was just peachy.  Improved rest and no morning neck pain and the little lovely stayed exactly where it was put all night. 

When I awoke Mr L was all breakfasted and packed up and headed home to his office. 

Whilst it was a shame we didn't get to brew up together in the rising sun, he had vacated the pole position and I decamped before moving into his dry patch of ground to brew coffee and porridge. 

I sat on my folded thermarest and laid out the Ugly Tarp and Bivi to dry in the sun before packing up my bike and pushing back up to the main trail.

The first bite of my Camelbak nozzle revealed the damage the mouse had done - little tooth marks around the split in the bite valve meant it was leaking and I needed to spend the day locking it off to stop water dropping down my leg.  Thankfully I'd locked it over night and still had water left.  Mouse:2 Trep:1

Despite the forecast breeze, it was too nice a day to head home for me.  I had limited resources with me - a cereal bar, some loveheart sweeties (couldn't resist them in one of my rare trips to Asda) and a bag of Harribo's. 

First stop was Stanage Pole as a minimum since once I'm in Wyming Brook, I can't resist. 

I knew I wouldn't be able to resist dropping down the Causeway on the other side.  The tail wind practically shoved me down.  In some kind of weird sideways whirlwind, the wind then shoved me up the Stanage Road climb so I went with the flow and decided to traipse across Burbage so I could go home via Houndkirk.

The wind blew sideways across Burbs until the Longshaw end where it was an obscured headwind in the trees so I took time to eat my only remaining vaguely nutritional food item.

The climb up to Fox House was protected by trees then the tail wind continued across Houndkirk as the backs of my calves were exfoliated by a sandstorm and walkers coming towards me pulled their Covid neck gaiters over their ears, mouths, noses and hair to keep the grit out rather than the germs.

I used the auto-assist functionality of the wind to dial in the rebound on my forks a bit more and accidentally found a few PBs - not all of which I was comfortable with.  I was sorely tempted by the takeaway kiosk at the Norfolk arms to see if they had any snacks but decided to go home and eat healthy lunch instead.

After being blanked by a middle age gnarly roadie woman in full Rapha kit I had the great pleasure of catching her up on the climb out of the dip after she bottled-it on the descent.  Her rudeness was met by the brrrrrd of a set of fully -loaded Maxxis Icon tyres as she begged a right turn when I drew alongside to overtake her. 

"On you go" I chirped cheerily as I braked to let her turn off the climb before the top... leave it there.

Once back off road I settled at a suitably scenic bench to devour the sweeties in my bar bag only to find they were gone.  Mouse:3 Trep:1

Thankfully, it didn't fancy the emergency Harribo, or couldn't get them out of the opening in the food bag.  Or maybe its brain exploded from the Aspartame in the lovehearts.

I pulled myself away from the view of the reservoirs to ride home to devour lunch, satisfied with what I had achieved on limited rations.  I've been hungrier and the ride was mostly sponsored by the giant curry I ate before leaving.

So I'm not sorry that my first day on the virtual Highland Trail will be somewhat of a shortfall.  Other smaller races are still to be raced this year and now I have a plan to get there, life seems more organised. *

*all hell being let loose, set aside.