Choosing a weekend in early August to ride a bike 170 miles is unlikely to coincide with a weather warning predicting biblical storms, that global warming must have something to do with. But, it’s a choice that bad luck certainly has a lot to do with. This led to the journey over to the start at Morecambe Bay containing a mixture of optimism and pessimism, but which largely favoured healthy positivity. Our arrival did coincide with the start of what would become a day of rain.
Mike and I were quite distressed getting soaked unloading bikes whilst our 4 colleagues contemplated their clothing choices. In response to a supportive question enquiring if he wanted a coat, we had our first classic quote of the day from Alan ‘Gravel Rash’ Featherstone, “Nah, it’s alright once you get going!” at which point the downpour became just a little more torrential. The 4 intrepid adventurers set off with the chatter ranging from personal records to recovery, from fuelling to fantasy, and from excitement to apprehension. Undoubtedly, Steve “I’ve got an idea, let’s ride coast to coast” Handley was not going to let a mere storm warning do anything to dampen his determination to achieve the goal he had set out to do.
Morecambe is typical of most seaside towns, glorious in the sun, exciting during a winter storm. With a mixture of the two, stormy but on a fairly warm August day it really matches the mixed emotions of a day full of uncertainty and ‘what ifs.’ Weather forecasts gave strong indications that one of a cyclist’s key emotions, sadism, was going to be needed in quantities rarely found.
Mike and I moved around 8 miles along the route and after an hour with no sign of our 4 combatants a little worry was creeping into our thinking. Things can’t have gone wrong yet?? But then the lads appeared, and a navigation issue had made getting out of Morecambe harder than it should have been, not a good sign with 165 miles to go.
During the next half hour, the rain decided to turn up with attitude, gales started to blow and my sympathy gland was working overtime as we watched the 4 guys battling away. The van was steaming up something rotten, so I opened a window. A sharp comment came from my driver as Mike said, “can you wind that winda’ up, it’s a bit breezy out there.” The irony of the moment was perfect.
And so, hills started to loom up through the low cloud and driving rain. None of the cyclists had seen them yet as glasses were misted, covered in rain and other assorted road crud. After a little kicker, a two-minute regathering took place when Mark ‘Strava’ Hatfield was heard to say, “this is mint”, nobody else agreed or commented at this amazing display of either bravery, lunacy or idiocy. We all won our bet that it was nothing to do with the first of these.
All were battling well and settling into the first 20 odd miles. We then hit our first significant issue of the day which was a painful and telling one. 25 miles in and Kierron ‘Mad Dog’ Moore decided to test some of Newton’s theories and discoveries, including inertia, deceleration, and, most importantly gravity! With no word of a lie Mike and I had just been discussing why Gravel Rash Featherstone always ended up on the deck, to find round the next corner Mad Dog Moore, lying in the middle of the road like an upturned beetle. One advantage of heavy rain and wet roads is reduced friction whilst sliding on one’s backside. As a result, damage was lighter than usual for an ‘off’ at over 30 miles an hour. In addition, Mad Dog unexpectedly tested out another scientific theory as, for a while, the force of falling created acceleration! But up he got, firstly checked out his loaned bike, then shook it off and got back in the saddle.
Arrival in Clapham, a short while later, gave time for all to recover. Hearty plates of eggs, beans, toast and cheese, for me and Mike; the riders also downed a few calories. As we looked out of the café window, the rain was so hard it gave rise to an explanation about the expression ‘it’s coming down like stair rods’, i.e. rain! And so, phase two began, accompanied by the now very familiar pouring rain.
Good News!! It’s raining a little lighter. Bad News!! The wind’s picking up. Good News!! It’s not a head wind. Bad News!! Settle and the biggest climb of the day are just in front.
Mad Dog Moore, having stocked up on fodder and tea, unfortunately now discovered that his one 20 mile training ride had not quite prepared him for the physical onslaught of this event. In addition to which, a cheese baguette and salad did not have the magical rejuvenating properties he had hoped for.
The boxing and martial arts training Kierron had hoped to draw upon is all about short intense bursts of high output energy. After three hours of wet weather suffering, including a bruising and hard fall he realized those old fellas who had been banging on about getting the miles in his legs through long training rides, probably had a point. So, it was into the van for some rest and recuperation.
We now started into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which from the comfort of our support vehicle looked charming even in the atrocious weather. Hill tops shrouded in low cloud, rivers full and running fast, waterfalls traditionally only seen in winter spilling copious run-off into valleys below. Images of huge Tour de France crowds basking in summer sun, carrying the peloton over the Pennines on a wave of support could not be further from the scene unfolding in front of us, on what, as a fellow cyclist, I can say with authority was a day of true suffering.
We have a mechanical, Alan has unshipped his chain. It’s back on, Alan now has oily hands, and he is quickly off again; no drama. In the middle of Settle a sharp uphill section is suddenly worsened by the sight of glistening cobbles. Only a short sharp section but enough to draw strength from legs now more than starting to feel the effect of the weather more than the road. We have another mechanical, Alan’s now shredded shoe covers have decided to wrap themselves up in his rear sprocket. Nice! Fortunately, it’s Kermit green.
“Do you want a hand Alan? You’ll get yourself covered in oil!”
“No, it’s ok, I’m already covered in crap, so it can’t get any worse.” (hmmm, we’ll see shall we readers?)
Alan now has more oil on his hands.
Meanwhile, up front Mark is portraying his true nature by still not identifying that anything is falling out of the sky. At all. “These new Bid shorts I bought are fantastic and this coat is amazing!”
Back in the support vehicle and Kierron is working on the ‘not throwing up plan.’ Mike is working on the ‘I’m the company chief mechanic and this handbrake doesn’t work on hill starts’ plan. And I’m starting to panic over the ‘where’s my bloody wallet?’ plan. Proof that pain is relative!
The drag up out of Settle is serious stuff. The rolling hills through to Pateley Bridge do not let up. The high amount of climbing on this first day is not for the faint hearted and now the wind has become a gale. Steve and Alan both hit a significant wall high up on the moors, and we could see the pain etched in each painful pedal revolution. Then quickly Alan hops off his bike tosses it to one side and starts to punch his thighs. This moment of self-abuse, generated by frustration at realising his legs are not actually borrowed from a pro-cyclist, is then followed by a determined stomp up the rest of the incline (yes, he took his bike with him). Despite these antics going on behind him Mark decided to start up a chat with anyone he came across. Runners, walkers, local villagers and fellow cyclists were all treated to a ‘lovely day’ from Mark, spat out through a gob full of rain. Most responded positively!
The run down into Pateley Bridge is a highly publicised descent, particularly for cyclists, due to the length, steepness and treacherous road surface. Cycling downhill is normally a pleasure, however, when you have been on the deck a few times, and had some painful gravel rash, the reality of the dangers become very well known to you. Consequently, Alan joined us for a short downhill ride in the van to the second food stop.
With 20 miles to go and some more fuel onboard, they were off again. Some more 16% and 19% climbing up past Brimham Rocks was drawing out some swearing, wobbling and possibly hallucinations. Mark started peering over hedgerows to talk to geese. Steve continued to display an admirable level of determination whilst swearing at Mark for lying about how much climbing was left, how far was still to go and how much fun this was. But, an interlude of tailgating a tractor and a camper van meant Mark just smiled his way forward at 30 mph.
So, through Ripon on the last 3 miles to the halfway point. Wow, what a fantastic effort by all concerned. Mark has led with mainly good navigation, some strange humour, but always a smile.
Kierron has come and faced the challenge, had a good off, if there is such a thing, and is building up for a better Sunday to Bridlington. Alan has punched himself, sworn a lot, battled manfully, got covered in oil and come out of retirement to know he still hates hills. Hero of the day must go to Steve ‘I am not giving up’ Handley for battling through a massively tough day, with limited riding experience, zero training on hills, and many times when I am sure the support vehicle will have looked inviting. Having said that, this was his idea so how could he do anything else other than carry on?
A ride like this is often misunderstood until you try it. On a reasonable summer’s day, with both the sun and a gentle breeze on your back it would be a meaningful tough challenge, even for a keen cyclist. For the less experienced of our intrepid pedallers it would be super tough, but to throw in unprecedented rainfall and, at times, 60 mile an hour gusting winds, means just starting deserves recognition. Tomorrow promises to be a better day, easier weather, less climbing, more descending and back on more familiar roads. As I write this the rain is hammering against the window, drowning out Mike’s impression of someone strangling a wild boar, but hopefully our combatants are fast asleep and dreaming of clear skies and the Bridlington seafront.
Having got to the overnight stop, soaking wet, aching all over, tired and looking forward to a warm comfortable hotel room Steve turns to Mark and says, “I am that knackered I would even share a bath with you!” I do hope they turn up for breakfast with smiles on their faces.
There are patches of blue in the sky. The wind looks to be blowing in a direction that is going to give some assistance. Alan and Kierron are already in place for breakfast as Mike and I are shortly joined by Mark and Steve. All smiles, not too sore and looking forward to cracking on. Breakfast – a lot of breakfast – is consumed. Mike and I, in the interests of team spirit join in with the consumption of eggs, beans, tea, coffee and copious quantities of toast.
Our band of 4 set off for Brid! With dry roads and light Sunday morning traffic good progress is made, muscles look like they are remembering how to fire and despite wading through some flooded roads, York is soon coming into view.
A quick pose outside the Minster and it’s on to the first food stop near Stamford Bridge. Calories and fluid are the order of the day, with 50 miles to go spirits are good, the banter is flowing and gears and chains are all behaving. A slight problem with cyclist’s nipple for Steve does require a quick dive into the first aid kit. Taking the plasters off later should be interesting.
The relatively innocuous climb up the Yorkshire Wolds now reveals that yesterday’s heroics along with another 35 miles this morning, have taken their toll on the lads. All gears are used on the way up to Huggate, but the climb of the day is done.
Anyone who has done a little cycling in groups will know the feeling of having goods legs compared to your mates, seemingly being able to push out a bit of a lead. This is great when it happens and is a moment to savour, however, pushing out a bit of lead is also relative. Kierron is an enthusiastic sportsman, new to road cycling and full of the attitudes most 21-year-olds display. In this instance, a little combination of small mistakes ended up with Mike and I having to rescue him from a potentially disastrous error.
The route from coast to coast is extremely well sign posted and with a combination of these and a Garmin bike navigator Mark had led the ride almost faultlessly (don’t mention Morecambe). Kierron, without phone or map, now discovered that impetuosity and inexperience are fine until you are pushing on without your mates, and you miss a vital route sign. The other three lads pushed on to the next stop in Driffield whilst Mike and I turned around to go and find our wandering absentee. Having been found and put right, it now left Kierron about six miles behind and with probably some ribbing and abuse to put up with when the group eventually got back together.
Counting down the miles to go became the story of the day, different from the day before which was counting the miles that had been done. The east coast came into view with a scream from Mark, so loud and high pitched we heard it in the van.
And, so it was that the 4 lads, in unity arrived at the end of this fantastic ride all in aid of the Greenfingers charity, which is what makes it all worthwhile. Without the commitment to raise money for this worthy cause the weather alone would have put paid to this achievement.
I was reading a website promoting the Way of the Roses that described it as ‘exhilarating rather than exhausting’. Well, I have news for that website, 30% inclines, followed by 16%, 19%, and 17% inclines, over two days, in the pouring rain and in a howling gale is, yes, exhilarating but also exhausting. There were no beautiful views of the Lakes, the Pennines or the Yorkshire Dales, the cyclists were blinded by spray, rain, low cloud or all three mixed in with gravel, mud, oil and on two occasions energy gels where mouths were too hard to locate!
‘Chapeau’ to Rolawn’s intrepid cyclists, Steve, Alan, Kierron and Mark. A great achievement that was inspirational to witness and makes me proud to have them as colleagues.
Anyone wishing to support our colleagues and donate to Greenfingers can do so via JustGiving. 100% of the money donated goes directly to Greenfingers.
Jonathan Hill, Rolawn Sales & Marketing Director & Greenfingers Charity Ambassador