It was weird waking up so close to Huddersfield Town's ground but it certainly wasn't football we had on our mind. There was only one place we were going to head in the morning and that was straight to the all you can eat buffet at the Purple Palace just up the road. No matter how much you try to eat on the morning of a cycle ride you never seem to be able to put enough in to give you a new edge and that extra shot of energy you're lacking. Still with all the sugar, caffeine, protein and saturated fat we'd certainly had a good crack at it.
By now everyone was weary and we'd certainly seen enough hills in the past two days to no be looking forward to seeing what lay ahead of us. I'd already earmarked this as potentially the toughest with a terrain that went up and down so much it looked like Rich had mapped an earthquake and not an enjoyable Sunday jaunt. Still, we'd all bought in to it and we were certainly going to give it a good shot. Well that was the positive spin we put on it but it didn't last long as we hit a hill within minutes. We'd stopped discussing the beasts as we reached each summit, we just regrouped and pushed on. Nothing like two category four climbs to get you started going in the morning!
It all felt very familiar as we rode through areas I'd often travelled in a parent's car as a kid. The local stone making you feel that Huddersfield was just going on and on and we weren't yet out of its grasp. Little, short, sharp rises like the one out of the greatly named Thunderbridge were just another step closer to home and were rewarded with another downhill before, yes you've guessed it, another uphill to High Hoyland (I guess we saw that one coming).
We were in an area well know by Spanners and Chef and apart from an abrupt about-turn in Almondbury we were managing well. We headed through Cannon Hall Country Park and took a refreshment break and shielded ourselves from the wind as Andy used the local facilities. Taking direction from the nice lady in the gift shop he headed off and we made polite small talk with the lady. We were filled in on the history of the place, her working patterns and much besides. Still no sign of Andy. We discussed the weather, the events that are held there over the year and how the farm is still a separate entity. Still no Andy. We learned it used to be owned by a family but has been owned by the council since the fifties and now is run as a tourist attraction. Still no Andy. We discussed the merits of where we should deposit our litter (in the outside bin as it's banana). Then, as everyone has become uncomfortable with the small talk and everyone's thinking he's taking his time he appears. I half expected him to turn to the lady and say "I'd give it a minute" but thankfully he didn't and we hot footed it out in to the wind and head off through the grounds.
Onwards we rode, through Thurgoland, skirting Stocksbridge and on the hunt for lunch. It was Sunday lunchtime and we were all ready for a feed. More out of necessity than anything we've had a carvery or two on these trips and as a pub was looking the most likely outlet. Settling on the first suitable establishment in Wharncliffe Side. The Blue Ball was a welcoming place, we didn't feel at all out of place in our Sunday best Lycra. We sat in a corner next to a couple of old guys who sat in wonder at how tall we all were, well most of us. "Look at the size of 'im, if he laid down he'd reach Barnsley" they quite rightfully pointed out about Rich. They'd never guess he'd got that big by sharing his carvery with Neil.
Heading out from the pub with a pint of gravy inside of us we headed towards High Bradford. A road that just kept on going up. As it did we all started stripping off as the soon came out and the effort heated us from the inside. Stretched out in a line we seemed to manage comfortably up the 1.5 mile, category 3 climb that topped out at 11% gradient. We'd come along way since the first day and a quick fuel stop was all we had to recover from the effort before we headed off again. We didn't take much convincing to head off downhill to Low Bradfield, we'd earned it. We'd pretty much crawled up the last hill, we were certainly starting to lag. After all we were in the same patch used by the Tour de France as it passed through Yorkshire. We passed through the lovely Low Bradfield barely taking it in, we were now starting to run on fumes as our past exertions had eaten up all our reserves.
We hit Mill Lee Road, unbeknown to us, a category four climb according to Strava. Having felt one of the strongest so far I was now struggling and chatted to John J as a means of distraction. We played guess his neices middle names (Beatrice and Elsa since you ask, I can even remember the Frozen clue) and he'd guess mine. It certainly distracted me from the pain and got me up that hill.
As we came down the other side we had to consult the map and then ploughed on. Realising we'd missed our turn we double backed to the private road we'd discounted earlier. It was more a dirt path than anything else but we pushed on, across the cattle grid, past the (very small) no cyclists sign. We knew there was a chance there was no way through but that was the preplanned route.
As Neil and Rich pushed on we saw them start to climb the hill to the farm. We could see ahead of them a pick-up at the farm, it jerked in to life, wheel spinning, dust flying as it swung around the yard and headed out down the road at high speed towards us. Like a scene out of a film it headed towards Spanners and Jukebox, clearly to make an impression and send a message. It pulled up beside them, we didn't need to hear them as Rich explained our route through the window. Soon they turned, dejected to give us the bad news. We were going to have to turn around.
It turned out if he let us through he'd have to let everyone through. Of course he would. Silly us. Looking back and with the benefit of Google Earth it still seems harsh that he wouldn't let us through. It is what it is. It was more that it was hard mentally. With heavy hearts we retraced our path and put it down to another two miles gained on our speedos. It was getting hard work. We were tired and supplies were running low. I was down to my last fun-sized Mars bar and it was getting so desperate I ate my Nature Valley that had been in my bag since our last ride!
We were now seeing signs for Sheffield, the only problem was that the numbers weren't going down and we weren't following them. We knew we'd be skirting around the edge of the city and heading right past Jon Child's house, dropping him off there. The lucky man. Andy was now aware of the area and said we had one hill left to go. I'm sure he described it as not too bad, we'd come down one side and then go up the other. We zigzagged from one road, on to another and then got ready to turn off left. As we looked to our side our gaze followed the fall of the land, upwards. Right next to us and about 8 foot above us was a tractor going up the hill. This was going to be steep.
I'd never heard of Lodge Lane before but man that was some hill, I was nearly delirious by the time I reached the top. They tend to put hairpins in to the steepest of hills and this was no exception. How we all made it to the top in one piece I'll never know as we wobbled all over the road as we battled with the gradient that maxed out at 19% at one point.
With lost time from the detour and weather that was turning for the worse we thought we'd done enough climbing for the day and decided to take the most direct route home from there. Of course this being Sheffield that still involved hills but thankfully most of it was downhill and apart from a kick back up Bocking Lane our hills were done. We just had enough time for Spanners to lose his pannier on the road but with a good bungie cord we limped home to Jukebox's abode.
The last word had to be saved for Andy though. With legs tired on the last day, nearly home we hit yet another climb, nothing new, nothing we hadn't gone through a million times. However we decided to hit it, attack it. Rich getting out of the saddle, me out of the saddle and then from nowhere appeared Andy like a juggernaut. Absolutely flying he came straight past us like we were stationery. Whether he was stuck in a gear, ran out of steam or his chain jammed I don't know but the next second he announced "I'm going". Next second he keeled over and was on the floor. We cycled up to him and cars pulled over worried. I just turned to them and waved them on, "Don't worry" I said, "he does this all the time, he's fine" and he was.