Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Peak District Challenge: Day One

The riders came from Buckinghamshire, Somerset, West Yorkshire and converged on South Yorkshire one Friday morning. Meeting up with the locals in the Spoon cafe Andy, John-J, Jukebox and I sat down to fuel up with caffeine and the best processed meat the world can provide. As we filled up and discussed the days important geekness of Star Wars trailers and the weather. At this point John-J explained to us everyone's misunderstanding of the weather. In particular he pointed out how no one understands the "chance of rain" percentages. 40% chance of rain it seems meant to some that it was going to rain for 40% of the time, to others it meant it was going to rain in 40% of the country and to others it meant it was slightly less likely to rain that it was to stay dry. Armed with this knowledge we headed off to the start line at Neil's house hoping for a dry run.

As a new sextet we had a slightly delayed start planned so that we could all get to the start in time and do the morning school runs. Even that time got pushed back and as we manoeuvred four cars on to the drive, filled our water bottles and squeezed in to some overly tight Lycra. Andy surveyed the scene and proclaimed the chance of bumming to be 50%. Let's hope that wasn't 50% of us to be bummed during the day.

10:45 we set off and with a hilly 50ish mile ride ahead of us we had flash backs to our first Team Pannier ride and finishing at 10pm. As we rode out of South Yorkshire and straight in to Derbyshire we started to understand the pattern the weekend was to take. Up and down hills, we were battling the pedals from the get-go and questioning Spanners each time the route took us up hill. He'd somehow landed himself as the guide for the weekend and no one wanted to head up a hill unless they were sure we didn't have to back track.

There were a few stops nearly straight away as we sorted out our kit. A bit more air in a tyre here, a cleat needed fixing there - Spanners to the rescue in both cases although I don't think putting air in your own tyres gets you any commendations. With the late set off and the stop start first few miles it really was starting to feel like our slow paced first trip, at some point we were going to have to get some miles under our belt.

Having planned day one's route, Spanners (or Maps as he could probably be called on this trip) was the right man to lead us and without the chance to ride from Cock Hill through the grounds of Chatsworth House he'd planned a little shortcut. Cutting through the caravan park (chance of bumming up to 60%) we could then dash past the stately home and head off to Bakewell. Sadly we were told by the caravan park's maintenance guy there was no chance of us cutting through, it just wasn't possible. So we did a lap of the park, getting very strange looks from the holiday makers "Maureen it's not Lycra Tuesday is it?" I'm sure one guy was muttering as he paused, tea bags in hand.

So with one detour already could we be at the start of a long trek to Ashbourne? Back on track and turning right at Chatsworth we ended up going through a church's grounds and carrying our bikes down the steps to again retrace a few misdirected yards. Already we were getting used to each section either being uphill or downhill and it was no surprise as the road began to rise. It was however a surprise as the road deteriorated and the signs saying the surface wasn't suitable for vehicles didn't lie. It made it tough going as we dodged ruts and rocks at the same time as the altitude kept rising. We pushed on and eventually the surface got its self together and so did we as we rested at the top of the twenty minute climb.

Heading around Bakewell there was another climb (trust me you won't get as bored of us talking about the climbs as we did of climbing them) and a bit of a dodgy descent on another rocky, unsuitable for vehicles surface. Bringing up the rear on the descent, understandably was Jukebox. Having had a bad fall when out training on his mountain bike with Spanners and Andy he was not too keen to have any more broken bones. Nor had Andy (our medic for the trip) brought any custard creams, which he used to distract Neil as he treated him for his injuries at the time.

Crossing the main road and heading off on a quiet side road Andy, with knowledge of the local area, questioned whether it was the right way. We were assured it was the right route but as we progressed it became clear we hadn't headed off to the right as planned and soon we were climbing a really steep hill. With the thought in mind that we were going the wrong way it made the 10% incline even harder to get through. The climb thankfully wasn't straight out in front of us and the false hope that each corner would be the top helped as we climbed out of the valley floor. Pulling away slightly three of us, including John-J whose build certainly suited the climbs, turned at the top to see Jukebox complaining (and this time not at my bad choice in blue Lycra and my "woman like, child bearing hips"). He was not only naffed off about the hill but also claiming he had a puncture. I say claiming as both tyres were clearly in tact. As I pointed this out he quite rightly explained that he'd stopped to pull off half the wood attached to his wheel so he could finish the climb. With that he showed us the rest of the splintered wood attached to his tyre which instantly deflated as he removed the tyre.

This presented a problem, despite having brought a spare inner tube Neil, like most of us, he had no idea how to replace it. Of course we had Spanners and quicker than you could say "tyre levers", he had Neil's bike on it's back and the inner tube removed. In no time at all we were up and running and cursing Spanners, not for his bike maintenance skills but his directions. Lucky for him, and us, despite not being on the planned route (a big no-no, I'm told) we hadn't climbed needlessly. With a bit of traversing across the top of the hill we were able to join up with the designated route and climb the last bit of yet another hill. We even got some sympathy from some back packers who discussed between them that we were worse off than them as we were cycling up the hill carrying our stuff.

Andy's local knowledge looked to come in handy again as we started to look for food. just off from where we heading was the village of Winster. Andy knew there was a decent pub there and so off we headed. With a nod to his cycling club rides Rich sprinted for the village sign with the ever competitive Andy. Andy feigning tiredness and defeat, he nearly stole victory as he kicked again only to be pipped by the seasoned cycling club member.

With the pub not serving food, we took directions from a local to the nearest establishment serving food. The Miners Standard was out the top of the village (why did it always have to be the top end) and eventually with some retraced ups and downs we climbed up through the steep village. Chef led a breakaway group, carrying their bikes up some steps that got them the extra few yards and a bit closer to lunch.

Arriving at the pub we didn't hold out much hope, it looked all right but we've had plenty of average meals on these rides served by miserable hosts. Not this place, lovely home cooked food (including the chips) was washed down with beverages as we were kept company by welcoming locals and friendly serving staff. It passed Chef's tough taste tests and we devoured the calories.

Despite the early climbs we were in good fettle and, as became the norm, we all checked our Strava apps had been started again as we set off. Rich assured us we weren't off the official route and heading downhill (woo hoo!) we carried on our trek towards Ashbourne.

Without really knowing the route we'd not taken in how much we'd achieved that morning and the late lunch actually marked a good proportion of the days toughest ascending done. Soon we were seeing road signs for Ashbourne which were met with hollers and whoops. There was one slight problem, as we ticked off the miles on the "official route" the amount of miles on the road signs weren't going down. Our fixation with doing what we'd set out to do was no clearer shown than when we reached a junction. Straight on was a cycle path, going straight in the direction we were pretty sure we were heading. To the left was the designated route, the preplanned miles that we needed to achieve. Spanners (or Maps) pointed out left down the road and then right was all mapped out on Strava, straight on was a risk, would it go the way we wanted? We backed him and took the road route, 200 yards later the routes merged and it became a redundant argument as we headed to Carsington Water. We probably spent more time debating it than it took us to ride the distance.

Carsington Water was a relief to get to, it was to be a nice jolly around the lake before the final straight to our Travelodge bed. Well that's how it's supposed to be. It turns out it's not as flat as you might imagine and when you're going around in a circle on tired legs each climb can certainly play with your mind. By now John-J's early form on the hills was waning and he explained later his knowledge of wind speed was messing with his mind. Turns out wind carries quicker across water and not only we were hitting rolling hills but heads winds. Add to that my chain dropping off and we were beginning to space out on what was supposed to be an enjoyable scenic tour around a lake.

As we all convened for a snack Andy lightened his panniers by handing out his super powerful (and heavy) home-made cycling snack involving oats, peanut butter and, well I don't think anyone knows what else. However it powered us on and finally we were actually following the road signs and flying down the road to our beds for the night. Stopping for a quick photo by the road sign we were at last ticking off the final landmarks of the day. A lovely descent in to the town say us finishing in a respectable time not long after five, we'd certainly take that as a first day on the bike.

With room allocation already sorted - the two triple rooms had been named as the party room and the early night room after mine and Jukebox's early night on the last ride - we separated and headed off to clean the grime of the day away.

Washed and changed we headed in to town. To save on weight in our panniers we'd certainly all sacrificed one thing or another. I was heading out in my white running training that I had ridden in looking like I still was in the 1990s. Andy and Rich however had ridden in cleated cycling shoes and clearly Rich had changed from his magazine and electric toothbrush carrying days (the electric toothbrush may be an exaggeration). As we met in reception to go out they greeted us in shorts and flip-flops. Fair play to them they were braving the cold to aide a quicker summit of the mountains the next day.

The walk in to town wasn't too bad and because of our prompt finish and quick turnaround at the hotel we were the first at the recommend curry house in town. Or so we thought we were, despite it being before seven it turned out the empty Indian restaurant was fully booked. Not being the quickest northern lads I don't think it occurred to us that our appearances might not have fitted with the recently opened fine dining establishment and they may not want our custom. It was also funny how they sent us down the road to a not so salubrious bring-your-own venue and also pointed out Bargain Booze across the road.

When our food finally arrived at the said recommended place it certainly went down well and with food in our bellies we headed back to get a night cap by the hotel before heading to beds. Party room or not we were all in bed before eleven and, unlike the Giro de Nottingham, we were all looking forward to the BIG challenge the next day including the climb up Holme Moss.


  1. Excellent account Littlehorn!

  2. Did I overdo my insistence on sticking to the planned route? Great account LH.