Monday, 11 May 2015

The Peak District Challenge: Day Two - Ashbourne to Huddersfield

This was always going to be the big day of the three. Day one was hilly for sure and day three, going up and down hills on tired legs was never going to be easy. But day two on National Cycle Route 68 from Ashbourne to Huddersfield was going to be a "doozy" as Ned Ryerson would say...

The second day in any of our three day escapades has always been my favourite. There's something about waking up in a hotel and knowing you need to get to the next one. Neither the start or the end, it really feels like you're doing everything under your own steam - especially with a pannier on your bike (Jon and John, the rucksack boys, you may hang your heads in shame).

So to the big day ahead, a hell of a lot of feet heading up hill, 5,688 feet in fact and a massive proportion of that going up Holme Moss. I knew of its notoriety, it was one of the big climbs when the Tour de France hit Yorkshire last year after all. Plus Spanners had ridden up it from both sides before and he'd put the willies up us (not literally, chance of bumming still low) about how hard it was going to be "no matter how hard you think it will be, it will be way harder" he said during the morning of the second day.

Not only were we going to climb Holme Moss but it was also going to hit us at the fifty mile mark that day. As the whole day was going to take us from the bottom of the Peak District to the top of the national park then we certainly weren't going to have an easy time getting to those fifty miles and to the base of that big ol' hill they call Holme Moss.

Looking back to the week before we set off on our big ride we were all excited and I poured over Strava looking at the routes and in particular the big climb. In fact a few of us were looking at it and wondering how we'd fair. Jukebox, John-J, Spanner and myself in fact had a wager. Not who would be the first to the top, that would be silly - with the amount of training and form on the last ride, Spanners was a shoe-in surely. What we did place our money on was the time we'd make it up there in. Whoever got closest to their own time won the handsome pot of £4, FOUR POUNDS. Of course we could cheat and slow our ride down to meet our time, for four quid who wouldn't? However with our pride we would certainly go for our best time, after all Strava would be there to remind us forever more how we'd done. That in fact was how we would decide how we'd done, whatever Strava said would stand - even with Neil's super quick GPS that seems to give him a second or two advantage.

The bets started coming in, Jukebox stated his claim at 24 minutes, Rich hoping to beat his PB came in at 22:29 and I maybe thought about it too much. I looked at who had ridden it before on Strava and picked someone with similar stats to me and tried to beat them. So Chris Wheeler, I came after your record. At 32:19 I backed my riding ability with my hard earned £1. Unusually, fortuitously, surprisingly John-J's bet came in one second under me, with his bet landing at 32:18. What a coincidence.

We were rudely awoken that morning or at least John-J, Jukebox and myself were as there was a bang at the door. Turns out the other members of Team Pannier were raring to go and needed the key to unlock the bikes. They'd been awake an hour by the time our alarm sounded the tune of Rocky and they were keen for the off. By the time I'd carried out the final sweep of the hotel room (everyone does that, right?), where we'd had our bikes stowed in the stairwell looked like a bike workshop.

Dodging guests trying to exit the building our workshop was in full flow. John-J had a flat tyre, Jukebox's bike needed some TLC and we all gave our bikes the once over. Spanners changed John-J's tyre with big thanks to Andy for actually bringing an inner tube. Air in here, tighten some sort of bracket there, we were ready for the off. What the day was to hold, we had no idea.

What we did know is that we needed a good feed before we set off and Ashbourne was going to be the venue for our calorie race as we aimed to get as much food down our food pipes before we set off. There was an added dimension to the day, we had a deadline to meet at the end of the day. Forget all the hills we had to climb, all the miles we had to churn our pedals through, all those towns we had to tick off, there was something more important at stake. John-J, in his own wisdom had forsaken his ticket, his excitement, his chance to witness his team at Wembley just to come on this ride. Arsenal (they're a southern team who play in London village) were playing Reading in the FA Cup semi final. The problem, or incentive depending on how you looked at it, is that the game kicked off at 17:30. So we wanted to hit the road in good time and get going. But there was no hope of getting any of us, including John-J, moving before we'd had a feed. Having searched a place to eat we were in town ready for the cafe of our choice to open bang on time at eight thirty. Only for them to come out and say they're not opening until nine. Quicker than you can say "hash brown" we were up the road eating breakfast at another great establishment.

Bramhalls Deli and Cafe was awesome, as we devoured full English breakfasts or porridge followed by egg sandwiches if you were me and John-J. Caffeine infused, we were off and straight on to the Tissington Trail, a seen of many a triumph of mine as a young cyclist. When I say triumph I mean,
 the only proper cycling I did as a kid. We all took a while to get going that morning and as we tried to get the Team Pannier train going we all struggled to keep pace as we progressed on the false flat and the terrain steadily rose.  One thing we were able to maintain was our love of the countryside and the scenery before us. What a beautiful area to be riding in and with the weather to match we couldn't complain.

A quick stop in Parsley Hay and we were off again and as the trail finally turned in to road we felt like we were making progress. Apart from Andy, our medic on the trip aiding me in taping up by nips from runners rash we were all in good physical condition and handling the Peak District Challenge pretty well. Jon was feeling his knee a bit but certainly wasn't showing it and as we decided to stop for a bit of pain relief in Buxton everything was on track. Jon dashed in to Sainsbury's to grab a legally acceptable drug while the rest of us started to congregate outside. Andy however felt he needed to announce his arrival by shouting "I'm going" as he keeled over right in the car park. Not many people can forecast when they're going to go down on a bike but Andy, it appears, has that knack as he slowly toppled over to our right. Thankfully it was just a case of Andy not managing to get his cleat free of his pedal and he met with a (fairly) soft landing as he hit the tarmac. Of course in modern day life the first thing you do is not help him up but reach for your smart phone and capture the moment.

As he stood up we thought we were instantly in for an easy remedy for him as a guy in a flashy car left his pride and joy sat on double yellows just as a traffic warden appeared. Turns out in the Peak District even the traffic wardens are friendly as he appeared to give the guy leeway.  A lady was also permitted "five minutes" to nip in to the shops. So as Jon returned with some Ibuprofen cream we headed off without a smug parking ticket in sight.

Buxton, the home of friendly traffic wardens and Andy's interesting dismount was also the site of the literal road names as we headed out on Long Hill. Having done my research on Strava (I've not been paid for endorsement so feel free to pay me for the extra exposure of your great app) I knew there was a big climb out of this beautiful spa town yet I had expected us to have lunch by now so when we headed out on the steady rise it still left me short of breath. Spanners as usual led the way and myself and John-J led the chase not far behind, not far off the pace set by the tall man out front. Nearly matching him pedal for pedal, maybe there was a chance we could keep up with him on Holme Moss later?

We'd half considered having lunch in Buxton, we were really ready for it now and as we headed down from the miles we'd climbed we were ready to refuel. The bumpy and rocky decent certainly tested our waning reserves, I struggled to keep pace on my narrow tyres as riders such as Chef took advantage of their broader tyres. I would cycle up next to Chef on an incline and he would call me "Billy Big Wheels" and I would retort with "Jonny Fat Tyres" - it was certainly him getting enjoyment out of the term as a skidded across the track decending in to Whaley Bridge. There we were on the look out for any pub serving food. The locals were obliging in pointing out the local establishments, even if they were still discussing which pub was closer long after we'd left them.

So as we arrived at The Cock (chance of bumming hopefully not in the name), we were already aware it was the more expensive option in the town but we were hoping you got what you paid for. It certainly was the case as they served up another feast to match the previous day's lunch and the fine breakfast that morning. This time conversation was of what we'd achieved already and what was to come - rather than Neil regaling us of how hard it is for him to find proper fitting trousers and how he'd wear a skirt if it was sociably acceptable as he had the day before. As I had done previously, I took advantage of the stop to put my phone behind the bar to make sure I could record the rest of the days miles.

So it was now hanging over our heads, even if we could could not quite see it yet. Holme Moss was definitely playing on our minds and comments of "this extra chip will power me up there" were being made. However, it wasn't to be the next climb and as we hit New Mills we really were hit with a hard climb, one that I don't think any of us were expecting. At times the climb was 11% and the team certainly took the chance to prove out motto rang true as some of us pushed as it sapped the legs. In fact we'd all faired differently so far over the two days. Jukebox as on previous rides had been slow to get going on day one, John-J by his own admission starts each day strongly but petered out as the day got longer and I tend to struggle first thing in a morning as my legs take a while to get going. We'd all been trying to tackle our own shortcomings with various success, John-J trying to eat better and I'd turned to drugs in the form of caffeine to get me going early on. However sometimes no matter how you prepare on the day you cannot overcome a climb like that. If that wasn't the big climb of the day, what was Holme Moss like?

With that climb done and the miles showing on our bike computers we knew it wasn't long now until the big last ascent in to the clouds. We looked to Rich to tell us when Holme Moss was just around the corner so we could take on snacks and prepare ourselves physically and mentally. It may sound OTT but we're just very basic, amateur cyclists and this was our Alpe d'Huez, we were going to give it all we had left. I think we were equally excited and nervous, relishing the chance to test ourselves on a big climb.

With what we felt was half an hour to go we stopped by a river and refuelled with liquids and any sort of energy food we could put in our faces. Jackets were stripped off, sugar inhaled and the camp was quiet, not downbeat, just concentrated on the 2.9 mile climb ahead of us. My Dad had sent me a text earlier in the day to tell me how he'd climbed Holme Moss in the rain when he was fifteen on a bike with only three gears, an achievement he was very proud of. This seemed to only back up my thought that this was quite a challenge ahead of us.

The route we'd taken had meant we were on a trail leading to the foot of the climb and myself and John-J found ourselves at the back of the team. Waiting for us once, we just couldn't hold pace with the rest, whether it was the head wind or the change of terrain we yo-yo'd off the back. I still felt confident of myself coming to the ride and wondered if I could keep pace with the ever strong Spanners.

At the end of the trail we came together as a group and Jukebox, the eldest in the group as he's often reminding us, gave us a talking to. He told us how we were going on a major, risky road, where many people have been hurt on their bikes and how there are markers all the way down the road of previous collisions. Feeling like a student being told off in class when it was someone else's problem I half listened. Was he talking more to John-J who had been cavalier to say the least in his cycling proficiency, often riding wide in to the road and making some of us wince. These London boys hey, not used to our northern ways. Either way I wasn't going to get told off later as I looked out for those markers as we headed down the main road. I kept in as the cars rushed past.

The turn off at the start of the ascent came and we grouped together just around the corner. At that point I sat on Spanners wheel and hoped he'd pace me to the top. Starting off at a decent rate we hit the climb. I turned to see who else was on our wheel and there was Andy sat right on my shoulder with the rest of the team not far behind. Rich asked/offered for me to come through at the front and I came through briefly as I struggled to keep the pace going. The road kept on rising and so did my heart rate and breathing. It was warm but not overly and yet the exertion made it fell hot.

We started to progress through the climb and soon we were to move around to our right as we reached the end of the first section that was laid out before us in the distance. Rich, back in front again, turned to say the top is just around the corner. "Yeah, right" I said but my mind thought "really?" it had been hurting but surely we weren't near the top already? Maybe Rich had made it sound harder than it was, maybe I'd misjudged how much we'd already done. I wished, I hoped that Rich was right, soon I was about to find out...

He was lying! Around the corner I saw a massive climb in front of me, I saw what looked like to my inexperienced mind a climb resembling Mont Ventoux, one of the worst climbs on the Tour de France. Oh my. I kept Spanner's wheel for a bit but steadily he started to pull away from me, I tried to keep him just in front of me but he steadily pulled away from me as I battled my pedals. There's only so many times you can tell your legs to shut up, as you fight them to give you more power. Andy taught me one cycling phrase that I instantly knew what it meant and now it was very appropriate. The Dead Man's Click. When you go to find that lower gear and, click, you're already in that bottom gear. I had nowhere else to go but pound along in the gear I had.

Soon Rich was heading off in to the distance and I was equally looking back to see who was chasing me as to how far I was off Spanners. The road flattened a bit and I tried to kick, suddenly confident that I could pull him back a bit with the swagger a Jelly Baby can give you.  But to no avail. The gap seemed the same up to Rich as it was back to whoever was on my heels. A guy on a road bike passed me (no panniers I note) and the road swung around to the left. I could see a hairpin at the top of that rise, would that be it? Pressing on, I finally managed to kick on up to and around that hairpin, alternating getting out of my saddle to push those thighs - something I hadn't managed to master enough on that hill.

Around the corner I was there, a very slight rise up to the summit sign, out of the saddle I gave it everything I could to reach Spanners and his camera. Straight off my bike I felt the cold, I grabbed my jacket and food as we both turned to see who it was behind me. John-J had climbed consistently well so far and in fact Spanners had though the guy on the road bike was him at one point making him push even harder. Our eyes fixed on the top of that hairpin. Would Andy, hot on my heels early on be the next one to claim the 'Moss scalp? With no more than the gap between me and Spanners a head appeared over the rise. It was Jukebox. Going strong we willed him on to the finish. He was followed, with a similar gap, by John-J and then came Chef and Andy - crossing side by side across the summit finish. We'd done it, quite an achievement when added to the day before and the fifty miles previous that day - especially with that climb out of New Mills.

We regrouped, had photos and then my phone died! Had I lost my Strava tracking and therefore my bet? None of us had an idea at that point how we'd done on the hill and the bet was whatever Strava said. Phone or no phone I'd made it up that hill without stopping, I was pretty happy. What a team.

Every uphill is followed by a downhill and boy had we earned it. We followed the winding hill down and headed through Last of the Summer Wine country as we appreciated heading up Holme Moss "the easy way" if there is such a thing. There were still a good few miles to go and it was hard to take as we put our all in to the climb. We still had that FA Cup deadline to hit. John was superstitious about updates and so we pressed on not knowing the score as the first half kicked off and finished without the hotel in sight.

Luckily it was mainly downhill and Chef and Spanners knew where we were going so there weren't any map delays. Suddenly I was in familiar territory and it was nice to see some sights of my childhood from visiting my grandparents as a kid and coming to watch the mighty terriers. Heading towards the football ground I started to recite some Huddersfield Town chants and my Wednesday and Gooner supporting team mates sang their own versions. We did have some inkling of what was happening in the match as John had received one text message from a friend celebrating a goal. It was starting to become clear we were going to struggle to get to the hotel and a TV screen before ninety minutes would be up. We were half hoping for extra time so we could at least witness some of the game.

Spanners taught us elements of riding that he had learnt during his time in his cycling club, he explained how we needed to ride closer together on the main road so people could pass easier and two abreast to reduce the distance to pass even further. This was added to the "car down" and "car up" shouts. This was in order to know on smaller roads if a car was coming "down your throat" or "up your bum". Terms I tried to take on and use appropriately.

There were no need for those calls as we headed up the final road to our hotel, a quiet, wide road we worked our weary legs towards rest and sustenance. We arrived to be greeted by a very friendly lady at Travelodge, a greeting we'd earned. Now we had to find a TV and luckily extra time, as the game stood at 1-1. While myself and Jukebox struggled to get in and out of the shower, to get dressed and to check-in back home, John-J was glued to the edge of the bed watching the end of the game. Thankfully our success on the road was matched by Arsenal's on the pitch and we were able to celebrate both. As planned we headed out in to Huddersfield to celebrate with food and beer. Unlike we planned we only made it across the road to the pub on site. Our tired legs and heads could take us no further. We had a slap up three course meal of prawn cocktails and pizzas, I think our tastes were stuck in the eighties rather than Huddersfield. We shivered our way back across the car park and headed to bed, the party room watching match of the day, the early night room not even managing that. 


  1. An epic read John, in more ways than one!

  2. I can hear the hoards shouting "we want day three, we want day three!"