It's now almost two weeks (how did that happen) since I did the Etape Du Dales, 110 miles of hilly fun in the Yorkshire Dales...the last 65 of which were probably the most, wet, windy, cold and miserable I have ever been on a bike, well a road bike certainly.
The weather was awful, a permanent headwind (I knew this was a possibility in the Dales so it wan't too much of a surprise), there wasn't even a view to compensate for grovelling up the hills. I survived though and still think the Dales is a fab place to ride and will be back there on a bike soon (road or MTB) - though if you'd saw and heard me on the long slog to Tan Hill on Sunday 15th May you wouldn't believe me.
An early get up of 5:30 am and set off by some time after 6 am saw me being chauffered over to the Dales by Jez who had sorted my bike out the day before, checked the yres, gears, brakes etc made me eat and drink lots, generally had to put up with me being a major stress bunny as I was about to do the longest and hardest road ride I had ever attempted.
He dropped me off at the event HQ, helped me unpack stuff, attach number to bike, make sure I had my supplies, watched me set off at about 7:30 then headed off to Harrogate to amuse himself all day whilst I rode. I was expecting about 9 hours ish going by my speed on previous rides but would text him updates as I went round.
It was pretty much straight into the strong wind from the off, though at least the sun was out at this point. I had the course in the Garmin so set it to the course screen which gives distance to go and time remaining (based on current average speed). I didn't want to get hung up on actual moving speed numbers that early on, particularly into the wind, it was all about getting round. I sucked wheels where I could to keep effort level down.
It didn't seem long before Fleet Moss was looming, I was pleased as wanted the first climb out of the way. After the first ramp I decided my saddle was in fact too low, I've done some test rides since putting the roadie pedals on but nothing with serious climbs and the pedal/cleat combo feels very different. Put saddle up a smidge and things improve.
Over the top and back into the wind I have a slightly terrifying descent into Hawes as the bike squirmed around all over the place, horrible, the front of the bike was just a complete handful. Trying to stay away from the edge of the road but at the same time leaving enough space for the maniac descenders concentrated the mind somewhat.
Once the gradient eased off a bit I realised I had been desending MTB style hovering above the saddle, allowing the bike to move around. As there is nothing to disrupt the wobble on tarmac it just gets worse, there is no need to have the bike moving around. Park backside on saddle and things improve and knuckles get a bit less white....
...for about two minutes til approaching some sheep. Mummy sheep and one lamb on one side of the road, other lamb on the other who decides to spring across the road just as I was about to pass. I'd scrubbed quite a bit of speed off approaching them as I was rightly wary but the back wheel still fishtailed all over the place and I was glad it was still dry at that point.
Into Hawes and the first checkpoint. Get some Soreen banana loaf out to get some food in then realise whilst its tasty it is almost the same consistency as malt loaf and turns into a horrible sticky paste that takes me ages to eat. Only just choke it down before the next hill.
Onto Buttertubs, enjoy this climb too but still have a sneaking suspicion saddle is too low as the tops of my calves are starting to ache but decide to leave it in case its just the newness of the pedals, don't want to put the saddle too high as that brings its own problems. The clag was starting to move in a bit and I'm sure there were a few spots of rain but nothing much. Really enjoyed the descent off Buttertubs, probably because its not quite so straight as Fleet Moss and the wind wasn't quite so swirly. Hit 42 mph on the last section as I was feeling much happier with my descending.
There was some fairly easy riding for a bit that wasn't directly into the wind for a change, choked some more food down then left lower back started to stiffen up. Saddle too low then (my left knee splays out if its too low), saddle up a bit more and it stops aching instantly. I don't have any more saddle problems though calves were still aching ominously.
Soon heading off up towards Gunnerside...amuse myself thinking that one of the most miserable and wet rides I have ever had on an MTB was around here, quite a prophetic thought really. It was still great road riding, my favourite kind, quiet and exposed moorland roads. Through the ford, not sure what was dangerous about it, then up towards the long slog to Tan Hill.
It started off ok, very hard due to the wind but it wasn't raining yet. After waht seemed like ages the road swung round to a more westerly direction then it all got horrible. Think the rain came in, the wind got stronger, the view such as it was disappeared, it was just hell. I plugged away, as did everyone else. The odd group came past but they were going too fast for me to try and get some shelter on a wheel. Anyone I caught up with was going slower than I wanted so nothing for it but to grimace and grumble all the long, long, long, seemingly never ending slog to Tan Hill.
Still want to ride up there on a good day, like I say, empty exposed moorland road riding is my favourite, the downside its not great on a minging day.
Finally get to Tan Hill, lots of people in cars meeting riders. If Jez had come to meet me there I would have jacked it and got in a nice warm and dry car, no question I was so miserable. My legs ached, I was freezing, wet and I wasn't even half way FFS.
I refilled a bottle with energy drink, I had only drunk one in 50 odd miles, oops had one of the gels on offer and a couple of bits of flapjack which were easy to eat then got back on the bike and got down the hill to try to warm up a bit. Descent was a bit sketchy but I wanted to get down.
I really don't remember much of the next section all the way to Nateby, it had the potential to be good but I had lost the will to live by that point and it seemed I was barely turning the pedals. It seemed very up and down, more relentless wind and showery rain, I suppose at least it stopped occasionally and my legs hurt! I did manage to drink quite a bit though.
I was seriously thinking I couldn't go on, then I remember passing a sign saying "Welcome To Cumbria"! Reality dawned, Jez was in Harrogate having given up his whole day to let me ride my bike as well as checking over said bike and making it run perfectly and putting up with my stressing. The only way I could justify aksing him to drive all the way from Harrogate to Cumbria was a major mechanical (unlikely) or a stack (no thanks). The course changed direction at Nateby, the headwind remained, grr. I realised then that LittonDale was probably going to be the only place for a bit of tailwind..I know LittonDale from past MTB rides.
Somwhere after Outhgill, I came out of the other side, clicked the bike up a few gears and started riding again, getting some motivation from somewhere. I think I realised that my calves weren't getting any worse and my quads still felt pretty strong.
The weather completely deteriorated at this point but that just seemed to make me more determined. The section to Ribble Head was the worst of the whole day, strong head wind, horizontal stinging rain, standing water on the road filling my roadie shoes but I gritted my teeth and got on with it, thankful of my best decision of the day to leave the peak on my helmet. It really helped.
Third checkpoint arrived, I had one full bottle and one almost empty, hmm not drinking enough (or eating for that matter). Get another couple of flapjack fingers down my neck and one of my caffeinated gels for a boost and decide not to take two full bottles over the Coal Road but make sure I drink all of this one.
To the Coal Road, steep but not as hideous as I was expecting. I found sitting easier on the steepest sections to be honest, I'm not fast enough standing on that kind of gradient to justify the extra effort of standing. I was actually climbing a bit faster than most anyway. I nearly had to put a foot down as the back wheel spun badly at one point, I looked down and I had just ridden over a banana skin...there is a metaphor in there somewhere I'm sure.
Over the top and the clag was thickening, no view at all, was very disappointed by that. I was trying to smile for the Sport Sunday photog, it must have been minging stood up there but I only had slightly less of a grimace:
It actually got so foggy up there I couldn't see the guy riding 10 metres in front, it was very disorienting as all of a sudden the descent started and the road just dropped away. I had to take my glasses off completely here as they wer so badly rain splattered. Having the helmet peak on meant the rain missed my eyes. Once out of the fog the descent was fine, if a little steep.
Soon I was at the last checkpoint, still with one full bottle, oops no drinking at all then. No point filling up, had a quick gel then onto the last 20 odd miles and the last biggish climb. I was grateful for the chance to warm up, I was absolutely soaking wet and had gotten pretty cold on the way to the check point. It was a good climb, o view but I saw a small section of limestone pavemet which I like..it was right by the side of the road.
I have my Garmin set to lap at 10 miles on road rides, its normally a good reminder to eat/drink. I realised near the top of the climb that the next time it lapped that would be my first official 100 miler..the Trossachs Ton was 98.6. That cheered me up, over the top and onto the descent which was great fun even if I couldn't see anything.
Down into LittonDale and finally a tail wind, stick it in the big ring and get moving. See the 10 miles to go sign, yay. I reach the 100 mile mark around the pub, let out a bit of a woop and get some funny looks but don't care, keep pushing, head down and taking advantage of the wind. Notice Garmin seems to be stuck at 8 miles to go, bloody thing froze completely so no idea how long to go in either time or distance and can feel the beginnings of the bonk creeping on me and sit up a bit debating whether to fish some food out.
See the five miles to go sign and decide just to get a move on, I can make five miles even if starving. Bloody headwind makes a reappearance again and starts with the old horizontal rain but soon its one, seemingly very long, mile to go. Yay,
then its over, off bike, dib, get off, wobble over to rail and hang bike up.
Try to get a response out of Garmin, nada, locked, didn't think to reset it though, d'oh. Have no idea what time it is or how long its taken me, feels like about 10 hours though. Phone Jez to let him know I've finished, he's about 20 mins away so head into the HQ to try to get warm, get my time, find something to eat as I'm starving and more than a little light headed.
Hand my chip over and they print off my time 8 Hours 38 minutes, I had to ask her to repeat it as I thought there was a mistake. I was so pleased as I was hoping for 9 hours on a good day. I then got a cup of coffee and what was possibly the best tasting bacon butty in the world, hoovered it.
Even in the warm HQ I was beginning to shake uncontrollably as I was so wet, thankfully Jez arrived at that point and as quick as I could I got outside, bloody freezing out there then wheeled my bike over to the car. I think I lost about half my coffee as my hand was shaking so much it ended up all over my hand, I didn't mind as it was warm.
I quickly got changed into dry clothes and into the warm car, then home. I have a real sense of achievement over this ride.