This week I came back to earth with a bump. Everything seems to have gone wrong. Two days to sort out a faulty phone line in the shop, hardly denting the enormous pile of admin and Chipps is away so there's no cycling to work whilst I've sole custody of Clover the poodle.
So, what should a girl do to have something to look forward to? Oh, yes, of course. A 112 mile sportive from Lancaster, over the Wrynose pass and then back again. Can't be too bad can it?
The logistics were 'interesting'. A 4am start to walk Clover the poodle before setting off in the mighty Doblo to arrive in Lancaster by 6.30am. I've never done anything like this before on my own, but I quite enjoyed spending Saturday preparing for it. I cleaned the kitchen so that I could set my bike up in it. Popped over to Blazing Saddles for a spare power link for my chain (just in case) and they kindly gave my bike a quick once over and tightened a few bolts (!). Then I set out all the food ready. Got out my BMC bag and organised riding gear and post-ride gear. It was great having a set of kit that all worked together. Perfectly orderly and organised.
At 5.05am I set off for Lancaster. The motorways were empty and the directions all worked. I pulled into the car park. Signed on. Set myself up. Chatted idly to the chaps in the cars next to me.
"How long do you reckon it'll take?"
"Oh, I'll do it in 7 hours". In a slightly disdainful tone which implied that I most definitely wouldn't come anywhere near that.
OK, so I am in flash new kit with a flash new bike. Maybe I look like all the gear, no idea. Or maybe they're just seeing girl on a bike. Of the 106 entries when I entered, I was one of two women. I wondered why?
I'd looked at the Wrynose or Bust route profile and it wasn't excessive, Chipps and I rode comparable rides in Spain. For fun. I've been over the Hardknott and Wrynose passes before (although I turned the air blue with expletives) and I fancied a rematch on my new bike. I was hoping that the Granfondo would give me wings. I decided I'd rather do it on a signposted route, in a group when there were people around, than on my own, whilst Chipps was away.
So there I was at the start, suddenly feeling that I needed to do it in a decent time just to prove that I was worth my amazing bike and my flash kit, and that it's no big for women to ride, and ride well.
It wasn't a mass start, we just trickled out, one at a time. Not a good sign for getting into a group and sharing the wind. I couldn't persuade my Garmin to work so I just decided to go for it. Found a bloke, chatted to him. Jumped into a little group, couldn't keep up with it. But found another. And so on. Taking my turn if they'd let me.
With nothing apart from a vague memory of the route and geography to tell me where I was or what time it was, it was quite a surprise when we hit the feed stop at 44 miles. This marked the transition from the rolling section of the route to the start of the Lakeland climbs. We'd come a fair way, round the coast and through changing countryside. A nice jaunt, but now it was time for the hills to turn into mountains, capped with fells and scree. Clouds hovering round them, but luckily today, not closing in.
I stuffed down malt bread and bananas and started out when another chap went. I couldn't keep up with him (or rather I couldn't accelerate when he did which amounts to the same thing but is an annoying process). So I slogged out that section on my own. It took me through the gorgeous Dudden Valley, which rolls through stunted woodlands, and grassy sheep strewn verges. I recalled riding it once, in the opposite direction. And with delight realised that the route would only take us over the Wrynose, skipping its even nastier friend the Hardknott.
A chap caught me and we played tag as he out-climbed me, but I raced past him on the descents. Eventually he overhauled me, and became a marker ahead, a white shape leading onwards, towards the Wrynose Pass.
There's a long, flat aisle laid out before the alter of Wrynose. Which means that, as you look ahead, you see the procession of cyclists that clearly sped before you, suspended on the face of the pass to come. With a few moments observation, it's apparent that they're slowly hauling and winching themselves up and over the pass. And soon it will be your turn.
I took the road that reared before me steadily. It's not quite as intimidating if you keep your eyes down and only look at a section at a time. I was standing in my pedals over the steep bits, sitting every time the gradient lessened. It's always a relief to reach the top. And the air was not blue.
The descent is rapid and twisting, a case of not overcooking the brakes whilst looking looking looking round corners and down the valley for approaching cars, stray sheep and any other impediments. A guy in front of me had blown his tyre. I tried to let my brakes breathe whenever I could see far enough ahead to let rip.
The killer with the Wrynose is not the pass, that's done in the head and with will power. The kicker is the steady climb after it towards Ambleside. It's where the damage the pass has wreaked on your legs is apparent. I could feel the start of cramp. I swallowed a gel. Fumbled for more food. But kept spinning. The battle between relief that the pass is over and disappointment that it's not all downhill from there has to be won.
I was expecting Ambleside at any minute, but the route swung round before reaching the town proper and took us to another timing station (66 miles done) and then towards Hawkshead. I'd forgotten where the next feed station was on the route and was feeling my legs. Another gel helped. A couple of guys passed me at the feed station. I caught one of them and we chatted our way along Windermere.
Someone had meddled with the arrows and there was confusion in the last few miles before the feed station at High Newton (86 miles). I panicked that we'd never reach it and when we did, relieved, stopped a little longer than I should have done, hungry and tired. My companion over the last section left whilst I was still stuffing down an egg sandwich and second cup of tea. I thought there were people with me when I left, but ended up ahead of them and riding alone.
There was a great descent out of High Newton, twisty and steep and rough. Kind of fun. Perfect on the Granfondo, which feels stable and secure even on the steepest bends. But then the route was back into ripping along flat lands and rolling hills. There was a series of climbs which started to put me into the wind. A couple of pairs overtook me, but I couldn't keep with them for more than a mile. If I could settle in behind I was fine, but I need to learn to accelerate. On the other hand, I'd see groups ahead and speed along to catch them only to realise that they were slower participants of the shorter routes. Sitting behind them would only get me home to my poodle at a snail's pace.
Overtaking one such group, I suddenly realised that I'd ridden ninety odd miles and could still outride people who'd done a shorter course. Maybe my training had done some good. I could feel proud.
The last ten miles was howling, and I felt battered by the constant onslaught. I was joined for maybe the last three by the chap I'd played chase with on the Dudden Valley. Funny how things pan out. We chatted and took turns to deliver ourselves out of the wind and home to the blessed relief of the Halton base.
I took 8 hours and 9 minutes to complete the course. 112 miles and 2,800m of elevation. Overall, I was 35th, out of over a hundred entrants. I hope that was respectable enough for anyone who raised an eyebrow at the start not to do so the next time they see a woman signing on.
As for the other lady, she finished last, in 11hours and 14 minutes. But she did it. Where were the rest of us? There were plenty of women doing the two shorter rides run alongsdie, but just the two of us taking the route more epic.
For our pains though, we had a great day out. There was all the cake a girl could eat (if she wanted) and some very fine chaps to chat with on the ride. The event was well organised, sign posted and marshalled. The checkpoints and feed stations were run by jolly, kind and encouraging people - despite standing at their posts for goodness knows how long.
I suppose it's reasonably hard work to see the scenery, but a ride like this is rewarding. Each variation reminds you how far you've come, from the flat lands of the coast, inland to touch the clouds and back, rolling through woodland, then farmland and to within a breath of the sea. There's all that landscape wrapped into the pride and elation of reaching the end of the ride.
Wrynose or Bust
The beautiful bike