Off to The Lakes

Lets just take a moment. Dwell on the fact I don’t yearn for riding up hill – then take that and throw it in the sea. Riding in the Lake District – look, just look. Damn.

thirlmere

We, as a club booked out a hostel at the top of Grasmere. It was good. In fact it was very good. Not least of all as it was only us there. Sure, the rules and owners were a tiny tiny bit very RULES ORIENTED despite this our home for the three day weekend was well appointed, in easy rolling distance of two pubs, the town of Grasmere (where a year before we had started our Fred Whitton Challenge, and some of us were going to do again with the month). The bunks were indeed, as promised, quiet and free of movement, but were equally more suited to vertically challenged, and for a freak like me who likes to sleep in the cold far FAR too cosy.

The Lake District – well – the clue is in the name – lakes – water – “What could possibly go wrong?”

Last years rain saw a great deal of bridge issues, road issues, issues. This effected trains, roads, life.

The minor silver lining to this at this time was that roads are closed to big traffic, and even buses go through in two’s with escort cars like they are passing through some kind of infected zone. These are however open to pedestrians and cyclists. Again – despite how that might sound – some post apocalyptic collection of shamblers and  empty overgrown highways – it’s all good – in fact it’s all very good. Possibly just that weekend, possibly the weather (blessed with that again) – but SO many people out – and I would even go as far to say a good mix of people out too.

The road in picture above is the main road that links Keswick to Grasmere for example.

Hills. Lets stop a moment and come back to the hills.

I have been the Lake District a fair few times before – nearly all social – always Keswick based, nearly all memories taken away of lake walks, and cosy fires in pubs with a staggering array of real ale, equally never been in the summer, always autumn, winter. So here I am in Spring, in Grasmere, on a bike, and I am not doing the Fred Whitton… so what are we to do?

With hours of daylight still rearing its head, and my fitness not where I would want it to be – I play it safe. I am not here to prove anything. I am not here training for anything. I do not currently have some misguided “I MUST ACHIEVE” in my head right now – hell – it took me a fair amount of talking around to head off with the group. So I am here – lets ride.

Day One

The first afternoon despite grandiose plans we settled for a pootle around the scenery. A changed block that had not been tested (missing a spacer) meant a mechanical robbed us of a precious hour of daylight. So for me, if not others, this was a there and back again, Ambelside, up towards the Kirkstone Pass, and then back via two pubs. Result. Sneck Lifter – it has been a while since I have had that. Good choice.

Evening out with food, beer, friends, and back none too late. The morning holds the most riding capacity of the day.

It’s warm, very warm – like just a jersey and a thermal warm. Despite how I look here, I am pondering the hills, but I am pleased to be here. Honest.

 

letsdothis

Day Two

For all the routes touted around the choices fall into two camps. A Garmin route with known distance and ascent and very little else for the aggressive fit types, and for the rest of us a more Southerly route heading almost down to the coast, out of the National Park, but taking in Wrynose Pass amidst a number of other lumps. The latter, despite being sold as a 40 mile ride (closer to 65 as some were to curse) I expected to have less take up but in fact contained almost all of us.

After a couple of initial ascents, Wrynose is on us. Sure, the previous ones were pretty steep – Red Bank and another whose name escapes me, but they just do not have the scenery, and the legs to wear you down over a longer period of time.

The repeated gradient signs at the start of the climb when its clear there is a giant land mass in front of you – well – they don’t ‘excite’ – however I am well aware of the nature of the beast and just sit in and push my dinner plate gear (I have a 30 tooth first for just such days out, having managed lumber my hulking frame just fine around Home/Snowdonia on a 28).

 

25percent

Knowing this was the long haul I had headed off from the start on my own rather than waiting. This is a novel sensation. There is a rider or two in sight behind me – otherwise this is a big climb without the feeling of needing to keep up with anyone. Gravity is ‘not my friend’ so this is a big deal psychologically.

Gradient signs come and go, as I head upwards, trying to pick out where the road goes into the moorland ahead of me.

A local catches me and raises a smile with the give away “How Do’?”

He warns me to save a little for the very top. Fair play. I have been down this side – but not up it – having only ever approached Wrynose after heading across the valley floor from Hardknott… something that will stay with me for a very, very long time.

Having caught me he crawls ahead, and I can see advanced warning of steeper bits as he occasionally stands to dance on his pedals.

 

wrynose-pass-ascent

A patient and well meaning white Audi TT (I dont know why I feel the need to mention this apart from to paint the picture) – squeezes past but there is not enough room, and I am now off the road on a 20% gradient. *sigh* …and it was going so well! Rather than shout, curse, gesticulate I a realise that the rest of the group is visible strung out on the lower climbs – so make myself comfortable on a boulder with a handy flat and moss covered top… and sit in to cheer, and shout such ‘helpful’ comments such as “I think you have a rear flat” and “..is… is that? Can I hear your rear brake rubbing there?”

This gives me a tremendous feeling of well being, and I am re energised once the rear markers are up and upon me – alas its just too damned steep to get back on.

Walking with one of our number (no easy deal – 20% gradient – carbon soled shoes with metal based cleats – living the dream) to the bridge I can see up ahead. Wedging my rear wheel against the wall, while resting my hand on it – I clip in, and push off, and on my second go – I am off and away again. Better still, I am off and away again rested.

Then comes the sting, a real kick in the gradient – I would wager above 25 as we weave up through boulders to a faux summit, then a quick dip, a flurry of speed, before being caught in traffic for the final few feet to the top.

Re grouping and looking back you can see the Wrynose Pass almost pencilled in around the outside of the land mass. As is all too common it is rare for gradients in pictures to look more than either up, or down – however this is a trade-able commodity, this is a Lakeland Pass – this is a check in a box. Again. Done.

 

wrynosefromtop

Down to the bwlch that sits between Wrynose and Harknott is not a full loss of gained height – however is spirited enough – and followed be a weaving rolling but visible ahead route between the two. A real joy to ride in good weather like this – even if oncoming traffic does appear to slow in sharing the available road.

At the foot of the Harknott ascent that I remember so well (appearing to deposit riders into someone’s front garden at the bottom of an almost convex road profile – assumedly at some point a toll house) – we hang a left, and the tables are turned in my favour – and I am loving the road that lays ahead. Stopping for a puncture I take in the view ahead… more of this for the next many miles… what a dream – no sustained energy sapping climbs, just joyous bumps and curves. This, this we could do all day. More over, with my current company at the front – a fast, a very fast man (currently off riding Paris Roubaix) – a fast paced joyous affair to a distant junction before heading into a town for lunch.

 

puncheurterritory

The day rolls down hill and up dale as we make our way to a ride along the side of Windermere. Skies are blue, and with it still being early in the year its tree lined banks are bare – and we can see through to the water. This is the life. A few miles in as we coast along the lake edge – some of our party starting to really feel the days ride in their legs now – the occasional bumps are met with raised voices, but we are good on time, and good on spirit. Windemere is a LONG lake. We joke about having missed the turning and how many times we have been around it. What a day : )

Legs being tired is no match for boys being boys, and “well it would be childish to race to the pub” – “yes” – “very” as the line gets slowly drawn out to a group of five, and the pace against the gentle incline from Ambelside to Grasmere increases. Many smiles. Much cursing. Much friendly competition as this road is clearly a lot longer than I remember. Letting them catch, and then pushing again. Now on the back recovering the first pub is in sight, and I am waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting as I try to envisage how long I can hold them off… then its time to go, a glance over for traffic – then wide and off. Simon gives chase.

Rarely is first to the pub a good idea – however there many sizeable grins as those first pints were drawn. For all the scenery. For all the great ascents. The rolling fast stretch through the park, and long drawn out ascent to the end were the parts that lifted my spirits from the dark hole in which they live. Chapeau Gentlemen.

Day Three

We have to  be up and out for 10am. This is no issue if the day before was anything to go by all milling around and looking lost for about 8am with heading off for 10. So – plan in the bag.

However as we load the car it apparent that people are already rolling out onto the road. Bye then.

Come 0950 we have moved the car and regrouped in the layby of the closed road.

Right then – erm – erm – Keswick is that way – lets go!

The two of us head down the closed road, and take the detour around the outside of Thirlmere. At first this is just a good day, the weather is good, there is a chill in the air enough to keep me comfortable uphill, and there are small waves on the water… that is until we round some more corners, and what lays ahead of us is nothing less than breathtaking. I am grabbing pictures from the bike.

thirlmerefrombike

Thirlmere is mirror calm, and the reflections almost seem brighter than the scenery they are reflecting (which has been troubling me more than it should… possibly strongly polarized light in reflections?).

Scale is lost. We keep stopping just to drink it in.

Two photographers, out on bikes, with a compact and a GoPro to snap with just in awe. This is usually the reserve of the freezing pre sun up adventures… yet here we are warm, with sunshine, lightest of mists, and out riding. No traffic. No noise. Awesome. Cue second rare pic of me.

willyoulookatthat

At this point we just give in, and when the exclamations and awe reach an obvious climax, we stop, take pictures, take it in. There is a very definite feeling of being privileged to be here.

Pictures scuppered by shooting into so much glare, and looking like some kind of whack cross processed / Instagram filter – but I think it still kinda captures the mood.

intothesun

Stopping. Again. And Again. And Again.

mirrorlike

Stopping at the foot of slender giant pine trees looking across the lake we can see more there. Sense of scale – lost – completely. Even more so against the range that sits behind them. Amazing.

toweringpinetrees

Back to riding. Eventually. However we are in no hurry. Meeting a local rider on our way (who by chance was from not so very far away from us originally), we then meet other fragmented groups. Our goal is the Whinlatter Pass. Garmin cannot find it. Garmin cannot find it as we are spelling it wrong ;)

We join the other group – and seeing as we are so close – we stop in on the Castle Rigg stone circle before exiting Keswick  for the Whinlatter Pass.

This I remember quite clearly from the FWC – however it is a lot easier when you know you are out for a jolly, there is a café at the top you are stopping at – and there are not a bunch more passes to negotiate and another 80 miles to ride…. oh and it was dry. Win.

The atmosphere and the food at the Café at the top was great. We had a long journey home, and were not super keen to stop – so we went large on lunch. Oh yes. Very nice too.

That is very nice until some laughing boy suggests that we tackle “The Struggle” before we head home. Hmm. At which point you regret your larger lunch choice as your lungs are actively trying to leave your chest in an effort to get more air in. Nice.

The scenery rolls back past us as we head back along the same lake and closed road (top/first picture taken on this). We bid our fairwells as most are now heading home – and we head down towards Ambelside and The Struggle.

Now roads with names – things like this – or things like the local “Road To Hell” … the warnings are all there in black and white aren’t they. It’s not “a nice cup of tea and sit down”, its not “would you like a biscuit with that”, neither is it “well I will see you at the pub at 8 then”. No.

This brutal monster deserves to be closed, and should be reserved for those in a avery very dark place, and then strictly only for those who weigh under 11 stone. It is silly. Fact.

Now realising that this is a SHORT CUT to the top of the Kirkstone Pass – itself a gem of an ascent – however this does it in lest distance to the same height.

Having realised that it was not going to back off, most of it out of the saddle, with the occasional just very steep part seated, I managed to have strong words with myself and reached what I thought was the top.

It was not.

I was a broken man.

It was a false summit, dropping away before steeper hair pins to the top. Hairpins out of site, but the false summit shown below, and the ascent is up from the lake in the distance, and the Kirkstone pass ascent meandering up the valley to the left there.

 

thestruggle

Lacking in humour I even turn down the offer of a beer at the pub at the top. It was THAT serious.

Not even impressed with the realisation there was now a monster descent back down again… I am at this point. Broken. This picture was taken as a warning to others : ) No.

Sign says “Winter Conditions Can Be Hazardous” – winter? WINTER?

What a fabulous couple of days. We were blessed with both weather and company.

Thank you to the delightful Sally for organizing this for us, to Gary Mat and Burt for the Bro Fest – and for the rest of VC Melyd for their company. Epic.

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