At least it wasn’t raining. There. I managed to say something positive. There are so many other ways I wanted to start this post.
So…. It turns out that hiking does not an ideal rest day activity make. In fact, cycling 85 miles, camping and getting up to climb a hill or two especially after you fell of your bicycle, leaves your body in pieces so small that you worry no adhesive in the world will hold you together.
An ideal preparation for conquering your biggest ever day of climbing then… Ahh.
Yes. Today was a day of pure torture and, thinking it was supposed to be an ‘easy forty’ I didn’t psych myself up mentally for the challenge either.
Today I pedalled until my quads could take no more and then pushed until my calves could take no more and repeated this cycle of sheer agony until my mind could take no more. And this was just the first two miles.
Ridiculously, I had to stop about two minutes into the ride to let a bus pass on a very tight corner. It was at this point that I saw the gradient sign, casually letting me know that I would be facing ascents of around 25%. And, actually, it was a little drizzly. I pushed and pushed and pushed my pedals but in the end it was futile, I just HAD to stop. I didn’t let the whole thing beat me though, and continued to climb on and off the heavily laden Peg making fractional progress, but progress none the less. I was shaking, sweating and gasping for breath. Each time I tried to remount my labouring steed, I had to hold the brakes and push forwards – just holding the beast still was no mean feat.
About 45 minutes had passed since I began my journey and I had travelled less than two miles. I began to worry that I was going to have to push the entire forty miles. The hill was owning me. I had nothing and I felt like nothing. Less than 200 feet from the highest point, I pulled onto the verge, propped Peggy against a rock and crumpled into a heap for a good old cry. Resistance was futile – I just had to let out my sheer frustration. I pinged out a few messages, trying to claw myself back to reality. Obviously no reception – this was going to have to be all on me.
I cast my memory back to the beginning of the year – I’d never ridden over five miles in one go. At least not as an adult. In March I was still pushing Bobbie up the ‘hills’ in Richmond Park and this was a ridiculous hill and I had got back on in sections. This was enormous progress and I should be proud of what I had achieved. Shakily, I hauled myself back into position and wobbled over the crown of the hill. I still wasn’t quite there, with a few more ascents to master before the ‘I would have loved this if the roads were dry’ treacherous downhill to Buttermere.
I wanted to push on. I wanted to keep going – I had only been riding for an hour – but it had been so incredibly intense, so demanding that I knew I needed a proper pit stop. I didn’t feel hungry but I forced down some chips and cheese and sank a full fat coke whilst catching up with the weekend’s messages. A guy called Colin had been in touch, saying that I’d cheered him up on his own long journey – he’s cycling from Amsterdam to Budapest in aid of the Brain Tumour Charity.
Beginning again, it felt like a whole new cycle. My body was still struggling as was my mind but the sun was peeking through the clouds and the journey alongside the lake was more rolling than hilly, allowing my legs to finally warm up gently. It was going to be hard but I knew that I could make it.
I just didn’t realise how hard it was going to be. I thought that I was pretty much done with hills – surely I couldn’t get much higher than this in the UK. Unfortunately, there was still a lot of climbing to be done and I have no idea how I managed it to be honest. A bit more pushing off the bike, but mostly steely grit and determination. Well – if I didn’t know that I was far too independent and stubborn for my own good before, I do now!
At one point, I did stop at the foot of yet another killer hill. I parked myself on the floor and set about rehydrating and refuelling. I must have looked horrendous as a car stopped, reversed and came to check I was okay, immediately followed by a group of cyclists who had raced down past me, turned and cycled BACK UP THE HILL (I know I said foot but it was the foot of the steep bit) to ask the same question. At least by this point I actually was okay. Tired but okay.
I really had entered my own small bubble world, employing every ounce of my consciousness to just get me to my final destination. ‘That’s a lot of baggage!’ OH MY LIFE, I actually jumped out of my cleats. My heartbeat was almost as fast as it had been on the Honister Pass of Hell. Still, it was quite nice to have another cyclist to have a chat with, even if it was just for a few minutes before he realised that he wouldn’t get anywhere at my pace.
With about 20 miles to go, the climbing began in earnest again – Cold Fell is not a road to be messed with. I really thought that I wasn’t going to reach the campsite before dark. Then, in the distance shone a glimmering beacon of hope – a shining totem, signalling a long awaited return to sea level. I know there will be very mixed feelings about the Nuclear Power Plant at Sellafield but in that moment, reflecting the evening sunlight, with the sea as its backdrop, it was the most beautiful thing I had seen all day.
There were still inclines to come but the numbers were ticking down and I finally began to relax. I was going to make Ravenglass. The challenge was still well and truly on.
And then, one final killer hill and I was there. Somehow I managed to pitch my tent, clean myself up and head down to the village to be fed. I did have to persuade the chefs at the Pennington as I was 15 minutes after final food orders but they took pity on me and I was able to trough away on lamb and mint burger and a pile of chipolata sausages. I still felt as though it wasn’t enough. Is there enough fuel in a pub to keep this engine going?
So there was the challenge. I had endured the most horrendous forty miles of cycling and lived to tell the tale. I lay on my thermarest, massaging my legs and having received the news of several new donations, feeling, I have to admit, quite good about the whole thing after all.
As an aside, I have broken the on-off button on my phone, so photography will be very limited until I can get this fixed.
Please feel as sorry for me as I did for myself on this ride and donate generously 🙂