I should start off by pointing out that we rarely have good luck with rides, Jase, Phil and I. Previous attempts at non race get togethers have included our near-death experience up on the hills above Hebden Bridge at night, in the middle of winter. OK so it was never going to be the easiest of rides, but the fact that I had every layer of clothing I was carrying with me both on and fully zipped up by the time I’d ridden to the meeting point at Peel Tower should have warned us that riding up on the highest, most exposed fellsides wasn’t such a good idea.
It didn’t, of course, bravado and a childish desire to do something as silly as ride right through the night before going straight to work the next morning (for me, Jase and Phil had a ‘family date’ to fight extreme tiredness through) forced us on through sideways sleet, sub zero temperatures and near gale force winds. It forced us right up onto the tops, before we realised that we’d already gone numb and were in danger of geting ourselves into ‘proper trouble’ that not even emegency hip-flask whiskey could get us out of.
That ride ended in me getting a lift home at somewhere around 3am in borrowed clothes after we beat a hasty, shivering retreat from the storm covered hills.
This ride looked like it might go the same way for a while. The original plan to head up to Scotland and link together several routes and a couple of trail centre courses fell apart a bit when Jase realised he had to spend the evening before ‘hob-nobbing with the stars’ (not his words) in another part of the country and that his works van wasn’t available for bike-carting duties, making the logistics of getting us all to the start of the ride harder to the point of ‘oh I give up-ness’.
From the ashes of this idea, however, a new plan emerged, phoenix like: Jase would be right next to the Peak District the night before. My route to the Peak District, where I to go there, would take me right past Phil’s. Phil had a couple of routes in the Peak District from magazines that, when stuck together to create an uber-ride, seemed to have something for everyone and, when we looked at where the routes went, I recognised much of the first half from previous rides over that way while Jase and Phil new much of the second half. Sorted! We’ll ride there instead. What could possibly go wrong?!
The first thing to go wrong…well, not ‘go wrong’ as such, unless you’re as lazy as me, was the time at which we were to meet over in Hayfield. 8.30am sounded fine at first. 8.30 isn’t too early, in fact it’s not far off acceptable for a Sunday morning, but to meet at 8.30am when combined with some ‘counting back’ to figure out travelling time from Phil’s house…and then more travelling time over to Phil’s house from mine…and then add on a bit of time for breakfast…and some more time for packing and unpacking the car, resulted in me getting up at an unpleasant time when people of sound mind are still sleeping deeply. It wasn’t a setback in the way that realising we were near to hypothermia was, during our called short night ride, but if you’d suggested that to me while I was stumbling round the house in the dark I would probably have flung unappealing-cos-I’d-rather-be-asleep porridge at you.
Anyway, marginally more awake, I’d driven over to Phil’s, thrown his stuff in the back of the car (easy when you’ve got a Berlingo…that’s already filthy) and made it over to the meeting point with hardly a single wrong turn when we got the call from Jase explaining that he was feeling ‘a bit rough’ and, rather than ride over as he was originally intending, he was driving over. He claimed that the roughness was simply due to a slight lack of sleep, but we had our suspicions…
We set off from the car park at around 9am, slightly later than planned but still early enough for the air to be bloody freezing cold as we shot along the fast, flat section of the Pennine Bridleway and hit the first climb with teeth chattering and thoughts of adding more layers of clothing foremost in our minds. Luckily, the climb was brutal enough to send us from shivering cold to boiling hot within a couple of minutes as the first gasps for air and calls for power from legs woke us up properly, just in time to catch the first of many views for the day (the views, in turn, providing us with an excuse to stop briefly and readjust clothing)
Suitably faffed, we headed off again towards Glossop. More climbing (though never quite as shockingly steep) and a few nice little drops across empty countryside seemed to settle the pace of the ride down. Not down to slow, obviously, we don’t really ‘do’ slow, but a nice tempo that saw us ticking off hills and miles comfortably. Pausing only for me to check my bike over after a mistimed jump over a waterbar resulted in a scarily loud “CRACK” echoing across the valley. I didn’t spot anything untoward so we carried on, blissfully unaware of a split in the forks that would, as the day progressed, slowly work it’s way further round the carbon fibre. Thankfully it never cracked right the way through, but I did get quite a shock when I finally got round to cleaning the bike and found it!
Once through Hadfield we turned on to the Trans Pennine Trail, almost missing it before being saved by my utterly fabulous GPS gizmo, and continued our decent progress through the gritstone hills and valleys, accompanied by the sound of disk brakes being ground away by the abrasive mud paste and drivechains, already weary after a full season of racing, being hurried into a gritchy, grinding retirement. Although underfoot (or underwheel, more accurately) was still wet, the weather around us remained calm and even verged on being bright occasionally, the chill in the air remained but served only to keep us cool as we hurried along the well surfaced trail towards the climb over Cut Gate.
A few more checks of our position on the GPS brough us quickly enough to the start of the climb near to Langsett Reservoir. Almost immediately the trail changed from the fast, smooth modern take on a long distance trail to something much rougher, steeper and long established. Presumably the bridleway was created when Men were Men and travelling from one town to another in the environment we found ourselves in was A Big, Dangerous Task, even modern maintenance hadn’t removed the natural roughness (thankfully; the world doesn’t need anymore featureless straight paths thankyouverymuch) and big rings were ignored in favour of smaller, spinnier gears to ensure we remained on the bikes past walkers, all of whom seemed impressed with our abilities to ride what, to their eyes, was just a steep pile of rocks interspersed with boggy gullies and sloppy puddles.
Phil was loving it. the climb was just step enough and just technical enough to provide the perfect challenge, requiring a balance of fitness and technique to keep moving, Jase was cruising up the hill on a slightly less familiar than normal bike and behind them both I was having a nightmare of a time. I wasn’t slow up the hill, but I’m pretty sure I covered somewhere around twice the distance they did as I skipped and lurched from one rock to another with little of my normal smoothness (which does exist, before anyone suggests otherwise).
As we climbed higher, the condition of the trail worsened and unrideable sections became more frequent, as did stronger gusts of the cold wind. In a slightly peverse way, this just added to the ride, reminding us of how remote we were, how small in comparision to the seemingly endless, featureless moors around us both we and the trail we were following were, adding a slight case of ‘epicness’ to the route. We didn’t just want a ‘nice ride’ we were looking or somethnig a little more impressive and as we crested the highest point of the climb we began to find it.
I could remember how, from the last time I’d ridden cut gate despite it being years ago, the views opened up as you dropped down from the top, first on some helpfully laid packhorse trail across the boggy moorland (offering you the chance to look around and take in the scenery as you descended) before getting progressively steeper and more technical, demanding more and more attention until you find yourself focussed entirely on the slice of rock and grit immediately in front of you. I didn’t bother to mention it to anyone, knowing they’d find it out for themselves soon enough and got on with drinking in the vista before turning my attention to not getting totally left behind by Phil, who still seemed to be loving every minute Cut Gate was providing.
Right up until the moment a badly placed front wheel caused his tubeless tyre to ‘burp’ much of it’s air out, stopping him in his tracks and offering me a chance to catch up. We finished off the last, steepest section of the descent not too far apart and, as more tyre faffage took place at the bottom Jase caught us up, admitting to going arse over tit right in front of a group of walkers.
Typically, the faff stop lasted just long enough for said walkers to catch us back up and rub salt into Jason’s metaphorical wounds, reminding him of how daft he’d looked going for a burton in front of them. It’s nothing less than he deserved, of course; you fall off in front of people you’re eligible for some stick, so he took it with good grace…and a face like thunder!
Back down at reservoir level we cruised round Ladybower, marvelling at the feat of engineering the dam walls were and, in my case, humming the Dambusters theme tune while whizzing past families out following the well trodden path along the shoreline.
The easy nature of the ride couldn’t last long, however, and we soon arrived at a steep climb away from the water that got hearts pounding again. We all failed to reach the top without having to resort to dismounting, blaming various factors from poor tyre grip on the slippery cobbles making up the surface of the trail through to, well, anything we could think of really. We still seemed to impress a few walkers with how far we got, so not all was lost.
What had got lost, scarily, was one of the two bolts holding Jase’s front brake on, as a bit of uphill braking showed. After briefly standing around to marvel at how the bolts had managed to work their way loose at all and thank some lucky stars that it’d been noticed while going up hill, rather than while screaming downwards we initiated Bodge of the Day by using one of the bolts holding my rear mudguard on (I don’t like mudguards usually, but had decided to fit one for this ride as I’d expected it to be quite wet) to anchor it in place. I took the opportunity to change my brake pads as well, after noticing that I was using the metal backing plate of the pads in place of the worn out friction material…
With once-again-working brakes we continued along the trail, slithering around in the mud at first (which remained on the good side of tricky by being rideable, rather than forcing us to continually dab our feet) before posing for “we’re riding off the edge of a cliff” piccies and swooping down a great descent towards Bamford.
A combination of noticing the time and realising how long the full route we’d planned would take, led to us cutting out a section of white road up on Shatton Moor heading instead for a long contouring climb up to Hope Cross before dropping back down to rejoin the road through about a million places all with the word ‘Booth’ in the name.
Even more places with ‘Booth’ in the name came and went as we headed towards the final big climb of the day over Jacob’s Ladder. I’d never ridden it before, but was well aware of it from it’s near legendary status as an unclearable climb and fearsome descent, depending on which way you attempted it. Tales of various local pro’s ‘just making it all the way once’ filled my head as we neared the start of the ascent. I was looking forward to it. What I wasn’t looking forward to was the sight of my GPS doo-dah running out of battery power. It had lasted brilliantly all day despite often being called into use but after just over 7 hours it had had enough and turned itself off just as we needed it for the final time. A bit of hasty paper map reading in the suddenly fading daylight (always take a back up kids) got us pointing in the right direction and we reached the head of the fabled climb just as the colours drained from the hills around us, being replaced with dusky, ever darkening blues and greys.
I’m going to gloss over how the attempt to ‘clean’ the climb went and simply point out that as we reached the top, on foot, it had become properly ‘dark’. It was no longer late afternoon, or even dusk, it was pitch black enough to not be able to see anything. Of course, being smart puppies (and learning from the Daft Ride Jason and I had done last year, where it got dark on us before we could finish the route) we’d all brought lights, so I was treated to a first attempt at the descent back down to Hayfield (“it gets quite rocky”…No shit!) by the light of a bar mounted Exposure enduro maxx. What that reminded me is that, on seriously rocky stuff, your bars very rarely point in the direction you’re trying to see so I was treated to occasional glimpses of what was coming up (big pointy rocks, mostly) and flashes of what was going on over on distant hills to either side of me. I didn’t fall off, so it was great fun. Jase did, but still decided it was great fun. Phil shot off into the darkness, didn’t fall off and had to hang around waiting but still found it great fun. It was, as you can probably guess, great fun and a great last descent back into Hayfield.
Back at the cars day-damp layers of riding clothes were swopped for the known comfort of warm, post ride attire and future plans for longer, grittier, even darker rides were considered before rushing home to big piles of food and well earned sofa slobbing and bungied down in the back of the Berlingo the forks on my bike sat, cracked through, waiting to scare the life out of me…