Got up early on Sunday. Uncomfortably early in fact. Got up, stumbled round the house shovelling food down my neck and headed out on the bike with lights attached to me and the bike for the first time since SITS a month ago.
It was chuffing freezing outside as I set off, but I didn’t mind too much, various windproof layers were zipped up and hunckered down in as I flew through utterly deserted roads and scared myself silly riding through eerily quiet local parks. I had the world to myself it seemed and it made for swift progress towards the first hill of the day over Darwen tower.
The reason I was up so early was so I had enough time to ride over some local hills – Darwen tower and Peel tower (with some wiggly route planning to get me from one to the other) before heading over to Waterfoot to have a go at the Mary Towneley Loop Challenge. Once I’d done the MTL route, I planned to ride home again following the tracks I’d ridden on the way out in the opposite direction. It was to be a Big Long Day out on the bike.
Dawn started to kick in to life as I rode up through the woods behind Abbey Village – going from a faint glow in the corner of the sky as I rode into the trees surrounding the first reservior to a full on make-it-worthwhile-getting-out-before-anyone-else-is-awake style golden sun blast as I topped the climb up to Darwen tower itself and glided across the blank expanse of moor towards Rivington. Just in the nick of time as it happened, as the battery in my lights decided to give up the ghost just as the lumps and bumps on the trail became visible without extra illumination. Phew.
I saw my first other MTBer at just after 7am as I rode towards Egerton, we exchanged smug grins at each other as we passed, both enjoying the chance to blast around the countryside without hourdes of other people meandering around everywhere, but didn’t see anyone else out on a bike until I got to the start of the MTL challenge a couple of hours later.
I felt a bit guilty riding past the houses that line the base of the hill up to Peel tower, the clattering of the chain and squealing of the brakes seemed doubly loud as i rode just a few feet away from tightly shut bedroom curtains over the first few little sections of rough cobbles and rocky tracks…of which there would be many during the course of the day, but decided that, as it was now full daylight, it wasn’t too rude. I imagine the inhabitants would have seen it differently!
By the time I dropped through Ramsbottom the day seemed to be kicking off properly and the first few cars were visible on the roads, but I got to the School commendeered for the MTL challenge nicely unfussed by traffic and wandered through the forest of overly shiney bikes milling around the car park to register and sign on to the ride.
“You look like you’ve already done the ride!” joked the bloke taking my money while handing me my race tag, staring at my already mud covered legs. I did stand out from everyone else – everywhere you looked people’s finest riding gear was freshly laundered and neatly fitted, with the exception of mine, which was covered in the splatter of 37miles worth of off road grime – as did my bike, which looked as well used as it ever has in stark contrast to the frighteningly shiney clean specimens leant against every wall and car boot around me.
It was still attracting quite a lot of attention though, as were the lights fitted to it; I quickly lost count of the number of times people asked “how long do think it’s going to take to get round if you need lights?!” though I do know it was the same number as the amount of shocked looking faces when I mentioned that they were there so I could do a 37mile ride before having a go at the challenge!
The ride itself started at 9am, with a mass of riders creating a brightly coloured peloton through the still half asleep streets of the town before snaking up the first climb of the day up towards Rooley Moor Road. I rode up the loose rocks of what would usually be a great final descent, as the organisers had decided to send us round the 47mile loop the opposite way to what I’m used to, for a while until someone in front of me jokingly mentioned that it was probably in the rules to get off and walk like everyone else. I hopped off and strolled past all sorts of riders, from keen freeridey types with scarily big heavy bikes to near novices, with a mildly panicked expression belying how daunting the route must have been to them, before remounting at the top of the hill and starting to work my way through the now stretched out group a bit.
I didn’t have any real plans to go flat out – thinking that the ride home after riding the loop would be horrible if I was knackered – so just set about riding comfortably at first, but I found myself catching rider after rider without anyone comng past me. As the ride went on, I found myself clearing climb after climb without any fatigue starting in my legs and reacted by steadily picking up the pace until, just over halfway round the course, I realised I was motoring.
I stopped very briefly to say hello to Ed, who was out doing some guiding round Calderdale, but apart from that…and having to stop a few times to reoil the chain (dry lube was obviously a bit optimistic, ahem)…I just cruised round the loop with hardly a pause.
I probably should have paused a bit more on a few occasions, as a few wrong turns (it’s scary just how different the loop felt in the opposite direction) had me riding all over the place and even setting off on a 2nd lap before I realised I’d gone past the turning back to the start/finish. Nontheless, I rolled back into the school and handed my tag in 4hrs 35mins after setting off – I think that left me as 6th finisher on the day – and made a big dent in the display from free cakes and brews on offer, before swapping empty gel wrappers for full ones in my jersey pockets and heading off homewards.
The ride back was even nicer than the ride out; there as no guilty feeling while thundering past peoples houses as there had been in the early morning, the trails were bizarrely quiet for a sunny Sunday afternoon and the warmth of the day had shrunk the puddles I’d been splashing through on the way out nicely. I contemplated extending the ride a bit to make the most of the weather, but decided that just riding the same route home was enough for one day and arrived home some 11hrs after I’d set off, 121miles later, grinning like a loon.
All in all, a good day out