The Pendle had sat teasing me in the AUK calendar all season. I knew I wanted to ride it, but didn't know if I could ride it. Last year was it's first running and the reports from those who had ridden it made it sound amazing, but very challenging. These were some of the real hard men of Audax saying it was the hardest thing they had ever done. Could this ride be beyond me? I've had a good season so far, and feel like I am going well - so I decided to commit to this ride, booked a train and hotels etc.
Since pressing the enter button, this ride has gnawed away at me like no other ride before. I have ridden hard rides before, but this was something else. Taking in huge swathes of the North, via several national parks, every single steep hill possible and being, in effect, riding coast to coast twice.
I don't generally have a lot of self-doubt. It doesn't belong in our pursuit. Doubt yourself and you will fail. I believe that you can not turn up to the start of a ride with even the slightest notion that you might not succeed. You have to be certain that you will and then everything falls into place.
I couldn't shake the doubts - the riders from last year talked of hills that sounded beyond me.
After a very busy train up to Burnley, I found myself in a Weatherspoons with 3 of the AC Hackney boys (they were fielding 5 riders, though 2 of them were displaying some fine navigation skills by having got on the wrong train and ended up in Blackpool - a weekend at the seaside would have been far more fun than this though!). Joel had got the '100 Greatest Climbs' book with him - and we looked at what we'd be ticking off this weekend. Quite a few of them!
Nerves and excitement were both in evidence for all of us. We knew we were in for the hardest weekend. Gadge wins a lot of respect from me just for the audacity of attempting this as his first 600k ride! Most of us tend to choose a less-challenging 600 (there's no such thing as an easy-600, but there are some which are very much more straight-forward than this monster).
Lots of eating, chatting and then bed.
I slept well - I needed to, I didn't think that I would be getting a lot of sleep on this ride (many of last years riders only snatched a quick nap on the ride).
The forecasts for the weekend didn't look good - a huge amount of wind, and potential for some real storms as well. My saddlebag contained many layers and gear I hadn't used for a couple of months now.
I was staying around 16km away from the start, so I was out of the door around 4:30, into light rain. Good start to the day!
I arrived at the hall to meet Andy, the organisor, and get some food down me.
Slowly, other riders arrived and we settled into the usual pre-ride nervous banter about adventures shared in the past and the one we were about to share. There was around 19 of us starting today.
All too soon, we were off and into the usual main-road blast towards the meat of the ride. The first big climb of the day, Greenhow, came at around 50km, and split us all up into small groups and solo riders (I rode the vast majority of this ride alone due to it's terrain). These first big hills tested our legs out to see if we were up for the next stages. It also offered Justin from AC Hackney a chance to kiss the tarmac as he and one of his club mates clashed wheels on a climb and Justin ending up on the deck!
After Ripon, the rumours were that the next section to Robin Hood's Bay was ferociously difficult. What followed was utterly relentless - we hit 25% and 33% climbs in quick succession. To see a 20% sign was a relief. It felt like we were on the ropes taking punch after punch after punch. As is typical in these sort of areas, the descending is just as hard as the climbing. Very steep technical descents that take all of your concentration and do not allow for regaining some time. We came down Rosedale Chimney - one of the only hills with a 'cyclists dismount' warning at the top of it:
It was a very tough descent, hanging onto the brakes and hoping your rims don't overheat (sadly, one rider, Bob did have a blowout on the descent and took a tumble).
As I rolled towards Robin Hood's Bay, I saw a Rapha broom wagon (like this: http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5349/6931604582_5764b0104b_z.jpg ). Proper style horn - gave me a little lift as they gave me a beep and a wave. I assume they must have been over that way for an event of some form. They seemed very jolly. Say what you want about Rapha, but they are all cycling mad and everyone I have ever met who works for them, has been a pleasure to meet. Anyway, eventually the punishment was over - we could see the sea:
Before descending to Robin Hood's Bay and a delightful cafe overlooking the bay:
As can be seen, it was actually pretty sunny and nice so far. We'd had a lovely tailwind for most of this section. People rolled into the cafe looking shell-shocked. All agreed that the section had been very challenging. As I sat and ate my food, I was quite concerned. If we had another 430km of that sort of terrain, I was in trouble. I couldn't manage to ride 25 and 33% hills for another 25+ hours!
Lucikly I did have all of the elevation profiles printed out, and I could see that the next 100km were flatter (we still had some 200m climbs, but nothing massive). However, we did have the headwind to deal with now. And we all knew it was to be our nemesis for the next 300km until we reached the West coast.
As I was solo again, the wind was very hard work - but I continued to make good progress across towards Barnard Castle. Everything was going pretty well really.
After Barnard Castle, the hills got big again - touching 500m. But this sort of climbing is easier, with long gentler ascents that you can get a rhythm going on. I rode a while with DrMekon (Ian) and it was good to chat with him about life, the universe and everything.
The wind was horrific up on the tops - very challenging.
On one of the descents, I was following Ian, when I suddenly got a speed shimmy. I have never had one in my life before and it was terrifying. People say you should accelerate out of them - but no way was I going to try that. I tried to slow the bike, but even as I got down to 15-20kph, the front of the bike was shaking as if the whole front was separated from the rear of the bike. I did think I was going to have to jump off sideways to stop.
I think it was caused by the crosswinds and my input into the steering to counter the buffetting we were getting.
Needless to say, my nerves were on edge and I descended like a Schleck for the next few hills.
It was now going dark and we still had a big old lump in between us and the next control at Hexham. Ian was riding much faster than I and pushed on with Simonp.
Our next control was a pizza place in Hexham, getting close to pub chucking out time - always a fun time to be stood around wearing weird clothing and finding it hard to converse with other riders, let alone young lads with 10 pints of lager in them.
I ordered a small pizza - it wasn't what I needed, but I did have to eat. My stomach was giving me some grief - partly as the toilet options had not really presented themselves recently, so I really rather needed to go.
I told one chap who decided to sit with me where we had come from, where we were going etc. at least 28 times - he was pretty drunk and clearly couldn't remember that he'd asked me the same question 39 seconds ago.
We were asked by one young chap who was barely able to walk as to where all the "fit birds" were in Hexham. We tried to explain we weren't from around the area, but he still seemed convinced that we clearly looked like men who knew a thing or two about finding "fit birds".
Anyway - time to escape the drunken madness (it was worse for those arriving more like 2am when it was all getting very aggressive etc.).
And then the rain came.
And we had the highest point of the ride between us and our sleep stop - Hartside Pass - one of the higher roads in England.
What followed was truly gruesome. We were in the teeth of a howling gale as we winched our way up and over these truly barren hills. I had enough layers and felt ok going up, but there's always that voice in your head warning you not to stop - a mechanical up there in those conditions would really have you in trouble very very quickly. It wasn't all that cold - probably 5 degrees, but the winds and rain meant that hyperthermia was a real possibility.
I was getting sleepy and starting to ride very slowly - but there was no shelter - so I had to push on. My digestive system (particularly the latter part of the system) were in turmoil.
I was unable to see anything on top of Hartside - the clouds were covering the top and with the wind and rain smashing into my face, I prepared myself for the descent to the control. I was shivering uncontrollably on the bike and could not ride at all quickly. Dawn was coming, and that did give me a lift (though I had been on target to reach the sleep stop around 2:30 and it was now looking more like 4).
I was very cold and wet, but knew that sanctuary was not far away. Indeed, Andy was waiting by the door looking out for riders. I was the 7th rider into the hall.
The radiators were all on full blast with rider's clothing strewn across them to dry them off.
I stripped off my wet gear and put on some dry layers and started to feel alive again.
I figured I could stop for around 3 hours and get away again by 7 - would give me 15 hours for the last 220km. Should be fine.
I got some sleep - only around an hour, but it was enough.
Riders were still coming in - the Hackney lot had taken shelter before the big hills and got some rest there.
It was now drying up as well - so off I went for the final push into the wind to the west coast. Within 30 minutes of setting off, I was back in heavy rain battling into a headwind. At least it was not as cold now it was daylight.
There was a really lovely climb up Whinlatter that I enjoyed. Though my legs weren't pedalling very quickly, I felt in control of my pace and reasonably confident I would finish in time now.
The winds as we approached the coast were horrifying! I was glad to see the sea, and our nuclear reprocessing plant:
A quick stop at the shop in Seascale. I was asked if I had just finished my coast to coast ride - I sort of explained that, yes I had, but now I had to go and finish my second crossing of the country.
As I left Seascale, I now had a massive wind on my back. This pushed me towards the 'headline' climbs of the ride. With 500km in our legs, we were being asked to climb Hardknott and Wynrose passes. Whilst they are 'only' 400m in height, they make up for that by being around about the steepest climbs in England. They are both a strip of tarmac clinging to the side of the mountain with gradients that are 33% for considerable sections.
I had thought that I might walk them - it wouldn't be worth the effort of riding, I could walk them as fast as I could ride them. Of course, pride kicks in and I was off.
Whilst tough, I was surprised that my legs still had some go in them, and I made it to the top of Hardknott:
After Hardknott, a horrible descent with a very poor surface and 33% gradients. My hands and arms were very sore after that, but I couldn't think about it too much - still had Wynrose to go. Whereas Hardknott starts hard, ends hard; Wynrose starts a little more gently to trick you a little bit before ramping up again.
I was chuffed to have managed them both. I did walk a bend on Hardknott as it was awash with oil and I didn't want to try and test whether I had any grip.
The section through the lakes after the passes was much flatter and gave an opportunity for the legs to recover.
The end was now in site and I arrived at the truck stop in Carnforth in good spirits. I saw simonp taking a nap in the restaurant, looking battered but in decent enough spirits when he and DrMekon left.
I ate a decent sized meal of pie, mash, peas and gravy before heading off for the last 56km through the Trough of Bowland. It wasn't a flat end to a ride, with 3 big climbs to go.
This section was lovely - a bit of an unknown gem of an area.
My legs were pretty much done now. I could ride, but not very quickly. I knew I was okay for time though. I'd be finished with around an hour in hand.
And finally, I was back into the hall. A lot of congratulations flying around, we knew we'd all achieved something special. This was no ordinary 600.
I was very chuffed to have become a Hyper Randonneur with my 4th 600 of the year.
The Hackney boys arrived about 40 minutes after me, with Jonah also becoming Hyper and Gadge completing his first 600 and SR! Massive respect for that as a first 600.
This ride is special. It is truly stunning. It is very hard yes, but very achievable for an experienced rider.
I was ready to drop off to sleep, so I rode back, via the golden arches of Mcdonalds to my hotel to go and sleep the sleep of a man who'd just ridden the hardest ride of his life.
It looks something like this:
The Strava thing is here - http://app.strava.com/activities/62544847
My recovery hasn't been too bad. I have ridden the fixed wheel a few times and will try a longer ride this evening.
I am chuffed to bits to have conquered this ride, and now believe I can tackle pretty much anything. LEL is up next, so I will start to ease down on distance, but do a lot of shorter, more intense work now.
I am looking forward to LEL now - it will be a challenge in it's own way, but nothing compared to the Pendle.
Folllowing LEL, I am off to France/Spain to ride an ACP Super Randonee - 600km with over 15000metres of climbing (including Tourmalet, Col d'Aubisque etc.). Something a bit different.
Damon has also made this great video of the weekend and it's difficulties: