There are times when you step a little too close to the edge for comfort, the wrong decision leading to trouble rather than adventure, maybe even a statistic rather than a learning experience. Sunday's ride was pretty close to that.
The plan was pretty ambitious for the time of year: start at Cray at the top of Wharfedale, head over to Helwith Bridge via Littondale then back via Cam High Road and Semer Water. About 40 miles in total. With good weather forecast it was just about doable. Sat in the car at the meeting point with the car rocking in the wind and sleet covering the windscreen it began to look less likely. The forecast however was for a decent day and was meant to clear up.
There were only two of us, Simon and myself, all the others having found reasons not to come along and by the time we set off the rain/sleet had stopped and things did look a little brighter but the wind was still strong. Strong enough that I didn't need to brake heading down a 15% road. The first bridleway down in to Buckden was hard work (and this was going downhill), the effort only broken by Simon getting a pinch flat at the top of the main downhill.
A quick bit of road then it was on to the first major climb, Firth Fell. I'd only been over this once before many years ago and that was in the opposite direction. Today it was a mixture of riding and pushing/carrying. The ground was pretty sodden but at least we were out of the wind. That all changed when we reached the crest and even with shelter from a wall it was hard going to get to the gate on the summit ridge. All I remember from the last time here was pushing up over rock steps so I'd got it in to my head that it would be a walk down. Wrong! Simon set off like a rocket (well compared to me) and was soon a yellow blur in the distance.
I was wearing glasses which in hindsight was a mistake as I could hardly see but I'd done most of the steps by the time I realised what was going on and only stopped at the point where I thought it was going to get really tricky. As it turned out it was no worse than what we'd already done. Another dismount lower down when I got blown off the bike and then I'd rejoined Simon at the midway gate. A bad line choice let him get past me and it then started getting a bit sketchy as the ground was soaked and the wind and rain were pushing me around. Definitely not enjoyable. The last bit of the descent followed a stony track down to the road at Litton.
What should have been a steady amble along the road to the start of the next section was a battle in to driving wind and rain. At the bridleway junction we stopped and assessed our situation. To carry on would mean at least two hours pushing and riding in to the teeth of the gale and we were both wet and cold already. A check on the time and we'd done a quarter of the route in two hours and it was nearly midday so there was no way we were going to get round. Turning tail we headed down the valley and pulled up at the door of The Falcon in Arncliffe just a couple of minutes before 1200. Sat by the fire in the pub we looked at our options and decided to bin it. Simon rang his wife who kindly came out to pick us up and take us back to the cars.
It's been a long while since I've been out in such horrid conditions, the temperature was just above freezing (and actually rose slightly while we were out) but that was immaterial in the face of such strong winds. The Spine race redirected runners from going over Penyghent due to 75mph gusts so we weren't alone in deciding that discretion was the better option. Clothing wise I wasn't too bad - the only bits of me genuinely cold and wet were my hands - US designed ice climbing gloves. My feet were fine - I'd updated my sock regimen to thin inner, plastic bag then SealSkinz over the top so although damp they were warm. It's surprising just how having a small part of your body being wet and cold can affect your outlook, but then again having numb hands that can't operate anything isn't going to do anyone any good.
So what if we'd carried on? Well the next section would have been much longer riding in to the wind with no chance of any shelter and I think we'd have been turning back before too long anyway. We weren't (well I wasn't) approaching hypothermia but it wouldn't have taken long to make us that way. For a 16Km ride it was very hard work, I've done 100 mile road rides that have been easier.
Experiences meted out, lessons learned.