Last year the husband of one of my cousins died from cancer, eighteen months earlier another of my cousins died from pancreatic cancer, his father had also died of lung cancer some thirty years before that. Nearly thirty years ago my mother died of cancer. Cancer touches many people.
Jenn Hill wasn't someone I personally knew but her death last year at a distressingly young age affected many in the UK mountain biking scene. There have been several fundraising "events" for Manorlands Hospice who cared for her, as they have done for many others, in her last days. The latest of these, a 150Km ITT, took place last weekend in the Lake District.
We hadn't considered entering the group start primarily since it had filled up very quickly. As is often the case with online registration there were a few who then decided that it wasn't for them or had other commitments so there were some places available, a donation via justgiving and the organiser, Rich Munro, gave us the nod.
A look at the route showed a convoluted line that didn't stray too far from the start/finish point in Staveley but managed to include just about all the quality riding in the South Lakes. There was about 50Km that I hadn't ridden before. I wasn't thinking about racing the route so enabling distance markers on the web display showed some likely bivvy spots at about the right distance for a day's steady riding. With the route passing through or close to many villages there would also be plenty of opportunities for cafe stops and a pub meal!
The weather was set to be fine (after at least a week of fine weather) though slightly cooler than of late and with chilly nights down to about 6C. I reckoned I'd be warm enough with just the quilt and a decent sleeping pad inside a bivy bag.
An early start got us to Staveley in good time. Park up, have some breakfast at the cafe, get the bikes ready. Near the allotted start time the organiser Rich gave a quick briefing - "there'll be lots of tourists after Ambleside" and Jenn's husband Tom said a few words. Then we were off.
The first Kilometre or so was a rolling start, a depart fictif if you like, before the first hill hove in to view and the fast guys were unleashed. No need to rush for me, I only needed to average 10kph to make it to my intended bivy spot accounting for a couple of cafe/pub stops. Chill, have a chat with other riders, take some photographs. In the event it didn't turn out quite like that.
|It's a selfie!|
Once the initial jostling for position on the first section over to Longsleddale is done, the riders start to string out with increasing gaps. Sometimes you are with riders, other times you are on your own, sometimes the elastic snaps and you fall behind, sometimes you snap the elastic.
Heading up Garburn Pass I hear my first cuckoo of the year. As I descend I'm enjoying it that much that I miss the turning for Dubbs Tarn - by the time I realise I'm actually on the return part of that loop. After a bit of umming and arring (well swearing actually) I decide to just carry on. It turns out that there are quite a few riders who end up being "economical with the route".
|On the way to Jenkin's Crag with a fine view over Windermere|
A stop to refuel in Ambleside at the filling station, a couple of minutes later I come across a large group stocking up at the Co-op so a bit of a chat then out towards Rydal. Heading round Loughrigg a couple of riders catch me up and we ride together until the steep climb on the south side of Loughrigg. One of the riders is riding straight through and I realise that his pace is much too quick for my strategy so I let him go and wait for the other rider.
"Bike behind!", the woman steps to the side and as I approach she makes another step, slips on some dead bracken and screams. We stop and check how she is. A couple of fell runners who were nearby come down to assist. After a while we try to get her to stand but she is in no state to move. Time to call out Mountain Rescue. After a bit of technical wizardry our position is determined and they are on their way. By the time they've arrived and dealt with her and got ready to carry her down an hour and a half has passed. http://www.lamrt.org.uk/incidents/2016/incident/44
Heading up Langdale towards the New Dungeon Gill, I pass a couple on road bikes who obviously take umbrage at a fully laden mountain bike overtaking them as I'm aware of them drafting behind. I slow up as I meet another rider and after taking on water at the Stickle Barn we begin the "interesting" track over to the Old Dungeon Gill. This is a mixture of hike-a-bike, riding and occasional boulders to hop around. The other rider is on a singlespeed so once we are back on the road the elastic snaps and he falls behind.
There's a lot of the next section that I've never ridden before, some of it's a push, some is rideable, the woods are full of bluebells and flowering wild garlic. I join another rider just before High Tilberthwaite and we ride together as far as Hawkshead via an extra unscheduled loop to get to Hodge Close, ah well. I had intended to eat in Sawry but with the MRT delay Hawkshead seems a better bet. The first pub we come to has rather a large number of bikes stashed outside - seems like a lot of other people have the same idea.
"Forty minutes wait for food love. We are a bit busy." It will have to do. Some riders leave, some more arrive. Tales from the trail. Non-riders looking puzzled at the variety of tyres on show. The food arrives in twenty. Needing water bottles filling I nip back to the bar and they are still "busy" so it's off to the Co-op and grab some there. It's only when I've begun to pour it into my bottle that I realise it's sparkling water - euchh!
I get lost in the ginnels trying to head up in to Grizedale Forest until a resident (kindly) puts me right. I get lost again in the forest and miss out the second part of the North Face trail but have quiet fire roads instead. As I head out of the woods towards Parkamoor the sun is ready to set. It's always stunning up here and this evening is no exception, I stop to take some shots.
|Early evening on Parkamoor overlooking Coniston Water|
The normally wet track back into the forest only has a couple of deep pools then it's a long technical descent to Seathwaite and a stiff climb back out. The bridleway on the other side is blocked due to forestry work so there's a detour down a footpath which suddenly gets very technical and steep so there's a bit of walking downhill. Another climb and descent and I'm out of the forest before dark.
Riding along the shore of Windermere there's only dog walkers for company. One last climb in the arboreal gloom to get on Claife Heights and it's properly dark by the time I call a halt - I've been riding by natural light up to now not bothering with my light. We've only one proper one person tarp between us so Cath's using that and I've a Tyvek sheet that I can use as a tarp - it's actually its first outing. I've just set it up when two riders pass by. One stops and asks if he can take shots of my bivy (!?), he's doing an article for the magazine that Jenn worked for. I hope that my efforts don't cause too much merriment.
|My hi-tech bivvy!|
It's a cold night, close to freezing and a few degrees cooler than my quilt is rated to. I spend the night half asleep getting woken at intervals by the geese on the tarn, really noisy and loud birds. It's starting to get light so up and make a brew. Nearby is another rider bivvying out, it happens to be the same guy who I was with on Loughrigg. The brew's just come to the boil when I knock the whole thing over! Sod it! I pack and get on my way.
|An early morning vista. Somewhere in there are some very noisy geese.|
One thing about being up and about very early is that there's lots of wildlife around that hides away once "normal" human life takes place. I see deer and small mammals taking advantage of the small amount of daylight that we permit them. Windermere has an autumnal mist hanging over it slowly burning away as the sun's power increases.
Breakfast courtesy of Ambleside Co-op then it's on to the climb up Jenkin's Crag and back down to Troutbeck. I get lost in Limefitt Park trying to find my way out of the maze of caravans. Steady riding now, round by High Borrans then on to Kentmere Park and a blast down to Kentmere Hall. Just one climb to go.
|Not sure of how many of my five a day are in this lot!|
Halfway up this I catch up with the lad on the singlespeed again - he had originally thought about riding through but had bivvied a little further on than I had. We ride together to the end.
Final time of 25hrs11mins but that's not the point.
Over the next few hours more groups of riders arrive but where was Cath? There are various reports of her, some from the previous afternoon but the last reported sighting was in Ambleside: "She'll be about an hour behind us, she's going well.". I'm just starting to get worried about her when she appears out of the final ginnel looking rather tired, she'd had a blue air moment on the last climb. She'd bivvied near Parkamoor so had three or four hours extra riding to do compared to me.
|Cath about to finish.|
Here's a short video.