Thursday, 21 November 2013

Autumnal changes

Autumn finally appears to have arrived, that mixture of crystal clear and dull dank days where you are never quite sure what the morning will bring. November has never been my favourite month, memories of snagging cold wet turnips on the farm and increasingly short daylight, it always feels like it's a stop gap between the good weather of summer and the hope of winter.

As a consequence I've always used November as a recovery month, just let the body catch up, whether that's letting my fingers rest when climbing or my legs when running or cycling, it's just time to chill before the next ramp of effort. With my operation now very close, it's also quite important not to push things and potentially have an accident. Open wounds or scars aren't particularly welcome in the operating theatre.

A couple of Sundays ago I decided to skip the A group ride and go for a spin up Wharfedale to Kettlewell. My main rule was to stick in the small ring all day - the day was a clear one and pretty cold so pushing the speed would only produce extra windchill. Having set out late enough for the frost to have thawed away there weren't many of the local riders out and I only saw a handful all the way up the Dale.

At Kettlewell I had a choice - either head in to the cafe straight away or head up Park Rash. Of the five roads out of the head of Wharfedale, Park Rash is the hardest though not the longest - that's the southern part of Fleet Moss; next year's Tour de France will head over Kidstones which is the easiest; the other two head up Arncliffe Cote and out of Halton Gill. Now I'd only ever ridden down Park Rash and according to the 100 Climbs book it is meant to be equivalent to Fleet Moss from the north. Time to find out!

The first climb out of the village was covered in leaves and a few skids ensued. There then follows a section along the valley floor before the main event: around 200 metres of 20-25% followed by a long section of 18% before an easing and the final 20% to the summit. In to next to bottom gear (always gives me that psychological boost knowing there's another gear left) and hit the slopes. The steep section isn't actually too bad and since there's no traffic I can take it wide on the hairpins. It's the 18% that I find the killer as there's no respite from the effort below and I hit bottom gear. Then it's the easing and soon the final rise is done and the summit reached.

Four cyclists at the top ask if the descent is icy and there's a large icy pool on the road where I turn round - they'd all hit the deck several times coming up Coverdale and were a little worried. So it's a blast down to the village and the cafe. The ride back down the Dale was pleasant in the afternoon sun with just the climb up Park Lane to get home. There was hail still on the ground and it felt as hard as the climb at the other end of the ride.

This last Sunday was the Cumbrian Cracker Sportive: Grasmere; over Red Bank and down to Coniston then along the east side of the lake and down to Cartmel. Then it's back via Bigland, Grizedale, Hawkshead and Ambleside. There were thirteen of us but after Red Bank we split in to two groups, slow and quick. The quick group then split again as we went down the east side of Coniston Water. The problem was that there were now only four of us (Andy, Rick his brother, the Herb and me) and we could do with more bodies to share the work especially along the speedy section of Holker Mosses.

There was a group of three riding in and around us and by the time we got to the start of the Mosses we were riding together. It turned out that we did the majority of the work anyway with just one of the others taking a turn on the front. There was also another rider just wheelsucking - definitely poor form. A few bumpy bits and we arrived at the food stop in Cartmel.

We'd just sat down when a voice spoke up: "Bob!" It was Nick Wharton who turned out to be one of the group of three that we'd teamed up with. I'd climbed with him in the 1980s and Andy went to school with him. Really quite a bizarre meeting. His mates hadn't helped with the pacing as they were struggling to keep up!

Food eaten we headed on our way. The problem was - it was one of the dull dank autumn days and the drizzle was getting heavier, not only that, I'd forgotten my waterproof and only had a gilet for protection. Time to crack on.

The return journey was quite eventful. First a rider fell off trying to avoid a car that simply stopped in front of him (he wasn't too hurt and kept up with us for most of the way home). Then Andy had a couple of punctures so a bit of easing up rather than hang around and cool down. One steep descent to Hawkshead was taken with care then push on to the finish. As we approached Rydal there were blue flashing lights ahead - a rider had collided with a car and was out on the ground being attended to. It turned out he hadn't broken anything. Just the main road back to Grasmere and the wheelsucker was back - but a bit of determined pacing soon dropped him. We rolled in to the finish in just over 3hrs30 which is my best time for this route so quite pleased.

After food it was time to get changed before the damp got through and chilled me. By the time I got back Cath had finished, also in a good time. Then it was time for the pub - my last alcohol before next week.

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