"What the ..." I stare disbelievingly at the seat harness, where there should be a bright yellow dry bag containing my bivy kit there is nothing. At some point in the last couple of Km it has come adrift. It's half past midnight and I've been riding since ten the previous morning. Nothing for it but to hide the bike in the nettles and walk back along the route hoping that I find it.
The Peak 200 ( a slight misnomer since it's actually 230Km) has the dubious honour of having had no finishers from group starts. Just five of us had thrown our hats in to the ring for this year's edition. With heavy rain forecast for Saturday I wasn't even sure about starting but loaded the car up anyway, by Saturday morning the forecast was for rain clearing by midday. Off to Edale it was then.
I turn in Hope towards Edale and the first spots of rain hit the windscreen, by Edale it's heavy.
|Javi, myself and Mark. Yep, that's the group start sorted!|
There's a van in the car park with a bike leant against it and a large beard sticking out from a hoodie fussing around it. I wander over and introduce myself. The beard hides a big smile. It would turn out that we were the group.
Having seen him ride off in to the mist on Cut Gate whilst I was dealing with a minor mechanical I thought that would be the last I would see of him but he has a bad patch near Hayfield so we end up riding together for most of the first day.
"Have you seen a rider with a big beard on a singlespeed?" I ask two bikers at the top of the descent into Birch Vale. "Ah, yes. He's about ten minutes ahead. We rode with him for a while, could only just keep up, he's a bit determined." Then I notice that they are on e-bikes.
Climbing out of Roych Clough Javi treats me to a masterclass in line choice, ... , well riding a bike really. There's little that stops him.
We have been riding down Long Dale for five minutes followed by a large herd of inquisitive heifers and finally come to the escape gate. As I'm opening it I turn round and see Javi hoist his bike above his head and run towards the cows and shout ... "Boo!"
The rain of recent weeks hasn't been kind to the trails in the southern Peak. My drivetrain is making horrible noises and seems to have picked up a kilo of mud and grass (Gratton Dale). On getting home and getting the bike out of the car it felt very heavy even though I'd removed the front wheel. A good half hour of cleaning and it still felt heavy - the cassette was completely full of clay that wouldn't shift with the hose and so required a full strip down and about an hour's work to get clean.
Surprisingly there aren't a lot of resupply points on the route. I don't know the area well enough that I could nip off-route to get to a tap or spring. Consequently I didn't have enough water, especially come nightfall. Javi did ask about whether the rivers were safe to drink from but a reasonable rule is not to drink from water with habitation upstream and in a densely populated area like the Peak that's not easy. With the heavy rain on Saturday morning all the becks in the Dark Peak were brown with peaty runoff, those dropping off Bleaklow were particularly impressive.
I wander back through the darkness scanning the track from side to side for the bag. I know it can be no further back than Froggatt Pinnacle since that is where I'd originally intended to stop and had taken the bag off but obviously not refastened everything properly. As I get to the moor gate it's there in the middle of the track. Just a long trudge back to the bike and sort myself out for the bivy.
The elastic had finally snapped between Javi and myself, I was always intending to bivy whereas he was aiming to ride through so with a handshake we part on the track above Froggatt and his light disappears in to the distance. Up to that point I'd surprised myself keeping pace with him but then I didn't have 550 miles of the Highland Trail in my legs which has got to take a while to get over.
|Mark heading towards Lockerbrook, rather damp.|
After Cut Gate I'd ridden steadily in to the strong head wind, some restocking in Gamesley near Glossop: "Big tyres mate - do you ride on mountains with them?", "Err, yes, that's kind of the point".
Much of the Western section was the Pennine Bridleway which I'd done once in the opposite direction. I meet up again with Javi at Chinley Head - "had a bad patch a while ago" and we ride together across the transition to The White Peak. I feel cramp coming on as we climb out of one of the small dales but manage to suppress it and I have little problem thereafter. At one point we have to make a detour to avoid a large herd of cows being led in to milk. We miss the correct way out of Chee Dale so end up with some road climbing.
We turn on to The High Peak Trail and suddenly the wind is on our backs: "Hooray! Easy going!". A few Km later and there's a pub, it's 1930 and we need food. With no reservation they make room for two filthy mountain bikers and we tuck in to a mammoth fish pie and chips.
|Javi tucking into a well deserved fish pie and chips|
More easy riding along the High Peak Trail before we meet the cattle in Long Dale and the mud and rocks of Gratton Dale
The morning's preparations are as much about getting mud and grass out of the drivetrain as anything until the midges win out so it's on with the show. Some nice singletrack, a bit of road, more singletrack until I'm dropping down to Fox House and then the Burbage Valley. Halfway up this I spy a pipe with clean water pouring out of it so take the chance to rehydrate. A minute or two won't make any difference to my time.
I miss the turning for a bridleway and find myself over a kilometre further downhill than I need to be. Even on the climb back up I fail to locate it so go the long way round by road. Stanage Causeway is new to me, on a bike anyway, the last time I was here was walking back to the car after a rock climbing accident that resulted in a broken wrist and a dislocated elbow.
Things begin to go wrong once over the top of Stanage, my GPS has "lost" the map so I've no idea where the route now goes. I cut left and eventually end up on the A57 but not at the point I should be. I know some of the route to the finish but nowhere near all of it so decide to ride what I know. Crossing Ladybower Dam I meet Paul who had seen us off and he turns round to ride back with me at least as far as Hope Cross. Apparently Javi isn't too far ahead though I've cut a couple of loops out by this point so not really a fair indication.
I'm flagging, lack of water and food have had their toll and I'm struggling to walk and push my bike up The Beast. Once at the top I head down the Roman Road while Paul heads more directly to Edale. It's all I can do to keep moving on the road and I eventually roll back to the finish just under 24hrs after setting off.
After a bit of hanging around and consumption of drink and food from the cafe I have to leave so don't get chance to see Javi get back in a time of 25hrs30, the first finisher from a group start.
It's a tough route, I think it would be quite a bit easier after a reasonably long dry spell, it would also be easier earlier in the year when the nettles, thorns and grass aren't so big. Must come back.