Monday, 6 May 2013

A busy month and a new adventure...

I'm not entirely sure where this last month has gone. I was pretty sure when I came back from South Africa that I had plenty of time to get all the things I had to do, done, and well, that doesn't seem to have happened!
However, I have had a pretty good month of visiting and catching up with friends and family, getting my bikes sorted for the summer, sorting out the van, my house in Sheffield, and the 5 months post I forgot I would have to sort through, and having a few mini adventures :)

Stunning views from part way up the route on Great End
I managed to sneak in a bit of proper winter fun, with some easy ice climbing with friends in the Lakes and the Cairngorms, and even some ski-touring too, with a great descent on fantastic snow down Lurcher's gully in the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms by headtorch :)
Coire an t-Sneachda in great Winter conditions

Alladin's Couloir
The Cairngorms in winter are a fairly special place for me, as Gareth and I spent a lot of winters driving up for consecutive weekends of climbing or skiing when the conditions were good, and many school half term holidays too. Our first valentine's night was spent driving up from Sheffield to Aviemore, arriving after midnight, then sleeping in a micra in the campsite ready for a 4 am wakeup to go and walk in to climb some routes! It was certainly memorable, and we did have a great weekend...Maybe not everybody's idea of romance though!
The route I did in the Lakes with John and Mhairi was also I think the same route that Gareth and I climbed on our first ever weekend away together over 10 years ago, so I spent quite a bit of time sat on the snow in the sun at the top, thinking back to happy days in the hills together, feeling a little bit sad, as always, not to be sharing these experiences still, and noticing the quiet emptiness that accompanies even the most fun days out now, but knowing he'd want me to be going out and making the most of the beautiful day that it was.

I also managed to complete my Mountain Bike Leader award with Jules Fincham from Cyclewild Scotland while I was up in Aviemore. Every course I have done with Jules has been fantastic, his teaching style is relaxed and fun, and I come away feeling like I've learnt a lot, even after assessments, and inspired to ride my bike even more, keep building on my skills, and to encourage more people to ride and to enable them to get as much out of riding as I do. Jules also rides my dream bike (Ibis mojo HD), so I do unfortunately have to contain my bike envy whilst riding with him, but he does know some awesome bits of singletrack which are practically in his backyard, which he always seems happy to share :) If you're thinking of riding in the Aviemore area and need a guide or want to do any kind of skills or leadership course, Jules is definitely the guy to go to!

Cyclewild Scotland

There's also been trips to Bristol for a volunteer beach clean up morning and walk around Cheddar gorge with Caz, a very exciting day at the Harry Potter Studio tour, a no excuses Thursday night ride, rides around the peak, remembering how much I love the local trails, and of course plenty of riding up in the Highlands on pristine, yet deserted singletrack. And of course the latest mini-adventure...

It was this time last year that I was setting off on my off-road Land's End to John O'Groats ride, which looking back now, is definitely the hardest physical challenge I've ever set myself. Anyway, ever since that ride, I've found myself drawn to wanting to do some more journeys by bike. The kind of ride where you find yourself somewhere totally different each night from where you set off that morning, carrying the stuff you need with you, navigating on trails that are new to you, discovering beautiful new places, and feeling like rather than just "going for a ride", you've been on a journey. Travelling by bike is such a brilliant way to see places, and even short journeys can feel like a big adventure.
So last weekend, John, Pete and I (plus Tom who joined us on day 2), set off on the Lakeland 200, a 200km mountain bike ride around the Lakes, taking in quite a lot of big passes, some gnarly descents, and also lots of our old favourite trails. We stole the route idea from the internet, however, the website suggestion of a solo self-supported non-stop ride was not even considered for a micro-second! No way, we were going for a 3 day ride, staying in hostels, carrying as little as possible to make life easier for ourselves! It was still quite hard though, in fact really hard! More epic than the Cape Epic, and if it had gone on for another 20 days, then definitely on a par with the LEJOG!
Descending from Boredale Hause

Pushing up High Street with a snowstorm chasing!
On the first day we rode 85km, climbing (and descending) 3100m, from Keswick to Staveley, with intermittent snow and hail showers, some wind on the tops, and a 10 hour day of riding...finishing at a campsite where we'd previously dumped a car the night before, in heavy rain, soaked to the skin and freezing cold. Thankfully the campsite had a bar and hot food, so we were able to rehydrate with pints of Cumberland Ale, and refuel with Steak and chips. I was too lazy to put up a tent (that's what happens when you're used to the luxury of having a van and not having to faff about putting up tents in the rain!) so slept in the drying hut for the campsite! It wasn't busy (everyone else had seen the forecast and decided camping was a stupid idea) so I don't think anyone minded, or even noticed :)
John, Pete and I in Staveley at the end of day 1
The next day was cold but sunny, and joined by Tom with his annoyingly fresh legs, we set off for Eskdale. We rode another 80km, up and down 2900m worth of hills, pushed through some bogs, whooped our way down some fast rocky descents, and somehow staggered in to the beautiful Eskdale valley 11 hours later.
John climbing to the summit of Walna Scar Road

Early evening light on the descent into Eskdale
The youth hostel is set in a stunning position in this quiet peaceful valley, and with a pub just 300m away seemed pretty much ideal....until the Karaoke at the pub started due to there being a Cider and Sausage festival on, and a group of people decided to sit outside our room drinking until 3 am :(
I think we managed to get a few hours of sleep each, although it didn't feel like it when the alarms went off the following morning.

The will to get going for our final day was not helped by the change in the weather. Low cloud and heavy drizzle engulfed the valley, and with a route that was to take us over into Wasdale, then over Black Sail pass into Ennerdale, then over Scarth Gap to Buttermere, then over Honister pass and around Derwentwater to Keswick, we were all a bit reluctant to get going. It was one of those days where if you'd been on a normal trip, you'd have probably done a token short ride, before retreating to the Cafe for tea and cake. As it was, with our vehicles in Keswick, and us in Eskdale, we had either a 40km hilly off road route to get back to them, or a looooooong way round on the road. There was nothing for it but to man-up and get on with it. Like always in these kind of conditions, once you got moving, it wasn't that bad. Except for our tired legs, slippery rock, massive bogs, persistent rain and a bitterly cold wind, it was great!?! (Type 2 fun I kept telling myself!!)
Pete not impressed with the change in weather (or his choice of shorts?!)

Stream crossing...not much fun in cold wet weather!
When we made it over into Wasdale, we were soaked to the skin and bitterly cold. Thankfully the kind people at the Wasdale Head Inn opened up early and we bought multiple cups of hot chocolate, and sat by the fire waiting for our kit to dry a bit. After an hour or so, wearing all the clothes we'd bought with us, we headed out again, and were soon shouldering the bikes for the steep carry up and over Black Sail Pass. Reminiscing about Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds soon passed the time, and before we knew it we were at the top looking down a stupidly steep descent. We all rode at least some of it, but the combination of steepness, wet grass, slippery slime covered rocks, and sections that we could barely climb down let alone ride, as well as being in a fairly remote place, in bad weather, a long way from help should anything go wrong, meant that mostly we pushed (except Tom who was adamant he was going to ride it all having carried his bike all the way up!). Scarth Gap pass was similar, a steep carry up, a steep, slippery descent down, but at least we could ride a lot more of it :)
A welcome tailwind up and over Honister pass helped us to the final part of our trip, down a rocky track into Borrowdale, and singletrack around the base of CatBells to get back to Keswick. 29 hours of riding after we set off, we made it back to the van and treated ourselves to celebratory fish and chips before packing up and heading home. It felt a lot longer and bigger than a 3 day trip, but then that's the great thing about adventures like that :)

Since then, there's been a trip to Sheffield for some decking cleaning and painting (eurgh), some panicking as the trusty van broke down and needed a new part, and a trip to North Wales and a return to climbing for the first time in almost a year (nothing like throwing yourself back in at the deep end by heading to the scary sea cliffs of Gogarth on Anglesey for a first climbing trip after a break!)

And now my "recovery" month (not sure that's actually what it has been!) is over, and tomorrow I'm heading off somewhere new for a summer job which I'm pretty excited about. I'll be working as a Mountain Bike Guide in the south of France, guiding the route of the Trans-Provence race...whoop! Better carry on packing....

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