Where do you start to write up a day like this, it was extreme in virtually every sense. The ride was the longest I have done by 25%, the weather was unbelievable hail, snow, rain, thunder lightning more hail but bigger and to cap it all a wind that was 25 mph with a max of 32.2 mph.
The ride took 11 hours and we were cycling for 9 hrs 22 minutes a lot of what happened probably won’t make it into the article but I’ll try my best. I haven’t seen the pictures on the phone yet they are not normally much cop but you never know.
First requirement is making the start, made it this time thanks to a chap jetwashing a McDonalds a couple of miles down the road. None of the signs I read said Poynton never mind Hazel Grove. I won\’t make the same mistake again, I ended up signing in a couple of minutes before Ray and Craig.
Four of us are riding together setting out just before eight o’clock. It seems straight forward to start with, the weather was fine and if you read the routesheet you’d think there was only one hill near Chirk. Well thats how I read it. I should have known better.
Bob passes us fairly early on and is soon off into the distance.
We are soon climbing and pass Redes Mere the climbs aren’t steep or that long but they are mounting up. On one of them we get our first dose of hailstones, they sting the face and I think that I’ve never been out in worse conditions. They crunch under the tyres but there is still enough grip to climb. Descending is a different matter and I\’m nervous about another fall. But it was all OK we all stayed upright but it was grim. Then the sun comes out!. We are atleast six strong by this time, there is a chap on a trike that seems to know his way around and a couple of others, safety in numbers in these conditions.
At Middlewhich (26miles out)Bob and crew come past us again, I think they had headed off to Holmes Chapel by mistake anyway it’s not the first time this has happened. The tortoise and the hare has struck again. I’m highly amused to say the least as they head off in to the distance doing a good 3mph more than us.
The first control point comes up with Ray shouting to a rider who was going the wrong way at a T junction
The card gets stamped and the drink ticket gets handed in, a cup of tea and a flapjack later we are back on the road. The camera/phone is proving to be a bit of a problem, the button to take the picture is too small and I’ve managed to delete some pictures rather than take more. This has happened a lot recently as removing gloves is awkward and cold fingers make it a bit hit and miss with the pictures.
The next section of the ride I’m not going to forget in a hurry for one thing we are going straight into a head wind of 25 mph. A group of 9 riders form and allthough nothing is said pairs form on the front to sheild the others. while at the back I start chatting to one of the other riders, it turns out he has done over 100 Audaxes while this is my 3rd. I tell him about the weightloss and the diet and he seemed pretty amazed as a lot of people are these days.
I’ve had a few turns on the front with others and solo but on one stretch I’m on the front and we go over a hump back bridge well when you reached the top the force of the wind nearly stops you in your tracks. I’m thinking I can’t stop as I’ll cause a pile up. There is no cover now just open countryside and a 25mph headwind. I keep the pace up to around 12-13 mph which seemed reasonable to me, I was in fine form. I must have done a few miles at this pace untill we came to a crossroad. Ray comes to the front, slightly breathless, “Frank, you’ll have to slow down your dropping us”. With that it was someone elses turn on the front.
For those that don’t know getting dropped is where you can’t maintain the pace of the group. You drift slowly off the back and once off the back you loose the wind protection and any chance of making it back up to the group. The difference in speed might be less than 1mph but you won’t be able to do anything about it. It’s happened to me and that was why I was a solo rider for so long. Afraid that I couldn’t maintain the pace of the group and get “dropped”. Dropped doesn’t apply to hills, here it is everyman for himself. There is a danger of bunching and accidents if a group ride up a climb together. These days I like a bit of space and it usually means I am off the front.
Now past Overton there is a 10% descent which crosses a bridge over a stream called shell brook and up Shellbrook Hill on the other side. I take a climb like this in 40×25 as it’s about 10% and I can do these in the middle ring. The gradient is fairly constant and provides no let up. Once at the top where it had flattened out I look back, there is no-one to be seen. Time to take a picture or two.
There was enough time to get the gloves off and the phone out its just a pity I unwittingly stopped in front of the car as I was looking for a bit of protection from traffic that may have come up behind me. Quality is iffy but there are so many buttons that you musn’t touch along with a touch sensitive screen that I’m thankfull I got anything.
Craig struggled on this one, as you can see from the sequence we are all well strung out.
The main group take some catching and Craig thanks me for pacing him back up to the bunch, no problem. There is another climb to Chirk that I wasn’t expecting and then it was time to have a break at the control point.
I was fairly obvious where the control point was all the bikes littering the place and fairly full inside. Luckily we were served before they starting telling customers about a half hour delay. As it was we were going to spend an hour and a half in control points and allthough it was relaxing we would pay for it later. It may be as simple as only sending one up for the food and drink. Getting served all takes time and times it by four in our case and it all adds up.
There was a nature call down the road and then convieniently back on the route. As we dropped down a hill past a farm following the natural run of the road there was a road past the side of one of the farm buildings. We should have took this road. It didn’t matter in the end as the Garmin in map mode put us back on course. I don’t know if the planned course was any steeper but the road we took had a spike in it at 20% and rear wheels were spinning on the loose surface/mud.
Once back on the common part of the route back we were greeted by another hailstorm and the hills behind us are now white but at least the wind is now on our backs. It’s wet going down the road where the pictures above were taken so there was no momentum for the 1:10 climb the other side. Here I pass a chap on a Thorn spinning away on a Rohlhoff hub. He doesn’t hang around once back on the flat and is in sight most of the way back to Poynton. Ray mistakes him for a girl as he has flowing locks. I’m unsure but it all gets sorted out at the next control point, the Lock Gate cafe at Beeston. The “girl” has a days growth on him.
Getting to the cafe we pass within 100 yards of Craigs home. Craing say it was going to get a bit lumpy. Well it did, one of the climbs although short hit 17% gradient on the Garmin and once past Beeston Castle there was a fast descent to the control point.
Tea and a slice of chocolate cake at this one. We were probably there about 30 minutes all told but it all added up as as we would see would mean a finish in the dark.
Once we managed to get across the road it was a hike up the hill and we were back on the route having seemed to have made good progress. My previous maximum of 100 miles came out and now I’m into new territory. I have chance to chat with the chap on the Thorn and it turns out he navigates with an Garmin Etrex Legend and gets 24 hours out of a set of batteries. Later on I learn about another feature of the Edge from Ray, the backlight. Once you use it once, it comes on automatically once the waypoints come up. This proves to be an extemely usefull feature towads the end of the ride.
As we cross the Cheshire plain and its getting around dusk, diagonally on the left of us an ominous black cloud hangs over somewhere near Manchester airport. The next thing is there is a flash of lightning lighting up the cloud. Then there is another one and we are counting the seconds to the thunder clap which is muffled and far enough away at the moment. I’m thinking I’ll be OK on “The Toy”, not too much metal on my bike.
I don’t know if we rode into it or it blew our way or both but the next thing we know its dark and we are getting battered by large hailstones. These are the size of my little fingernail some of them and I would say 6-7 mm in diameter. I don’t think I’ve been out in anything as bad as this. The LED front light is on and proves pathetic even though the road is a white carpet of crunchy hailstones. Cars are trying to get past us too and the pace slows to match the conditions.
The hail stops but we have lost the light by now and headlamps are fitted by the others. We are nearing the end and starting to compare tripmeter accuracy. Now as we are nearing the finish either the others are getting their second wind or I am slowing. The others are slowly dropping me, only 25 to 50 yards but its still dropped. There have been two distinct styles of pedaling today, Ray,s Ullrich style which is slow cadence and a big ring and my Armstrong style which is a higher cadence but usually in the middle ring.
It’s a style I’ve picked up riding with the CTC and needs to be modified for events like this. The middle ring slows me down on the flat otherwise I’m off the front. On a long event it wastes energy, most of the return leg was 17mph plus and I was in the big ring the same as the others. I’d slipped into the middle ring and hadn’t got out of it probably out of habit. It’s OK when you are on your own, you just go slower, when your with a group you can find yourself drifting off the back. They slowed at one point and it was back together and it all came back again when we finally reached the traffic lights at the finish.
The final control was a Coop late shop opposite the start. Going in in pairs the valuble receipt was obtained. Soreen malt loaf on a buy one get one free offer hear. Just over elleven hours, what an unbeleivable day. You couldn’t write a script that described the weather and the emotions that went with it. It would have been a bit less if we had spent less time in the cafes but it may have detracted from the experience and boy was this event an experience.
The stop button on the Garmin got pressed in the carpark, 126.34 miles. It was more but I didnt start the Garmin untill we were on the road out of Poynton. The weather turned to snow and before you know it there is nearly an inch of snow on the cars as we load our bikes. There are still riders out there and they must really be suffering. I manage to get lost in Stockport on the drive home and take an extra half hour on the journey but at least the heater was on full blast.
Thanks everyone, it turned out to be a memorable day.
Some ride Stats will appear here.