Or so it says on the t-shirt I was given at the end of Sunday’s Tour Ride. My immediate reaction it has to be said was one of shock – do that again? and for 8 successive days? You must be joking! So Sunday was the big day. It was a long time in the making and the days leading up to it did seem to drag. The ride was hard. But I’m glad to say I did it.
Paul and I lined up under clear but cold skies ready for the 8am off. I didn’t sleep well the night before and the early start never helps me relax. We were first out of the park gates at the head of the VIP group and despite Paul suggesting otherwise, we seemed to lead this group for a good couple of miles. Once out onto the open road though the perils of bunch riding were brought back to me as people passed us on climbs and then we re-overtook them on the descents. The upside was a very quick pace for the first hour with almost 20 miles ticked off. In fact I was surprised at how quickly we reach Uttoxeter. And then the work started.
At Uttoxeter not only did the wind blow in our faces for the first time (the reason for and the obvious downside of that fast initial pace becoming obvious) but the hills weren’t far off. Added to this were the joys of the Alton Towers traffic: boisterous, inconsiderate and downright dangerous. At Ellastone the road hit the first of the day’s main climbs, the second category King of the Mountains climb to Ramshorn Common. I did seem to find a rhythm up here, slow though it was. However, the climb itself didn’t finish at the prime but carried on. And on. And on. This was to be the pattern for a good portion of the ride from here on. The climb over Hollinsclough Moor was relentless too and kicked like a mule at the end, the point at which I first had to stop but thanks to encouragement from other riders I slowly got going. Even the descents up to this point were hard, straight into a head wind and no respite, continual pedal strokes to keep up momentum.
I’m not usually a fan of fast descents but I have to say I was pleased when we hit the Leek-Buxton Road, a tail wind pushing us along the top at a fast lick and ono the descent past the Roaches, the point at which I hot my maximum speed fo the day. With a brief lunch stop at Tittesworth it was onto Gun Hill, by this point I was truly suffering. I also felt cheated by all those riders telling me I was near the top – I wasn’t. However, this was meant to be it. The climbs I was worrying about were meant to be behind me, the run in was, I thought, all downhill. Oh how my childhood memories failed me. Undulating is how some might have described it, I’d like to think of it as torture along the lines of waterboarding. Each up brought more pain. And just to spring a surprise the organisers threw in a stinger of a climb with 2 miles to go to the finish line – they even took the family ride up it!
Crossing the finish line I had mixed emotions – yes I’d done it, I was glad to have stuck it out and finished but I was disappointed I’d lost my brother in the final few metres and we didn’t cross the line together (I think tis fair to say we both struggled in our own ways and I couldn’t have got through it without him) and I didn’t feel any overwhelming success or elation at having done this. In fact as the evening wore on all I could feel was the aches and pains of the effort. At first this worried me (it still does to some extent) – why can I not recognise accomplishments. But as the week has worn on the success has slowly sunk in and now I do feel proud of what I have achieved: 100 miles in 6hrs 47mins over sharks teeth. I know its taken almost a week to post this blog but that’s part of the process and probably for the best.
So a year on from my breakdown I’ve reclaimed part of the AbandonedBicycle. Like Sunday it’s not been an easy or straightforward ride. At times I’ve gotten off the bike, at times I’ve taken wrong turns and at times progress has been slow. Ultimately though I’ve reached milestones that I should make more effort to recognise and celebrate. So what’s the future? There’s a lot more miles left and I’m going to enjoy cycling more for knowing I can meet new challenges. Bike-wise I’m riding from Oxford to Cambridge on Sunday. Life-wise who knows – I guess you’ll need to keep watching this space!