Shakedown Part 2

29 Apr

On Friday I only managed 55 miles after the late start.  Working 5 days of hours in 4 days each week normally means I still wake up at dawn on my days off regardless, my brain unable to let go of the early morning routine.  Because of this little quirk in my sleeping pattern I was planning to be away early on the Saturday morning.  After such a good nights sleep though and having become very comfortable in my little hollow in the heather, it was difficult to prise myself out of the Bivvy Bag and it was nearly eight o’clock before I was rolling down towards Barber Booth.

Successfully negotiating my way down Jacob’s Ladder convinced me of the handling of the loaded bike.  Having all the luggage weight between my hands actually makes the whole bike very manageable.  As there’s no suspension, there’s no dive to worry about and I can guide the front wheel and extra weight over things knowing the back will just follow without any drama.  Any worries I had about going over the bars on steep stuff were unfounded.

Down in Edale I didn’t find anything open so the craving for coffee would have to wait until Fairholmes and I headed up to Jaggers Clough.  Its true what they say about big wheels giving better traction.  The steep, loose climb out of the ford was almost too easy; a sign that I was beginning to find my legs after the troubled first day although maybe I was flattered by the bike’s appetite for technical climbs.   The load too, rather than compromising my efforts, was keeping the front end down nicely and more than just tolerating the loaded set up; I was loving it!

At Hope Cross I took a left, followed the Roman Road and then branched off left to descend to Ladybower and on to the kiosk to find breakfast.  After coffee and a sausage butty I headed around Derwent on the west side to pick up the Cut Gate path.  I had a stab at the first part of the climb and then fettled the Bergen pouches into a makeshift back-pack to push the rest of the way to the top.  By this time it was about midday and there were plenty of other riders out enjoying the bone dry trails.  Maybe it was the visual presence of the packs up front but every rider I came across moved over immediately to give me a line through and there were plenty of positive comments like ‘bloody hell – good work with the loaded bike fella!’ as I picked my way over the technical bits with a nimbleness that belied the apparent clumsiness of such a packed out machine.  Once down the otherside I headed a little further north and picked up the trans-pennine trail to avoid the masses of holiday traffic on the Woodhead Pass and then got my head down on the Longendale trail to make the half one train from Hadfield into Manchester.

I didn’t really think too much about it until I was rolling up to KRO bar, a trendy danish bar and restaurant in the middle of picadilly gardens and suddenly I came over all self conscious and felt very out of place.  Perched on an outside table, on the corner, my friends came out in ones and two’s to visit me until one, Angus, decided there’d be no harm in asking if I could come in with it and to my surprise, he’d only gone and blagged it.   So that’s how I came to be ‘doing lunch’ sat in a city center restaurant in two day old riding kit that I’d slept on a moor in, dried mud crusted to my legs with my bike leant against the coat racks.

There appears to be something about a bike with luggage on that appeals to people’s sense of adventure and I’m sure I wouldn’t have got such a warm reception had it not looked like I was in the middle of some kind of journey.  All good though and I had a cracking lunch and caught up with some friends I haven’t seen in years.  Then I was on my way again and caught the train out to Littleborough to continue my trip.

I badly needed a few bits before the Nutcracker Race at Gandale in the Yorkshire Dales the next day so I time-trialled it down the road to Hebden Bridge and made it to Blazing Saddles 5 minutes before closing, got sorted and hit the Calderdale-Airedale link to Haworth before dropping into Keithley and finally climbing over the moor and down into Ilkley in time for dinner at my mate Mark’s.

On Sunday, after a cheeky coffee at the Dales Bike Center, we headed to Gandale near Catterick for round 1 of the Nutcracker Series.  Not having an XC license I entered the sport race which was one of the largest fields of the day.

The start was up hill with a rolling start and when the start siren went off I quickly slipped backwards.  My ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres didn’t feel much like twitching but I figured I could let a few places go and rely on keeping a good pace later in the race when others were starting to tire.  I was after-all pre-tired from the last couple of days.

My legs entered the race halfway through lap one but my water bottle took an early exit and decided to get off before I even had chance to take a drink.  Not good – it was hot.  Down the fireroads though the 29er was properly rapid and near the end of the lap I bridged the gap to a group of riders who were giving chase to the leaders.  How many more were down the road though, I didn’t know but I tucked in to the group for a breather.  The track kicked up and before I had chance to decide whether an attack was a good idea or not I was off.  I got a good few hundred yards on the group and broke it up a little before I hit the rocky dry stream bed and, despite wandering slightly off course to find smoother trail, got a good kicking through the rigid fork and lost the ground I’d taken and a couple of places to boot.

On lap 2 with the heat and incessant pressure from riders behind I became very uncomfortable. I was gagging for a drink and didn’t think I’d make it through 4 laps.  I tried to relax a bit and made my aim to keep going and not lose too many places.  By the end of lap 3 I’d forgotten how thirsty I was and starting to get closer to the rider in front again.  Finally people were starting to tire.  On the last lap I took back what turned out to be third place with a strong attack to deter the chase and I got enough of  a gap to hold on to it through the rocky bits but was looking behind me all the way to the line.

It may only have been a sport race but there were some strong riders out and I very was happy with that.  I’m definitely no short course racer and normally get my ass kicked on a good day so to finish on the podium after 130-odd miles the previous couple of days felt pretty good.  Maybe that’s how I should prepare for XC races in future.

After seeing Ant, Rich and On-one rider Dan Cook (who thought I’d fallen off, I was that dirty from now 3 days on the bike) fight it out in the vets we headed back to Ilkley where Mark got the barbeque on and I prepared for the trip home again…

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