What did you get up to this weekend? Maybe a bit of TV, a couple of beers, possibly even a little bike ride? Maybe you actually broke sweat and had a decent adventure? Maybe this Monday morning you’re feeling even more tired than you did on Friday at the end of your working week? Our contributor Tom Nash will certainly be feeling it this morning, as he spent the last three days doing the Rat Race Crossing, a 200 mile mountain bike coast-to-coast over three days taking in three English National Parks:
I have wanted to take on a challenge for a while; something that really pushed me physically but also was going to be enjoyable. The Rat Race Crossing fitted the bill nicely. There was also another motive: I wanted to raise some money for two charities that I have had first hand experience with through the Tweed Valley Bike Patrol – the Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue Team, and Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance. I have witnessed both save lives, as recently as the Tweedlove Glentress 7, and as a mountain biker I hope I never need to call on them…
Day 1 was a big day; 103.77 km, 2296m ascent and 7hr53 in the saddle from Whitehaven to Shap. I had never ridden for that long, or that far. And I had about the same again to do on Saturday and Sunday… A bit of time on cycle ways and back country roads lulled me into a false sense of security… The climb from Keswick was harsh, although I was pretty happy to be the only one in the wee group I was with at the time to clean it. The descent was fast and fun with the smell of damp ferns taking me back many years to school days when I used to come to the Lakes for an ‘activity week’.
I have put in a fair bit of training but I had not practiced a 40 minute hike-a-bike! The 250m vertical climb out of Patterdale up to Boredale Hause took me back to Torridon; bike slung over the shoulders, head down and just hike. What goes up must come down however and the descent down to Boredale Head was worth every step – proper, big mountain, Lakeland rock riding. Awesome. A rocky traverse above the south eastern flanks of Ullswater provided stunning vistas to the north before a sudden turn south towards Haweswater and up onto open moorland to lead us into Shap and our temporary home for the night.
Getting back on the bike for Day 2 took some motivation. Opening the van curtains (a converted van and a support team brother are THE way forward for events like this!) at 5.45am saw horizontal rain and blustery winds; it would have been very easy to climb straight back into the sleeping bag and wake up hours later. I had never cycled as far, or for as long, as day one and here I was about to do it again! Day 2 was known to be longer in terms of distance but significant amounts being on tarmac, albeit back country roads. Leaving the campsite, clutching a bacon sarnie, it was a case of hood up, head down and try to outrun the grim weather.
No hike a bike today, instead today’s surprise challenge was the Lamps Moss road climb out of Nateby; a 4km, 324m ascent, Cat 3 climb with a +37.9% gradient at its steepest! Weaving my way up, using the full extremity of my 28T oval/42T gear range to combat my 2.3in tyres, it took a while but actually the reward was high as I crested over the top. The next section delivered views in spades. Riding alongside the River Swale was simply breathtaking and I couldn’t help stopping to take photos as every corner I turned provided a further visual delight. Nice today, pretty bleak in January I can imagine however.
One of the highlight descents of the day came heading into Muker, a short but fast and rocky delight of farm doubletrack. Arriving at the pit stop at Dales Bike Centre, I had covered 67.5km and was very glad of the selection of cake, sandwiches and fruit laid on. A mix of quiet country road, sweet grassy bridleway sitting high above the River Swale and through Whitcliffe Wood delivered me into Richmond. What a sheer delight of countryside beauty the previous 80km had been, an evil necessity of road provided the remainder of the route to our second night stop in Northallerton. This day was tough and I hit a huge energy low after 100km but, with one day to go, down went the protein shake, on went the compression tights and the nearest curry house found for as much chicken and rice as I could find on the menu. And, whilst in Yorkshire, a pint of Black Sheep Brewery Ale was obligatory. 108.8km, 1470m ascent and 7hr02 in the saddle cracked.
With the end in sight, the sun rose on Day 3 against the background of deep blue skies. For the first time this adventure I didn’t have to resort to full wet weather gear at the start. As a complete leg, Day 3 was by far the best as it was predominately off road. With over 200km already in the legs I expected to be tired, but strangely I was feeling a million dollars. I also had a time limit: good friends of mine who hail from Scarborough had promised me the best fish and chips ever on completion but the shop shut at 2pm… Setting off out of Northallerton, it was not long before we were elevated high onto the North Yorkshire Moors and provided with phenomenal vistas back west. A quick additional 4km due to missing a turning (having too much of a riot puddle dodging!) was not really what the legs wanted but added to the whole experience as I got to ride it twice! By the time I reached the pit stop in the picturesque village of Hutton-le-Hole, I was 54km in after 3.5hrs of riding; it was going to be touch and go to ensure that bit of cod lined my stomach on the beach.. The route continued to deliver wonderful sections of moorland, woodland tracks, quiet lanes and short descents that could easily catch you out, and for some, did.
Rolling down into Scarborough North Bay after 100.1km, 1673m ascent and 6hr30, it was a strange feeling. Having spent so much time in remote countryside, I was now surrounded by shorts, t-shirts, flip flops and ice creams. To be greeted by my friends, holding up a banner painted by the children with ‘Well Done Tom’ and my brother who had driven the van, cooked meals and brewed endless coffee was amazing. But I also felt sad – that was it; medal round my neck, wheel dipped in the sea, it was over. In three days I had journeyed 312.7km, climbed 5351m, spent 21hr20 in the saddle, shared some amazing experiences, seen some breathtaking views and ridden some glorious trails. What’s next was the question on my mind… The fish and chips (and batter bits) was very, very good too!
To date I have managed to raise £2462 for my chosen charities, a lot through a blog that I wrote in the lead up covering all sorts; motivations, inspirations, challenges, life, decisions and bike/kit checks. The writing will be one bit I will really miss now this is all over [but he’ll still be writing for us – Ed]. If you want a challenge, but an achievable one, I can really recommend this event and I can’t wait for my next adventure.
Donation page: http:/uk.virginmoneygiving.com/CharityCrossing