I had a little cry to myself as I headed toward the finish at Helwith Bridge. I usually feel a wave of emotion once down off the Penyghent track and heading for home on the last road section, but at the end of this year's Peaks my 'wobble' was particularly intense....
Part relief at being able to finish after all the preparation, part relaxation after several hours of deep concentration, and part a recognition of the almost primal feeling of having survived something quite threatening and at times deeply unpleasant.
Neil Welsh captured a pensive yours truly at the start
I know the Peaks well enough to know what I have to do to put together a successful ride. Even after some experience it still takes a bit of effort and luck to get through unscathed and enjoy the eclectic commentary as you ride up the finish funnel. This year was different though. The wind, the rain, the course conditions were as many observed, the worst they could remember and those with longer memories agreed that they were the worst in 30 or so years.
A quiet, grim mood seemed to grip all as the field hit the saturated bogs of the lower slopes of Simon Fell. There was almost no joking and chatting like in previous years - mostly an eerie silence among the riders. This soon gave way to greater anxiety as little tasters of the wind arrived from the left before morphing into a feeling of full survival mode by the top as the 50mph plus winds threatened to tear everyone's bike from their grasp, and throw any stumbling bodies after them for good measure. It was the same for all, though I claim a little special place in the insanity for riding with deep section wheels that turned my bike into even more of a sail. Muppet.
And so it continued. Wild, sometimes slow-motion but still careering descending in the howling gale down to Cold Cotes, a bike swap to get ride of the carbon sails, I mean wheels and then the relative aural calm of a howling tailwind to Bruntscar. A vicious two wheel slide over the cattle grid on the farm track to wake me up and then a repeat of the process as the wind wound up to maximum speed over the top of Whernside, again from the left but this time with a precipitous drop to right to punish a wobble on the narrow track.
I tried and failed to make the Whernside descent flow, it again proving to be my nemesis during the race. Got some of it right, lots of it not right. Must try harder next year.
Onto to Penyghent Lane in the now cold and heavy rain after a morale boosting cheer from the Cycle Sport Pendle gazebo crowd at Ribblehead, fretting about chilling down and becoming too cold to ride later in the race.
Luckily it eased for a bit, and the Lane passed in it's usual blur of pain with the brief excitement of 'The Puddle' which was indeed rideable down it's centre despite being almost up to my knees. Of course the weather worsened the higher I got as the wind returned for its final mad turn. Back down, praying I didn't make a mistake and puncture or worse, crash and then that slightly surreal feeling of tarmac again. And tears...
In amongst the wind, the bogs, the eye-stinging rain and the wrecked paths the only thing missing was cramp. And for that I am truly grateful. As grateful as to Mark my faithful support crew who turned up where I needed and expected him, without fail and was probably as wet and cold as me at times during the day.
I posted a time of 4:31 - over half an hour outside my recent best, and adrift of some of the riders I would normally measure myself against. Disappointing? A little, but underpinned by a deep sense of satisfaction as to having completed the race on a day that was too much for many folk. The Dirty Disco and the Planet X Ti were simply incredible on a day that tested equipment to the absolute limit. Almost no images of my ride seem to exist as evidence but the memories will be vivid for a long time to come.
T-363 till the next Peaks.