Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ride Across Britain - Day 5

The midpoint of the ride. At the end of the day the ride will be more than half over and we will have ridden 500+ miles. With hindsight my day to day feelings formed a U shape, and this day was definitely the bottom, despite having one of the signature climbs of the whole ride in Shap Fell.

It rained overnight and was still raining, with the forecast for rain all morning. As I was packing up my gear, I discovered that I had lost one of my finger gloves, which I usually wear first thing, or if it's raining, as they have nylon "oyster claw" covers that help keep the gloves dry for a while. But my luck was in! I must have dropped it last night on the way over from the bike rack and someone had picked it up and handed it in to the lost and found.

A big breakfast in the spacious dining area in the pavilion and then on with the rainlegs, waterproof shoe covers and Showers Pass rain jacket and waterproff helmet cover (in lurid dayglow green!). The start was ok, but then things took a big turn for the worse. We were stuck in rush hour traffic that basically went on for two hours before we escaped the urban jungle between Manchester and Liverpool. I think I averaged 10 mph for the two hours.

One unusual sight (for a Californian) was literally hundreds of school children walking to school, or waiting at bus stops, in the rain. Evidently, British parents aren't inclined, at least in this area, to ferry their kids by car. Given the traffic, one can perhaps see why.

The first rest stop was at a garden center and there were a lot of wet, cold and miserable people hanging out there. Since the weather is Britain frequently wet, I was a bit surprised with the amount of complaining going on. But I guess there are a lot of fair weather cyclists everywhere. After all, who chooses to go out riding in in the rain? Not me, for sure. It's only when commuting or on rides like this where you have no choice that you get to come to terms with it. And it's actually not that bad provided you have good equipment.

Then it was into the countryside on the run up to Lancaster. I knew this area well from my undergraduate days at Lancaster in 1970-73. The countryside is great and only gets better as you get closer to the Lake District. The rain was beginning to ease off, but the sky was still very grey. It was also getting a bit hilly. The second rest stop in Kendall (I think) was a similarly dismal affair, and it was raining again. In previous posts I forgot to mention the rice pudding option, surprisingly good on a bike ride. A bit like oatmeal. Since the Shap climb was coming up, I loaded up on chocolate and energy bars. The Tour of Britain race had been in this area today but we were too late to see the racers.

Fortunately the weather took a turn for the better on the climb up to Shap. The clouds parted and the sun came out. I stopped to remove some clothing as I hate getting hot when climbing and someone kindly took my photo, wearing my California Death Ride jersey.

Talking of riding jerseys. Based on what I saw on RAB, the culture in Britain is evidently very different from California, where sporting jerseys celebrating big rides is de rigeur. On RAB, apart from the large percentage wearing the RAB jersey (day after day - I hope they were washing them), most people were riding in simple plain jerseys or professional cycling team jerseys, like Sky. There were also a lot of team jerseys, e.g., Cisco, UPS. I had worn my SF Randonneurs jersey, with the Golden Gate logo on day one and my California Triple Crown Gold Thousand Mile Club jersey on day two, and the Death Ride jersey on day three, partly hoping that they might be conversation starters. Of the three, the Death Ride jersey got the most comments. The SF jersey was pretty effective, people being quite surprised that I had come all that way to do the ride. But the Triple Crown jersey elicited zero comments, and I think it was just way too braggy for the UK culture, so I never wore it again.

Anyway, back to Shap. It's not a difficult climb and the scenery is great. The final long straight stretch where the road is cut into the side of the hill reminded me a lot of La Rochelle on Paris-Brest-Paris, and the altitude is also similar, about 1400' at the summit.

Climbing Shap

There was quite a crowd at the top and everyone was looking forward to the descent. Unfortunately, there was a headwind which rather spoiled it.

After the descent we reached the town of Shap itself and I spotted lots of bikes outside a pub so, feeling a bit chill and tired, I joined them. Ran into Richard and Vicky but, unfortunately, they were just about to leave. Had a fine cup of tea and then set out for Penrith. It was an easy ride in, but the base camp turned out to be several miles past Penrith.

The base camp was in the grounds of what seemed to be a large country house. In normal conditions, it would have been idyllic. However, these were not normal. We were advised to walk through the finish arch owing to the mud. It didn't seem too bad but then things took a serious turn for the worse. My feet had dried out on the ride in, but as I turned into the bike rack area I sank into the marsh and the muddy water came over my shoes. Really nasty. The tent registration area was pretty boggy and I was very happy to find that my tent was on higher ground. But still, it required careful navigation to avoid the boggy bits. And that was the story of the whole camp really, it was necessary to carefully pick your way around the truly boggy sections.

The campsite - you can't see the bog but its there!

It was pretty amazing that the camp was functional at all given the surface conditions and I was wondering what the catering tent was like. The good news was that they had put down a wood floor. I have to hand it the Threshold team, they did an amazing job under the circumstances. My wife Jenny and sister Anna were supposed to be meeting me at this camp but my cell phone had no reception. I managed to borrow a phone that did and found that they were still en route from Sheffield as there had been an accident on the A66 across the Pennines. I warned them about the conditions and wasn't even sure they would be able to get in with a car.

One casualty of the conditions was the shower trucks; they could only get about half of the trucks into the site. So the shower line was really long. I decided to eat and hope it thinned out later. Just as I was leaving the catering tent, I spotted Janny and Anna. Evidently, there was a back road in that avoided the bog.

Jenny and I in the catering tent

Given the late hour and the fact that I had just eaten, plans for the a night out in Penrith were abandoned. We hung out for a while in the chill-out tent and then picked our way carefully back to my tent as I wanted to get ride of some unneeded clothing that I was tired of trying to stuff into the rucksack each day.

My home from home

The ladies were anxious to get to their B&B in Penrith, as they hadn't had time to check in on the way in, so we said our goodbyes in the failing light. They would start heading back south the following day as I continued north. It was a shame that they couldn't be at there the finish but Anna had to get back for work and it's a long drive from John O'Groats back to Devon.

The shower lines were still long so I decided I was going to skip it. Fortunately the day had been so wet and cool that I didn't have that sticky feeling you usually get after a day on the bike. I was tired of picking my way around the bog so also missed the briefing. I was close enough to hear sound from the tent, but not close enough, unfortunately, to hear the details of James Cracknell's stories that were, by other accounts, somewhat blue.

So, over half way.

Elevation and Distance

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