Sunday, 28 July 2013

Mynd over Matter

6 am and the alarm is chiming, sunlight streaming through the curtains making it even harder to open my eyes.  I hadn't finished work until gone midnight the night before and today was my only day off that week.  My girlfriend had just broken up from work for 6 weeks, the sun was shining and our new puppy was bounding around the kitchen, his big eyes looking at me, begging to go walkies,  I could quite easily have crawled back into bed and had a lie in like most normal people but preparing for a challenge like ours means sometimes you have to dig deep and push yourself when it seems that bit too tough. Besides, how could I back out of today, I had Ben relying on me for a lift and I had arranged for our contact from our mapping sponsors, ViewRanger,  to come and join us and see how tough the challenge really was and he was driving from Sussex up to Shropshire.


An hour later and I'm loading Ben into the car and we make the first important decision of the day.....breakfast. You can't ride 35 miles in a day on an empty stomach so a good base is needed to see you through and bacon must be a part of that. We decided not to eat too early and not just before the ride, so from looking at the map, Leominster seemed like a good location to stop off to fuel up, especially as I knew there was an American Style diner there.  Two hours into our day we were getting the first reward for dragging ourselves out of bed and our plates of eggs, bacon, hash browns, pancakes and syrup were placed in front of us, we knew it was going to be a good day.


We finished up and got back on the road and an hour later we arrived at Church Stretton and unloaded the car. One by one the others started at arrive, some delayed a little by an accident on the a5 but all made it safely and myself (Gaz), Ben E, Nick, Richie, Mark, Ste, Tom were soon briefing Ben Howard from ViewRanger as to what to expect. This was going to be one of our bigger group training rides and a perfect opportunity to assess how out individual training had left us in comparison to the others and the route we had chosen would be a great reflection of the kind of riding we would be doing in September.  It had a bit of everything in it, natural tracks, road sections, climbs, descents, mountain bike trails, fire roads, all the kind of terrain we would encounter every single day of the Crudcatcher Challenge.

No sooner had we got into the swing of things, I heard an "oh bugger" from Tom, he knew exactly which way we were going, haven ridden at the Long Mynd before. The first climb is a long, steep, on road climb that in 25 degree heat soon warms you up  but we stayed  together fairly well, some warming up a bit better than the others but we progressed at a decent pace, pausing to regroup now and again. on the top we hit our first bit of off road trail, dry and loose, we kicked up quite the dust storm as we thundered down it before turning off to the right onto a steep downhill road, by the bottom, the burning smell of brake pads lingered in the air, Tom's actually visibly smoking.

Descent soon turned into climb again as we ventured through farmland and up a rocky, technical climb heading  around Golden Valley , past a farm with a disused Army tank and towards the Stiperstones Country park .  The track evened off again for a while and we picked up the pace on a stony piece of trail, but this led to our first mechanical fail of the day as Ben E picked up a pinch puncture on a rock, whilst Richie did his best to lose his glasses after coming face to face with a bumblebee. Ben H was starting to feel the burn at this point too, it's not easy to come in to a group with a lot less training and long rides under your belt, so whilst he was keeping up with us, he was also needing to rest up for longer too and matters weren't helped when a final push of the legs up a gravelly hill track saw his chain snap. As we stopped to fashion a repair and take on some food, we checked our progress, 3 hours in and less than an hour and a half of actual riding time done, stoppages were taking their toll on the day so we would need to start pressing on.


Once we were going again we were greeted by another ascent, this time, grassy and potholed, making it hard to keep momentum, but with the Stiperstones looking down from the distance, we spun our legs and kept climbing. We were soon rewarded with a fun rocky descent followed by a quick section of road towards the mountain bike trails at Eastridge Woods.

One by one, we arrived at the car park at the start of the trails but after a while realised that there was no sign of Nick or the two Bens. This became a few minutes, which was concerning so a couple of us decided to head back to see where they were but just as we were about to go, Nick arrived with the two Bens behind. It transpired that Ben H had not seen a low hanging branch on the fast road descent, which had struck him a glancing blow, knocking him off balance and causing him to go straight on at a bend at some speed, straight over a fence and head first into a field.  Ben H was clearly shaken up by this so we gave him a while to compose himself and check that he was ok before we tackled the trails at Eastridge.

Eastridge is known for its gnarly and narrow riding and was a first for all of us so we were pleasantly surprised by the technical nature of the trail which made us really concentrate on getting our line and weight on the bike right in order to stay upright. Narrow and twisty tree-lined corridors of track rose and fell before us, each rooty descent being met by a snaking steep burst of climb. It wasn't long before the toughness of the trail hit Ben H, who was feeling the effects of his fall and was struggling with swelling and cramp at the back of the group, he soldiered on bravely but was needing to stop and recover quite regularly so we stopped and took stock of the situation.

With the route we had planned we would never have nursed an ailing Ben H around before darkness, and none of us fancied being stuck out on a big hill in the pitch black, so we decided that the quicker riders of the group would finish off the Eastridge trails, whilst the rest of us would head down the fire roads  and wait at the bottom for them, to give Ben a decent breather and to plot an easier route back.  Back at the bottom we broke out the old fashioned OS map and found, not only had we ridden off the edge of it, but we were at about the furthest point we could have been from the car park and there was no easy way back we would either have to go straight back over the Long Mynd, or ride considerably further to go around it. 

Deciding it was best for the group to wait at the crossroads in Habberley, I headed back up to the trail centre car park to wait for Richie, Tom and Mark. Being trail whippets, they soon arrived, faces beaming following a fun blast of riding and we headed back down the road to the village. Near to where I had left the rest of them a large dust cloud erupted and as I neared I saw two figures tangled on the floor. They had caught sight of the group at the last minute and Tom had not been able to stop as quick as Richie, careering into the back of him and knocking them both to the ground. They were both fine, both sporting nothing worse a couple of grazes and a look of embarrassment on their faces. We decided the best way back would be to follow the roads that ran alongside the way we had came, some tough climbs, but the terrain would be easier on Ben H's now quite swollen legs. He pressed on admirably and within an hour or so, we had spun our way back to the top of the Long Mynd, the finish and the chip shop in sight.

 The only decision left to make was which way to get back down, we could ride down the single track road we had rode up, but that would be dangerous in itself riding at speed against oncoming traffic, or we could head straight down Carding Mill Valley which has been a graveyard for many a wheel and inner tube over the years. In the end we plumped for the steep and stony track down Carding Mill and as we picked our way down,  bouncing rocks around like marbles in a playground and hopping water courses we soon knew this had been the right decision, even one last puncture for the day for Richie didn't take the smile off our faces.  By the time we hit the chippy in Church Stretton, we had still racked up around 30 miles.

On looking back, we took a lot out of this ride, probably more than if it had gone smoothly, it had tested our ability to deal with unforeseen circumstances and sort them out efficiently. We had worked as a team and there had been no issues making tough decisions. It was clear that all of us doing the challenge itself were all within the same ball park fitness wise, but above all, we had fun in each other's company. September will see some long day's riding for us all so the feeling of camaraderie that ran through the group gave me the biggest smile of the day, as I know, however tough the challenge is and whatever it throws at us, we will face it head on, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a pained grimace, but all the time knowing we are all there for each other, willing each other on with a comment, a joke, a hug or even a nod, very much in the way Cancer Research UK are there for those people suffering the toughest challenge of their life.

 So please, be part of the team, for us and Cancer Research UK and go and visit our fundraising page and pop a couple of quid in the kitty. You may not be riding with us, but every donation we receive gives all of us that drive to push a little harder or keep turning the legs when we think we have no more to give as it allows us to support those undergoing Cancer treatment and hopefully give them that bit of help that they need to keep pushing too.

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