Fred Whitton Challenge 2015

Fred Whitton Challenge 2015

Saturday arrived, the much anticipated ride was but a day away. I loaded my van with all that was required and set off to collect my two friends and fellow riders. All was loaded and off we set, full of joviality and talk of how we would attack the FWC. We arrived at the hostel mid afternoon and sought our place of rest for the night, met up with fellow club members and then headed off to sign in then later for a meal together. Much banter was had about gearing, strategy and of course the usual mickey taking. Once fed and watered off we went for a final drink or two and then to bed.
We woke/stirred about 5 a.m, some of us slept, many of us did not. To my amazement there were people already leaving as we got up to prepare for the day, we showered, dressed, ate and then off we went. The queue of people arriving was long, the weather wet and faces of the passing riders so very miserable. We looked at each other and began to wonder just what had we let ourselves in for. Needless to say this would not put us off, we parked, double checked all we had was what we needed and headed off for the start/finish line. Pockets packed with food stuffs of all types, bottles filled to the brim with all sorts of magic concoctions to see us through the day…….I was beginning to get a little apprehensive, it was going to be a big day and already it was wet. I was under dressed for the weather as it was and the forecast was horrendously wrong, what could we expect later on?
It was too late now, over the line we went, a small group of us riding together and keeping one another company through the day. We clocked some miles, my mood got better and it seemed like maybe I was going to be okay, maybe my clothing was suitable after all. The rain stopped, the temperature rose. We got to the first noticeable climb, it’s name escapes me, names really aren’t my strong point but we rode it and it was fine, I was warm, slightly wet but warm, it was good. We stopped at the top for a quick top up of energy foods and to wait, eating is so very important, this I had drummed into myself before the outset as I am no lightweight. We re grouped and off we set down the very steep descent, a marshal shouts “steady, there’s been an accident half way down!” This made me nervous, I am already not good on descents on wet or damp roads, they make me nervous! I tentatively descended behind my fellow riders, riding within my comfort zone, I didn’t care if they were quicker I could always catch them up if need be but it was okay, there was no need for catchup. I was glad that was over……but I knew there would be more.
We rode some more flats and some more bumps, there were riders over taking but that didn’t bother me, I didn’t know the route and would rather be slower and finish than blow before the end. The pace was okay with the odd sprint here and there on the flat and the slog up so many climbs, I was enjoying myself, the weather was holding and the day was going to plan. Then came some more long climbs, steep thigh burning long climbs. We took those in our stride, we were used to those, we live in Wales, it’s just like our back yard. This continues for a few more hours, then the wind begins to pick up, the rain begins to fall heavier, there isn’t a single part of my body that isn’t cold and wet. We stop for a short break, then another of our group randomly appears, I don’t know why I was surprised, he does it all the time. We whine about the hideous weather and then continue on together. We hit another thigh burner, not so much that it makes you want to cry but people are already beginning to walk them, this isn’t a good sign when this is literally half way I think to myself. Up we go, climbing and climbing in the pouring rain, again at the top we are warned about the descent being steep and so very precarious, there are straw bales on the outside of a corner, I feel nervous, I’m on carbon rims, I think to myself please don’t melt as I’m almost constantly on the brakes all the way down. I get to the bottom and all is good, I’m there, we are there and everyone is alive and unbroken. We ride off into the now strong wind, the type of wind that makes you wish it would just go away,not strong enough to slow you right down but enough to put unwanted extra pressure on your thighs and sap your energy some more. We trundle on chatting, taking in the utterly breath taking scenery and generally in good spirits despite the weathers best efforts to ruin it, then comes another long hard climb. I ride it at my pace, I loose all recollection of where any of my friends are I just ride, at my pace, in my little world, I see a tent at the top or so very near the top at least and there are many people. I approach and hear the phrase of the day “good effort lad” and someone hands me a kinder bar, within seconds it has gone, then a blue ribband and again it has gone within seconds. I was hungry, so very very hungry, I had run out of food, I was begining to feel it’s effect and knew I needed a food stop and to get warm. I was aware of what was to come……98 miles in it was there, that one everyone talked about, the one people say the pro’s were walking, HARDKNOTT pass it was known as, the slayer of fatigued riders. I had no intention of walking anything, I’m too stubborn but I was beginning to wonder if I would be another one of its victims. We found the next feed station, it had heaters, the feeling was like I had been rescued from a desert island, oh and it had coffee too, it was incredible, a real mood lifter. We met up with more group members, chatted, warmed ourselves and then we all set off together for THAT HILL.
We rode for a few miles, the weather had broken by this point, it was warmer, less windy and above all not raining. Then it came into sight, I had that feeling in my gut, I knew it was going to hurt. We approached and already people were saying they were walking it. I had no such intention, it wouldn’t beat me, no way. There were two of us riding, myself and a team mate, we rode, we encouraged each other, everyone else was walking, people in the way, I was swerving to avoid them but I carried on, we pushed each other, we were determined. I could see the top, I could no longer hear my team mate, briefly I thought I hope he makes it, but then my thoughts go back to me, where I am and how I’m doing. I make it to the top, mashing at the peddles slowly and then there is that feeling, emotional, that feeling like you’ve done something you never thought you really would. I feel truly emotional as I sit back down in my saddle and take it in. I conquered Hardknott when so so many couldn’t. I did it, for me, for my own sense of achievement I did it, and then my team mate comes over the top, still on his bike, still peddling. I almost well up, it truly was an emotional experience for me, we had pushed one another, we had dug so very deep in the reserves and we had done it! It’s one of those hills, the ones you see people doing and you think wow that really must hurt…..it’s true what you think, they really do hurt, they burn deep within your legs, your arms, they ache like you have been swinging an axe for hours on end as you literally heave yourself up them. You tell yourself not far now, you think of the crest of the hill, you see it, you again tell yourself it’s not far just 50, 40, 30, 20 more yards and I’m there. You can no longer feel the pain in your legs, you’ve switched off from it, you’ve taken yourself to that place in your head where all that matters is the next peddle stroke. I do this thing where I count the peddle strokes, it’s odd I know but it works for me. On a short ride I’m sure it would be much easier but we were doing it on the Fred Whitton, it was a long way in and a lot of elevation had already been gained. That was it though, it was done, the hardest climb of the day had been conquered. My team mate and I descended the other side, it too was incredibly steep. We rode off, one more pass to do and we could relax. The last one was tough, not for very long but the last couple hundred feet, the legs felt empty, not completely but enough that you feel aching as soon as it kicks up a little. I zig zag near the top as the pain kicks in, lessen the angle, take some pressure off my broken muscles. We hit the summit and off we go, again down a slightly scary descent but it was alomst flat from here, nearly home. You feel a weight lifted as you do it, as you know it’s almost done. The ride so many say is horrendous, it’s the toughest you will ever do and it’s nearly over. We get to some flat ground and I turn and say to my team mate shall we put the hammer down, he laughs and then off we go. I lead out, from nowhere I have found some energy, where does it come from, how can we always put some speed on at the end of such a gruelling ride. We switch half way through and he takes some pressure off me, then again I am back on point. We over take absolutely everyone we come to, single riders, groups, all of them fair game, not one person managed to keep up or over take us. I still don’t know how we did it but we did. The finish line was in sight, I hit the roundabout as fast as my legs could push me and there was a welcome sight, another team mate who couldn’t unfortunately do the ride due to injury, I smile, wave and then keep pushing to the line. I was done, I was so very very happy, utterly shattered but I had ridden the entire Fred Whitton Challenge without.
Cycling in the Lake District

Cycling in the Lake District

One merry evening out someone announces that it should be a goal to ride the Fred Whitton Route in the first few months of the year. Eyebrows are raised. Everyone likes the lake district. Everyone likes riding, but it’s a gamble on the weather, what about the light, and that is one hell of a big day out cycling? It gets pushed back a month or so and before you know it is a real project with a great deal of interest. The FWC starts from Grasmere – and that seems as good a place as any – and a hostel is recommended to us. We are one or two people short of filling the entire venue within a week, so that is the route we take… in fact we take the whole place lock-stock AND the pod in the garden.

As it turns out planning and organisation for the hostel despite it’s fine reviews was reasonably hellish. There were a lot of rules. A lot of ‘named parties signing their life away’, a lot of precisely ‘who will be in what bed’ – generally a lot of formality, a fair amount of fun-hoovering – including amongst others no partying, no cooking after time X, people bringing their own bedding will be ejected (!) and so on. Stressful. Harsh. O_o

So with this in the bag – it was down to peoples plans not changing (a fair few dropped out), the weather, and plain old getting there.

Friday

We headed off a little later than intended. Mat and I made good progress with just the one stop en route, and managing to bump into Sally & Vic not once but twice before reaching our destination. Very much akin to the Yorkshire trip with two Cannondale Super Six’ on the roof we made good time – and unbelievably it was both warm and blue of sky. Amazing.

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Summer bikes and summer skies

On arrival we pretty much ignored our room designation, and invaded the room of a friend who was now one of a party of two expected. Result. Unpacked, and had a quick mooch around the place. Until we realised that the day was now trickling at speed through our fingers, along with available light. Initial plans for 40 miles were now starting to evaporate, as we made our clothing decisions (sounding quite pretentious however this was short sleeve base layer jersey and arm warmers kind of day – first of year – and a great deal of “is it safe” was being voiced), and collected outside to find one group heading off for The Struggle.

Rolling decidedly downhill towards Grasemere proper and on to Ambleside it is apparent that one of our group has a musical bike. Two of the three of us are sporting larger cassettes than usual – and one of us has failed to check it. The lock ring is tight so they are missing the requisit spacers. Winner. Plans in the pan. Bike shop it is then.

Stopping to ask for directions we were advised that  Biketreks would be the place to go. Sure enough a sign outside says “Award Winning Bikeshop” – this would be good as we are almost 4pm now. No mechanic. Unwilling to look. Doesn’t have tools or parts. Winning my @rse. On to a back street non-chain-bike-shop and we are on the road for a fiver with spacer fitted, and lock ring back on. Go team.

Heading down the road to the first turn of the FWC up and left, and towards the Kirkstone pass, a steady curving ascent with views quickly down on to the lake to the right. Suddenly it is all very clear what the lake district is about… scenery, and uphills…. but oh my the scenery… more specifically the light.

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Looking Right as we ascend the Kirkstone Pass

Heading back down, and making the  ascent back up through Ambleside to Grasmere, and the familiar roundabout before the finish of the FWC, a little further before the hotel (first pub stop), and the Travellers Rest (second pub stop, and venue for the evening’s food). Light is starting to fade properly now behind the hills, and we push on for the remaining half mile to the hostel.

Car Park now full, and pretty much everyone in – the atmosphere is good. Shower. Change. Out for food. On foot, torches, beer, food, laughter. What is not to like.

Not too late to bed, as the morning brings a big day of riding.

The beds, as promised do not creak, however at 6ft they are short. Boo. However – not my own bedding – would not want to face that wrath!

*I wonder if they did spot checks at night?!

A good day.

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Saturday

Yawn. Stretch. We are planning to head off for 10am – but come 8am pretty much everyone is downstairs and in the reassuringly industrial kitchen consuming porridge, pastry, fruit, and coffee. Lots of coffee.

The sun is out – weather forecasts have been consulted, and we are looking at quite a sunny day, although cooler than the day before.

For all the discussions of routes, it would appear it has boiled down to two routes.

People have gone to the lakes for a number of reasons – social – challenge – specifics – and for all of the routes cited, with a little indecision – it boils down to two routes. Mark and the shorter 40 mile lake ride, and Mat and his follow-the-line-on-the-Garmin mystery tour – forming essentially a hard or soft option. This being said for those familiar with the phrase “The Cake Is A Lie” – well 40 miles was too.

Heading off around the closed road from Rydal – we headed rather rudely I might add – up our first incline. Red Bank, 300ft in under a mile with moments of 25%. Steep, and not the kind of thing you can brute out to the top. Well, that’s the warm up then.

The scenery starts coming at us – moments of Yorkshire with stone barns, but without the regularity.

Sure, yesterday was 14C – and sure – that really is snow on a non-North face, within what really does look like a hill top you can ride to – amazing.

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Almost immediately we are out of the town and into the country proper…. sure, we have scenery, we are based in North Wales, but this quick, hell no – or maybe it is just unfamiliar eyes. Either way its rolling, and scenic.

The next hill is upon us is Blea Tarn – half a mile, 400ft. Right, okay, this is starting to feel like intervals. Passing people, to have them pass me back, power to weight is a bitch. The ascent is curiously open, the road not at first obvious, tarmac on moorland, switching back and fourth and looking up you see bikes but no road… we are not in Kansas now.

Dropping down the other side to a junction, and right. Yes, this is Wrynose, I have been down this side before… I cannot imagine it is going to be a treat going up. I head off on arrival, I am no mountain goat, happy to get a head start.

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The council are keen with the signs. As usual this gives little to know idea of what the gradient is like.  The signs keep repeating 20%, 25%, 20% they may as well say “you are a stone heavier than the last time you did this, and its still uphill btw“.

Staring ahead I am trying to pick out where the road goes to no avail – it is simply a grey line on a hillside with the occasional post.

I can see riders behind me, and the occasional car. On the whole the cars are not that keen to be there, and have that hot smell of irritated car as they go by at no great speed. This is a narrow road.

I see a red jersey gaining on me. I have this down as one of our number – but I am surprised to find it is a local. With an almost cliche “How Do’?” he greets me and asks where we are from. I am plodding along in my dinner plate gear, and still able to speak.  He bids me a good day and heads off with at what seems to little or no extra effort, glancing back to advise me to “save some for the bends at the top“. Riiiiiiight. Thank you (I think) – as I reach into my memory to try and play back coming down this way but I am getting nothing but a huge sense of relief – not so useful.

Local chap finding it all too easy
Local chap finding it all too easy

I watch his wiry frame ahead of me slowly gaining ground, as he occasionally stands to dance on the pedals warning me of the pleasures to come ahead.

Glancing back I can see us all now, strung out with cars making their way through.

A generally patient white Audi TT attempts to squeeze by on a steep section and I run out of road, find the grass, slow, and unclip. With it I lose point. Find a convenient large boulder, with a flat surface with moss on it, park myself there, drink in the scenery and wait.

I address the passes by with useful phrases such as “I think you have a flat!” and “oh, I think I can hear your back brake rubbing?” – there is zero chance of me getting back on here, so I may as well wait for the walkers and make the best of it  : D

Wandering up to a stone bridge, I wedge my back wheel against the wall, lean, and push off – back on with this. Sure enough there we are the bends at the top picking our way between some boulders, then a rolling set of bends to the top. Done. Nice. What a view.

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Looking back before the bends. Bridge, and a bike being walked to the left.
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The final few meters, before the drop off bends and descent. Done.

This is – without doubt – up. Much cheering for everyone as they arrive. We are all up Wrynose pass. There is a very visble sense of “I did this” – a named pass – a trade-able commodity – tick.

The descent starts poorly with a hair pin around a boulder as I see Gary with his hands on a bonnet. Well I am glad he saw the car at least, if not them him.

Back up to speed – the curbless tarmac rolls and twists down the hill and along the valley floor towards Hardknott Pass. Speed is good, traffic less so, however lots of cyclists to wave to as we go.

Looking at the ascent ahead I am reminded of the canvas hanging on my wall at home… I am very… very glad not to be heading up there today.

We arrive at the junction and head away from Hardknott, a rolling twisting road – this is all good. Heading alongside woodland, and up to a cattle grid and a moment to catch up when we discover we have a flat in the group (the only one of the weekend).

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This is my kind of terrain!

The road ahead looks great. The road ahead *is* great. No sustained climbs, just bumps, twists, descents. This is great stuff, and Phil and push ahead enjoying the scenery.

Fantastic in fact.

Regrouping at the end of this road, we head down then grovel up a hill to a town where we find the square, a café, and have lunch.

Heading out from here, there is more of the up.

The road is hard to pick out – psychologically this works a dream for me, until a struggling old motorbike comes by and paints a very dark picture indeed as he zig zags up the moorland wall infront of me as opposed to over the bwlch I was hoping for!

Down, and past the intended junction which I still question as being “an error” and up up up and more up around the next hill to the main road. We are up high, and can see all the way down to the sea to the South from here.

A screaming fast main road descent, and it is not too long before we are back on track.

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Alongside Coniston water, leaf-less trees mean a good view of the water

Before too long at all we are making our way along the edge of Coniston Water. The view is amazing. The trees are sparse and free of leaves, so you can see quite a bit. The road rolls and gently curves with the edge of the lake, with the occasional dig.

This is a BIG stretch of water, as Vic and I at the front start to wonder in jest if we have been around it more than once.

Stopping to regroup and take in the view at the end we head on to Ambleside, and around the same closed road route to Rydal to cut out the main roads.

A stop at the pub is suggested, and before you know it a group of fully-grown-should-know-better-adults are strung out in a pace line pushing for the pub. Real efforts are being made here to break away, and likewise hold on. Much laughter. Then it comes into sight, and there is a wide break before turning right into the Hotel. many smiles. Golden moments. Beer in the sunshine as we re-group, and a beer ready for the arrival of Gary who is all of the spent by this point. Well deserved that man.

The evening sees us return to the same place in Grasmere we had our pre FWC meal last year. This was much less of a dry evening: Cheers!

dinner-in-gasmere

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Sunday

Our room headed back quite early – the rest of them having opted for the hard option and were too be fair – shattered. Our room cut into the lounge, with paper thin walls, so we had the annoyance, and then general hilarity of hearing but not seeing the drunken remains up playing “The Cornflake Game”. It amused… even more so when you wake to find people with heavy heads, and strained legs 😀

We had to have our rooms empty for 10am – there were very specific instructions!

So breakfast was a busy place around 7 to 8 – then packing of cars and indecision.

While routes had been discussed, the groups appeared to trickle off on their own. Some heading home, some riding, some out for a mega ride, some out for a pootle, some with plans of a dirty breakfast in Ambleside.

By the time Mat and I had moved the car to the laybye on the closed road we were pushing 0950 – and we were the last remaining… it was a good job we had a plan.

Heading up the closed main road to Keswick was a delight. Empty road, and almost instantly quiet riding… just water, bird song, sunshine… fantastic.

Heading on new tarmac stretches, and around the far side of Thirlmere.

The only traffic – busses, which travelled in two and with escort vehicles… good times. Walkers, cyclists, loads of them.

Thirlmere was picturesque with choppy water as we joined it – but then as we rounded the corner the game changed…. the water smoothed out to a mirror like surface… and the two photographers took a few moving snaps before giving in to stop and drink it all in.

First the snaps from the bike
First the snaps from the bike
Then stopping...
Then stopping…
Stopping again...
Stopping again…
...and again just to drink it all in. Awesome.
…and again just to drink it all in. Awesome.
Rare picture of me. Stopped in wonder at it really
Rare picture of me. Stopped in wonder at it really

Amazing. The towering tall pine trees, the reflection, the backdrop – all sense of scale is lost, your mind struggles to find context for it all.

You would usually only ever see this kind of thing pre dawn… and even then on rare occasions. We were very very lucky to be seeing this. A real cherry on the top of the weekend.

Unsurprisingly we catch two other groups after a chat with a local (moved up from Wrexham – what are the chances). They too are stopped taking pictures. What an amazing day.

Seeing as Mat has a passion for old buildings – and it was not far out of our way – we headed to Castle Rigg Stone Circle, where we met more of our group.

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Castle Rigg Stone Circle- Helvelyn and Striding Edge.

From here our plan was clear – we knew there was a café at the top of the Whinlatter Pass – which I recall as being wooded, and lined with people cheering us on in the rain on the FWC, and it lays out the other side of Keswick – so on we pressed.

It’s surprising how your memory can be skewed – its a lot more pleasant when its one of say two climbs that day – you are not soaked to the skin – and you are not on 114 mile ride.

The ascent was quite lovely, and with Fran for company, we reached the top and headed into the café to meet yet another group.

Whinlatter Cafe
Whinlatter Cafe

Food here was GOOD. If you are passing. Go. Seriously. Mountain biking places I guess have captive predictable audiences – and fine catering… which I am further swayed by their Stick Man related fineries.

We basked in the sunshine before packing up to head back the way we came.

The closed main road that links Keswick to Grasmere was a dream. Effortless riding. Good tarmac. Great views. Equally we were in no hurry.

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Flood damaged bridges and roads, closed, but not to bikes. Happy Days.

A childish and most excellent closed road sprint down to the laybye ensued and we re grouped to say our goodbyes as the group was heading off to their cars, to get changed, and so on.

Mat and I pressed on down hill towards “The Struggle”.

Had some one pointed out to me “You know that unpleasant ascent to the top of the Kirkstone Pass?”,

“Yes?”

“Well – this is a mile or so shorter, to the same place.”

“Oh nice!”

The name is not “Nice cup of tea and a sit down” or “See you at the pub for eight” – it is The struggle – and asit turns out it is a good name.

Turning UP and left at Ambleside – the initial climb is a bit of a dig – however you kind of assume that it is going to back off. It does. It backs off from a 20 back down to a 15 or so. This joy then continues in a variety of lesser and greater up to what appears to be a summit.

thestruggle

GREAT success and celebration rushes through you as you prepare to take a seat for the first time in the entire ascent…. TO FIND IT IS A FALSE PEAK.

The road drops away again and in front of you are hair pins up to the pub at the top of the Kirkstone Pass.

Looking over the hairpins back towards the false peak, and the lake from which we had climbed up from.
Looking over the hairpins back towards the false peak, and the lake from which we had climbed up from.

Fragments of my sense of humour can be found littering that final ascent. “Thank you Mat” for this suggestion.

I think I would choose another Wrynose Pass ascent over that again.

Back down the ascent from the previous day, and back to the car to change.

Similar distance and ascent as the previous day as well.

What a day. Best of both worlds.

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Many Thanks

To Darren for having the initial insanity of “lets ride FWC in February” or some such. Madness. For suggesting that we should push ahead with the whole hostel, and for generally being the drive behind the project, even if he was unable to attend in the end.

To Sally for being the heroine in all this – and dealing with the quite frankly insanely strict practices at the hostel, the stress from this plus herding the cats that form the attendees, and generally ensuring that all most of us had to do was pay our monies and turn up. It did not go unnoticed. You are a star.

Finally to everyone* who went for making the mix of people so great, and ensuring a great few days riding around The Lakes.

*Specific reference to car buddy Mat, and Simon, who’s room we gate crashed 😀

 

 

2016 Lake District Away Days

2016 Lake District Away Days

Weeks into 2016 and we are already lining up the good stuff. VC Melyd is looking to organise a larger group away to the Lake District. Based in Grasmere – we have bunk accommodation for 24 reserved already (which, at the time of writing is filling up), as well as those wishing to make their own less cosy/social/communal arrangements. “# It’s a Harknot Life, for us…”

The initial plan was for the Fred Whitton Challenge route. However given the time of year, the mixed abillity take up (a great thing and to be encouraged!) and the sheer scale of that challenge there are also discussions of riding it over two days, or just adventures out to take in the scenery / ascents.

However the importat part is ARE YOU WITH US? … then you had best get the time booked off work 😀

While the thread and discussion can be found in full, and most importantly up-to-date over on the FB group – this kicked off with the text below. Updates, availability and pricing will also be covered there with occasional updates here.

It’s getting to the event planning time of year. A few have mentioned riding in the Lake District – a weekend away riding taking in the iconic “Fred Whitton Challenge” route. The route takes in some stunning scenery and includes some iconic climbs. There is Kirkstone, Honister and Newlands Passes. Then of course there is Whinlatter, Hardknot and Wrynose to name a few more.

The riding there is fantastic.

Having taken time to sort a few things through with our social secretary, we are proposing a weekend away Sat 19th March/Sunday 20th March 2016. We’ve looked at many dates and tried to work it out of the main events season and not in school holidays. We appreciate there is bound to be a clash with something whilst trying to get in two away days riding. Some may want to travel on the Friday and ride too. We could do the full FWC route on the Sat as a club whilst making stops along the way for refreshments. De-brief it on Sat eve then ride a shorter route on the Sunday morning – or whatever takes our fancy. See how the legs are and decide what sort of ride we want.

We are going to look at accommodation close to Grasmere and options and prices for Friday and Saturday night. You can of course sort your own accommodation or drive there on the Sat morning and we will see you there for an early (ish) start. Just let us know. We stopped at a bunkhouse just down the road from Grasmere last year. It was cozy but did the trick. It had a kitchen to cook food and a small bar.

I know a few would have been to Spain a couple of weeks before so you can put the training to test!

Please append your name as a comment to this thread if you’re interested we will sort it. Just let us know if you want to be in a group booking for accommodation and which nights. If it’s the bunkhouse – it’s first up best dressed! Literally.

Please don’t be put off by the climbs. We will all get up them together and in our own time.

Not heard of the Fred Whitton Challenge route? A quick Google search will reveal all. Many clubs do the route independently of the challenge as club event – I’m sure a few will do the “FWC” proper this year too! If we have different groups of riders who want to do part of the route – we can sort that too.” — Darren Wareing.

At this time we are looking at pricing for accommodation is £41 for the Friday and Saturday night – however this may vary as we will need to cover costs of unfilled rooms.

We have booked the entire 24 bed location, and while in rooms of up to three bunks / six beds each – this should be a good laugh. There are still (at this time) some places left if you are interested.

VC Melyd has exclusive use of a lovely 4* hostel in Grasmere in the Lake District for the weekend of 18-20th March.

Routes for all abilities will be planned – some avoiding the famous mountain passes!

Rain or snow or wind are not expected that weekend but poor weather options will be available.

There are some spare beds so if you would like to join us in what will be a fun filled weekend please post below or contact myself or Darren.

Those who have shown interest please check your Messages as I will send you further details.” — Sally Cunliffe

The Fred Whitton Challenge Bike Ride – 11th May 2014

The Fred Whitton Challenge Bike Ride – 11th May 2014

It all started last year when a group of us decided to do the route of the Saddleback Fred Whitton Challenge over 2 days – a relaxed reccie really. It was great fun so when the opportunity to enter the real event came up, my name went on the list.

The event was started by the Lakes Road Club in memory of their most active member, Fred Whitton who died at the age of 50 in 1998.

FWC-route   girls at the end

In January this year, a few of my friends were ‘lucky’ enough to receive places in the event, starting and finishing at Grasmere (famous for the Gingerbread Shop). A five mile flat warm up southwards through Ambleside then sharp turn left turn and a rude awakening up ‘The Struggle’ to ascend the Kirkstone Pass and down to Keswick, over Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose Passes.

The event is always oversubscribed and the 2000 places are a lottery. During the months leading up to the event on Sunday 11th May 2014, we had a Facebook Conversation about the training rides being undertaken. I quickly realised everyone else appeared to be doing stacks more than me, so booked on the VC Melyd training week in Spain in mid March. That helped enormously, but was ever so slightly early, meaning my training had to not only continue but also to increase.
Reading the organisers description of the event was off-putting – with all the warnings e.g. “Honister Pass – descent starts extremely steeply, so brakes on immediately and don’t let your speed get up – very poor surface and a chicane” and “Hardknott Pass – ultra steep and twisty and very poor surface so take it REALLY slowly”.

By early April I was totally terrified, probably exacerbated by Facebook conversations and hearing how terribly difficult the challenge is. Also, in order not to be disqualified we had to be 60 miles in, at Braithwaite, by 12 noon and 83 miles in at Calder Bridge by 3.30pm. So, there was no choice but to start at 6am.

When the alarm went off before 5am I sprang out of bed to meet the first challenge of the day – breakfast at such an early hour (for me). Thankfully, no dogs to walk today.

Arriving perhaps a little early at what had been, the day before, a water logged event car park on a sports field, I sat in the car looking at the rain lashing down and wondered if my pals would notice if I didn’t show up.

“No, Cunliffe, we are here now, (after some not inconsiderable effort) just shut up, woman up and get ready. You have cycled in atrocious conditions before” (said the parrot who sat on my shoulder the whole journey).

Met my pals, some of whom looked decidedly nervous. It stopped raining (temporarily). We crossed the start line at just gone 6am. Right girl, no going back, well, not until the 60 mile marker, when the cut off time is missed. Best thing is to find someone to chat to – whilst you still can!

Trundled up Kirkstone Pass and flew down the other side, all pals lost en route. A girl overtook me so decided to catch her up. She seemed glad of a bit of company. She had started 30 minutes after me so was obviously faster, so a good person to stay with, if possible. The next few miles were spent trying to stay with her then, to my surprise, dropping her on steep bits then being dropped as I had to stop to remove boil-in-a-bag waterproof jacket.

fred whitton photo me

Attempts to wheel suck various male cyclists along the A66 were reasonably successful and essential given the headwind.

Sailed along the beautiful Borrowdale Valley, but concerned about constant rattle coming from the machine. Then came the decidedly sudden and rude steepness which is the vertical ascent of Honister Pass. Others were floundering. Weaving. Visiting the verges. (Parrot – “don’t even think about putting a foot down, we can do this). Okay. Done. Jeepers, the descent. Hold on tight (Parrot – “outside leg down, weight back, look where you want/need to go and steer”). Okay. Overtaking other riders – there’s a first and a good feeling!

First feed station – phew, needed that. 60 miles is quite a distance before re-fuelling, good job it wasn’t hot. Bike check – nothing obviously wrong, can’t source the rattle. Well I appear to be here HOURS before the cut off point, so better carry on.

Then came the long, slow ascent of Newlands Pass, followed by Winlatter Pass. Here supporters lined the road, yelling words of encouragement. Particularly enjoyed the “go on girls” from the women. No fear here, just enjoyment.

The middle bit, taking in the marvellously named ‘Fangs’, Swarth Fell and Cold Fell provided opportunity to admire the beauty of the countryside – especially the extremely brightly coloured spring flowers. Rain came then stopped, came then stopped. Decided to leave off the heat-inducing and draining waterproof jacket and risk it as cold was not an issue. Wet trickles down the backs of legs were a bit distracting.

Second feed station – bikes abandoned on the tarmac. Rows of delicious looking sarnies and cakes. Hot drinks. Sobbing female who complained to her man that she wasn’t as fast as she hoped. Time to go, me thinks, knowing full well there is torture ahead.

Uumm, not pleasant this bit. Getting nervous. Why? Can always push and the cleat covers are in back pocket. (Parrot – don’t even think about it). Start chatting to a chap going at my pace. He did it last year and kindly told me not to be nervous.

Red telephone box comes into sight, road winds steeply up mountainside ahead, dotted with cyclists. Over cattle grid. Right Cunliffe, this is what the training has been for – GO!!

The ascent of Hardknott Pass was a bit of a blur. Can’t believe this but I actually encouraged a pusher to get back on his bike – why could I even speak?

Grind, crunch, puff. Up we go – 30%+ in places. Loads of yelling from supporters. Brilliant. At top, marshall advises me to be careful as there is an incident a 3rd of the way down. Brakes on. Look ahead. Ambulance. 2 dead bikes. Tarpaulin over riders. Very, very scared. Hairbin bends (lots), 30% descents, hold tight. A couple of girls on foot said “Well done that, lady” as I successfully negotiated an excruciatingly tight and steep hairbin, in true mountain bike style. (Parrot – you have just got to do it).

As gradient lessened I felt elation and enjoyed the valley between the two worst passes. Another cyclist said I would be over Wrynose Pass before I had noticed (what was he on!?). On the final steepest part before the summit a young girl saw I was in danger of slowing down to a stop and walked/ran alongside me offering encouragement. How could I stop with her doing her best for me? Sadly, no breath to thank her. But it worked.

Some thoughtful organiser had put a sign saying “10 miles to the finish) just after the summit. Brilliant. The heavens opened. Torrential. Sally and Parrot both agreed – “Let’s go – FAST”. So we did. Taking no prisoners. All the way to the Grasmere finish along a busy main road – absolutely drenched. A friend waiting for all of us said ‘you look like you have just popped out to the shops’!
Elated!

The Good Bits
– Having been terrified and seriously considering bailing – it was a superb event. Happily riding the majority of it on my own.
– Roadside support from local people e.g. one chap said ‘you are the first woman’ – response: ‘oh year, right!’.
– Friendly and extremely helpful marshals.
– Well signed.
– Good food.
– Being pretty well prepared with the right clothing – and, eh, bike.
– Whatever my pre-ride training was – it seemed to work.

The Less-Good Bits
– Seeing the accident at Hardnott Pass.
– Gel wrappers on the road – we had been asked to carry litter away with us.
– Waiting anxiously for the others at the end as news of the accident spread, but no-one knew who was involved.
– Wish I had put more effort in and done it faster – but I didn’t know I could do it and didn’t want to burn out.

The Next Challenge
– Given the chance – try again next year to improve on the time.

The Stats
– Distance – 112 miles / 180km
– Ascent – 3,950 meters / 12,959ft
– Total time – 8 hours 51 mins
– Position – 4th woman out of 21 in my age group
– Position – 24th woman out of 104 women finishers in total.

Written By Sally Cunliffe

FWC-completion