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JOGLE – The Scenic Route: Day Eight

In-depth
3 May 2021
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As Cyclist heads from the Yorkshire Dales to the wild moors of the Peak District, we begin to wonder if it will ever stop raining

Words Marcus Leach Photography Gavin Kaps/Osprey Imagery

I come to a fork in the road and stop. I’m tired. My kit is still damp from a morning of such rain it made my time in Scotland look sunny, and I want nothing more than a hot shower and to lie down.

I have a decision to make. Turn left and keep following the planned route knowing I have another 90km and 1,000m of climbing to go, or turn right and take a short cut to the finish, saving 30km but with little idea about the lie of the land.

A battle rages in my head as a steady trickle of cars passes me by, little voices pulling me one way and then the other: ‘It’s cheating to take a short cut.’ ‘You’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.’ ‘You’re meant to be taking the scenic route.’ ‘It’s still an amazing ride no matter which way you go.’

On it goes until eventually it falls to my legs to decide. I’m going right. I’ve ridden almost a thousand kilometres in the past five days, I’ve been over some of the toughest climbs in the UK and I still have another 200km stage to come before the luxury of a rest day. I’m prepared to take the risk of the unknown, figuring it can’t be as bad as taking on Snake Pass. Can it?

Grim up north

I had begun earlier in the day under dark, pregnant clouds that seemed to be waiting for me to begin pedalling before beginning their onslaught. By this stage I have grown somewhat impervious to all but the most violent of rain thanks to countless soaked kilometres in Scotland.

I bow my head and push onwards into this latest deluge. What I haven’t become resistant to, despite an even greater number of hours spent climbing, are the short, steep pitches that litter my route through Yorkshire.

The first comes a little more than 10km into the day, spitting straight up the side of a grassy ridge before disappearing from sight, swallowed by a thick mist. It doesn’t look too steep from a distance, but as I draw closer I realise looks can be very deceiving. Its stern gradients quickly force me to search for gears I simply don’t have.

Just as I think I have reached the top the road slides behind a stone wall and kicks up again into the thick blanket of mist. It sets the tone for the rest of the day, one that will slowly torture my already tired legs.

As I emerge from the mist, a patchwork quilt of lush, green fields is revealed stretching to the horizon, a fragile light shining through sombre clouds. Sheep hunker down behind drystone walls in a bid to escape the chill whip of the wind.

I’m already longing for hot food – never a good sign barely an hour into the day – and I feel no guilt stopping in Skipton for pancakes and sausages swimming in maple syrup with only a paltry 20km covered. It’s the food I need to fuel not only my body but my mind, which is in danger of becoming as dark as the skies under which I ride.

If the weather wasn’t bad enough I’m now faced with the added misery of picking my way through the relentlessly steep and soulless side streets of the aptly named Bogthorn, every house the same but for different coloured doors. Even those look old and worn.

I can’t help but think many of these crippling pitches could have been avoided had I simply followed the road in the direction I was riding, rather than turning off for the sake of racking up a few more climbing metres only to end up back on the main road further along.

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Eventually suburbia fades and once more I find myself surrounded by England’s green and pleasant land, although there’s nothing particularly pleasant about the 25% gradient that greets me as I climb sluggishly between the golden-bricked cottages.

I laugh at the irony of the large ‘Slow’ sign painted on the road, as if one could go anything but slow up here, even in a car. An already heavy rain intensifies, sending rivers of water flowing down the road. I contemplate taking shelter in the old phone box I pass, only to see someone else has already beaten me to it.

Instead I press on over barren and bleak moors, giant wind turbines whirring overhead. The wind chills me with its icy touch against my sodden kit as the road begins to descend sharply. Thankfully it brings me to the foot of a climb which at least means a slower pace and therefore welcome respite from the elements.

Cragg Vale might not be the hardest climb going, gaining just 295m in almost 9km, but it does boast the longest continuous gradient of any road in the UK, giving me the chance to settle into a steady rhythm and generate some much needed body heat.

The climb meanders up through the village of Cragg Vale itself before leaving the shelter of the houses behind, once again exposing me to the brisk wind. I spot a lone rider in the distance and challenge myself to catch him before the junction of the main road that signals the end of the ascent.

Spurred on by my imaginary race I steadily close the gap with a surge of power, but ultimately my efforts prove futile and I’m still a few hundred metres behind this mysterious stranger when he turns and speeds off down towards Ripponden.

I’m afforded no such luxury, because no sooner am I revelling in the double joy of a tailwind and a fast descent than I turn off the main road myself, crossing a small bridge to once again find myself slowly trudging back up a climb that does little to endear itself to me.

Continually twisting and turning its way through fields and past giant telegraph masts, there’s no chance to settle and so I lurch and weave my way up towards a sinister-looking army of wind turbines that dwarfs me.

As I roll down the hill into Slaithwaite there’s only one thing on my mind: food. Despite being conscious that there’s still a great deal of riding to come, and it already being early afternoon, I pull over the moment I see a fish and chip shop and waste little time in devouring an extra large portion of chips.

Far from providing the energy boost I had hoped for they leave me feeling soporific, making the climb back out of the town even harder than it otherwise might have been.

Taste of the Tour

The steady accumulation of countless little inclines begins to take its toll as a growing feeling of lethargy creeps into my legs, and this before I have even reached the main climbs of the day. Holme Moss – or Cote de Holme Moss as it affectionately became known after the 2014 Tour de France spent three days in Yorkshire – is the first of these challenges.

Starting from Holme it’s not long at a shade over 2km, but with a near constant 10% gradient it would be punishing for fresh legs, let alone those in the state mine are.

In a moment of madness I reason that it’s better to go all-in and get the suffering over with as quickly as possible rather than drag myself slowly to the exposed summit.

Two caffeine gels later and I’m riding, in my head at least, as if I’ve just dropped my GC rivals and looking to put as much time into them as possible with a huge attack, churning the pedals around for all my worth, a Tommy Voeckler-esque grimace plastered across my face.

I’m alarmed to see my heart rate push 200bpm as I pass the sign that signals the end of my suffering – at least for now.

Somewhere on the fast-flowing descent towards Glossop I begin to regret my effort, my legs starting to cramp as the first thoughts of wanting to cut the day short begin to creep into my mind.

I pull up at a set of traffic lights in the centre of Glossop and survey my options. An internal battle fills my mind, I’m torn between sticking to the original route and just getting to the end of the day.

With my decision finally made I set off following a hastily recalculated route, instantly feeling guilty at having taken a shortcut. Any thoughts that it will be the easier route are quickly extinguished by a brute of a climb out of town that feels as if it will never end, and all the while the little voice in my head is chastising me for not having stuck to my original plan and gone over Snake Pass.

A steady procession of speeding cars passing close beside me does little to help the situation.

Emotional ending

A combination of overwhelming tiredness and growing frustration at the constant undulating terrain leaves me feeling emotional and tearful. In the distance I can see the road rising again. I want to believe I will turn off this road before reaching that point, but deep down know I have no choice but to climb yet another hill.

It’s at this point that Cyclist’s photographer, Gavin, pulls up beside me and, sensing my fragile state, hands me a multi-pack of chocolate bars.

Having given up all hope that there will be any flat roads between here and the finish I savour the chocolate and vow to make the best of it. With my mind freed from the hitherto all-encompassing doom and gloom I’m able to appreciate the jumble of rolling fields that surround me, and the irony of the signs I pass.

A wooden plaque saying simply ‘Bad’ is fixed to the trunk of a tree on the outskirts of Glutton Bridge, my own gluttony for punishment leaving me feeling gluttonous for food.

The smell of roast beef wafting through the air is torture as I approach Ipstones, where a long downhill brings me within touching distance of the end, but not before one last climb for good measure.

By the time I reach the campsite I have amassed just shy of 1,400m of climbing since deciding to cut the day short, my legs acutely aware of every last one of the additional metres.

I can’t help but think I should have stuck to the scenic route.

• Fancy completing one of the greatest cycling challenges of the British Isles? Check out the Cyclist Tour Finder for bucket list guided tours including the classic LEJOGgravel riding in Scotland, or road cycling in the Yorkshire Dales

Mapping powered by komoot

Komoot Tips to stay on track

No8: Heed Komoot’s Route Warning

Komoot’s Route Warning will let you know when your planned route includes any restricted or unsuitable terrain. It might be a short section of footpath where you need to dismount, or even a ferry crossing along the way.

Essential JOGLE kit

No8: Giro Aether Spherical helmet, £269, zyrofisher.co.uk

When it comes to helmets it’s very easy to get caught up in the weight or the styling and forget the main reason for wearing one: safety. The beauty of the Giro Aether Spherical is that it has some of the most impressive safety technology of any helmet but hasn’t compromised on looks or performance.

As most riders will now know, Mips is a ‘slip liner’ used by many brands, which can move inside the helmet, protecting the head from rotational impacts in the event of a crash. The Aether takes this concept one step further by having two separate layers of EPS, one rotating inside the other like a ball and socket joint.

Fortunately I never had to test out its efficacy on my JOGLE ride, but I can attest that the Aether is very light (around 250g), very cool thanks to all those big vents, and so comfortable that on a few occasions I actually had to check that I had it on.

Thanks

Riding from one end of Britain to the other is a major undertaking, and Cyclist had help from a number of sources.

Firstly, thanks to komoot for help with creating a route that takes in many of the best parts of the country for riding a bike.

As the ride took place during the period just after Covid-19 lockdown, we couldn’t use hotels or B&Bs, so many thanks to Bailey of Bristol (baileyofbristol.co.uk) for the loan of an Autograph 74-4 motorhome, which proved to be an excellent moving base for the trip.

Thanks also to Mercedes (mercedes-benz.co.uk) for the loan of a Marco Polo campervan, as used by our photographer for the duration of the ride.

Good kit choices are vital on a challenge such as this to avoid unneccesary stops, and I couldn’t have asked for better than the Factor O2 Disc bike (factorbikes.co.uk), Castelli clothing (saddleback.co.uk), Giro helmet and shoes (zyrofisher.co.uk), Sungod eyewear (sungod.co), Wahoo Roam bike computer (wahoofitness.com), Garmin Vector 3 Power Pedals (garmin.com) and Supernova lights (supernova-lights.com).

Nutrition was supplied by Named Sport (namedsport.com) and post-ride recovery came courtesy of Reboots (reboots.de). Thanks also to Hutchinson (windwave.co.uk) for the spare tyres and inner tubes in case of blowouts, and to Ribble for the loan of the e-bike, which allowed our photographer to keep up on the hills when the going got too tough for the campervan.

Finally, thanks to my wife and kids, who proved to be the perfect support crew.