Preludes and Interludes

'...nothing better than a wandering cloud,I cannot miss my way...' Wordsworth

‘…nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way…’ Wordsworth

When I started cycling, I joined some club members for a ride round The Lakes. If you haven’t been, try it sometime…your legs will forgive you, eventually!

Our recent icy blast has meant less road cycling for me. In years gone by I would be checking every forecast even the sky itself, for the beginnings of a thaw and when it didn’t appear, I’d ride nonetheless, worried my fitness would suffer.

Not so nowadays. Why go out on minus zero days when your body temperature rarely rises higher than the thermometer and with every blind bend on a country road you’re wondering if a thoughtless farmer has let his field flood onto the icy road? At those moments shivering hands want to clutch at the shifters but your cycling brain says keep rolling straight. For 3 hours your nose is cold. If there’s ice and snow so be it. I’ll enjoy the break and the rest.

It happened that during our cold snap, my wife had organised a hotel deal for a weekend break down at the Lakes. Great – a chance to immerse myself in the unique landscape of the Lakes National Park, laze about in the cafes and perhaps a bike shop or two.

A mile from Kendal

A mile from Kendal – ‘The world is too much with us…getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…’

We had a lovely time so well done for the plan Mrs McG. A word for our wives and partners, or as I call them – cycling widows, before I move on to the heart of this post. They put up with a lot from we cyclists, getting used to our disappearances for 3-6 hours and then sitting patiently as we say things like – ‘I was thinking it’s time I got a new frame..’

The trip down to the Lakes brought back some fond memories for me. One of my first cycling trips away was in the Lakes. Also I’ve had a few journeys down with cycling buddies wandering round the great cycle shops in the area, spending the day debating shimano versus campag..or carbon over titanium.

Keswick at sunset. here you can do two things...coffee shop or outdoor shop

Keswick at sunset. here you can do two things…coffee shop or outdoor shop

Although it’s only 60 miles approximately from South West Scotland you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Lakes are the same in terms of landscape. Actually they’re subtly different especially colour and contours. The lakes are darker with their brooding, impossible hills and passes. It was here Wordsworth wrote his greatest poetry and no wonder, the enigmas in the hills and sky are like another planet. The towns and villages seem tiny, sunken places, humbled by the neighbouring giants.

Colossus and leg breaker

Colossus and leg breaker

It must be 8 – 9 years since I rode in the Lakes. Some of the boys from Dumfries CC and myself made the journey south to take on some of the passes. I hadn’t been cycling seriously for long (in fact I was sporting a baseball hat under my cycling helmet instead of a proper cycling cap – newbie)! I think I went down there as though it were just another route. I couldn’t be more wrong. Cycling in the Lakes is a special experience. Ask the guys who’ve bravely entered the famous Fred Whitton Challenge. Some of the boys from our club have tried it and survived…just.

The Lakeland Pedlar - our rendezvous

The Lakeland Pedlar – our rendezvous

As usual for The Lakes, it was pouring rain the day of our ride. As it was so relentless we decided to cut the route to about 40 miles. The route included Honister and, as I remember, Newlands. One of the guys said to me as we approached Honister ‘Get it into the Granny, easiest cog. If you survive till the grid you’ll be alright.’

I wasn’t sure at this point if he was psyching me out. No. He was giving good advice. The foot of Honister is really brutal. I immediately found the granny next to useless and wished I’d had a great granny instead. We were weaving all over the road at about two or three mph, grinding the cranks like they were made of concrete. I got to the grid then fell over. It was a relief. I think someone was lying beside me. We got back on and then slowly wove up the remainder of the climb.

going up is brutal and coming down, terrifying!

going up is brutal and coming down, terrifying!

The reward at the top of Honister is a Slate Museum then a downhill of terrifying proportions! Downhills are my achilles heals on normal runs but this one was more like sky-diving! I remember being so terrified I unclipped half way down and used my cycling shoes as extra brakes.

Newlands was tough but not quite as brutal as I recall. Soaked to the skin we never made it to Hard Knott and Wrynose. Along with Kirkstone and Whinlatter these are the iconic names of the Lakes.

I was stopping the car every mile trying to capture it all

I was stopping the car every mile trying to capture it all

We rode back to our cars. Legs in bits but spirit unbowed, I had done something a little special and even years on the memories are vivid. Since that time I’ve been back a few times but hanging out in cycle shops is not too arduous.

In Arragon Cycles Penrith, obsessing on the Van Nicholas

In Arragon Cycles Penrith, obsessing on the Van Nicholas

Proof that a great bike like a Scott can be ruined by a hideous paint job!

Proof that a great bike like a Scott can be ruined by a hideous paint job!

The Lake District is legendary amongst cyclists and rightly so. Its passes are exacting tests of your legs and your will power – you’ll need to dig deep to survive. Oh and the great cycle shops will drain your wallet. One day I’ll go back again to cycle and reclaim those hills.

Postscript – One of the boys on our Forum just reminded me about the Lakeland Loop 2013…that could be the day to end my lengthy interlude from Wordsworth’s dark, exciting landscapes!

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