The best efforts of Storm Deirdre couldn’t dampen the high spirits at this year’s Tour de Helvellyn yesterday.
With my foot still not up to 42 miles of running, I elected to ride around and follow everyone else, particularly the Dragon’s Back crew. I wasn’t too gutted about this, given that last year’s effort was horrific for reasons still not clear to me. Anyway, we met at the pub on Friday for drinks and chit-chat, and after everyone else set off on Saturday morning I followed on the bike (adorned with appropriately festive Christmas lights etc.)
A minor coronary in the first half-mile reminded me that riding uphill is way harder than running, but after crossing the icy moor the descent to Howton was brilliant fun. There were a couple of “oh crap” moments where I hit unexpected ice and had no option but to think light thoughts and float over it, but it was very entertaining.
The short course had been decreed as the order of the day for racers, owing to the appalling forecast. It still took me some time to catch everyone, but I eventually passed Euan and Mark Z looking strong. I was apparently oblivious to Mark R and Tony while spinning hard on the road to Patterdale in a bid to warm up again (sorry chaps). This was because I’d made the mistake of stopping for more than 15 seconds at my turnaround point – Glenridding YHA – for a Mars bar, and thus cooled down rapidly in the biting gusts.
The push up to Boredale Hause turned into a carry (I’ll spare you all another rant about the continued infiltration of unrideable steps into the bridleways of the National Park), and the wind picked up massively as I descended the other side. At Howtown the rain began, but by this point I had made three tea-stops with my flask, so was warm and dry enough to not really mind. As I made a relaxed ascent onto the moor the falling rain began freezing immediately on contact with the ground, and I eventually gave up riding on verglas and just pushed for a while.
The wind was cold across the moor, and it wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t the worst weather I’ve ever experienced. It was the right call to cut the race short though, as another few hours out in that (particularly for the tail-end of the field) could have been very nasty. It was only when I got back to the car that I realised my bike, clothes and rucksack were also coated in ice, which made for a lovely pattern on the frame.
As various group members made it back, we ended up back in the pub by mid-afternoon, and remained ensconced in the warm while it snowed briefly outside and eventually just settled for normal wet rain. So my plan to ride and chat with everyone over the course of the race didn’t quite transpire, but we more than made up for it over drinks, post-race nutrition (pub grub), and chats about physalis, seagulls and grinders. A thoroughly enjoyable weekend. Roll on Dragon’s Back 2019 (N.B. I’ll be cheering on the others, not running it again!).