It shouldn’t take someone’s death to inspire you to ride but it’s done just that to an entire community of bicycle lovers. Here’s what I got up to on an unusually summery April weekend.
I didn’t know Mike. I met him once in Wales in 2016 with a couple of friends. We were in Abergwesyn and it was pouring with rain, it was cold. Mike was as happy as a pig in shit riding around on his bike with Beth and James, leaving strategically placed stick arrows for them to follow. Anna and I trundled around in the big yellow van, talked, took photos, admired the scenery and wondered whether the van would make it up the Devil’s Staircase. Of course it did. Just.
Without going into already well-documented detail, Mike passed away on 31 March 2017 during the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race. But as we are now reminded, while Mike has died, he lives on through so many.
This is the ride I did on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th April in a bid to #BeMoreMike.
“Do you want chippy tea on Saturday? I’ll ride down then back up the next day…” I casually texted my Auntie last Monday. I’ve never known anyone say no to chippy so the plan sprung into action and I pulled out the old faithful Rapha Manchester to London route. She lives about 10km from the Castle Ashby checkpoint so I fiddled with it a bit at the start and finish, reversed it and uploaded both files to my Garmin. It was 250km each way.
With the weather app beaming with little yellow dots, I set my alarm for 04:00 on Saturday morning ready to roll. I won’t go through the route in too much detail as you can see where I went on Strava if you’re super interested.
The views throughout the Peaks are like none I’ve ever experienced anywhere else. Every time I go, I consider myself so lucky to live within cycling distance to such a beautiful part of the world and thankfully, I don’t need an excuse to go on a regular basis. The M2L route went up to Whaley Bridge where, as I looked to my left, the street lights were flickering in the distance, the fog was settled on the rooftops of houses and the mill in the distance was puffing away. This was just the beginning.
I hadn’t seen a single person out and about until halfway down the Monsal Trail where the runners were getting in before the crowds of families took over the sought after gravel and tunnels. I was as surprised to see them as they were me: it was easily still -2 degrees but optimism was in full force as the joggers wore nothing more than a strappy top while I rolled past in my duvet jacket.
An unforeseen road diversion took my route out through Matlock rather than Winster and Ashborne, which showed me new hills that I’d certainly go back to again (with a lighter bike I might add. Cromford Hill, I’m looking at you!). After the early morning bustle of the A6, Carsington Water was a welcome sight for a sit down and moment of calmness. The hills might have been behind me but the roads ahead were long and full of ups and downs (some literally, some mentally).
The landscape totally changed to rolling lumps and bumps, which aren’t easy to find around Manchester. Soon enough, I was on auto-pilot barely turning my head to admire what had been a similar view for miles and miles. It’s times like this that in hindsight, I wished I’d just stopped for a minute to remember how lucky I was to be riding my bike on a beautiful day rather than allow myself to become complacent.
I had messages of encouragement throughout the day from friends and family, near and far. It’s amazing what you can do when you just keep pedalling. As I’ve said before, it’s important to break down these bigger rides into smaller, sometimes ridiculous, chunks. If the going gets super tough, just ride to the lamp post 100m down the road and see how you feel then. One thing’s guaranteed: you’ll probably feel good enough to do another 100m and eventually, you’ll arrive at the half way point to enjoy a coffee, sandwich and a scone at Ashby’s best sun trap, The Courtyard.
Rolling through the various counties along my route ensured there were small wins along the way. I left Derbyshire for Leicestershire then Northamptonshire, each had their own personality. Derbyshire had a bit of everything: Peak District and rolling hills as it married with Leicestershire, which lead to small, winding lanes keep this midland county together, peppered with rapeseed fields for miles. Eventually, the patchwork blanket of fields became Northamptonshire and to the untrained eye, you’d not notice the difference aside from a sign telling you otherwise. My route took me into Saxon villages with a church built in 680AD and houses surrounded by moats, which set the mind wandering to how the original dwellers of these places lives. Who were they protecting their properties against? Were they the “good guys” or the “bad guys”? Imagine how many arrows were fired from that arrowslit.
It was when I got to familiar roads from Christmas when I was last down in those parts that I realised I’d actually cycled 250km solo. Signs for my auntie’s town were so very welcome at 17:30 when I was salivating for the chippy tea that awaited. I climbed the last little hill up to the village and turned into her street. I dismounted my bike for the final time that day gave her a pat on the saddle. A great day out had suddenly come to an end with only the prospect of returning back north looming in the back of mind.
And then I set my alarm for 5:00 the next morning – a sleep in compared to the day before. No sooner had I done that, than I found myself already back in the same cycling kit from the day before. Back on it.
I felt the heat of my arms and confirmed the consequence of a day in the sun. England doesn’t very often get good weather but when it does, the entire population embraces it and cyclists are no different. My arms, now a light shade of pink, had stark lines of where my jersey ended and the hours of rays began. In a bid to protect my arms from further damage, I committed to a day in arm warmers in the absence of sunscreen and arm screens (both sitting tightly at home).
Unfortunately for me, my Garmin decided it hated the route so much that it’d stop about 50km in. I quickly turned yesterday’s ride into a course and followed it backwards. Not ideal as it didn’t have turn-by-turn directions which meant my battery drained quicker from looking at the map all the time and required extra top-ups en route. This is the good thing about dynamo hubs though: you can always charge something. For Garmins, use your cache battery especially when climbing. You risk losing the file if you’re putting power in and out all the time. As demonstrated here, Garmin can’t cope with the basic functions of following a route let alone charging via dynamo!
The first half of the route on day two went really quickly despite freezing temperatures again. Before I knew it, I went down the gated farm track to be welcomed by a herd of cows. They looked at me as though to acknowledge me riding through them while they grazed and barely batted an eyelid. It was lovely and the temperature had just risen above freezing so everything was just warming up for the day ahead. I closed the gate and carried on through what I would argue was my favourite road of all. Down the right hand side of the singletrack road were tall trees. The sun broke through the budded branches and dappled the road ahead. It was stunning.
It was not long after this point that my parents rang me for a chat, which was really great. We just chatted shit for about an hour: what they’re doing, how I’m feeling, what I’ll do next, why I did the ride. We talked about Mike and how he died doing what he loved. My parents reassured me that if I ever met the same ending, they’d take comfort in knowing I was at my happiest, which was in a way quite nice to hear. Enough morbid chat and they went to bed while I cracked on trying to find a cafe. This was the first point I got questions about my bike and what I was doing with so many bags. “Puts our 40 miles to shame, doesn’t it!?” and I assured them that as long as they were out cycling, that’s all that mattered.
It was getting real warm and water was becoming a scarce resource in the absence of any shops. I reached a pub on the edge of the Peak District and just sat in the shade with a pint of coke, packet of crisps, refilled water bottles and my phone to check in with my parents (in case they were keeping an ear out). I was 90km from base but 90 very hilly kilometres and the wind was picking up. I stopped feeling sorry for myself as soon as I remembered that I was cycling and this is what I love so get on with it. Those kilometres won’t ride themselves.
The diversion was still in place through Matlock Bath where every single motorbike in the country seemed to gather on a Sunday afternoon causing traffic chaos through the town. This was pretty frustrating knowing that I had to continue along the A6 until the Monsal Trail and worse still, the wind had picked up. I’ll give you one guess as to its direction and I’ll tell you now, it wasn’t a tailwind.
With 60km to go, a proper personality failure set in and I checked my phone to see messages of encouragement from friends and family. I needed real food, a sit down and a chat. I got exactly that and mustered up the energy and strength to face the now severe headwind through the last section before home. I won’t lie, I wasn’t in the best shape going up towards Peak Dale and Dove Holes. The wind was scary, the clouds had rolled in and I pictured myself stranded before realising that what went up must surely come down.
With that, I made sure I climbed Whaley Lane and I’m not sure if it was just my eyes or whether the sun really did stay out for a little longer but as soon as I’d done all the climbing, the daylight appeared again and I felt my second wind take me through the suburbs of Manchester back home just in time for sunset.
I was absolutely beaming when I got into my house, propped my bike up, patted myself on the back and celebrated with gin in my protein shake. I’d finally done something that illustrated just how capable I was of riding a bike for a long time. I was so proud (and I still am!) that I’d done my longest solo ride ever mechanical-free, puncture-free and full of great memories.
“Would you change anything?” I hear you say and the answer is only ever so slightly. I’d pack arm screens! I nipped into Superdrug to get some sunscreen in Ashby on my way back on Sunday and I think that saved my face/ears more than anything else. That was then stashed in my frame pack for easy access throughout the trip home.
Here’s what else I packed:
- Rapha x Apidura seat pack
- Puncture repair stuff
- Duvet jacket
- Compression leggings
- Clean socks
- Apidura frame pack
- Hand gel
- House key
- 5 x mini banana Soreen loaves
- 4 x Meridian nut bars
- 1 x Clif bar
- 1 tube of Nuun electrolyte tablets
- Apidura top tube pack
- Dynamo charging cable
- Cache battery
- Cable for lights/Garmin
- iPhone cable
- Lucas’ Papaw Ointment
- Kit I wore on the day
- Brevet jersey (from a few years back)
- Brevet bib shorts (new – I like!)
- Brevet insulated gilet
- Brevet headband
- Brevet socks (one pair for each day)
- Merino arm and knee warmers
- Merino gloves
- Merino base layer
- Souplesse mitts
- RCC climber shoes
- Rapha medium support bra
- Lazer Z1 helmet
- Rab microlight duvet jacket
I also use an Igaro charger with my SP Dynamo which was fitted by the wonderful Rich and Shona at Keep Pedalling in Manchester.
I’d love to hear about your adventures on the bike so definitely drop me a line. I’ve got no free weekends until the middle of May now – ohhhh dear!