Summer Solstice: Sunday 21 June 2015, also known as the longest day of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Today was Rapha’s Longest Day: 202km/3,000vm.
On paper, I’d signed up for a very long ride from Manchester into and around the Peak District. It was another of those rides where you think “yeah, I can do that, no worries, sign me up, I’ll think about it nearer the time” except you never think about it until it’s the day before and you’re wondering whether you should have a nap to try and get back some energy or just power through and run off adrenaline for the next 24 hours.
I decided to go and lie down around 11:30pm. I thought if I got *some* sleep, it’s better than none and also, what else was I going to do between then and my alarm going off at 2am? That’s right, 2am. Some crazy person, likely Lee or Joe, decided that the longest ride must begin before sunrise so that we can watch it from the top of a hill.
I live on a street full of bars and restaurants so I think I sobered a lot of people up as I rode past them at about 2:45am. Surprisingly, there were other cyclists about – admittedly, not your average lycra-clad cycling junkie but cyclists no less. I meandered the streets of town: Albert Square, King Street etc. It was quite daunting to be on a bike having to negotiate the back alleys of the Club when there was a hoard of intoxicated revellers hanging around but nonetheless I arrived safely in good time.
Already most of the chaps were there and we were just waiting on Andy, who’d been at a gig the night/hours before. Huge kudos to him for getting all his ducks in a row for that. Joe had coffee on the go making sure we were all well caffeinated for what lay ahead – what a gem!
After a quick rider briefing from Cap’n Lee, we stomped down the stairs with our bikes on our shoulders and lined up outside, each of our Garmins beeping to signal they were ready. START! We headed east towards Stalybridge where we reached a small farm track the took up to a secluded spot where we watched the sunrise. Unfortunately, the clouds had other ideas but it was amazing to just be away from the hustle and bustle, looking on Manchester as the day just got started for most others.
It was here we all gathered around and warmed ourselves with a shot of rum! I’m not actually a rum drinker myself but hey, it’s 4:30 in the morning so who am I to question my taste buds!
We had to keep moving not only to physically keep warm (British summertime!) but also mentally: we all knew we’d be out for a solid 10 hours or more so the thought of extending that was tough. The next stop wouldn’t be for another 80km or so down at Carsington Water in the south of the Peak District.
- Long Hill
- A53 out of Buxton
- Beresford Lane
- Welcome to Derbyshire
Then we rested. After arriving at 8:30am finding out that the Carsington Water visitor centre didn’t open until 10, we had to continue on in search of somewhere to refuel our now empty bodies and bidons. Thankfully, Tom had planned ahead and supplied pizza that would get us through until the 120km mark just out of Winster. Luckily, there was a motorbike event and a pub had opened especially but we gatecrashed and managed to get in a pint of coke and some food.
Mentally, this was a good time to stop. We were well over halfway through the day with just one major climb to go.
- Ladybower to Snake Summit
- Snake Ascent
- Wooley Bridge to Roe Cross
We struck Snake Pass with a full on headwind like I’ve never felt before. It was brutal. The ascent from Ladybower doesn’t feel like hard work until it kicks right at the very end at the most exposed part of the climb. Joe had gone back to see where Les and Lee were (Les was having a right mare with his deep sections at this point) and I continued on a solo mission to the summit. I was overtaken by Jamie and had my eye on him for the rest of the climb. I saw him crest the top from about 500m away which pulled me through the battering headwind. This was pretty much the only time I was grateful for my rain jacket (forecast said rain but it turned out to be sunny!) and I couldn’t dismount my bike quick enough at the top to join Tom and Jamie who’d absolutely killed it up there.
All that was left now was the descent and a little climb out of Glossop on to the home straight into town. What I definitely didn’t expect was having to really push a gear going downhill – the headwind was absolutely relentless. Anyone on deep section wheels was about to have a bad time getting down there safely.
Looking back, I think I hit a little wall getting out of Glossop. I’d resigned myself to the idea of a descent into town and I fully didn’t expect to have to face another climb in traffic just to get on to the main roads in. I got a red light as the rest of the group got through but in all fairness, I was grateful of the break! I was low on water with no food left in the bank so it was just a case of survival until I got to the Club.
It was a long 15km to get back and I was already so proud of myself for completing such a huge task that the momentum just carried me through. I felt jetlagged as I looked at my Garmin and saw that the time was only just 3pm – how?! We’d been out for 11 hours yet we still had the rest of the day ahead of us.
Rolling into the club couldn’t have been a more welcome sight. 202km on the clock with just about 3,000m of climbing. This was easily the biggest and best thing I’d ever done on two wheels. We proceeded to break rule 95 and have a photo of the group (less Tommy and Andy who had to get back).
And that, dear readers, was Rapha’s Longest Day and I’m still coasting on the endorphins. When are we doing it again?
p.s. still haven’t ridden my bike since Sunday and it’s now Tuesday. My thighs are definitely feeling it!
I’m doing Manchester to London in September which is 150km more than what I did on Sunday. I’m actually terrified! If you would like to donate to this very worthwhile cause, click here.