Part of cycling’s nature is the suffering of lugging you and your two-wheeled companion uphill while cars pass you by, pedestrians all but cringe at the sight of a lycra clad human grimacing in pain. We love it though: cycling is somewhat sadistic.
That huge hill/mountain over there? Yes, I would like to ride my bicycle up, over and back down it for no reason other than it looks like it will be worth it.
When I signed up for Rapha Rising, I for some reason thought it was only about 5000m of climbing in 9 days. 3-4 rides in as many days should ticket that off nicely, however upon further inspection, I found it was almost double that – 9,366m – the combined height of 6 of the major Pyrenean climbs across two stages in The Tour de France this year.
Day 1 – 1809m
I threw myself into this challenge last Saturday 18 July with my friend Jason in tow. I’d wanted to conquer Holme Moss for a long time and now was as good a time as any. I was under no delusion that it would be easy or painfree – the whole ride was the exact opposite. Blackstone Edge, Windy Hill, Isle of Skye, Holme Moss and Wooley Bridge all stood before me, though only just in the headwind we had going around.
I had only previously descended Blackstone Edge and Windy Hill but while Blackstone Edge was a short kicker compared to some of the climbs I’ve done in my time, Windy Hill was a brutal force in that if I so much as thought about freewheeling for some respite, I’d have probably gone backwards and not because of the gradient but because of that heinous headwind. Isle of Skye is stunning with Dovestones Reservoir to the right as you ascend. A real treat of a climb despite its pinches. A quick descent into Holmfirth and it’s a sharp right at the white pub on to the road which ultimately leads to Holme Moss. 2.2km of sheer pain and the mast in the distance which I could’ve sworn moved further and further away from me as I got nearer the top. Don’t stop at the car park on the left though – the segment is another 200m further up the road!
Day 2 – 641m
Manchester Wheelers women’s ride! My first official ride leading opportunity lead us up my usual stomping ground of Brickworks, a climb which leads to the Peak District. This lovely 3km beauty will appear twice again in my journey of conquering the makeshift Pyrenees. It isn’t over once you get to the top though as you turn right and make your way up to Blaze Hill, a thrilling descent that you’ll need some good brake pads for. The views from this hill are incredible and it’s often possible to just take a moment to check out the sun-glazed hills around.
Day 3 – 1615m
Monday means it’s after work or not at all so Jason and I set off towards Oxenhope via Lumbutts Road and A6033 and back again up Boys Mill Road to Cragg Vale. This ride was an adventure I probably won’t forget in too long: Boys Mill Road is awfully steep and Cragg Vale in the dark in a crosswind is pretty scary. After descending Blackstone Edge after Cragg Vale, the two of us were well and truly ready to call it a night after realising it was close to 10pm and we were still a good 30km from home. Smithy Bridge railway station saved the day!
Day 4 – 686m
After work Brickworks loop (same as Wheelers ride) except this time we chainganged it and averaged 27kmph. Sweating again just thinking about it! I remember thinking it was a bad mistake to go out so hard half way into such a mega challenge so I made sure to stretch at home.
Day 5 – 1088m
The beauty of Manchester is its proximity to other neighbouring towns and cities. Jason’s cycling team was racing in Sheffield so what better to do than to ride over and get a lift back home! Straight from work (with my backpack) and I sat on Ben’s wheel all the way over Snake Pass (just out from Glossop). It was a real treat that night as traffic was minimal, we had clear skies, a tailwind and I bumped into Sarah and Lorna en route too! All in all it was less than 75km from work and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I do however remember talking to myself on the way out of Hathersage “you can do it, you’re strong, you’ll be so proud of yourself for doing this especially with a backpack”. I’m so lucky where I live that I have the Peak District at my disposal. My legs and mind were in a good state as I tapped the pedals all the way to Sheffield.
Day 6 – 1074m
Over to Bacup this fine evening. I’d never really known north Manchester just because I live south and most of the first six months of my riding here was done in the south. We went past some wonderful windfarms, rolling landscapes and quaint villages yet the furthest away from home I was just outside Burnley where a few people from work commute every day from.
Day 7 – rest
I needed to have one day off mentally more so than physically. By this point, I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t ridden my bike in a day. I didn’t commute nor did I ride after work. A girl at work’s leaving do meant I was in town afterwards and thought I deserved 7 gins for being so good that week and also knowing the weekend I had coming up.
Day 8 – 1727m
We ventured to a foreign country: WALES! Where has Llandudno been my whole life? It’s absolutely stunning out there and I definitely felt like I was in the Alps somewhere. The scenery is beyond words and even my hi-res GoPro photos can’t do it justice. The towns we went through felt like French ski villages in summer, surrounded by trees and greenery that just took me to a whole other world. The roads were in fabulous condition (take note Sheffield) and the weather was so beautiful I even managed to get burnt.
Day 9 – 1282m
Rapha Women’s 100 and the day when I had 726m remaining. The end was in sight and I had to do this ride come rain or shine. And boy did the rain come, with it freezing cold temperatures, wind and a mental test like no other. Brickworks scored a hatrick in my quest for over 9,000m but this time, the route took us into Whaley Bridge and back out up Long Hill where I officially finished Rapha Rising. We descended into Goyt Valley and went along the closed road towards the Cat and Fiddle. We were all so very sodden. Wet-through, all of us wishing the skies would clear and the air temperature would warm just a couple of degrees.
All in all, this is easily the best challenge I’ve ever accidentally set myself. I have learnt to love the lumps of this beautiful country and I now believe in myself more than I ever thought I would. I’m strong both mentally and physically and I can climb hills. Maybe not as fast or as gracefully as the next but I’ll get to the top before it breaks me.
The things we do for a woven cotton roundel, hey!
My next focus will be Manchester to London in aid of Ambitious About Autism. If you’d like to donate to this amazing cause, please click here. Any donations, no matter how small, are appreciated all the same. This will be a huge day in the saddle for me at 354km and I’m hoping to achieve it in 14-16 hours (moving time).