I had lost faith in The Lakes. Things change. Places change. Nothing is permanent. In recent years, my rides in The Lakes have lost their lustre.
As a youth, I used to jump on the Wright’s Brothers bus from Newcastle and innocently ask the driver if I could stick my Hardrock in the boot. The first time; begrudgingly yes, but eventually we struck up a relationship and he would then just nod me to the back, and tell me to let myself in.
Those initial trips with a tent were magic. The Lakes was another country and it looked like the Alps. My initial forays around Skiddaw sowed the seeds of my love for big rocks and trials like xc riding. Hodge Close with its clattering slates got me comfortable with unstable shifting ground. And the monster rock Tilberthwaite decent…. it’s still up there in my all time list.
Some years later, I returned and worked as a chef. Apart from enjoying the work, it seemed like an ideal balance; work, ride, pub, work, ride. Out there adventures. Nights on the fells. Getting to the best spots. Building networks of friends, working hospitality hours. A subterranean existence that the tourists didn’t see or hear of. Riding in the night or early in the morning. One friend fascinated me; the sofa surfer with no fixed address. Mid ride, on a high fell, he would stop and pull out a bivvy or a gas stove from behind a rock that he had left there a couple of weeks previous. We moved through the daylight of normal hours like shadowy ghosts; on a different time scale, with a deep link to the environment and an intricate knowledge of where to go and when. ‘Where’ might have been a ride to a country hotel, (which will remain unnamed) where another undercover ally ‘might’ open the bar when all shutters where down, residents where sleeping, and we would sit, indifferent to the flux of the standard day, sipping wine as the sun rose.
This life would never last. Nor would I have wanted it to, despite the excitement and free abandon it provided.
Obviously, time and priority have changed significantly since those days. I’ve had some ‘ok’ rides since in The Lakes but the magic was gone. It’s increasingly busy; previously hard to reach spots are often crowded. Many ancient bridleways have been ripped up and replaced by gravel strips. I’ve (unavoidably) been restricted to more civilian hours.
The Jenn Ride, (in memory of the mountain bike community’s good friend Jenn Hill) ran this Saturday. I wanted to be part of the tribute. I wanted to pay my respects and join my friends in the celebration of the spirit of adventure. What I didn’t expect was to be back there; blending into the shadows. Unnoticed by the general populous. Feeling the magic.
The official ride started at 9am on Saturday. I HAD to be back for 3pm on Saturday afternoon for my son’s birthday party, so my only option was to drive over after work on Friday, set off at 6pm, and ride into the night. Solo. 100 miles; I anticipated 11hrs and it turns out my estimate was about right.
Problem was, traffic held me up and I finally pedalled towards Longsleddale after 8pm, humid heavy air promised a dark night. Slight time anxiety eased as I accepted I couldn’t fight this one; 100 miles of classic Lakes rocky terrain requires fluidity, care and patience. Force it and you’ll blow or hit the deck hard.
Richard Munro did a fantastic job stitching together much of the best that the Southern Lakes has to offer. All the classics ridden in the right direction. Nonetheless, I was often caught out; it was frequently the same but different . Years of mind and muscle memory had me barreling down descents oblivious to the GPX pointing me elsewhere; on Loughrigg Terrace for example, I almost always continued to the lakeside, rarely to the cave… On Saturday, all the way down… twig on… pedal back to the junction! Despite being aware of my Lakes auto pilot, this caught me out on several occasions! There were also a few completely new sections for me to enjoy and I felt that adrenalin of discovery that has been lacking in my recent same old, same old rides.
Pedalling through Hodge Close past a farm in the dead of night, I braced myself for the piercing bark of the psychopathic sounding sheep dog locked up in the barn. Lift the latch on the gate slowly…. don’t wake it up! (No matter what you did, it ALWAYS woke up!) This night; silence. Then it hit me. The dream of past adventures are memories of another time. Like the dog, nothing is eternal. For a brief moment, I missed the rabid barking. I wanted the dog to scare me and have me scrabbling to clip in and sprint blindly off up the hill.
The night continued in such a pattern; reminiscent of old times, yet invigorating and exciting in a way that I had not felt in The Lakes for several years.
Dawn crept slowly but in spectacular fashion over Consiston. Complete silence. Mist and clarity. Damp, dewy and fresh all at once. Steely cold grey and blue but ultimately comforting and serene. The Lakes magic had captivated me once more. #jennride
This night was ultimately final preparation for the big race of the year; the Highland Trail 550 which starts this Saturday. It’s a big daunting thrilling monster that will test all my reserves of resilience. Over five times the Lakes epic. Sleep deprivation on another level. I’m excited and nervous. It’s going to be a next level experience.
You can read about it here.
From Saturday morning, you can follow my progress here.