The last time me and Dave attempted this particular Daft Ride, we ran out of daylight and our lack of lights meant that we cut it (slightly) short before things got dangerous. This time, we’d have lights and we’d both arguably be a bit fitter and therefore faster so we’d have every chance of nailing it. Not only that, we’d be starting a bit earlier than last time – we’d aim to be riding at 6am which meant I had to leave the house at 3:30am (rather than the pathetically-late 4:30am of last time)
The route is best described as a monster. Approximately 130 miles, 15000-ish feet of vertical ascent and several really big hills..nay, mountains to ride over. Most of the route is off-road and plenty of unrideable, ‘hike-a-bike’ sections to ensure the calves get plenty of gyp.
This time we started from the tiny village of Blencarn at the foot of Cross Fell. We planned to end the ride at the end of the final descent. We’d probably need our lights by this point but all being well, we’d get away with only needing them for the ascent and the half mile or so along the road back to the cars.
Battering along trails remembered from last time, we made reasonable progress along the bridleway alongside Ullswater following a fast warm-up along the road.
The ascent of High Street, apart from a comedy (but painful) fall on my part, came and went without too much drama. The sections where bikes needed to be carried weren’t terribly difficult (that’s 3 Peaks training, that is) and following a couple of photos and some jelly babies at the top, the ascent was fun…in a really scary, ‘christ this is a bit steep’ kind of way.
Pathetically under-powered XC race Brakes almost melted and at times completely grip-less-on-wet-grass tyres cursed at, we continued our journey on minor roads towards Staveley, on towards Borrowdale (I think) and Tebay.
Then on to Sedbergh for a raid on the local bakery followed by the second major climb and descent of the day. While our shopping for sandwiches, sweets and pastry was deeply pleasurable for us, going to the Spar was no doubt less fun than usual for the ‘normal’ shoppers in there due to the pungent sweat-and-dung funky stench of two off road cyclists. Undeterred, we queued up with grumbling pensioners and frightened children with armfuls of high-calorie food and ate most of it at the nearest kiddies’ play area.
The long, hard climb from the ice cream-selling sheep farm across Brant Fell to the summit of The Calf was, as it was last time, very tough. The bridleway is mostly rideable though and it was one of the most rewarding sections of the entire route, especially when passing a group of walkers who cheerfully passed compliments on our apparent fitness level J
Reaching the top, another ‘bikes leaning against something quite high up’ photo opportunity was taken, more jelly babies and a Clif Bar and then we were off again for the descent down to Bowderdale.
I’m sure I’ve read magazine articles about this trail where it’s described as some kind of flowing, fast, sinuous singletrack. It’s fun, a lot of fun, but it definitely needs some commitment. I remember the last time I rode this trail that I was a bit surprised at how much like hard work it was in reality. It must have eroded a bit since last time because this time I found it very tough indeed. Having to stop a couple of times to massage my hands back to life, progress along the trail was slow. Eventually reaching Bowderdale completely knackered, we carried on to Crosby Garret Fell, site of the now-infamous ‘Being Chased By Cows’ episode of 2009…
Eventually we reached our second Spar of the day in Appleby. More food devoured while we mused on how ‘shouty’ the locals seemed to be, we pressed on towards Dufton and the climb up the moor to the astonishing High Cup Nick.
This climb was incredibly tough, sometimes frustrating. Short rideable sections permeated by unrideable sections of rocks, deep bogs or primitive wooden bridges, our progress was now so slow and tiring that thoughts were now turning to the imminent sunset and our ability to complete the ride as planned.
Once at the top and the whole majesty of High Cup Gill could be seen, the mood lightened again. Pictures were taken and ‘wow’s’ were wowed. Jelly babies and Clif Bars were eaten. Bikes were picked up and we braced ourselves for yet another bruising descent, this time towards Cow Green Reservoir and on to the minor road where we decided to ‘decide what to do next’.
Our original plan would have been to ride north-west to Garrigill, climb Cross Fell and descend back to the cars at Blencarn. Simple….apart from the fact that we were switching our lights on now, a good 15 miles from the start of the climb of Cross Fell rather than maybe a short section at the end. We were running late in other words and we agreed that a revised route along the road would be the sensible option rather than attempting, in the dark, the potentially tricky navigation that Cross Fell would require. The route along the road looked like it should be about 20 miles…..
We headed south-east to the junction at Middleton-in-Teesdale (which took a while) then headed to Brough on the minor road across the moor. By now it was completely dark, it was windy and it was raining. The road was also a rather large climb, which was a surprise. I remember reaching Brough and declaring that the last road was ‘beyond horrible’ or something. We’d survived, but the ride, a good 15 hours after we’d left the cars, was by now starting to really take its toll on us both.
Digging deep, we pressed on towards Appleby (again) where we’d ride along minor roads to Blencarn. It was clear by this point that our earlier ‘about 20 miles’ estimate was optimistic.
The batteries in Dave’s GPS ran out. We slowed down a bit more as we tried to navigate deserted singletrack roads in the dark…neither of us was entirely sure which way was The Right Way until Dave, in a moment of inspiration, remembered the ‘sequence’ of villages that lay before us.
‘Dufton, then Knock, then Milburn…Milburn is right next to Blencarn..I’m sure it is’. Awesome. We’d have had to sleep in a hedge if it wasn’t for this single moment of genius.
We made it back to the cars just after midnight, 161 miles ridden and 17,000 feet (maybe more) of vertical climbed. We were also about 4 hours later than expected. Agreeing that we both felt like we’d just competed in a 24 hour race, we hastily said our goodbyes, threw our kit into our cars and GOT THE HELL OUT OF THERE.
Technically, we were beaten again by perhaps the daftest of all Daft Rides, but we’d actually ridden a lot further than the original route in a fairly respectable time (bearing in mind food and photo stops). We’ll have another go at it next year I’m sure, but for now, it’s all about recovery. You see, there’s a certain 100-mile mountain bike race that needs to be dealt with next weekend. Is it possible to recover sufficiently from a 161 mile mountain bike ride in just 4 days? We shall see…