This was the 24th running of this event, and the 19th time that I've participated. However, it was the first time I've been without companions, albeit we don't usually cycle together. Excuses ranged from "I have a list of jobs to do" to "I'm in Nice after cycling from the Channel."
No matter, there are always people going at a similar pace (very sedate for me these days) and happy to enjoy a chat.
As last year, the start was from Sowerby Bridge Cricket Club, from where our numbers were collected before setting off. No timing chips here, it's not a race, and it takes the organisers a while to publish the results.
I thought the start was at 9am, but it turned out to be 8:30. I just made it to the grass beside the lead riders, and waited for everyone to go by before setting off at a leisurely pace at the back of the field of 200 or so riders.
It was a new route. Having not had a bike ride of any consequence for months, I was content to walk up some of the steep hills that littered the new route like sand dunes on a beach. I was pleased to find the route still included the technical descent to Mytholmroyd that I've enjoyed so much over the years. I've slowed down a lot, but still passed a few folk who despite having suspension preferred to walk down here.
Further on, a short section along the Rochdale Canal towpath in Hebden Bridge offered the chance of a scenic breather, after stopping at a support point for orange juice, banana and chocolate caramel shortbread.
After that very short flat section, the route led steeply upwards to join the Pennine Bridleway for a while. The ascent offered increasingly good views across the valley to Stoodley Pike.
After passing the pub at Jack Bridge, this new route went through Colden before turning sharply left through a ginnel where I passed a chap who was preferring to walk along the narrow bridleway (pictured below). These narrow paths between two walls are a pleasure to cycle along, unless you happen to want to overtake (a rare occurence for me these days).
A lovely ride along the Edge Lane track brought me to Reaps Bottom, where a curious sheep looked on whilst I admired the view down to Gorple Lower Reservoir.
After the easy but stony descent, during which I encountered a few walkers, I paused at the dam before crossing the rather depleted reservoir. Here, a bike with a huge electric motor whizzed past at about 40 mph. Not part of the event, although electric bikes are allowed - just the ones that you have to pedal in order to keep them moving.
On reaching Clough Foot, I caught up with the errant biker, who was struggling to get his heavy as a motorbike machine through a narrow gateway. Event marshals and participants looked on with disdain before watching this person zoom off up towards Widdop.
We headed in the other direction, to join the old route at Walshaw and head up the slithery path that is the Calder/Aire Link bridleway. I've often cycled this, but I walked it today. I realised that I'm definitely far from being 'bike fit'.
After the fast but technical descent to Grain Water Bridge (this is a section where suspension makes a big difference to the speed you can go), the support point was most welcome, with a number of riders congregating there.
The easy lane (Old Road) leads on the old route to the A6033 and a fast descent to Pecket Well before attacking the rigours of Midgley Moor. I was expecting this to be the way. But no, at SD995311 I was directed left, up a narrow, steep, stony path that only the most expert of mountain bikers might be capable of cycling. Even going down this way may have seen me pushing. Anyway the path rose steeply to cross the A6033 road and continue even more steeply up towards Spinks Hill Edge. Luckily, high above the road, a bench offered a little respite for my stalwart steed, the 32 year old Shogun Trailbreaker, which behaved impeccably throughout, despite not having had its usual annual service before the event. (The loss of top gear was almost completely irrelevant!)
Looking ahead, I also needed a rest. In the picture below, the dots on the horizon show the people ahead of me on a very steep section. I could see that even those carrying their bikes were slithering backwards and were then resorting to pushing. We congregated on the top, before they went off ahead of me.
Once on the top of the moor, the trig point at High Brown Knoll (444 metres) was reached without too much difficulty. I stopped there for a few photos.
You can see from the next picture that the route was well signposted, even across the desolate moorland. This section, all the way to Catherine House, covering about 5km, took me around 50 minutes, as great care is needed on some tricky rocky and very boggy sections as well as the easy paths like the one shown. All great fun though!
Luddenden Foot was the next target, but the (easy) old route has been replaced by a more challenging undulating route that uses more of the narrow ginnels that feature in several parts of this marathon.
Once at Luddenden Foot, the route designer had given in and resisted any further innovations, sending riders up and down and then brutally 'up', towards the finish, with such good views across the valley towards Warley that I had to stop and take pictures before struggling to the final, short but lovely, descent to the cricket club.
The welcome was welcoming, and I was awarded the 'oldest bike' award, apparently trumping someone who had assumed that title with a 1995 bike. The spicy tomato soup was delicious, and as a late finisher there were plenty of seconds because the caterers were happy to minimise left overs. It was good to sit outside the pavilion in the warm sunshine and enjoy the feeling of having succeeded in meeting a fairly tough challenge, with a young couple, Liam and Sophie, from nearby Warley who I'd passed and re-passed many times during the day.
The challenging route is shown above - click on the image for a better version. It took me about 5 hours 25 minutes, much longer than ever before, and my Garmin measured it at 44km with 1250 metres ascent. The results are here
. I came in position 155 out of 164 normal cyclists, behind a further 26 eBikes, and 8 wimps who did a shorter course.
Well done to the organisers for planning such a brilliant, albeit tough for old timers, outing, and thanks to all the marshalls and to those who put up all the very many signs to keep us 'on track'.
Reports on earlier years' exploits are here