Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Hill no 46 – 67 Cairn Gorm

After the "highs" (quite literally) of Bealach Na Ba - it could have been that we were on a downer with the next days climb, but actually, despite only being a 6/10 ride, Cairn Gorm was a pretty challenging climb in itself!

Madly enough - as we drove there, we passed a beach - in the middle of the Cairn Gorm mountain range - we promised the dog we'd come back to it.

Always a bit concerning - as you start a ride as well, to see the hills ahead of you topped with snow!

The hill didn't start too steep really, but the wind that had almost polished me off yesterday was blowing HARD on this climb which made things very interesting. In fact heading into the wind was giving the slope an extra 2/3 on the hardness scale I reckon!

Again - you start off below the tree line in amongst the pines and there was some respite from the wind here, but soon, you were out of that shelter and totally exposed to the buffeting - it felt at times as though someone was physically pushing you backwards!

Properly beautiful again though - it must get busy here as there was an interesting one way system in effect (which gave me something to have to get my head around other than the wind!) - but there were other little things to attract the attention too!

The climb ended up by a Ski centre and lift - that makes you think you have done a fair bit of climbing!

Snow, skis, rough road, harsh wind - phew, thank goodness I'm at the top!

Garmin Data here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464117
Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uS2NpUSmBFE
Flickr here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157627162777961/

Hill no 45 – 69 Bealach-na-ba

This was "it". THE climb. Just driving there was enough to send shivers down your spine - it was incredible scenery

Rating a massive 11/10 on the Warren scale, Bealach-na-ba is described as the "Holy Grail" for road cyclists - the hardest climb you are going to get in the UK. I was fully expecting it to be tough - a steep, long hill - 40 minutes+ of climbing up a big hill in the middle of nowhere in the North West of Scotland.

And it was blowing a holy gale when we got there! The wind was really, really tough - when I got out of the car (after an amazing, but slightly torturous drive!), it almost whipped my bike away from under me as I held it! I had to put it together and try and stop my bottles from blowing away and disappearing - well into miles of unoccupied Scottish space.

The climb itself starts just off an A road, but you can see how exposed it is straight away - the wind was whipping across me from left to right as I looked at the hill and it certainly looked as though mostly it was going to be against me - as if the slope wasn't hard enough on its own!

The road starts off fairly steadily with big looping turns going up the hillside - this is the bit that seems to go on forever as you just keep plugging your way up the hill - just turning the pedals and marvelling at the incredible scenery. There were a number of motorbikes going up there and even some tourists in cars who had chosen to drive up this isolated, windy, hellish road. I however was going up it on a bike and going increasingly slowly.

After what seemed like an age, I eventually started going up the "main event" which was the incredible road going up to the main pass. The wind was whipping down the hill still - but rather than being just constant in your face, it was properly blustery - you'd be ok for a moment - and then you'd suddenly be knocked back in your tracks.

My worst moment in all these rides was due to my desire to keep recording my rides for posterity. I knew my helmet camera was going to run out half way up the ride, so I had cunningly stashed some glasses which also had a camera in them in my back pocket. At the appropriate time, I took off my sunglasses, stuck them in my other back pocket, grabbed the other glasses with the camera in, turned it on, hit a gust of wind, went sideways, virtually stopped, almost fell off, nearly went off the side of the road and just managed to save it.

Having managed to put on my reserve camera, I then proceeded to video the road, about 1m in front of my front wheel, so sorry about that.

It was, apart from the physical challenge though, it was an absolutely incredible ride. I don't think I have ridden anywhere that feels just as remote and is as bleakly beautiful as Bealach-na-Ba. It really was incredible, I hope the photos give you some idea of it.

Right at the top there are a series of switchbacks and you get a great look down the valley. I wouldn't say that individually any part of the hill is so steep that it is something I haven't come across before, but cumulatively the sum of its parts, the weather, the distance, the slope, the isolation makes it the hardest challenge I've ridden so far.

I have read about people that have said "ah, it ain't that bad", well I'm guessing they got it on a nice clear day without any wind! I thought it was v tough indeed.

The top gave amazing views and the ride down to Applecross was so hair raising with the cross winds that I literally tip toed it down. Scary, exhilarating and knackering. Well worth all the travel to get here!

Garmin Data here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464133
Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzBjkHdm-GQ and here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF8W5A2hshs
Flickr photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157627160607691/

I am gutted about the video on the 2nd link being mostly of the road - my back up measures didn't work that well - but if you skip through it there are some incredible views back down the valley.

Hill no 44 – 68 Rest and be Thankful

The final climb of a day of a lot of climbing and a lot of driving and it was well worth the effort!

It does seem as though a lot of these climbs that I'm doing in the early evening seem to be beautiful - I don't know whether it is just the light, or the time of day, or the relief that I'm nearly at the end of my having to hurt my legs, but they often seem to be my favourite climbs.

Rest and Be Thankful was very rolling to start with - in a little wooded area on a single track type of road, the road rose and fell in a really nice way initially - just giving you little sprints and then little rests as you coasted down the other side and a little sprint again. Kind of keeps it really interesting though stops you getting in a rhythym.

The scenery was incredible too - really towering mountain/hill scapes which loomed up in front of you and were incredibly beautiful - quite grand!

My dreams of having an impeccable riding style were somewhat shattered as the sun behind me cast my shadow out in front of me and I could see just how much my shoulders were rolling from side to side. I'm sure this was just something to do with the hour of the day and what I had done before, but I was keeping an eye on my heart rate just to take it easy without going to much in the red.

The climb got a bit steeper on the second bit and although these were slopes that I ordinarly probably wouldn't flinch at - I could feel the lactic acid building up and giving me a hard time. I could feel my "form" going to pot which was annoying.

Fortunately it didn't last for ever and there was some respite on the climb with the odd downhill just giving my legs enough rest.

A beautiful climb, quite hard - certainly worth the 6 it was given and a nice one to round the day off with.

Garmin Data here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464146
Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx8UgWbQPJ8
Flickr photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157627106496331/

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Hill no 43 – 63 Mennock Pass

The Mennock Pass was truly a beautiful climb. I probably started a bit early and had a lovely ride in gorgeous sunshine through a valley with the river burbling away happily to my side, the trees providing shelter and the beautiful scenery providing balm for my eyes. The book talks about a ride along the pan flat valley floor and I'm not sure if this is part of the climb - but it was incredibly enjoyable.
This feeling was increased as I came out of the valley area and started the climb proper. Gorgeous banking down to the road with the hills rising gently either side of you.

There is a stream running gently by the side tempting you to go and dip your feet in the cool water, a lovely valley floor and piles of rocks everywhere.

Lots of sheep just chilling out on the side of the road, taking it easy and probably enjoying living in such a beautiful place!

The slope never seems to get too brutal, it is a long climb rather than a really hard one, but it is a fairly long one. Luckily for me I had a beautiful day!

At the end of the ride you do a little dip through Wanlockhead which I think is the highest village in Scotland - nice bit of trivia for the ride - also at the bottom of a little dip which is very pleasant!

Garmin Data here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464153
Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N053Zmj3ttE&feature=related
Flickr photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157627079867486/

Hill no 42 – 77 Hartside

Ah – Hartside was actually quite a “fun” climb – well, insofar as these things can be fun!
The gradient was never too tough, more of a constant drag than a real leg hurter, the climb itself was long and varied – from a village, through fairly non-descript fields, through woodland and up onto barren hill side with a cafe to aim for at the top.
2 things “made” this hill though – 1 was chasing other bikes up the hill – there were a number of MTBers heading up and having those in front gave you a target and made you push a little harder than you would otherwise do.

I quite like the camraderie of the road too - saying hello and words of encouragement to each other as you plough on up - I'm not one of those people who subscribe to the "them" and "you" school of thought about MTBers and Road Cyclists - I'm not good enough at handling a bike to ride off road!
The other was the old fashioned gypsy caravan we saw coming up the hill – at about 8 minutes on the video, you can see it and all the associated traffic coming down.
There must be some sort of convention going on as Malmesbury was absolutely packed with gypsy caravans – some new ones, but mostly the amazing old fashioned ornate painted ones.
Really interesting to see – I wonder what is going on?
The hill was good though - I took the liberty of racing down it and it was a "pedaller" - you couldn't coast it if you wanted to max out your speed, but unlike a lot of the hills I've been doing - you didn't feel unsafe descending!

Garmin Data here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464175
Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKJBKjEmGBk&feature=related
Flickr photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157627072214716/

Hill no 41 – 83 Kirkstone Pass

The Kirkstone Pass is one that I have done before – I did it last year on the John O’Groats to Lands End ride I did. The night before, I had wisely swapped my 11-23 cassette out for a 12-26 and was very glad when I climbed that I had done so.
We had camped at the base of the climb and the evening before people were filled with apprehension and fear about the task that awaited them and nervousness about the task that awaited them.
What a difference a year makes – I was 100% sure that I would get up Kirkstone Pass this time – my only fear was how much it would take out of me as I had a lot of other climbs planned for today – and a lot of driving.
The night before we stayed in a campsite in Ullswater and had a really nice stay – dog behaved really well, we walked down to the local pub for a drink and the stream at the end of our camper provided lovely white noise that masked everything nicely.
However, we woke to the gentle drumming of rain and the weather had turned ugly on us – it made the Kirkstone Pass a slightly less appealing proposition.
But it had to be conquered, so it was on with the wet weather gear and up the hill. Wild,windy and steep, my travails were put in perspective by the nice couple on touring bikes that I passed going up the hill. “Hat” to you both.

Kirkstone is a "tricky" climb - its not a real beast like Wrynose or Hardknott, but it is plenty hard enough and in bad weather, the 20% gradient on the upper slopes can be a bit nasty. It is also a bit busier than other climbs I have done - the traffic can act as a stimulant some times and get you moving a bit quicker, but it can also work the other way and slow you down!

Hill no 40 – 80 Honister Pass

Honister Pass starts from a picturesque little car park where the dog splashed around in a stream as ducks eyed him suspiciously. You pull out, past the farm and through a delightful little copse. All very nice, but it soon turns “ugly”!
A little downhill lulls you into a false sense of security with a beautiful view of the valley.
Sure enough with a stream to your left and the slopes forming a fantastic back drop to the ride, the climb had me in raptures over the scenery.
For the rest of the climb, I was largely seeing stars. The climb just ramped up and got steeper and harder all the way up. It really is a climb that keeps on pushing at you and getting harder and harder the further you go up it which is NOT very nice!
I can’t remember much about the top – but I do remember thinking that the Honister Pass sign was a bit “easyjet” in its bright orangeness AND being bloody tired when I got there!

I was also suffering from the front wheel lifting in the air if I sat down and so I had to stand and really grind my way over the top.

It "only" gets a 9, but at that time of the day, with the other rides in your legs, it seemed like a harder climb!
I knew the climb ended by some slate gates and it being the last climb of the day, me having very tired legs and, well, having run out of excuses, I was searching for them a long way from the top. Done though – but done in as well!

There is a sportive ride called the Fred Whitton that amongst its 100 miles takes in a lot of these climbs. Now that will be a beast of a sportive - especially if the weather is nasty!

Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwskbjT_D_c&feature=related
Garmin here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464195
Flickr here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157627052449312/

Hill no 39 – 81 Newlands Hause

Newlands Hause was a pretty climb too – weather was fantastic today and I was actually feeling ok as I pulled out into the initial part of the climb, past an array of parked cars into what I thought was an unnecessarily aggressive and steep initial climb!

Lots of cars parked around the side - with the spectacular nature of the scenery I wasn't suprised!
Straight from the start I was puffing away, trying to get air into the lungs – the hill was steep immediately and didn’t give you any time to “get into” the hill or warm up at all on it. It was a good 13/14% gradient from the off!
Fortunately, it slackened off a little eventually, but a sign of how steep the hill was was that a desperate look down at my cogs showed that I was already in the smallest gear and had no more options. Its always a bad thing when you do that and you realise that you've got nowhere else to go! You just have to grit your teeth and keep going for it.
Newlands Hause did have a little downhill section which gave me cause for celebration (I think I gave a little cheer as I coasted down and took the weight off of my legs) – it didn’t last though as it ramped up again and the brief respite didn't stop it from hurting the legs all the way to the finish.

Saw some cyclists bombing it down the hill which looked a lot more fun to be honest! Wind started to pick up too at the top, which made it more tricky again! Dog loved the wind though:
A tough little climb. Only just over 10 minutes, but a lot going on.

Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lg9v9g_TefM&feature=related
Garmin data here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464223
Flickr photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157627051469406/

Hill no 38 – 82 Whinlatter Pass

A nice little climb and to be honest, a welcome break from the 8s, 9s and 10s of the harder slopes. You could ride those all day, but you would be questioning your ability as a rider if you did, whilst a climb like Whinnlater does reassure you that you’re not totally useless!
Starting off in a nice little village, the climb was fairly stiff to start with – and somewhat annoyingly the road had a little stream running down it – annoying because I ended up with a very wet derriere as the spray went off of my wheels onto my backside.

A soggy, squelchy bum isn't that bad - you just think that you're carrying unecessary extra water up the hill!
The steep initial slope levelled out a little though and this was a climb surrounded by trees which sheltered me a little from the wind and was nice and different from the other climbs I had done over the past couple of days.
Also, through the trees on your right, you could see glimpses of beautiful lake. Almost enough for me to want to pull over and get a photo, but not enough to tempt me away from the rest of the climb!
Right at the top it ramped up again and you also have to dodge your way through rogue MTBers – Whinnlater Pass seems to have some amazing facilities for those who like riding over bumpy muddy stuff. There was a big visitors centre and loads of people visiting and going out on their bikes - really nice to see - some nice stuff too:

Hill no 37 – 84 Hardknott Pass

Hardknott is meant to be the “king” of climbs and an indicator that if you can get up it, there isn’t a hill that you won’t be able to get up.
It starts off quietly enough – a little slope up through a wooded area, over a cattle grid, but then it ramps up to a hard gradient straight away – 21% early doors and had work on the legs from the get go, you certainly know you've got a challenge ahead of you.
Hardknott had me whimpering at the start, but I knew if I could just get up the initial slope then it would level out a little bit and it did. Comparitively, but then I knew the slope would get worse the further that I got up the hill and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Just tough, but the weather was better than earlier on in the day and two things made the pain of the climb pass quicker than anything else. 1 was the beautiful wind that did its best to blow me up the hill and to make up for the evil behaviour it had exhibited when it was in my face on Wrynose.
The other was the amazing good nature of the drivers that I met going downhill. They would brake, pull over, give me a thumbs up, shout words of encouragement and generally were courteous, encouraging and positive all at the same time.
Yeah – the climb is amazing, it is tough, it is beautiful, it is a proper 10/10 climb. But it is the reaction of people that can really make things for you. Thank you everyone I passed/who passed me!

Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh2VCFS7c5U&feature=related
Garmin data here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464259
Flickr photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157627050096666/ (sorry not a lot of photos this one - dog went on strike!)

Hill no 36 –85 Wrynose Pass

Wrynose – the “Queen of climbs”. Or as I like to call it – a "very very hard" climb. I knew that things were going to be tricky when I realised that the wind was blowing right into my face and therefore the 25% gradient was going to be even tricker than the road signs suggested.
The first climb of the day always seems a little harder than the others, I probably should warm up my legs more and stretch out a little, but when you are trying to cover the distance that we are and the number of climbs that we are trying to do – it is one of those things that goes by the wayside (along with yoga, stretching and tinkering with my gears).
Wrynose starts by a little stone farm, with a rather friendly cow in the stable behind you. That’s about all the cutesy niceness the climb gives you though.
I was wrapped up – shoe coves, rain jacke, leg and arm warmers. Windy and wet – basically the worst conditions for climbing very steep hills! We had had a rough night too, although the dog is behaving impeccably which was very good of him.
Some climbs I am able to enjoy, some climbs I feel as though I have raced up them, some climbs my legs feel good and I feel like hills are no problem. Wrynose was not one of those climbs.
I remember a lot of leg pain, a lot of standing up on the pedals with the pedals going round slowly and just enough force going down to keep me going. I remember a car that I pulled over to overtake who then stopped to chat with someone in the middle of the road, destroying what little momentum I had until I shouted at them to keep moving. Which they did. Thankfully as I'm not sure that I could do a track stand on the middle of that hill!

I was obviously going so slowly that they thought they had the ability to swap civilities long before I approached them!

Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQWXAWRs7S0
Garmin data here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464267
Flickr photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157627049940914/
I remember getting to the top and feeling tired! Not ideal for first hill of the day!

Hill no 35 – 76 Jubilee Tower, Lancashire

I had a quick race down this hill before coming back up it.
Sometimes I think that this is good idea as it gives you an idea of how long it is, how to pace yourself, where the road goes and where the steep bits will be before you do the ride. It does give you a completely false impression of the hill though - for example here are my Garmin stats for going down the hill: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464288 - now I KNOW that I'm not going anywhere near 40mph on the way up it!
Other times, I think it is a bad idea as you know exactly what is coming up and you start planning for the road ahead, rather than just cycling the slope in front of you and letting planning take care of itself. And watching out for the sheep!
Fortunately Jubilee Tower was one of the former and it was actually a very pleasant little climb. Again, starting down by a river, there was some initial hard graft through some lower slopes, but then, just as you were starting to fade, you could see Jubilee Tower lurking over the final hill ahead of you and it gave you a real target to aim for.

One of the things that I love about cycling is that you kind of suspend reality a little bit in your head and you can imagine other scenarios and play them out in your head - as well as enjoying the climb here, I also imagined that I was racing up against other riders to keep me going!
In my head, I powered up the final stretch and won my “stage” of the tour de make believe. I am acutely aware of the fact that I probably wheezed and limped my way over the line. Lucky me though – I get a big doggy kiss and a night in a “campervan”!

I am now getting used with these climbs to start in the shelter, where things are green and end up on a rather less friendly environment on a windswept moor. It is a good feeling to think that by the power of your legs alone, you can drag yourself up from one environment to another.

Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppS1PX2l2DE
Garmin here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/90464279
Flickr here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100hillsforgeorge/sets/72157626906990107/