Sunday, 3 February 2013

Errors in profusion

A few years ago there was an outdoor equipment shop in Ambleside, run by a slightly mad and certainly quite stroppy Welshman, which advertised its wares using homemade signs in the window. My favourite was "anoraks in profusion". You can imagine a Welshman with a fondness for words and Dylan Thomas, but a head for retail, coming up with that. Today, I could have done with one of his anoraks. As it was, I made errors in profusion in planning and executing my mountain bike ride.

I decided to go out on the mountain bike partly for a change, and partly because I'm riding it three weeks today round Llandegla in North Wales with Neil, and seemingly every time I ride with Neil something breaks or falls off the bike, so I thought I'd give it chance to fail today so that I had time to get it mended if need be. I planned to do my normal 22 mile route through Macclesfield Forest, up to the Cat & Fiddle, across moorland and down to Wildboarclough, back through the Forest and home. I looked at the weather forecast last night, and it said it would rain overnight and be cloudy and milder by this morning. I then didn't look at the forecast this morning. Error number 1.

Error number 2 was failing to remember that whatever it's like down here at 600 feet above sea level, it's quite a lot worse nearly 1000 feet higher at the Cat & Fiddle. So there were no overshoes, no rain jacket, a bandana rather than fleecy skullcap, and thin gloves rather than heavy-duty winter ones. It all started fine - the rain was only a fine drizzle, and I was climbing rather then descending so working quite hard.

But then came error number 3 - forgetting that if there's any meaningful snow and ice down here, it can take up to a fortnight for it to disappear up there. Charity Lane is a mile long stretch of gradual ascent and descent along a rocky, rutted and hard-to-stay-upright-at-the-best-of-times kind of path. Today, however, the streams of water that flow gently in each direction from its summit were frozen, meaning that I had a choice: walk on ice, or ride on ice. (OK, there was a third choice - turn round and go a different way, but that was never going to happen). I opted for a bit of both, and after about 10 minutes of staggering around like a lamb that's learning to walk I exited unharmed.

Then came the climb to Cat & Fiddle, and there weather hell truly began. It was raining hard, the wind was piercing and still the paths were strewn with ice and cold puddles.  Error number 4 - going out without clear lenses in my cycling glasses; I could hardly see a thing for the muddy water being sprayed into my eyes. Now I was beginning to get cold. The rain intensified, everything I was wearing was wetter than it would have been in the washing machine, and I was on the downhill section of the route. I can honestly say I've never been more uncomfortable, even on some of my wet descents in the Pyrenees.

I changed route, sticking more to the roads in an attempt to pedal harder and warm up, but to no avail. By the time I got back to Macc Forest, my hands were indescribably cold. I did something I almost never do - I cut my planned route short and headed home. Again, it was downhill, and you know what it's like when one part of you gets cold; the rest of you gets cold as the body tries to divert blood to retain what little warmth it's got. But I made it back, and was in the shower with 90 seconds of walking through the door, and the pain of the warm water on my hands as they thawed was like the worst kind of pins-and-needles.

Quite often on here I talk about how marvellous a run or a ride has been, indeed sometimes I think I sound like I'm protesting too much. Today, however, the ride wasn't marvellous or even enjoyable after the event, as some can be. It was miserable, horrible, and without any virtue at all as far as I can see; I don't even think it was worth much in training terms. Still, I've got no-one to blame but myself. Back on the road bike I think next weekend.

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