Thanks mate - have a saddle! [Road]

I met 'Warburton' (Andrew T) on Saturday morning at Mytholmroyd community centre to hand over my surplus Rolls saddle as a 'thank you' gesture for all the audax lifts he's given since I met him on my first forum ride in April 2006. After that, we did quite a bit of a loop I'd designed some time ago but not got round to riding.

I'd recently fitted road SPD pedals to my Basso. I thought that SPD shoes with their recessed cleats would be more suitable for walking about at the stops on the audax and other sociable rides I do on that bike. Also - I'd had to do an emergency dismount on a 25% hill last year and nearly fell when my Look shoe cleat slipped on the road; SPD would be a lot safer in that respect. Unfortunately the new shoes I bought were too tight across the toes, and I made the mistake of thinking that they would 'give' - they didn't! I wore the shoes on just one strenuous 3 hour ride and my feet were still numb a week later. I should have sent them straight back - I'll have to sell them on eBay now they've been worn and I'll get some replacements that fit me. Take heed if you are ever buying Shimano cycling shoes - I'd been warned that they 'are small for the size' and had bought a size bigger than usual, but they were still too small for my feet; try before you buy!

Of course, in my typical muddled fashion, I'd forgotten to do anything about my shoes & pedals in the build-up to the ride. I came to set off, took one look at the bike and thought "Oh bugger!" I had to make a quick decision - change back to Looks, or what? In the end, I donned my old MTB shoes. Now, these work okay on my old worn MTB pedals, but as soon as I came to my first junction on the Basso, I discovered to my horror that getting unclipped from the A520s was now almost impossible despite the release tensions being set to minimum. I very nearly fell off. The safety feature of using SPDs on steep hills was now actually going to be a real hazard. The only way that I could unclip was to make a violent twisting motion with my foot, and even that only worked about one time in three. I didn't have time to go back and change pedals, so I just had to make damn sure that I got one foot unclipped in advance of when I needed to. Not always an easy thing to do in traffic; fortunately, most of the ride was away from traffic...

The weather played all sorts of tricks on us during the ride. There was a pretty strong wind blowing the whole time - around 25-30 kph, with the odd gust upto about 50 kph. There was sunshine one minute, then drizzle, then the odd short heavy downpour. We got pretty wet, then dried out, then got wet again. We'd both made the decision not to go for heavy-duty foul-weather clothing. The forecast had been accurate, and we would have cooked when the sun was out if we'd had longs and heavy rain jackets on. I'd settled for shorts with light legwarmers, shortsleeved jersey with armwarmers, and a gilet. When the rain got worse, I put a showerproof windjacket on under the gilet and kept it on after that. It didn't keep me dry, but it kept the windchill down to bearable levels. Warburton was actually wearing shorts, but he said that his legs didn't feel too cold, although his feet did once the rain had soaked into his shoes. I'd got lightweight shoe covers on which didn't keep my feet dry, but again, kept the wind from chilling them.

We set off from Mytholmroyd straight up Scout Road, over to Hubberton Green, then took a nice little lane down to Cotton Stones. A quick descent into Mill Bank followed, and then a long steep climb up out the other side. We worked our way round to Blue Ball Road, crossed over at Baitings Reservoir and followed the West Yorkshire Cycle Route over to Booth Wood. I don't think that I've ever done it in that direction before, so that made an interesting change.

We dropped down below Booth Wood Reservoir, climbed back up to Ringstone Edge Reservoir, on over the M62 to Moselden Height, then dropped down Deanhead to Scammonden Water, and climbed back up towards Pole Moor. That is definitely easier than climbing the other way to Deanhead. It's very pretty down there.

We descended Pole Moor gingerly in the wet, slippery conditions. A lot of gravel had been washed onto the roads, which just served to increase the danger. I was so scared of being stuck in the pedals that I did the whole descent with my left foot unclipped. That is one brute of a climb, but fortunately we were going the other way! This was the one hill to defeat me in 2006, and is the one mentioned above. Warburton said that he'd climbed it recently and had found it very, very tough. There is a cobbled strip down the middle of the narrow section at 25% gradient. This really is the last straw because it gives you no room for manouevre - you either power your way straight up or you walk - that's your choice. If you deviated aross the cobbles, you'd crash, I'd almost guarantee it - it's a scary little monster! An amazing choice to put on a national cycle route...

We stopped at the co-op in Marsden for supplies, and as I chomped down the fruit bar I'd taken with me, I suddenly realised that I was feeling very light-headed. When I'd looked at my bottles it was obvious that I hadn't drunk enough. Half a bottle wasn't enough for what we'd tackled so far. I quickly finished off that bottle, poured half my other bottle into it, added some more carbo-powder, then topped up with water.

We set off to cross the main road in order to take my back-road climb out of Marsden. Warburton shot across the road in a gap between oncoming vehicles, but my brain was obviously suffering from low blood-sugar because I couldn't quite work out how to do it! I ended up walking across the road and had about 5 attempts to get clipped in and start up the hill. It was about 10 minutes before the food and drink kicked in and I started to feel more alert and capable again. Once more, message to self - REMEMBER TO EAT AND DRINK LITTLE AND OFTEN ON RIDES!!!

I'd selected the back road out of Marsden for one of my Cycling Plus forum rides last year and it is now my road-of-choice in that direction out of the town. The main road is a long windy drag. The back road is quieter, more scenic, and more sheltered. Okay, it IS much steeper, but you can't have everything! There is a grotty bit of 'heavy' broken Yorkshire road surface leading into the hill, but they have recently resurfaced the climb itself, which made the going significantly easier. I still found it hard-going with my low energy reserves though. I didn't want to push too hard, so I twiddled up in my luxury 30/28 climbing gear chatting to Warburton. It wasn't too long until we rejoined the A62, and my mood immediately changed. It was our first real stretch of busy A-road and the cars were flying past, too close, too fast. It was a bit windy up there, but I just wanted to get off that road ASAP so I went to the front, got on the drops and used my new supplies of energy to go up at a good brisk pace, with Warburton tucked in behind me.

Soon we'd got over the top of the little rise, and started down the other side. Normally, from there I would have taken us down to Uppermill, then along to Greenfield for the coming climb of Saddleworth Moor. I've always disliked those roads though. You get the real feeling that you are on the fringes of Greater Manchester; it is just busy and stressful. For this ride, I'd planned a new scenic diversion!

We took an early left on the descent and dropped down into Diggle. I'd never been down there before - it is VERY nice! It's only a couple of miles from the busier parts of Saddleworth, but it feels like another world. It is all lanes, hills, fields. Strenuous, mind, up and down, down and up... It is the sort of thing that used to do my head in when I was less fit, but I'm strong enough to cope now.

I was navigating the new parts of the ride using my Garmin Etrex GPS unit, but I hadn't prepared my route file with my customary attention to detail. On the map, it didn't look that hard to work out where we'd be going so I skimped on the detail and missed out a few junctions, approximating the twisty, turny lanes with a few straight lines - that was a BIG MISTAKE! For the first time, I started taking wrong turns on a GPS-led ride and some of these resulted in us going up or down very steep hills and having to backtrack once I realised what was wrong. You'd have to be really stupid to get more than about 0.5 km off route because you can see on the screen that you are going in the wrong direction. Working out how to get back on the right route isn't quite so straightforward without a map, so we'd just u-turn and go back the way we'd come. Overall, I ended up doing an extra 5 km on the ride due to this kind of thing.

Saddleworth Moor loomed up in front of us, and it looked pretty dark and imposing from that side! We were on a little road that took us round one end of it to rejoin the main road climb above Greenfield. This was one time when we had a bit of a tailwind so I suffered less on the long drag over the Moor than I normally do. In fact I managed to set a fairly good pace up the hill. I didn't realise that I'd left Warburton behind until close to the top, when I turned to say something to him and saw that he was a hundred metres or so back. Earlier on, he'd already ridden over from Emley to Mytholmroyd to meet me, so he had an excuse to be more tired. He's also done some very impressive long audax rides recently and is well on his way to completing his first audax SR series - only his '600' to go now. Hey Andrew - well done lad, or should I say... Chapeau!

We finished the climb together and cruised over the flattish bit at the top. We had planned to stop at the butty van which is normally up there, but the driver had probably stayed away to watch the FA cup final. Either that or he thought that most of his customers would have - he wasn't there, at any rate. It was a bit cold up there in the heavy drizzle so we carried straight on to the descent. I went part of the way down towards Holmfirth with Warburton, and said my goodbyes to him at the left turn for Meltham by the pub, just above Digley Reservoir. We'd done just over 60 very lumpy km together.

It was now becoming obvious that my 'guesstimated' time for my ride was hoplessly optimistic - beforehand, I said it would "take me about 5 hours, including stops" - ho ho, what a laugh!

The steepish drag out of Meltham always makes me suffer because it is always well into my ride, but I just put my head down and got on with it this time. At least for once I wouldn't be going back through Marsden. I took a right at the top and did a quick descent into Slaithwaite, and then the weather turned nasty again...

The severe gradient of Scapegoat Hill was bad enough, but getting doused in a freezing downpour at the foot of it certainly didn't help either, and as for the 30 seconds of hail halfway up... :-{ ! I ended up feeling completely disorientated towards the top; it was probably low blood-sugar again. I just didn't believe what the Etrex was telling me and took what I thought was the correct turn, but I found myself heading back down towards Slaithwaite by another road. Somehow it took me a minute or two to realise it, by which time I'd lost quite a bit of my hard-earned altitude - drat! That did my head in as I had to turn round and climb straight back up again. I soon got my bearings and headed over to Stainland. By then, incredibly, I'd managed to forget about the steep valley between Stainland and Barkisland. It was another huge blow to my morale when I plunged down into it, only to see that I'd have to climb straight back up the other side to get out of it. I was very glad of that 30/28 granny gear...

Soon, the valley was behind me and I had a quick descent to Ripponden and on down to Sowerby Bridge. I didn't fancy the busy A646 in my groggy state, so instead I climbed 1 mile up to Sowerby village - that was longer and steeper than I'd remembered! After that I had a nice easy scenic run back down Scout Road to Mytholmroyd, and along the Calder Valley Cycleway to Hebden Bridge.

With the spells of bad weather, delays due to wrong turns, and general severity of the climbs, I ended up doing 101 km in exactly... 7 hours. Flipping heck - only 14.4 kph average speed! Mind you, there had been over 2,500m of hills crammed into that ride... If it had been an audax ride I'd have put in the effort to save 15 minutes to achieve the required minimum overall speed of 15 kph.

I could certainly feel the ride in my legs the next day but if I'd tried doing it with the 39/23 bottom gear that some people use, I wouldn't have been able to walk. It was a grand route and I'd enjoyed meeting up with Warburton again. Better than staying in watching the football? Oh yes!