This adventure started, for me, in London on a Thursday night (18th February to be precise) by riding to Waterloo through late night traffic in the heart of the city. I was on my way to catch a train South to travel North to the Lake District for 2016's second cycling adventure.
As our respective training continued in isolation, Ben and I endeavoured to also continue our 2016 cycling adventure campaign by seizing chances to ride in various locals as often as we could. On this occasion we were fulfilling a long talked about goal of cycling the roads of The Lake District. We had previously explored Cumbria via cars and on foot and remarked how the roads seemed to be ideal for riding, and vowed to return to do so.
As seems tradition for these adventures (thus far) we settled on a date pretty quickly and put together a plan with an efficiency that caused suspicion from others but to us showed commitment to the cause. We would drive north on the Friday morning, camp overnight ready to tackle the ride on the Saturday. Perfectly simple.
As the hour drew nearer another convention of our recent trips began to occur – increasing external trepidations. People were convinced we were ill prepared for the trip, they raised concerns about the weather and the season, 'Wasn't it too early to be going North? Why not delay the trip until it was warmer…' But these trips were never about idyllic situations or holidays even. They are about removing ourselves from our comfort zones, taking on things we always say would be nice to do, but rarely actually doing them.
So with a somewhat enforced optimism I vowed to remove myself from the negativity of outside parties (including meteorologists) and just embrace whatever happened, as it happens. A lot of wind & rain happened.
The journey North started well enough, with blue skies and sunglasses – but as we drove further up the country the rain started to fall. As it fell the wind picked up and whipped the rain into an excitement at first then increasing into full on 'sideways rain.'
We arrived at the campsite in what can comfortably be described as a storm. We pitched the tent in spite of the winds best efforts to tear it from us and retreated to the safety of the car. Honestly, I was starting to let the doubters convince me they were right.
Ben quickly shook me from my spiral of doubt with the unwavering statement of intent - 'Right, shall we get ready then?' We were soon getting into all of our foul weather cycling gear ready to depart for our first Lake District ride in less than ideal conditions. We did concede that today's effort would be a 'warm-up' ride (and those words were used well aware of their irony, there would be little warm about this ride) only an hour or so on the bike.
That warm up ride turned into a pretty steep effort up a narrow pass and descending into the valley the other side, all the while with the wind driving the sharp rain into our faces. It was awesome.
Sure we started to lose the feeling in our extremities and one point I thought I might never have enough oxygen in my lungs again (it was a steep climb, with little to no warm up) but we were out there, amongst the fells and the tarns and in hindsight (sat in the warm & dry) the weather made the scenery all the more epic.
That night we were both in high spirits from the days achievement (overcoming the elements and the climb) but also a little nervous for the night under canvas. Throughout the day the wind had risen and the rain showed no sign of slowing, let alone ceasing entirely – I was preparing for an unsettled night. Once we had arranged the interior of the tent with all the blankets we had, we toasted the day with a 'tent beer' and settled in for the night.
We listened to the gales roll down Scafell Pike and through the valley, crashing into our little tent as the rain lashed at us from multiple directions. I drew the drawstrings as tight as I could on my sleeping bag, attempted to block out as much 'air noise' as I could and tried to drift into a state of rest.
Eventually dawn broke and I opened my eyes to light inside the tent with the accompanying pitter-patter sound of rain. Once we had torn ourselves away from the relative comfort of our sleeping bags we debated the best course of action over a Tupperware breakfast of shredded wheat and a couple of sp-orks. Again there was the nagging feeling that riding out in this weather would be bananas (of which we had many but actually forgot to take with us on both rides).
Eventually we roused the same spirit we had found the day before, geared up and headed out into the maelstrom. We had altered our ambitions slightly to allow us enough time to return to the campsite and regain blood flow to our outer limbs before returning south. We had learned a lot about the limitations of our circulatory systems from our previous outing the day before.
Despite it being a 'Plan B (or C, or D, there were many alternate plans proposed)' the ride was as wild and as scenic as I could have hoped. I really do love this part of the world and as we rode past local walkers, sheep and cows I greeted all with a warm smile to counter the bleak conditions.
The road warped and twisted around rugged commons and dipped to and fro from the lakeside of Coniston water. Into and over passes, with exhilarating descents on the other side. Multiple times my jaw was wide open – sometimes trying to gulp in air but often it was whilst admiring baron waterfalls or far off, craggy, snow capped peaks. I was wet, I was cold but I was happy.
The weather had been less than ideal and yes, maybe it would have been better if we'd have bailed on the whole trip and re-scheduled. But then I wouldn't have experienced the pure relief of a warm shower or the exhilaration of descending at speed when I can't physically feel the brake levers and putting faith in my tires and their grip on the saturated road. I wouldn't have felt the joy of topping out my first mountain pass or just how good embrocation feels after a few hours riding in the cold.
It would have been very easy to stay warm and dry in the tent or a local café but instead we persevered and rode some of the most stunning roads I have ridden to this date. Do I wish the weather would have been blue bird skies and sunshine? Perhaps. Would I change anything about the trip now? Absolutely not.
Words & Pictures — Jack Sadler