Rough Stuff in the Moors

Way back in November, Matt told me about this "Rough Stuff" ride he was going to be leading in June. He said "It's part of the York Cycle Rally. It's 75 miles, about 1/3 off road, and includes some really tough going". I thought: a good challenge. So I said I'd do it if I could.

June rolls around and I've been doing a fair bit of off-road riding. I make plans to go to the cycle rally. Two days before the ride Matt phones me up and says he's injured his knee and can't lead the ride. However he says he'll mail maps to Andy (a mutual friend) with the route highlighted, along with a written description of the turns. Ok, I'm still up for it...

It's 8:30am Saturday, the start time of the ride. There's a bit of confusion about the start location: there are usually signs up where people are supposed to meet, but Matt's sign has been taken down since the organizers thought the ride was cancelled. Only four people show up: the three who'd told Matt that they'd do it (me, Andy, and Dave) and a guy named Kevin. Dave and Kevin are two quite muscular guys on hardtail MTBs. Andy is a skinny guy on a road bike with two chainrings, full fenders, and touring slicks. I have my touring bike with triple chainrings, MTB mudguards, and cyclocross tires. Probably more would have joined if we hadn't had the messup over starting.

We ride out of York uneventfully. Andy knows the start of the ride, but he has to stop to check the map every now and then once we get some distance from York, and especially on the off-road bits.

The first couple of off-road sections aren't too bad. They include some plain dirt track as well as tracks that have plenty of foliage (including nettles) along them. It turns out that Dave is mildy allergic to nettles, and his skin looks red immediately after our encounters with them. Later, his skin swells up and gets blotchy and bumpy.

On one of these stretches is a pretty steep hill, and going up this the three guys stick together, and I fall back, being not as fit as they are. This pattern is repeated through the entire ride!

At one point we hit a horrible muddy section, made far worse by 4-wheel drive vehicles than it would be on its own. With plenty of experience at muddy riding I'm doing well for awhile, but eventually all of us just get off and walk. Finally we come out and spend a bit of time trying to get the worst mud off our derailleurs and brakes. Then we go along some roads to get to our first food stop of the day, which we really need. It's a tea shop, and they let us come in and eat, even looking muddy and smelling bad... This is about the 23 mile point.

Then we climb up onto the moors. The moors are large open spaces of land, with no trees, only lots and lots of heather, and some vicious decents and climbs surrounding the valleys. We go up it gradually, and I don't fall too far behind the guys. Once at the top, there's this gently rising and falling dirt road, with lots of ruts, that we ride along. Along one section of it they've dumped some soft dirt/rock mixture, I suppose in an effort to combat erosion, and I'm expanding huge amounts of energy to go 3mph on the flat. I think, I could walk just as fast and it would be lots easier. But they're riding, so I keep it up. Finally they get off and walk, so I happily get off too. When the yukky loose dirt section ends we all ride again.

Then there's a series of steep ups and downs. It's all a blur to me, I don't remember what followed what. There are a couple of really difficult (technical and steep) descents, some rideable decents, a bit of road, a very steep path up a grass slope, one short steep technical uphill. Dave and Kevin, who are riding MTBs, do better on the descents than Andy and I do, but Andy is doing amazingly well, considering he is on a road bike and not at all used to off-road riding. He is just incredibly fit. Some parts of it all of us walk. The guys continue to wait for me at the top of climbs, not only long enough for me to rejoin them but also for me to catch my breath again.

At the top of one particularly steep and long climb I get to the top to find the guys stretched out in the grass. They suggest I do the same. I do. When I get up I try to take a drink, and I discover that my water pack is empty. Ooops. Kevin reports the same problem. We are about to join a road, and there's a farm right there. So Kevin and I go to the house to ask for some water, which the lady inside is happy to give us.

After another down and up, or two, we are at the top. Finally. We look around a bit. Then we coast down a very long, not too steep off-road downhill, then on a very long not too steep on-road downhill (with one little climb) and then we're in Kirbymoorside, a village on the edge of the moors. This is the 51 mile point. We get food from a shop and sit on the curb eating it. I must say, I'd be very happy to end the ride right here. We've done the longish ride to get to the moors, and we've done a challenging loop in the moors. I'm very tired and ready for a hot shower.

But there are 24 miles of road left to get back to York! It is mostly flat, but there are a few annoying climbs. I really drag. I'm in all sorts of pain, but I keep going. The guys wait for me at the tops of the hills, and I draft them on the flats.

After what seems like forever we are finally back in York. Yay! I'm aching all over, and I feel bad about holding the guys up so much on the hills, but I did it.

Stats: 75 miles, 9.5 hours including all the stops. I don't know the elevation gain; I'm going to buy myself an altimeter!

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