Facing my demons.

Today I decided to face a demon of my own creation. It’s a technical climb with a very steep final part and I set it as a target for the year in January. I chose to ride my Whyte JW4, which is 15 years old, because it has the lowest gear. I used to ride it weekly 20 years ago so at some point in the summer I’d expect to get to the top without a foot down. In fact it became quite a regular occurrence even though a couple of parts were harder in those days. Erosion has smoothed the trail in places so it’s really just the final climb which is hard. You need to conserve your energy up to that point so you can sprint at it and not give in. It’s about 8 miles away and climbs Crooked Edge Hill, a subsidiary peak to Winter Hill which dominates the West Pennine Moors. I took a route with plenty of climbing but none of it too steep and resisted the climb and descent of Rivington Pike, which is a quality trail. This was all so that I could be as fresh as possible for the 100 yards to the summit.

In the dry, almost still conditions the riding wasn’t particularly challenging for around 9 minutes. I reached the last bit and kept to the left as I knew I must from previous attempts. I crested the steepest part but on the lumpy ground I needed to dab my foot so I wouldn’t call that a success. I have conquered my demon though because it doesn’t matter enough to me to do it that I’d potentially spoil another ride. I’d have been better off enjoying a few of the other options that I passed on the way and just doing my best on Crooked Edge. At least I was now at my highest point of the day with the Lancashire plain to the west and lots of delicious riding to come. I rode down the fast, rocky and rutted trail with it’s many drop offs and other challenges. It’s like driving a fast car on a minor road, you can have far more speed than you’ll ever need and the brakes are your best friends. I took some pictures at the bottom where I’ve found nature provides something unusual in the summer.

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Foxgloves are usually a pinky purple colour. You’ll often see dozens of the plant without a single white one but here the whites dominate. They contain digitalis, a heart stimulant. It could increase my speed on the bike but use too much and it will kill you! I’m sure it’s a banned substance in all sports. I don’t even like to use caffeine to increase my stamina, which some cyclist apparently do. It helps you to burn fat thus saving glycogen, the bodies most important fuel. After a few cups of strong coffee I can’t concentrate and get the tremors. Not good for mountain biking. I get my kicks from the adrenaline rush of a good segment. It doesn’t even need to be a downhill if your putting the effort in. Fatigue has it’s own reward.

I followed the very beginning of the River Douglas as it drops steeply with waterfalls through a finger of woodland. I noticed rocks half the size of cars in the bottom of the steep valley. The trail sticks to the edge of the woods and is rooty single track at first but becomes wider later before returning to a narrow ribbon of dirt. It’s a thrilling few minutes right down to the road back to Rivington village. I turned off to the left to ride through the parkland at the side of a long reservoir. After this was a long but gentle climb on a gravel road. The down hill afterwards was spoiled by a group of walkers. What can you do apart from slow to a crawl and smile as if you’re actually happy to see them?

I then rode an old favourite trail along the side of Anglezarke reservoir to the back of Healey Nab. It’s a good cross country and varying ride and I wondered why I do it so rarely. The trail on the Nab is in perfect condition down through the woods and the open field section which follows was seriously fast. I’ve often thought about trying to set a Strava King of the Mountains on this segment but at real speed it seems to change in nature. Parts where I was in control today become more of an exercise in aim and hope. At over 30 mph the risks are obvious.

I rode 17.26 miles and climbed 1,905 feet of ascent. It turned into a great summer ride and I won’t let that demon plague me again. As for my other 2 unfulfilled targets I’ll have a go when I get the chance. They’re both nearer home so are easier to fit in and I’m still excited to try to lap Healey Nab in  sub 11 minutes. Watch this space.

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