My first big ride for a while.

I had a target for this year which involved an almost exclusively off road ride of 40 miles with a healthy 4,583 feet of ascent. I rode the route on the 6th of June and since then have only ridden 5 rides of over 15 miles. I have realised that my fitness has suffered somewhat due to a lower level of mountain biking activity than I’m used to and am now determined to redress the balance. Today called for a longer ride and I chose Darwen Hill, from home as usual. I changed the route from the normal way to include a section of moorland which I knew would be plenty dry enough in the continued excellent weather.

I wanted to pace myself so that I’d reach my limit of stamina towards the end of the ride and set off towards the hamlet of White Coppice with determination. I covered 4.9 miles in 35 minutes before the real climbing began with the ascent of Brinscall Woods. I then used an undulating section of moorland which I haven’t ridden in some years. It was fairly uninteresting, continued with a fast downhill and importantly took me in the right direction. After a short stint on tarmac I used another descent to cross a road and begin the big climb. The climb to the top of Darwen Hill rises by 700 feet but there are some drops along the way, which add more to the total. The first 400 feet are on a fire road through Roddlesworth Woods and only become steep toward the top. Then it’s a climb across pasture with a steep zig zag which has been smoothed, making it easier than it used to be. My problem is that I have never failed to climb non stop over the last 25 years or so, despite the severe gradient so I have to dig in and make it.

Before the Jubilee Tower, which tops Darwen Hill but isn’t the highest point on the route, there are rises and falls including a fabulously fast descent. The final slope is rockier on every ride and today I really had to push myself to reach the tower without being defeated. I stopped at the tower for my only photo stop.

Built in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the top of the tower offers view of up to 100 miles.
The town of Darwen is nestled in the steep sided valley, which is typical of Northern mill towns in England.

I then had a long descent into Sunnyhurst Woods and knew to not go too mad on an early section. Erosion has left unpredictable rocks and drops in the surface on a fast part. Later the surface smooths and speeds rise before a twisty and exciting section before the woods. I took an unusual way through the woods to explore a little. I was close to my furthest point from home so I haven’t maybe seen all that the area has to offer. I was soon back on a particularly steep climb which starts on gravel and changes to cobbles, set firmly in the ground. On my first ever attempt in around 1993 I made it to the top but I was worried that trying to replicate this would use up too much of my energy resources. I stopped for a runner coming down the hill and pushed for a short distance. I remounted on the cobbles, really just to prove that I still have the power to ride the steepest part but stopped again once I’d proved that I was capable. If this was part of a shorter ride I’d have a go at conquering it but today was not the time to try this.

I had another big downhill through Roddlesworth Woods, where I’d climbed earlier. There are lots of different ways to ride here and whilst I may not have chosen the absolute best today, it was certainly a blast from the past. I rode Darwen Hill with friends most weekends for about 6 months in 1996 and early ’97. This was the time when we all transitioned from hardtails to full suspension bikes which redefined mountain biking and the type of terrain we rode. Later in the year we found a new “best ever downhill” so one Sunday included that in a ride. We never returned to Darwen Hill as a group, though I’ve ridden there occasionally on my own over the subsequent 25 years. I could feel the effort in my legs by this point and still had 7.6 miles to ride, including the climb over Healey Nab.

I was pleased that I didn’t reach complete exhaustion but knew that I was slowing a little in the latter stages. This was about where I wanted to be after 24.02 miles with 2,431 feet of ascent. I was still enjoying the ride on the final off road downhill and feel that this is just the kind of training I need to rebuild my stamina. According to the app. Strava I set at least 27 first, second or third fastest sector times, many of which were climbs, during the ride though this was undoubtedly helped by the bone dry ground. Sadly it sounds like the endless summer will finally end tomorrow. The garden will be glad of it and it was never going to go on for ever.

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