Bonkers weekend - Helvellyn in the dark and Welsh mountains in bloodshot. May-02

plumzlogo this forum thread started it allSingletrack world pbPiers was there too His tale

Scene 1. Hell 'n Back

Situation sound familiar, lots of great rides you need to do, yet all your riding buddies have races, family commitments or a never ending book of excuse's to stop them getting their bike's dirty.
I've tried to drag someone to the lakes to do some serious riding up there for years, guess they all know me too well. I figured I couldn't call myself a real mountain biker until I hit some Cumbrian rocks.

Anything seems possible lately, the combination of Singletrackworld, and its forum, gathering like minded nutters seeking crazier excuses for rides. Steve, one such cyber dweller, came up with the crazy idea of climbing the highest legal bridleway in England and 10 people flocked to a campsite on the southern shore of Ullswater to do it.

Photo: View from camp of the task ahead

The catch was starting at 2am, aiming to reach summit in time for a glorious sunrise, well we could hope. Is it some kind of release that riders with access to computers by day feel the need to attempt these feats?

1.30 am after a few hours kip, my confused head is assessing the needs of the task ahead. The climb is going to create so much sweat, rain clouds threaten overhead and it's very windy. I console myself. I feel inexperienced amongst my new friends, Steve and most others are local, and know the risks involved, it calms me that they are not dressed up for a rough ride. Others have all been up high in these parts, and I take their lead by packing an emergency survival blanket and plenty of food. Some have trianga stoves and gas for a summit breakfast, nice but a bit over the top I thought at the time.

How hard can it be, Piers and Alec are on single speeds, come to think of it they were the only hardtails too, the choice of SanAndreas as todays weapon seems a good one to me, we will all be pushing so its fun over weight for me.

At 2am we set off, belly loaded with Pasta and Custard and Donuts , so I feel ready to conquer anything, even the weather. How many locals saw the UFO like group of lights as we almost immediately turned off road, and started to climb, Lumicycles blazing the way ahead. I quickly realise why headtorchs are such a good idea as the simple task of removing kit as we warm up is even a chore in the pitch dark.

I'm with GPS for the trip, as usual, just to enable me to draw pretty route profile maps with rather than some navigation aid. We stop at a track junction and in the dark it looks like any other in these parts, even to the guys who have done this track many times. The debate starts, maps come out, I feel concerned that we are a little lost after 30 minutes of riding, the fact that I'm connected to millions of pounds of orbiting satellite navigation is slow to sink in, well it was 2,30 am fer christsakes. Do you want a bearing, I finally ask, and we are soon on our way again.

The granny ring is spinning as the pace is steady, the singlespeeds, Crazylegs and Ren are flying on ahead in the scrabble for grip, I stick with Steve, S.Cruz Bullit mounted and feeling the weight of both his bike and himself, as he'll no doubt agree. At one point there is the almost mystical sight of a Stadium Cateye light appearing over the horizon behind me, eerie. I fail to launch the camera before the 70 watts blinds us in its blue glare, worth the cash it seems.

Photo: climbing1      Photo: climbing2

Long pushes are required as we gain height, and I'm reminded of how short your calves become from cycling, I'm not designed to walk me.
Others seem to disappear ahead and have to wait as we re-group. Stopping brings the realisation of cold and the ripping strong wind, people are lying on the wet ground, and I figure they know best, and join them.
The wind is at ripping a bike out of your hands level, and we are far from the summit, GULP!

Setting off some serious hike a bike ensues, and as always in these cases the questioning of wether this is really fun ensues. We reach a rideable ridge, and what seems like implausible shelter from the wind, and head on to Helvellyn Lower Man.
Then suddenly its all over still pedaling we reach Helvellyn's trig' point summit, it seems such an anti-climax to me rolling up to the peak like that, rather than having to use every ounce of energy followed by a collapse as you make it.
We are early, 4am; we've climbed for an hour and three-quarters. Camera flashes remind us its still dark; we are going to have to hang around for sunrise, perhaps longer than we would like. Shame my camera had got attacked by my own sweat of the climb and was misted up too bad for some good shots.

Photo: summit 1      Photo: summit 2      

It's a short ride down to a sheepfold, a low walled shelter, others disappear on the way down as I'm reminded that I am totally dependent on them for directional help, not a situation I am used to.
Because of this I arrive at the 'shelter' to find people already in bivvy bags, sipping a bottle of Glenlivet. Its not immediately apparent to me that they a have been there all night, as I wonder who from our group was that organised.
Now I'm cold, the waterproof goes on, and I thank the brilliance that is Ground effect clothing, that I'm not at all sweaty, but its 4am at 900 metres, you have to be cold, it's the law in these parts.
Stoves appear and soon the smell of Bacon makes my dried fruit seem tasteless, surely they can't eat all that I hope. It's my first encounter with one of those Instant Coffee in a can things, its activated and its warm glow feels very cosy nestling inside my fleece.
It even tastes good, but nobody warned me that it's 75% heating chemicals by volume as the second mouthfull empties the can.
I remember the space blanket, I think I've owned it for 5 yrs and never unwrapped it, this must be extreme. It takes forever to unwrap, but provides valuable warmth to both crazylegs, a chap with very little natural warmth blubber and me.
Suddenly I have a new best friend, Iian from Edinburgh' has ½ a pound of bacon sizzling away beside me, and he wants me to help him eat it, a lifesaver and there's rolls too.

Photo: The dormant peak dwellers and my new friend Iian     Photo: The rest of our 'warm' group

At last we are off, now the real fun is to begin, down Dollywagon.
Shame about the drizzle but at least we are below cloud base, wrestling the bike over the rock fields soon brings some warmth, but regular stops are needed to warm hand s up, to ensure the hard working brakes could be felt.
Steve, seemed the guy to follow, previous tales of him roosting the downhills rung in my ears as I followed his lead. I then remember the experiment I'm conducting:
With my trip to Canada imminent I had decided to give flat pedals and no clips a go for the first time on a serious downhill, the plan is to be able to give the Vancouver Northshore a good go. The ability to bale quickly there is essential, and means being clipped in is not recommended.
Four days earlier I had finally learned to do a bunny hop un-clipped, don't laugh I wasn't brought up on BMX's so had never learned. Now my newfound ability was coming in usefull.
Realising I could plant a foot at any time leads to some crazier than normal maneuvers as at one point I fly past Steve fully off the brakes on one of the steepest loosest bits. His grin is infectious as we fly down, but we are far from the quickest, and I get down far from un-scathed.

Photo: Dollywagon & San Andreas at one

Steve's mate on a Superlight shows us all what good riding is all about, he's so smooth and picks all the right lines. It makes me curse my decision of several years ago, when I so nearly bought one of those, I doubt I could handle one with such style though, funny how we always think its the bikes fault not our own.
The lower section, Grisedale tarn, is no less technical but less steep, I'm following Ren and Piers down at this stage. Ren is riding well, that girls got balls, so to speak.
If Caroline Alexander, another local in these parts could descend like that, she would be a world-beater, I think to myself.
Then disaster, on a slow sharp rock step turn, she's over the bars, first point of impact the face, nose and top lip are bleeding.
Luckily its not too bad, I begin to doubt her sanity though, when she states "I was happy my face broke the fall, it saved breaking my wrist!"

All too soon we reach the T-junction in Patterdale; it's raining quite hard and its here for the day.
The group decision is to avoid High street, I'm disappointed, as I'd seen the name in endless route guides and being so close it seemed a crime to miss out, but riding in low cloud and rain is no fun, how ever good. We head back to the campsite, but we are not done yet.
The hardy go for an out-and-back along the eastern side of Ullswater, as others head for the showers.
What a great track, very technical, as steve demonstrated with a few excursions into the undergrowth, and with stunning views, most particularly of what we had just achieved, the ascent of a mountainbike legend, that we could not even see now.

Photos: Lakeside track stunning     Steve on track (poor)

Back at camp at 8am, wet through, with a beer on, munching donuts seemed the most natural thing in the world. If only the hordes of arriving schoolkids, armed with canoes, knew what these old 'dudes' had been up to. Radical, they don't know the meaning of the word.

GPS route profile of the whole Helvllyn trip

Scene 2. Sore head 'n' back

The original plan was for an epic ride, followed by several beers and a bar-b-q before catching up on sleep.
The Lakes finest weather and the appeal of wet tents, put paid to this. Sitting in Steve's local pub, after food and a couple of fine pints there seemed a whole weekend ahead of me. Luckily I had a crazy contingency plan; I'd kept up with some others plans to do the Dfyi Enduro in Wales, and had entered it just in case the Helvellyn trip hadn't come off.
It was still do-able it was only 2pm, and I was on the right side of the country after all. Setting off, Motorway tedium quickly took hold, this was not a safe thing. 2 hrs sleep in the last 36 hit me hard, 4 hrs in a service station car park and a shower later, the plan was back on track.

Arriving in Machlleyth at 10pm reminds me how slow it can be in on the twisty Welsh finest motor biking roads. When is the Motorway going to be built into the heart of Wales?
Parking Right On Main Street seemed the smartest plan to me, a quick meal of a few spoonfuls of cold pasta ensued, no need to waste anymore drinking time. I soon found the motley Singletrack crew in the Hotel they proposed to be staying at. I strolled up to Chipps, SteveM, Sara, Ben and Chris amongst others that I recognized, drinking outside, they seemed to know I had been up Helvylln, but it almost seemed natural to them that I would turn up, weird.
Looking back I must have seemed a hard bastard appearing in just a T-shirt, with tales of no sleep, must be the northern influence.

Photo: Courtesy of kluster - there we all are.

Turns out I'm fortunate to find them as we leave for another bar, nobody is staying in this hotel as plans have gone astray. The move to a pub where Chris is resident is a fine move for us, not so for Chris; £120 on his room bill is a sobering thing to wake up to, what a nice guy.
WKD in blue flavour and port mixed, and single malts combine to get Chipps locked out of his bed and lead me to have a very deep sleep in the van.

Photo: Chipps demands another round

I'm woken at 6am by the street cleaner, and drive round to the event car park to get a spot where I can sleep untill the last possible minute. 4 more hrs do the trick, and a quick signing on shows just how well organised this event is, considering it's the first time they have put it on.
Its suddenly very busy, nearly 400 entrants, all looking forward to the promised extreme downhills, if not the 4500ft of climbing involved. All of last nights training partners arrive in the start car park, except Chipps, stories of his demise abound.

11 0clock we roll off behind police escort en-mass on closed roads; it seems quite alien to be rolling along in tourist mode, but good none the less. Its such a different view from this end of a mass event, I'm amazed at the money on show in machinery from almost every competitor.
The road becomes track and then the climbing begins, riders who looked comfortable on the flat at a speed I too was happy with, suddenly seem to grow lead boots as Steve and myself pass them in droves.
Its along climb, at the summit a brass band are playing, they are a strange sight, but then a group of green faced hungover lycra clad bikers can talk. We mulled over the theory that they were more surprised than us, thinking they might have come out here to practice where nobody could complain.

Waiting at the top to re-group saw the arrival of Chipps, who had been on Press/photo duty at the start, and we pressed on, overcoming my anxiety of having all the descents ruined by slow, technically inept riders I carried on with the group, enjoying the social ride.
The course took at little while to get going, and the early thoughts of "I won't make the effort to come back" disappeared about halfway round, as the downhills got spicy.
The weeks rain had left some challenging sections on the slate and rutted tracks, at the halfway food stop the group posed for a bloody legs photos just to illustrate the point. Ah yes the food stop, little elf like helpers thrusting chocolate, bananas and energy gels at you, all very friendly and efficient. I've never really stopped at a food station for more than a grab, in a UK event, there's no need when you're chasing a time, but this was fun and didn't we eat well.

Photo: kluster shows his nice packet

As usual, casual ride or not, the downhills were there to be roosted, and with my new found flat pedal hopping skills I was in roosting mood. Amazingly the slower riders never became a problem, they even added to the challenge, requiring some crazy jumps to overtake in places.
One such jump resulted in a wobbly landing, on the edge of an off-camber rut, and a loud bang. The front tyre had rolled right off the rim, and I had to brake on just the rim, very quickly, luckily no damage.
The finish was way out of town, requiring a slow wind down return back on road. Being handed a card with 196th place on it in around 4 hrs confirmed the leisurely pace for 50 km, can't say I've even looked at the results to date. I reckon we stopped for over an hour en-route….ummm next year we could be competitive, the will to stay off the booze in such good company a lot harder, a return in 2003 is definite.
One of the group Ben, even picked up a £50 spot prize, in a well-organized event, that the organisers expected 70 people to enter in its first year.

I've now seen the view as a participating head down racer at the front, and as part of the Joe public who put every thing into just finishing, and in cleaning out the food station at the rear. These Welsh events, are the future of mountainbiking, try one if you still are not sure.


CHIPPS of Singletrack does the reporting a damn site better than me though.

GPS route profile of the Dfyi course start to finish   The area
The fine organisers Summit cycles

Dfyi Enduro Results 2002
The Ullswater campsite we used is called Side Farm Camp 017684 82337 it is ace if a touch pricy. Located on the west side of the lake in Patterdale MAP It is £4:50 each night, plus a £1 per car. Showers are free.
Theres no way you'll get a caravan up there though, a bonus as far as I'm concerned

Updated Jack 09/06/2002