Ok so Im lying... it wasn't a jaunt.
Training just got tough... bloody hard in fact... and the funniest thing of all is that it was all totally self inflicted.
I cant quite remember exactly how the whole thing started but as usual (whatever David J might say) this plan had its roots firmly in the sensible camp.
As you probably know by now, next year my aim is to ride from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells, a small border post between Mexico and the U.S.A. Not only that but the ride is off-road... crosses the continental divide 30+ times ... is 2700 miles long and just to make it that little bit more challenging... is a race.
Crazy right? Yup!
The thing is I had no idea what exactly was possible in terms of milage for me off road in a day... so it was time to find out... see exactly how much tougher than a day on tarmac it would be.
Somehow... and not sure exactly how.. Id managed to con .. I mean ... pique the interest ... of two slightly barmy friends of mine into joining me. We looked first at entering the Strathpuffer .. a 24 hour winter race in Scotland... but had underestimated how many other people there are with a screw or two loose... and places had disappeared by the time we had geared up to enter... quite possibly to Nic's relief! So we were left with plan b... organise our own version. In order to illicit a handshake agreement I dialled down the Crazy slightly (though its still right up there) and we opted for 12 hours of off roading on the physically demanding but not overly technical Lakeside route in Kielder Forest Park oop north.
Chosen by Nic and Dave after their recent excursion there I have to say it was the perfect track for our needs. Nic and Dave are planning an LHS challenge next year and they also needed to find out the limits for the mountain biking option.
My main request for the weekend riding was that some of the biking was in the dark to give me an opportunity to test out lights in a place where the only other light available would be that from the moon. Not to mention the fact that I need to start conquering the fear element of riding in the dark .. off road... in the middle of nowhere. A fear ... which if im honest with myself (and everyone else) .. is pretty high but one that has to be conquered for the Tour Divide next year.
So with these things in mind we found ourselves lined up at the trailhead early on the saturday morning...
I was eager to get going with the kind of nervous anticipation that hits me when i set out to do something without the knowledge that im actually capable of completing the task.
Nic and Dave had brought their new motorhome and it meant that supplies of hot chocolate and cooked food would be available at the end of each arduous lap.
What a bonus... but one that wont be available in the middle of Montana next year... but you gotta walk before you run... so I was utterly grateful 😃
My bike ... a Trek Xtrail 29er was kitted out with my Apidura seat pack stuffed with energy bars... gels and spare clothes in order to get used to carrying a bit of kit.
The 29 inch wheels are perfectly suited to rolling over anything that the trail can throw at you and after months of getting used to this new way of riding... I love it! The dynamo hub was an addition with the Divide in mind as it charges my mobile.. lights ... basically anything with a usb.. as I ride... providing I go over 5mph. This was an opportunity to test out its effectiveness at keeping me juiced up in connectivity terms on a long ride where there was nowhere else to charge stuff (unless I cheated and used the motorhome power supply)
We were fortunate to have arrived at the lake to find that it wasnt that cold and wasnt raining... but it did mean that I was probably slightly overdressed. I had two... count em... 2 baselayers on in anticipation of mind numbing cold.. as well as a winter cycling jersey/jacket. Fine when standing around shooting the breeze but totally dehydrating the moment the pedals start to turn over 45 RPM.
Nonetheless we set off clockwise round the lake. The gentle undulations at the beginning of this hellish day lulled me into a false sense of security. The track was wide and obstacle free (apart from a seemingly endless supply of gates which had the effect of killing off any momentum on the trail for the first couple of miles). This meant that we cycled 2 and even 3 abreast chatting away in between the lung busting steep climbs.
Because im used to generally cycling by myself... having someone around to reply to my utterances was nice. For this first loop we stopped to take photos... eased into the day... the knowledge that we would be still cycling (hopefully) in 12 hours time at the back of my mind. 'Its not a race... its an endurance test'! Despite that... we kept up a good pace and my phone was merrily charging away.
After the first few miles... the track undulated more... meaning flat road was a rarity... it was either sweating uphill in lower gears... or speeding down the other side skidding round the corners.
The Lakeside trail is around 26 miles and not being familiar (yet) with it... it did seem to last forever. Not being quite as fit as I was earlier in the year... it was hurting a bit. I had worries about keeping up with the other 2 as they have managed to get out training on a far more frequent basis but for the first loop at least we all felt ok and I wasnt lagging as Id feared.
There were distractions along the way... with a huge sculpured head... big chairs and various other features of interest along the way. Given that it was only the first loop I was feeling good and the beautiful autum reds and oranges in the early morning misty sunshine took my breath away at times. The relections on the glassy smooth lake surface provided some of the best picture postcard photo moments which were taken advantage of on a regular basis.... until we reached approximately halfway round where as if with some invisible line.. the cycling gods had said.. ' right... this is where the fun stops and the hard work begins'. The undulations got steeper and longer with some climbs winding up the hillside in a very short space of track... meaning the gradient on the bends reduced me to a crawl at times. Once.. totally misjudging the gradient.. I turned a corner.. and came to an absolute abrupt halt... causing a traffic pile up behind me.
This is where I was glad that I have opted for flat pedals and not my usual clipless because I would have toppled over.
All this said... I was still smiling and my headspace was in a good space.