Updated: Nov 9, 2020
I have written a few times on this blog about long distance rides having both a mental and physical challenge. This is especially true of multi day rides. The physical challenge is obvious, but the mental challenges less so. They come in many different forms. This morning we left our hotel and within 100m we were directed up a hill that started at 20%. It immediately messed with my head. I normally need a long warm up just to ride on a flat road at home in Warwickshire, so going straight into this kind of hill made me fear that I wouldn't make it today. I rode up the first section at a snail's pace, not helped by a car driver sitting immediately behind me revving his engine. He eventually overtook me going around a blind bend in the process ruining the photo that Rachel had planned to get when she had ridden ahead (she was in full mountain goat mode this morning).
On your own, you have to find a way through this, but with a riding partner, you can draw on them for support. I didn't want to tell Rachel I was suffering doubts - you don't want to mess with someone else's head after all - but I was grateful to have her alongside me. If you are struggling in the first five minutes, knowing you have at least another 7 hours to come can be daunting. One of the big reasons I like A to B rides though is that they leave you with no choice but to carry on. On a circular ride closer to home the urge to turn inward and think 'it's not my day' can be overwhelming. But I've done a few of these long rides now and I know the doubts and fears will pass, usually through the simple tactic of distracting myself through chatting, singing out loud or just trying to imagine myself doing something different. Rachel interpreted the singing to mean I was bored because she was going too slow and attempted to up her pace. This pushed me to go a little harder and in turn put her in difficulty. Although to be fair that's just my interpretation of her actions. She could equally have just wanted to get away from the sounds of the '80s.
One way or another the morning flew by, helped by a long section of the route being on the Liverpool Leeds canal. We had a few missed turns when the Komoot route varied from the official route 68. Each time we followed the official signs instead of Komoot, it cost us time though. Route 68 signage is about 95% perfect but as you can easily imagine a missing sign can easily cost you. When you are tired and cranky having to backtrack or find new connecting roads does little to improve your mood. We reached Brierfield before 1 pm in just under 50km but there was a distinct lack of places for lunch. In passing from Yorkshire to Lancashire we had moved from the countryside to a more urban landscape, more specifically the towns around Burnley. The stark contrast with the rest of the week could not have been more obvious: the traffic, the noise, the smells, the road quality. We ended up finding a bakery of sorts and had lunch outside on the pavement. Can you really call a shop a bakery when it only has three cakes on offer, plus sausage rolls and sandwiches with white bread only? I opted for the sausage roll and regretted it within the first bite. I am normally the acerbic one of the two of us, but it's fair to say Rachel is not a fan of Burnley but then again as a Mancunian, this is probably inbuilt. As we headed south she spat out "what a shit hole". Those of you readers who know her can only imagine how bad a place needs to be for Rachel to hate it instantly.
If that first hill in the morning was a killer, it was just one of many today that gave us almost 1,900m for the day - the highest for one day on the trip. The next big one was immediately after lunch: The Long Causeway is over 7km long and yet another leg sapping, lung busting ride. You know when you can see lots of wind turbines ahead of you that the top of the climb is only going to get tougher. As if it's not enough to have your legs burning all the way up, your reward is to be blown around at the top and all the way down. The descent on the other side into Hebdon Bridge is pretty scary and Rachel's brakes started to fade away on the -15% road with its tight corners made worse by idiot drivers. It could be my imagination by it seemed like every third car in Lancashire had their windows down and stank of weed. It has not chilled them out but instead only made them take more risks. When we stopped at the bottom I squirted water onto her brake calliper which sizzled and threw off clouds of steam.
Of course, what goes down must come up and we already knew that if it was steep getting into Hebdon Bridge, that it would probably be steep getting out. We were wrong, it was worse! Within 10 minutes of leaving our coffee stop we had turned a corner and both simultaneously said 'nope'. The hill out of town comes with a warning on Komoot. It was at least 30% and there was no way we were riding up. Even pushing the bikes up was hard. At some point, Rachel remounted and said 'get a photo of me on this hill'. I missed the bloody photo and didn't tell her so she carried on riding. Somehow she stayed upright and decided to power on to the top. This was mightily impressive but also very stupid because she rode straight past the turning we needed. Once at the top she was out of sight. There was no way I was riding up to tell her about the misdirection and equally no way she wanted to come back down. A kind of Mexican standoff ensued with neither of us moving. This was not helped by Rachel not bothering to answer her phone. Eventually, she called me out of fear that I had had a heart attack (not kidding).
Once we rejoined each other we set about the task of getting through the final 30km, which mainly consisted of short sharp climbs along the side of a valley, followed by dropping into a town only to have to climb out again. It got to the point we dreaded every downhill. It feels unnecessarily cruel for NCN68 to follow such a route but it's my own fault for thinking 'toughest ride in Britain, pah, bet it's a piece of piss'. It isn't. It's really bloody hard. But the good news is that there's really only one tough day left.