Our summer holiday was supposed to be a week of cycling in North Yorkshire. Things didn’t go quite according to plan: if you read my previous post about taking part in the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, you’ll know that we spent the next four days hobbling around with bad knees, hips, calf muscles and blisters… And, typically, the weather was glorious while we were barely able to put one foot in front of the other, and turned cold, wet and windy the moment our muscles eased up. Holidaying in the UK, eh!
We were determined to fit in at least a couple of rides before we headed home, though, and one route we particularly wanted to try was a short, sharp, circular route close to where I grew up.
About a month after I bought my first road bike in early 2015, Matt and I entered the Petit Depart cycling event in Skipton. The day before the ride, we thought it would be a good idea to have a go at a couple of Yorkshire hills, to acclimatise. (Bear in mind that at this point, I’d only ridden a few miles around London and a lap of Richmond Park…)
Could it really be that hard to get up in one piece?
We decided to do a quick spin around the local area, out through Sutton-in-Craven, over the tops to Cowling (and we actually intended then riding on to Lothersdale). A cursory glance at elevation on the route made us aware that there was a bit of a climb out of Sutton, but we didn’t think too much about it. Well, within 10 minutes of leaving the house, we were on West Lane, attempting to climb out way out of the village. It’s a long pull, averaging 9.5% with a maximum 22.2% gradient, and I was such an inexperienced rider that I didn’t even know how to change from the big cog to the small cog.
I slogged my way up the first bend, and then, convinced I was just going to topple off if I didn’t dismount, staggered off the bike. I huffed, and puffed, and sighed, and wondered what on earth I was doing, trying to cycle anywhere in Yorkshire. I had another attempt to go a bit further, but my legs couldn’t stand it. Within a few metres, I’d decided there was nothing for it but to get off and push.
I pushed my bike all the way up West Lane.
When we arrived home, I looked at Strava, and was amazed to see that I had a trophy for West Lane. What?!
Well, it turned out that only nine women had been foolish enough to attempt it, and I was the slowest. (By a very long way).
Realising that other female cyclists had actually managed to ride the whole thing made me want to try it again at some point in the future.
Fast forward 15 months, and we decided to have another crack at it. I’m a much more experienced cyclist now, with a lot more hill work under my belt. Could it really be that hard to get up in one piece?
Well, yes, as it turns out.
It’s really easy to kid yourself that you’re a decent cyclist around London.
Even taking it slow and steady, I didn’t make it to the top in one go. In fact, I stopped three times to catch my breath. Three times! But, the big difference this time was that I did actually succeed in pedaling to the top. It might have taken me a while, but it felt like an achievement to get up there nevertheless.
The next time we head up to Yorkshire (which is never as frequently as we would like), I’m going to have another crack. Before the end of the year I want to be able to make it up there with just one stop. This time next year, I intend to ride all the way to the top without stopping at all! (I might need a different gear ratio. A poor workman blames his tools, I know, but the fact that I was riding on 11-28 this time, rather than my old 11-32, didn’t make it any easier. I love my new bike, but for comparative purposes it would have been interesting to have ridden it on my old steed. I missed my granny gear!)
It’s really easy to kid yourself that you’re a decent cyclist around London. It’s only when you head out to some real hills that you realise you’re not anywhere near as strong as you need to be. I’m still last on the list for that segment: 16th out of 16. Before 2016 is over, my cycling goal is to improve on that. And next year, I’m making it in to the top ten!
When I can scale West Lane, I’ll feel like a real cyclist. #CyclingGoals