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23 September, 2006

Cycle ride: Lancaster-Wray-Slaidburn-Lancaster

There's a right way to cycle the route described in the title, and a wrong way.

One attacks the steepest hills in the first few miles, has all other ascents in the first half, and ends with a long downhill then level ride along the Lune Valley.
The other tires one with a fast valley ride and gradual climb to 427 m asl then features three other significant ascents in the latter half, two at the very end.
Guess which I did this time.

The first twelve miles to Wray were fine; that's a routine part of most rides up the Lune Valley. The next section, to Cross of Greet at the top of the Bentham-Slaidburn pass, was tougher, not because of steep hills but because it seemed endless. My mental map of the area is a bit faulty, locating Wray within about five miles of the top. However, Lowgill is about five miles from Wray along undulating but generally uphill lanes – there's a further 2-3 miles over featureless moorland to the top. Oh, and the final few hundred metres are very steep.
I bypassed Lowgill today, instead heading further east to investigate the ancient Great Stone of Fourstones, on the county boundary. However, there were several other visitors to the viewpoint (especially surprising considering the humidity and consequent dense haze), so I didn't park and approach it myself. Maybe next time.
Something else I might do next time is catch the train as far as Bentham, omitting the 15-mile lead-in to the 'real' ride. Some cycle for the enjoyment of cycling or for exercise, but my objective is sightseeing: taking the camera to interesting places. The number of miles I cover is relatively incidental, and if I can save some energy, I will. Or rather, I'd prefer to omit fifteen miles on familiar roads and expend the same energy going fifteen miles somewhere new.

I was unusually tired when I stopped at the Cross of Greet and, knowing the hills ahead, seriously considered returning the way I'd come. However, I'd convinced myself this was a 40-mile round trip and the Cross, 19 miles into the ride, was therefore virtually the halfway point; returning the way I'd come would be no shorter than going on. That still ignored the fact that retracing the route would have involved no significant ascents whilst the onward route featured three more. Odd as it seems now, I went on.

Apart from one climb out of a stream's valley, I freewheeled almost all the way down to Slaidburn, which was a very pleasant change on a road I've previously struggled up! I paused briefly in the village for a couple of photographs, then went on to Dunsop Bridge via Newton.

At this point I realised two obvious things:

  • As I'd already written last November, and plainly forgotten today, this isn't a 40-mile ride, and Cross of Greet isn't halfway. It's a 46-mile ride and I was startled to leave Dunsop Bridge at sunset with fifteen miles still to go.
  • Yes, at sunset, and I hadn't brought any lights. Foolishly, I'd totally misjudged the timing of the ride.
Though something of a slog, especially the horrible gradual climb from Lower Lee to Jubilee Tower*, the rest of the ride was strangely easy. I've always had an ability to acknowledge a task is necessary then switch-off and just complete it, but I really zoned-out this time. I was still aware of my surroundings & traffic and was more-or-less safe, but I wasn't really there. I have full recollection of the ride, just not of any physical sensation; I must have struggled in places but I don't remember doing so. The descent from Jubilee Tower to Quernmore peaked at 37.3 mph (60 km/h) – a personal record – but I don't recall it as especially fast. If I'd been fully aware, I'd have been terrified approaching a 45° turn at that speed, after dusk, without lights.

One thing I haven't mentioned is that I wasn't entirely well today. I developed a sore throat a couple of days ago, which was extremely uncomfortable for the first 10-15 miles of the ride. I thought it was no more than that, but as is obvious from this account, some of the decisions I made today suggest my judgement was impaired, and the aftermath was unequivocal. In short, I gradually collapsed.
Reaching Lancaster, I knew I wouldn't have the energy to cook a meal, so bought fish & chips before going home. I managed to eat them, but that was the end of Saturday. Shivering and exhausted, I managed to have a shower then went straight to bed by ~20:30.
[Ruining the illusion that I wrote this within a couple of hours of getting home, rather than a month afterwards, I can report that I was feverish and lethargic on the Sunday too. I took sick leave on Monday and Tuesday, sleeping through virtually all of the former. I briefly thought I'd exhausted myself with the 46-mile ride and contracted an opportunistic infection, but in hindsight I was ill from the start.]

In case anyone's keeping count, I covered the 46.26 miles (74.4 km) in about five hours (4:03 moving), at an average speed of 11.1 mph.

*: I took the wrong road again. For future reference: when descending from the Trough of Bowland, turn left at the chapel before crossing the Tarnbrook Wyre, and go through Abbeystead itself then along Abbeystead Lane to rejoin the more direct route about a kilometre from the Tower.
Don't go straight on at the chapel; that route, Rakehouse Brow, is indeed more direct but is also 3-4 km of continuous gradual ascent, not steep except at the start but relentless. In a low or middle gear, it's easy enough, but stop pedalling and the bike will stop – there's absolutely no opportunity to freewheel and rest which, towards the end of a long ride, one tends to want.

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