The longest day, (nearly), and my longest ride, (definitely!) – a report by Richard Heald on the off-road 100 miler on Saturday.
With large scale organised events still suffering the effects of the pandemic and off the back of a successful spring gravel 100k ride, off road secretary Adrian Kilworth made the most of the opportunity and organised a 100 mile off road ride for riders to test their fitness, stamina and mental resolve, (or lack of common sense!).
I ride for fun, mostly off road, maybe once, twice or if I’m lucky three times a week. I’ve only done a couple of 100k rides so a ride of 160k+ with a good proportion off road was always going to be a challenge, but one I was up for. Given the distance, I planned to do the ride on my cross bike rather than mountain bike, figuring my legs would need all the help they could get and knowing I’d have to compromise speeds and or comfort on the rougher off road sections.
The planned route took in some amazing trails, bridleways and country roads, much of which I’d not done before. All in there were 8 of us from WVCC or other local clubs that met on the green in Great Bowden at 6.30. The forecast was promising after some recent unsettled weather, but the early start meant there was still lingering mist and fog as we set off north towards Welham. From Welham we hit our first bridleway and I was quickly reminded that a cross bike with skinny tyres run at fairly high pressures to avoid pinch flats wasn’t going to soak up the rougher parts of the ride anywhere near as well as my MTB would with it chunky tubeless tyres at 20 psi – this might be interesting.
From there we headed through Blaston (where unfortunately we lost Gavin due to a mechanical) to Stockerston and the fantastic grassy decent – though today was no day to go for PB’s, especially as there were cows hiding in the low hanging mist. We then skirted round Eyebrook, which like the cows was still shrouded in mist so we didn’t get the views planned. Luckily that was pretty much the last we saw of the mist and the temperature rose and we were treated to glorious sunshine for the remainder of the day.
We then hit the roads for a bit and being from WVCC we had to pass through the Harringworth viaduct before heading back off road again at Spanhoe airfield, heading round Wakerley Woods and looping round Fineshades – the recent mix of rain and sun meaning that there had been a spurt in vegetation growth and some lingering mud in Fineshades. After the briefest of stops mid Fineshades to scrape off the worst of the clingy mud before it baked on we were off again, making decent pace on the smooth gravel roads which felt great on the cross bike.
I was now well in to unfamiliar roads and trails – Adrian helpfully explained we were somewhere near Southwick – that didn’t help a bit, I just kept pedalling, eating and drinking, trying not to think too much about how many km’s lay ahead of us. It was around there I decided to have a little lie down, (I fell off unsuccessfully swapping ruts on a bridleway), which saw me having to straighten up my bars and fall behind the group. That brings me to the great thing about these rides – you’re often riding on brilliant trails, no idea where you are just soaking it all up. Also riding in a group you’re never far from help and the guys came back looking for me when I was a bit further behind than normal, a favour I returned later when one needed a helping hand back to their feet having investigated a hedge a bit too closely.
After a passing round Fotheringhay we headed south on a mix of lanes, tracks and bridleways – to be honest that sections a bit of a blur, I’d probably not been eating or drinking enough – I’ll blame that for not acting on the very clearly shouted, “right”, and taking the wrong right instead which saw the group temporarily split in an area where the phone coverage wasn’t great. Never mind, soon re-united we we’re bombing through a couple of fields where the corn was head height, and some rather brutally bumpy fields, (for me anyway), before we reached our exceptionally planned lunch stop at great little tea shop Titchmarsh. Feeling much better after a pasty, ice cream and coke, (lunch of champions), and with water bottles refilled and sun cream applied we headed off, setting a good pace on the road section towards a loop of Stanwick lakes before blasting back on the gravel tracks which were quiet given how nice a day it was.
From there it was over to Lyveden New Bield, then Brigstock and another much needed fluid stop before pushing on through Geddington chase which was pretty rutted in the middle section but great at the beginning and end – somewhere I’d not ridden through there since I was a kid. Geddington also saw an opportunity for some to use the local bike wash, (splashing through the river Ise ford), then out the village towards Kettering and the bike lanes round the industrial park over towards Rushton – relieved to be on familiar territory and getting ever closer to home. Across Desborough airfield, a final push up and over to Five Ways, steadily down, (nearly back so didn’t need another lie down), back up Welham lane and into Bowden and we’re done! All in 170k (106 miles) for me, the longest ride I’ve done by about 50% – it was tough but great fun and loved exploring the new areas – setting my own pace, not trying to chase others and eating and drinking lots, I surprised myself how good I felt afterwards, though my upper body did ache the next day – maybe I’ll take the mountain bike next year! If you’re thinking of doing something like this just do it, you’ll be surprised what you can do if you put your mind to it.
Thanks to Adrian for organising and all those that took part for making it such a great experience.