We went a little bit further yesterday to give ourselves a head start today. And it was probably the best thing to do!
Baz’s scrambled eggs we spot on and as we finished breakfast the sight from the window sent a moment of dread racing through my head.
It was bleak, the weather, the challenge and most importantly, the Shap. One of the UK’s most intense and challenging climbs, it was made even more nerve racking and exciting by the reverence in Pauls voice when he talked about it and how Baz described it.
Shap is a village north of Kendal in the very north of England and is essentially at the top of a 16 mile climb out of Kendal. The road is not really steep, but is constant in it’s intense uphill climb and the main event comes out of nowhere. It’s super exposed on all sides, basically there’s no hiding from the elements, the Shap or the task at hand.
We’d given ourselves a head start in Preston by going a bit (17 miles) further the day before. Loading up the car, the bleakness of the situation set in, with heavy rain and a storm forecast for the day.
The car was quiet, we were all making our peace with the challenge we were about to face, a ride through tropical rain to Kendal followed by a 16 mile climb to then be faced with an almost vertical climb. I’m the hippy of the team so I meditated, about the Shap, I came to the most hippy realization about what was in front of me. Ask me when you see me.
We started exactly where we’d stopped the day before and the team photo of the day was rushed as the rain cold was setting in immediately, it was cats, dogs and the whole damn pet shops pouring down.
The ride was smooth, we were in good spirits, the jokes were following‚ We were making great time and the signs for Kendal, miles were dropping away. EASY!
Something peculiar bagan to happen as we reached the small town of Carnforth. Twenty seven pople by the side of the road, waiting for a bus in the rain. We saw a jubliee scarecrow, adorned in Union Jacks. Then we saw some flashing lights. Crash barriers. Security guards. It dawned, after some time, that this was not a confluence of independent events. It was something special. It was all of that taxpayers’ money being invested in a jubilant cause. It was the TORCH. As we pushed a little further down the road, two whole crowds of people on either side of the road saw us coming and erupted into the mos spiriting cheer I have ever heard. And it was all for us. It raised us up.
The best bit about the torch coming into town were the freebies. Baz excitedly pointed at the Tesco car park – “there’s free coke in there.” Poured by pretty coke girls. Omar sidled over and downed the red nectar, and I did too. Police sirens blipped, their blue lights pierced our wet eyeballs. Suddenly, a bus rocked up, and out jumped a man in a white tracksuit carrying a gold cornetto. Surely not? This couldn’t be it? The flame of eternity? It was, you know. And even the torrent of rain being thrown down on that soggy northern thoroughfare could not diminish it. Nor would it ever diminish us.
Paul got his Kendal mint cake. The reason he got it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip! Pete’s emergency stop. Due in part to the magnificent curry we’d had the night before. Touch cloth is putting it lightly, i heard pete shout over the gabba in my headphone screaming at paul to pull over. Paul screamed over the sound of traffic and rain “what, why?” pete replied “i need a poo, now” I nearly came off my bike laughing
We pulled over, paul suggested we ask at the nearest house, Pete’s reply was magic, “I’ll go in a field, it’s alright, I’ve done it loads of times.
Thank zeus as we pulled out again, we saw a petrol station, with clean facilities! and Kendal mint cake!
We finally made it through Kendal, a nice sleep town, drenched in Cumbria’s worst rainfall on record! Grim doesn’t do it justice.
As soon as you get through Kendal the climb to the Shap starts, my gears went low, and the pain started, its a slow, grinding trudge uphill. I have to say, the night before, we went on bike and saw the elevation map, I only mention this because, as you can see the spike is showing the Shap is insane and the forums we went on said the south to north climb was the worst and that there’s a false top, where you think you’ve done it only to be greeted with the real climb.
The boys were way ahead and i thought I’d already lost pace and energy, head down and low gears was definitely the order of the day, winds were lashing and the heavens poured like they were mad about something.
The climb literally disappears into the sky, with no point in speeding down hill for momentum, the head wind took care of making sure we faced the Shap head on.
The struggle, the pain and mother nature combine to make this the most thrilling climb. Paul waited for me just past the top of what i thought was the false top. We sped down the other side, past incredible landscape, paul whizzed up ahead and i struggled against freezing tempraturtes to a small street. They’d stop at a chippy. I was convinced that this was only part one, when Pete and Paul told me that we’d just done the Shap and it was over, I didn’t believe them, but it turns out I’d done the Shap expecting the worst was yet to come. Life lessons, epiphanies and thoughts flashed through my head and i was nearly at tears at what we’d just done. Beaten the Shap in the worst weather on record!
After a short stop we continued to the city of Carlisle, on arrival, the boys told me that we were going to go an extra few miles to give us a head start the following day. We got out of the city and headed down some beautiful roads, the landscape cut into the sky which was full of rain clouds flecked with feather white clouds and tears of sunlight shredding through. Mother natures beauty was on show for us to experience.
Pete turned to me and said “you know why we’re going further? because in 4 miles we’ll be in scotland” My first thought was that we’d just ridden our bikes all the way here‚ Wow.
We made it across the border, to the town of Gretna, to be met by Baz, some scotch eggs and a lift back to Weatherall where we were staying.
Back at the hotel, Pete’s Mum and Dad joined us. It was great to see smiling faces that had come bearing gifts of chocolate, water and happy vibes.
We celebrated with a swim, a jaquzzi and a sauna before heading out to eat.
A home cooked lasagna and Germany v Greece later and we were ready for bed, PS. A big thanks to Roger and Grace for sponsoring our tea that night, we ate like kings!
I’d just got into bed when Roger knocked on our door.
The lovely Caroline had heard about what we were doing, here she is! And had got the locals in the bar to donate some money to A Family Affair, a few of the locals wanted to have a quick chat with us, so me and paul headed down while.
We met the Walton Wheelers, a lovely bunch of local cyclists that were keen on hearing about our adventure, they then went around the pub and raised even more money. They were awesome and we had spoken to many people all day so bent their ears, hopefully not boring them to death.
Caroline gets a massive shout out for being such good fun, i wanted a picture with her little gloves for this blog post, she came back after a while and donated her gloves, seen here! Omar 1 Baz 0! A great sport talking to crazy cyclists!
My final note is that the people we encountered in Weatherall were the nicest, most generous bunch we’d met. A million thanks to you all for your hospitality and generosity. You guys are great!
The day will live with me forever. Magic. The last stop before scotland!