Road Bike Ride – Extended Mini-North-West Passage

Today, I was set to do the Mini-North-West Passage, a 75 mile (120 km) audax event from Rochdale, near Manchester. I had arranged to meet Colly and Calum (two riders from the CycleChat forum) in Hebden Bridge at 07:30 and then ride with them the 14.5 miles (23.5 km) to Rochdale for the event

I was up at 06:00 to eat a big bowl of porridge. It's not that I was hungry at that time in the morning, but I know from past experience how important it is to fuel up for a long bike ride.

I'd checked my bike last night and uploaded the route of today's ride to my GPS. I'd also made my drinks and packed my CamelBak bag (I use it for carrying tools, phone, camera and food but not water!). All I had to do this morning was to eat and get my cycling kit on, then I was ready to go. It was the first day this year when I felt that it was mild enough to venture out in less than full winter cycling kit. My choice of clothing turned out to be about right for the conditions, though my fingers did get a bit cold later on so perhaps I should have stuck to long-fingered gloves, rather than the fingerless cycling mitts I chose to wear.

I got to the car park just as Colly drove up in his van, with Calum alongside him. We set off at 07:40 and made good progress towards Rochdale, passing the outward-bound (full) North-West Passage riders on the way. The NWP proper is 130 miles (210 km) which is a bit much for me at this time of year. Apart from exhausting me, it would have meant me riding over some big hills in cold, dark conditions on the run back to Rochdale. The extended mini-NWP passage route is 104 miles (167 km) and that's plenty for me at the moment. 😉

We got to event HQ with about 10 minutes to spare, signed in, and (as arranged) met two more CycleChatters outside. I'd met Longers before but this was the first time I'd met Trio25. I've been reading her blog recently and have been impressed with what she's been getting up to – lots of road cycling, mountain biking and running – it makes me feel tired just reading about it…

We were supposed to meeting another rider (_Ben_) but he was running late and phoned to tell us to set off without him. (He caught up with us at our cafe stop later, and rode with us a while before going on ahead.)

We had a good steady start from Rochdale, back the way that Colly, Calum and I had just come. From Todmorden, it is a long drag up through Cliviger Gorge, and then down into Burnley and along the valley to Barrowford. There is a fairly long climb up through the village of Blacko and over to Gisburn. I knew that I'd be much slower than the others so they climbed at their own pace and I climbed at mine. The views from Blacko are very nice so I stopped to take a few photographs. I don't think that they really did justice to the scenery actually, but here's one to give you an idea of what it is like (it would look nicer in sunshine, but it was pretty cloudy all day today)

Blacko hills

I remounted and continued up the long draggy climb. It's not that steep, but I'm too heavy to climb quickly. I felt bad keeping the others waiting, but I think they must be getting used to it with me now…

Eventually, I got to the top of the climb and saw my riding buddies waiting up ahead so I pulled over and whipped out my camera for a quick group photo, with the beautiful Ribble valley in the background below (not that you can see much in this small picture, especially in the gloomy conditions prevailing).

Top of A682

[From left to right: Gear-masher colly, Ramones fan and student Calum, CycleChat cycling kit model trio25, pretend shy-boy longers hiding behind trio, super-large ColinJ displaying immensely imaginative and tasteful colour coordination!]

I bombed down towards Gisburn ahead of the others (my weight being almost as much of an advantage downhill as it is a hindrance going up) and noticed my GPS cut out. I switched it back on and it came back to life only to immediately cut out again. I'd read about the Garmin Etrex suffering from that problem. It is due to the two AA batteries bouncing about in the battery compartment and breaking the connection with the spring contacts. I couldn't work out why it had just started doing this, but later on I discovered that I was using my old 2,000 mAH cells rather than the 2,600 mAH ones I usually use. The 2,600 mAH cells are physically slightly larger than the other ones so they are a nice snug fit in the GPS and they don't suffer from this problem.

We regrouped in Gisburn, had a short stop there and then continued on our way. The next part of the ride is the best section of the whole route. It is round a scenic part of the Ribble valley, on quieter roads.

We dived down to a bridge over the river Ribble and had just started the steep climb back up the other side when Colly came to a sudden grinding stop. I assumed that he'd shipped his chain trying to get into his small chainring, but it turned out that I was wrong. We waited at the top of the hill for Colly and soon he worked his way back up to us. He said that his biggest sprocket was spinning round without driving the wheel, but all the other sprockets were still working so it couldn't be a broken freewheel, which is the usual cause of that kind of problem (and potentially a real show-stopper!). I haven't had confirmation from him yet, but we assumed that he must have stripped the splines out of his hub – the power of that man's legs! 😉

There are quite a few steepish little hills on the way through Bolton-by-Bowland, Sawley, Grindleton, and West Bradford on our way round to our cafe stop at Waddington. My back was starting to ache so climbing was (literally) becoming a pain. I dropped back and rode at my own pace to Waddington.

I arrived at the cafe a few minutes behind the others and discovered that it was somewhat busier than when I visited it on last week's ride! There must have been about 30 cyclists in there so it took a while for our food to be served. Hey – I'd just like to say something here – Country Kitchen is a nice little cafe and I wouldn't take any notice of the negative online review that someone has left on the entry on Google Maps. If you go to somewhere like that at a busy time, just chill out and wait. The staff are friendly – they even kept the cafe open late for me and a group of cycling pals when we turned up a few minutes before closing time last summer. If you demand instant service go to the McDonald's in Clitheroe! Okay, mini-rant over…

_Ben_ (aka bonj) had overtaken me just before Waddington. I didn't realise that it was him until we were introduced at the cafe. We must have stopped for about 30 minutes or so, but eventually we had to venture back out. The wind had freshened and it felt distinctly chilly. I began to regret not having long-fingered gloves on.

Soon we arrived at Whalley, where we had agreed to depart from the mini-NWP route. The official route goes through Billington and round on some A-roads to the outskirts of Blackburn but I'd found a nice diversion last year up a hill through the village of York. We had toyed with the idea of going straight up the hill on the vicious climb of Whalley Banks but none of us really fancied it this time – we'll save it for another day (preferably one when I'm slimmer and fitter and don't have an aching back!).

Once again my back played up, so it wasn't long before the other 5 riders were out of sight (Ben was still with them at that point). It's frustrating for me, but this kind of thing is what motivates me to get my weight down. I want to be able to ride with other people and not hold them back.

Eventually I came to a pub near the top of the climb and saw my original 4 companions waiting for me in the car park,  Ben having gone on by himself. I rode up to the others and hopped off my bike to stretch my back and that led to a conversation about back problems, core strength and flexibility. We were treated to a demonstration of The Plank exercise by Trio. It didn't look that hard, but I've just tried it and it's much harder than it looks. I'll try and remember to do it regularly as part of my core strength programme – you know, the one I keep talking about and never get round to starting… 😉

Okay, after another quick descent we rejoined the official route of the mini-NWP (and full NWP) on a dual carriageway on the fringes of Blackburn. That leads to the infamous Whitebirk roundabout, a massive monstrosity where the M65 meets 3 or 4 busy A-roads. Fortunately, I know a shortcut which bypasses it round the back of a big car showroom to our right. Even more fortunately, Trio realised that I was then leading us back towards Whitebirk from the other side – oops! 😳

We passed through Oswaldtwistle and headed for Haslingden. Ah, now let me tell you a little story about that! I rode the full 131 mile (210 km) NWP in 2007 and it was dark by the time that I arrived at Oswaldtwistle. I knew that there were two climbs to do before arriving back at Rochdale, I was feeling very tired and my blood sugar was getting low so I just wanted to crack on and get the event finished. I did the first climb, and was astonished at how quickly it was over, then I started on the second climb which is followed by a descent into Rochdale. That second climb was an absolute swine in the dark because I couldn't get any feel for how much further it went up. It seemed to take forever compared to the first climb of the two. Eventually I descended into Rochdale, almost crying with relief only to discover that… I was actually in Haslingden! 😯 It completely did my head in – how on earth did that happen? What was the extra hill? I found out when I looked at the map back at home, that the thing I'd mistaken for the first climb was actually only a bridge over the M65! That's what low blood sugar can do to you. The climb of the last hill was one of the most unpleasant experiences that I've ever had on a bike. I was very tired, low on energy, cold, and I nearly got killed by a couple of cars racing over the moor. They passed me so close and so fast that I was physically blown sideways off the road. I vowed not to do that long ride again until I was fit enough to get round in daylight. That's why I do the mini-NWP now.

I climbed over the motorway bridge with Calum and then he rode up to the other three riders ahead. Another solitary slog, but at least I had my secret weapon with me – my GPS. It has an altitude function on it and I knew that both climbs topped out at about 3oo m, with no significant downhills on them so I counted my remaining climbs down in 5 m chunks. It really helped being able to see how I was progressing.

I met up with the others at the top of Oswaldtwistle Moor, then we descended to Haslingden together and passed through to the foot of the climb to the famous Owd Betts pub. It wasn't long before I was climbing alone again but it didn't feel too bad, knowing that this was the last major hill for today. We joined up at Owd Betts and bombed down through Norden into Rochdale.

Calum rode over a broken bottle in the town and got a puncture but Trio didn't notice and carried on riding. We met up with her again at the finish. The rest of us waited as Calum replaced the punctured tube. Oh, a couple of passing women made some flirty comments about my lycra-clad lower-half! There's no accounting for taste…

Soon we got to event HQ. ‘Pie & Peas' were laid on for the riders, but unfortunately Calum, Colly and I didn't have time to hang about eating and socialising because it wouldn't be long before it got dark and Calum hadn't brought lights. We said goodbye to Trio and Ben, and set off back towards Hebden Bridge.

The ride back took us about an hour and was uneventful, apart from a lunatic driver trying to ‘left-hook' us (for non-UK readers – remember that we drive on the lefthand side of the road here). On the outskirts of Littleborough a driver overtook me at high speed, indicating left. He obviously hadn't realised how fast I was riding, and it was also obvious that he hadn't spotted the much smaller Calum and Colly in front of my large bulk. He would have turned across my front wheel if he hadn't suddenly discovered two other cyclists in his way! He was forced to brake to a halt in the middle of the road to a barrage of shouts from us as we squeezed between him and the kerb.

I managed to convince myself that it was getting dark 15 minutes early, before I remembered that I was wearing amber-tinted cycling glasses. I rode with them on the tip of my nose back from Todmorden to Hebden Bridge!

So… a good 104 mile ride (167 km) with 6,500 ft of hills (2,000 m). Nice company, and more fitness than I deserve considering how little I've ridden since the end of November. I need to carry on losing weight and get to work on sorting out my bad back.

I haven't yet got any major rides planned for the next couple of months so I must get busy and organise something.

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8 Responses to “Road Bike Ride – Extended Mini-North-West Passage”

  1. It was a great ride and you are a lot fitter and quicker up hills than you are implying!

    The plank is hard 😉 But it works! I must start doing my core exercises again, I’ve been very un-motivated!

  2. Hi trio.

    Well, it’s all relative isn’t it! I’m very fit compared to more than 50% of the western adult population, and probably fitter than more than 80% of my fellow over-50s but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

    I’ve got some long-held cycling goals to achieve. These include a 5 hour imperial century, 20 minutes for the climb of Cock Hill (Oxenhope Moor) from the Hebden Bridge side – my current PB is about 24.5 minutes. I’d also like to do a 20 minute ascent from Mytholmroyd to Blackstone Edge (the Cragg Vale climb) – my PB there is also about 24.5 minutes. It’s a steeper climb than Cragg Vale but about 1 mile shorter so it takes near enough the same time. I want to go sub-1-hour for the 20.5 mile loop of Hebden Bridge-Mytholmroyd-Blackstone Edge-Littleborough-Todmorden-Hebden Bridge including that climb. What I’ll do is go for the 20 minute climb and if I manage that, continue flat out round the loop. I think my PB is about 1 hour 9 minutes on a fairly windy day when I wasn’t fully fit so I’m sure that I could do it on a still day, when slim and fit. Oh yes, I have a favourite 29.5 mile hilly loop which I call ‘The Trauma of Trawden’ and I’d like to break 2 hours for that (PB currently 2 hrs 11 mins).

    Once I get to that kind of level, and have sorted my back out, I want to go cycling in the Alps and Pyrenees. I’ve not been before because it would be futile with my current back problems. Hey, I really fancy a CycleChat/BikeRadar alpine tour – that would really be fun!

    See ya about,

  3. My OH went to the Dr last year and was asked about exercise, Ali replied “No I don’t do much, cycle to work once a week but its only 2 miles and run once, maybe 3 miles and once a month mountain bike 15miles” the Dr replied “so you do a lot of exercise then?”. Ali looks at what I do and thinks no that is nothing! But shows how little most people do!

    Those are some hard goals, I think they are beyond anything I would manage!

  4. I’m surprised that a doctor would say that, but I’m used to members of the general public thinking that way.

    I rode down to visit my elderly mother in Coventry in 2007 and her carer came in as I was putting my bike away. She asked me if I’d just ridden up from Coventry railway station (about 2.5 miles). I laughed and told her that I’d actually ridden down from Hebden Bridge. She looked genuinely shocked and asked me how far it was. I told her that it was over 140 miles by the route I’d taken. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t look half dead from exhaustion. When I told her that I know people who do three times that distance or even further, she thought I was trying to wind her up!

    As to those goals – yes, they are quite ambitious. I know that I can achieve some of them so I’ll do the easier ones first and see how I get on with the harder ones. One of my friends broke 5 hours for a century, and 2 hours for the Trawden loop and I was able to keep up with him when I was last in top shape so I’m fairly sure that I’ll be able to crack those one day. A 20 minute climb through Cragg Vale is always going to be tough for someone my size, but it’s not out of the question if I lose enough weight and get the miles in.

  5. My aim was for an eight hour century, which I have now done. I can’t imagine riding fast enough for five hours!

  6. Hey Trio.

    What you aren’t taking into account is that your 8 hour century was achieved on a really tough, hilly sportive – The Pendle Pedal! I’ve done the original 160 km route twice and it’s very similar to the route you took apart from the start and finish, and I took well over 9 hours both times, yet I’ve already done flatter centuries in close to 6 hours. I’m sure that you could knock at least an hour off your time just by choosing a flatter route.

    I came 190th out of 196 finishers in the long Pendle Pedal in 2007. I’d like to do it again and come in the top half of the field. If I ever achieve that, I’d make a new goal of top 25%. One of my mates did it in about 6 hrs 45 minutes which I thought was a great time.

    My faster times were achieved at the Manchester 100 which does have 1,000 m of climbing but it’s made up of a lot of little hills, nothing too serious. You’d have no problem with them. Most of the route is out in the flattish lanes of Cheshire and you can really get some speed up there. The event starts from Wythenshawe Park in Manchester, and you set off early enough to miss most of the Sunday traffic. The lanes are pretty quiet. The only downer is the last 25-odd miles coming back into Manchester on the Sunday afternoon. You not only encounter a lot of vehicular traffic, you also have to watch out for the knackered non-cyclists / leisure cyclists who are doing the 100 km event for charity (the two routes converge at the end). Some of them don’t have much road sense and/or bike handling skills and do stupid things like stopping dead without warning or swerving about without looking behind them. It’s great that they’ve got out on their bikes for charity, but I’m amazed that there aren’t more accidents involving them. Overtake them with caution!

    I’d highly recommend that you have a go at that event at least once and see what time you can do. I think you’d be shocked at how quickly you could get round. It’s always the first Sunday in September.

    One other thing – you’ve got to remember that I’ve got the kind of big body that is made for going faster on the flat rather than for climbing. I’m much more likely to achieve my long distance speed goals than my climbing ones. You are always going to be more of a climber than a time triallist because you are so petite.

    Perhaps a bunch of us can get together for the M100 one year? I’d need to cadge a lift off someone, or go out the night before because the trains won’t get me there in time and I’m not doing a 35 mile ride to the start in the middle of the night!

  7. I don’t think I’ll ever be a climber either! I weigh a lot for my height! But its getting there, I think living somewhere hilly helps!

    I looked at the Manchester100 last year, I think it’d be best with a group so you could make the most of drafting, that way you can go faster!

    I’m doing the pendle pedal again this year as I have free entry!

  8. When I said that my mate did sub 5 hours for the M100 – he got in with a fast group and drafted his way round. My times were done about 70% solo. It is nice to sit in with a group of slightly faster riders. It’s painful though when the drafting effect isn’t quite enough to make up for the difference in fitness… I chased a different mate up the 5.5 mile Cragg Vale climb once and I was nearly seeing stars by the top, I had to try that hard!

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