Ever fancied riding the Fred Whitton route in the Lake District? Here we have an interview with senior member, Simon Guest, who recently did just that. Read on and decide whether it’s a challenge you would relish or avoid……
Q. Hi, Simon. Would you explain to your fellow Woodbridge Surfers what, exactly, is the Fred Whitton Challenge?
A. A 112 mile route around the Lake District incorporating all of the large passes (Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Whynose).
Q. Are you, truly, sound of mind to attempt this ride at 57 years of age?
A. I can confirm that I am, indeed, sound of mind and 57 years of age. I also have a hugely understanding wife who allowed me to train 4 times per week in preparation.
Q. Which bike did you use for this ride?
A. Bianca the Bianchi who you all know well. However, in retrospect, Bianca was not fit for purpose. I would recommend a compact chain set with a 32 cassette minimum, ideally with disc brakes.
Q. Who were your fellow riders?
A. We were a group of 12 males from Woodbridge, age range 40-57 years. Yes, I was the eldest – the others all being much fitter than me.
Q. Where was your base?
A. Ambleside Youth Hostel - an idyllic location with a really great restaurant.
Q. Can you summarize for the reader the whole experience?
A. The weather in Cumbria for the previous two days had been atrocious. In fact, the friendly people in one of the local bike shops had suggested that we were ‘mad’ to be attempting the course in such conditions. However, as we donned our lycra and helmets for a 06.00 start that morning, the weather was much improved – dry and cold with little wind.
In summary, it was truly the hardest ride I have ever done. I would liken it to a runner’s marathon.
The climbs were so much steeper than I had expected. I hit my low at 60-80 miles after completing Newlands and Whinlatter. My grotty gears meant that I was constantly struggling to keep up with the group. I had, also, fitted new brake pads, which hadn’t bedded in and were, therefore, not gripping very well – I now certainly see the point of disc brakes on road bikes!
We worked as a team, battling up the hills at our own pace, and meeting at the top to continue downhill as a peloton until the next climb. This is only possible when the weather allows any hanging around at the summits.
We were dealing with gradients of 30 degrees. 70% of the group walked these gradients (to be expected) and it’s worth remembering that if you’re wearing plastic road cleats, then cleat covers are essential to protect your cleats whilst walking.
My struggle to maintain contact with the group was both energy sapping and psychologically draining. However, when the group stopped for a break at the 80 mile point, Mark Sly and I decided not to join them and we put our heads down, dug deep and got ahead of the gang. That was a great decision as our mood lifted and energy levels were revived.
Those were the negatives, but there were loads of highlights. Firstly the group bonding and camaraderie was fantastic. Certain, more able members of the bunch were incredible at motivating and encouraging weaker members – I really appreciated their support.
Cycling around the lakes of Ullswater, Buttermere and Windermere was something I’ll never forget for its’ beauty and I even enjoyed cycling the terrifying 15 miles along the A66 (feels more like the M6 with the heavy, speeding traffic and hurtling juggernauts) as the miles are, suddenly, being eaten up! Equally, rising above the mist in the valley of Kirkstone Pass and looking down is a wonderful memory logged forever.
Q. Did you take any photographs of these wondrous sights?
Q. Describe how you felt on finishing.
A. The sense of achievement was unforgettable. There was a party in my padded pants. As we re-entered Ambleside, our boisterous, almost delirious euphoria gained the attention of some Chinese tourists who requested photographs of us and permission to touch our bikes (at least, I think that’s what they wanted to touch).
Q. Any interesting statistics?
A. It took us 11.5 hours in total, including a couple of 30 minute meal breaks. We had zero punctures amongst all 12 of us and completed a total ascent of 3,500 metres (compared to the 2,000 metres of Mount Ventoux!).
Q. What advice would you give to other Woody Surfers fancying this madness?
A. Absolutely do it – an amazing experience. Given the isolated route, though, do it as part of a group or enter the official sportive (beginning of May) when the weather should be reasonable and the days longer, discounting the need to carry lights.
Really careful planning is required. We were always mindful that an untimely break down or deterioration in weather conditions could be disastrous, particularly as there is no phone network on most of the route. We were fortunate that a daughter of one of the group lives in the Lakes and agreed to be rescue ‘on-call’ throughout the day. A GPS route is essential. Be aware that after 35 miles (Keswick) there are absolutely no cut outs – there is no choice but to turn back or complete the route.
Q. Anything to add?
A. My thanks to Paul Brant for the transportation of me, Bianca and my supply of diet coke in his camper van.
Q. Finally, Simon, would you do it again?
A. No. Gradients of 15 degrees or less for me in future…..
Well, thank you, Simon for that very ‘interesting’ account of this ‘fascinating’ trip. Next week, Sharon Guest will be telling us about her recent ‘Hills of Woodbridge Challenge’ when she conquered North Hill, the Martlesham Red Lion Mountain AND Woods Lane in just one afternoon.
As the realisation that the biggest surprise was likely to be, that due to injury Darren would not come along on his weekend, the decision was made to check-in on him to ensure his fitness would allow for his family trip to be a MTB trip. Code name MTLII, the plans were all finalised with just the weather to sort. Friday night saw the Winebox loaded and the forecast checked and all was in place for an early start to allow Darren to realise that it wasn’t a wind up. A table for 18 please.
The first stop was already on Darren’s mental short list and as we headed towards Southend, he worked out that the Olympic course was the first venue. The blood was seeping from Clarks leg as we left the car park so we knew we were mountain biking and the sun was shining so we also knew we had the best conditions for this challenging course. And we were not disappointed, with a lap of the blue and two laps of the full course; with a mixture of the tough climbs, fast berms and tricky descents there was enough to more than challenge everyone. Need to go again.
Stop no2 was further south and we managed to get within 400 metres of Buckmore Karting before half century boy worked it out and stopped thinking he was going for the tunnel. The circuit and event were as awesome as expected, dry & fast to start with and then with a little rain, transformed it to a skid pan full of synchronized spinning karts, concentration constantly upset by fits of laughter, as you nudged, were nudged or just managed it on your own. And so with the formalities sorted and aching fore arms we whisked the birthday boy off, arriving at Box Hill one hour later, for the ascent up the Olympic road climb to the peak with its fantastic views of the Surrey hills. Before returning to the start, MTB style in a fifth of the time, on the promise of food. Having eaten our fill and fuelled by San Miguel, we headed in search of a place to rest til the morning and an early night. Luckily we were checked at midnight, which limited the consumption but the lack of brogues did not spoil the night. It has probably been a year since I laughed so much and this was only slightly marred by the lack of warning to study Darren’s departure, build up to speed and near perfect execution of his diving return from the toilets, luckily he did it again later. And who would have thought at 3AM that the hotel would have given us the job to distribute the lounge scatter cushions around the building, they must have known we had been drinking, luckily the laundry kart was on hand to attempt to collect them up later. Sorry about getting up late the next day.
When full of breakfast, but still slightly dazed we headed of to Swinley Forest, luckily it is so big and well laid out it did not matter that on such a cracking day, everyone else who had a bike was there. After an hour of parking and parking and preparation and Duncan’s coffee, we started out on the day’s adventure, it seemed like the trails went on forever, berm after berm, slightly firm on the arse but beautifully carved, (sounds like a fit woman) finally arriving at our favourite. It was a rooty, twisty, slightly down hill (sounds like one of us) section, just aching to be ridden again, so we did. And after repairing a couple of ill prepared riders’ bikes, we gloated and headed back along the miles of all weather single track, for a well deserved Coke or two. Shaky, slightly dehydrated start but one awesome day on the trail, need to go again.
More big surprises as Al arrived, bringing the numbers back up to 13 and the missing friends amusing tributes were played, before handing over some German car thingy thing gift and we headed out for a buffet, before drinking a load more liquids, slightly less than the quiet night, £15 check-in on the night club (without brogues) and bed.
Luckily with slightly more sleep and an on-time big-mans breakfast, the last surprise was..... we had Darren’s credit card all weekend, no not that one, the final part of the logistical challenge of up to 5 vehicles (and a train and bus), 13 bikes and a total of 20 friends & family, rolled into the 6th venue, the Mecca of motorsport, our near forgotten partial racetrack, officially half of the world’s first raceway, Brooklands. Once again the weather held on, helping to give us an inspiring, educational and really quite awesome place to spend a day, apart from all the lovely sirens. And of course Duncan and the light switch, which still makes me giggle.
Happy birthday Darren.
Oh I nearly forgot (Darren’s words from the week before – hope he doesn’t mind)
I've been packed and ready since Sunday. Haven't slept properly since Wednesday-before-last. About to burst with excitement. Can we go now please?
We hope it lived up to expectations – The Woodbridge Surfers - Suspendisse semper
|Barney taking homage from a prostrate youngster.|
|DH not sure if he's still a bit tipsy from the previous night|
|Captains DH & DB. Everyone outside the plane feeling happy they're not inside with the disco lights|
|Eyebrow removal technique|
|Apparently this is his Tinder profile pic now.|
|Lunch in Swinley. The lunch that no-one wanted to carry, no-one had room to carry, until there was a danger of them not getting it & then they all found a bit of room in their rucksacks...|
|We all expected AM to do something a bit more spectacular than this.|