Fred Whitton ride

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?
A. No.

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.

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