Andy Marks – The Crossing

Settle in folks, grab a cuppa and get comfy…here’s the first instalment in Andy Marks epic adventure

‘Rat Race, The Crossing’

‘3 Days, 2 Coasts, 1 Hell of an adventure’ – That was what the website said. So after several months of talking about it, usually after a few beers, four of us made the jump and signed up.

We knew it wouldn’t be easy, 200 miles and 18000ft of climbing over 3 days, so we’d all need to get some training in. The four of us managed this to varying degrees; Gus got the most miles in, several 50+ milers and at least one 100 miler that I know of. Guy was regularly riding the 30 miles round trip to work over the Downs and he focused on hill work. I did a little bit too, but other commitments and several motorcycling holidays got in the way. On the drive up to Scarborough it occurred to me I’d only ridden over 50 miles about twice in the last few months and I’d only done one fairly small back to back ride. Not ideal but I’d done what I could so I’d just have to go for it and see how I got on. The fourth member of our team however had the best solution. Dave, having been the main instigator in signing us all up for this challenge in the first place, jumped off his bike at low speed a couple of months before the event and had to pull out injured…..

We had agreed to drive to Scarborough on the Thursday and take advantage of the bus transfer to the start line in the evening, so that the car would be waiting for us at the finish line. An early start meant I had to load up on the Wednesday evening. I arrived to find Gus and Guy in the shed trying to re-seat Guy’s tubeless tyre on the rim. About half hour later and with us all covered in Stan’s sealant it was finally done and the car was loaded with no more issues.

Thursday morning I was picked up at 6:20 and we headed north, arriving in Scarborough with about an hour to spare before the transfer. We had to pack our bikes into boxes and load them onto the back of a truck for transportation to the start line. This meant removing wheels, pedals and rotating handlebars, so by the time we were finished it was time to get on the coach and head across to the start line.

This is where my first tip for an event like this must come in. If you are on a coach travelling from the finish to the start line, don’t look out the window! The hills kept getting bigger, the sky got darker and it seemed a bloody long way on a coach. What was riding it going to be like?!  By the time we arrived at the start, in Whitehaven, it was raining and I was feeling quite apprehensive about the whole thing for the first time since signing up. The biggest issue for me was that no matter how many times we checked the weather forecasts, and how many different websites we looked at for them, they all said we were going to get wet… very wet! Nevertheless, we unpacked and racked our bikes, signed on, found our B&B, ate and got an early night.

I woke up early the following morning having had a terrible night’s sleep, I was in an attic room with no window and the noisiest fan I’ve ever tried to use (I was up at 1am using my bike toolkit trying work out why it was so noisy and fix it!). It was like a sauna, and I sat there listening to the rain dreading the day ahead.

Day 1

I went down for breakfast but couldn’t eat it; I think it was a combination of a dry mouth, sore throat and nerves. I never get nervous, what’s going on?! However, from this point on our luck somewhat changed and as we walked to the start line about 5 minutes away the rain eased off; by the time we got there it was a fine drizzle. Pretty miserable but I could live with this. We checked our bags in as they would be taken to the overnight stop at Shap by van. We got our bikes ready for the off and took the compulsory picture with the back wheels dipping in the sea.

We got called over for a quick rider briefing and we were off at about 7:10. The rain had almost completely stopped and all 3 of us had decided to put our jackets away and chance it in jerseys and shorts. The first mechanical problem we saw was, at most, 50 yards from the start line. Fortunately it wasn’t one of us but you had to feel for the guy pulling over to repair a puncture so soon! We did about 10 miles gradually climbing out of the town on a tarmac cycle path (disused railway line I’m told). It was a staggered start and we were in about the 4 th or 5 th wave; we seemed to be overtaking a lot of people already which felt good but it did make me wonder if they were saving themselves and knew something we didn’t. You could see the hills looming in the distance, often disappearing up into the clouds. Impressive, but knowing we would soon be riding over them was a little daunting.

At about the 10 mile mark we turned off the road and up a short, sharp, gravely climb. Once at the top of this climb there was an amazing descent that looped along the side of the hill. It was technical in places with some very fast sweeping sections. This is my kind of riding; I was overtaking a lot of people and was now really starting to enjoy myself. I finally had the answer to the question I’d been asking for the last day and a bit – Why am I doing this?

The morning section provided a few more climbs, some more great descents and some absolutely incredible views! The three of us got slightly spread out but it didn’t matter as there were a lot of people around, so you were never really on your own. We made very good progress on that first morning and arrived at the ‘Pit stop’ in Keswick about 10:15.

We’d been warned there was a huge climb straight after the stop so we grabbed some food, and set off. We were in the pit stop for about 8 minutes, long enough for a breather, but not long enough to start stiffening up. Back on the bike we started the climb out of Keswick, firstly on the road then onto a track that I don’t think anybody rode up. It was too steep, rough and loose to get any traction, so it was a long push to the top. The view at the summit made it all worthwhile though and the descent on the other side was great fun. During the descent I came across a couple of guys with a puncture who had no idea how to repair it. The bike shop had set the bike up for them and they didn’t seem to have any idea how to repair a tubeless tyre. We agreed the best thing to do was to just put a tube in it so they could keep going, so I gave them a hand to get the valve out and left them to it.

This must be tip number 2. When riding a mountain bike, carry a toolkit and make sure you know how to use it! You’d be very lucky to do a trip like this and never need to do anything!

By now I was separate from Guy and Gus again; my lack of training and slow climbing of the hills meant they left me behind. I continued to make good progress until I came across what can only be described as a mountain to climb. I’m not exaggerating; much of it was too steep to even push your bike up. People had them over their shoulder and carried them up the side of this mountain. It took what seemed like an hour to get to the top. And when we got there the other side was the same, bike up on your shoulder and climb down the other side.

It took me just over 90 minutes to clock up just UNDER 2 miles. I’m afraid I couldn’t see the point of that part of the route, especially when locals said there was a nice route to ride round it. It was an adventure alright, but my back was aching from carrying the bike and my ankle had gone over on a loose rock and didn’t feel too clever. It could have been worse, once we were back riding the bike a guy in front of me got caught in a rut and had a big crash. We told him to get up, gave his bike a good check over and carried on. He seemed okay but was checked out by a first aider on the route. I understand he finished the day (and event) without any further problems.

Once over the mountain the rest of the day was fairly uneventful. My only other issue was that I ran out of water, the only water station of the day (other than the pit stop where I didn’t fill up as I thought I had plenty) was 58 miles into the 68 mile leg. It struck me as a bit late and other people obviously agreed as the organisers had a few complaints and rectified it for the rest of the weekend.

I arrived in Shap at about 15:30 under glorious sunshine. Day 1 had been 68 miles and 8000ft of climbing! Amazingly, it had stayed dry all day and the cloud cover had kept it fairly cool. Absolutely ideal riding conditions. A recovery shake, 20 minute sports massage, hot shower and well-earned beer followed.

We’d been told the first day was the hardest and I’d not only survived it but actually really enjoyed it. Two more days of this and I’d be a very happy man. My lack of training hadn’t been as big an issue as I first thought it might be. I spoke to one guy who’d done one commute to work all year and this was the second time he’d been on a bike. There were also people still arriving with minutes to spare before the 8pm cut off. I wasn’t really anywhere near the back.

We ate outside the beer tent in the sun and were in bed by about 9pm ready for the next day’s riding…..