Reality was out of the room when I entered the 94 mile Captain Cook Challenge ‘Mega-ride’ Sportive. When it returned, however, it gave me a full-on dressing down and, this morning, as I arrived at Saltburn for a 9am start, it was the shorter, more modest 60 mile ‘Midi’ event in the North York Moors that I signed on for. I'd also seen the forecast.
The good Captain made his name around Australia and New Zealand. He might have discovered Hawaii (although the Hawaiiians had discovered it a wee while before him). What made him travel to these warm distant shores? And just what were his bike handling skills like? ....After 4 hours riding in conditions which I can’t begin to describe....Ok, I’ll try. Shocking. Awful. There, I’ve described them now...I think I can imagine his thought process.Around 100 of us set off at 9.30am in light rain and grey, heavy skies for a cycle sportive around the moors. It was my first of these organised road events. It’s not a race, but you get a number and you're expected not to stop off at every tea shop or photo-opportunity along the way. There are also some pretty handy cyclists in the vicinity. I started talking to a bloke from Leeds as we led around 8 others up through the flatlands of Guisborough, Great Ayton and Kildale before things split on the first of the steep climbs. Predictably, near the top, I stopped to take a few photos. You don’t lose much time when you run and snap. On a bike, however, with a pair of sopping wet gloves and numb fingers things can get pretty messy. In cold weather it’s the feet and hands that get cold and after 20 miles I was soaked. I should say with my new SC Gothic jersey on, I felt bullish and rode on with panache. Wet panache.
As we climbed out of Commondale and headed east to Danby then south to Fryup it was getting a tad chilly. The thermometer had dropped to nothing degrees and at the turn (30 miles) the clag was down and the rain had turned to snow.Riders came and went along the ride. I was pleased to stop at the checkpoint at Castleton village hall at 34 miles. Riders jostled for radiator space. Some clearly had given up and wandered across the boards with empty eyes wringing their gear out. When, after 10 minutes, they wheeled the tea out the mood lifted and it went some way to stopping the bouts of uncontrollable shivering witnessed around parts of the hall. I spent around 20 minutes mooching around the place, hopping from radiator to radiator and being my jovial self said to one rider ‘ Well, it’ll mostly be downhill now and it can’t get any worse’.
As we climbed into a slight northerly headwind out of Castleton and down into Kildale the icy snow and sleet intensified and made it very difficult to see. My high vis. glasses were steaming up on the inside and icing up on the outside. I couldn’t feel my feet. My fingers weren’t working. This was a bit worrying and managing to work the brakes became a luxury. I was surprised I was still pedaling. My bike was looking up at me with pleading eyes. Any thought of taking photos was a joke and I began singing to myself as I felt the cold numbness creeping up my shins. Artic.The sleet was gathering on all the gear and with 10 miles to go it was just a case of trying to keep warm. I think ‘fatigue’ was in the equation as well but it sensibly kept its head down and mouth shut. Bodies on bikes were few and far between and the cars roared past once we hit the outskirts of Teesside kindly spraying riders with slush.
I finished in 4 hrs and some seconds and won’t bore you with the burning pain endured as my senses crept back after a hot shower and litres of tea. The cake was good though. I did the Hexham Hobble Fell race in 2005 and Ben Nevis in 2009, both in atrocious conditions. I can now add this event to the short and lugubrious list.
Captain Cook Challenge?....Change the’ Cook’ to ‘Scott’ and you might be nearer the mark. Well done to the organisers and especially the motor bike outrider. Hero.