I can’t remember who said it, but someone a lot cleverer than me once said something along the lines of “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This, of course, meant absolutely nothing to me. I hated history at school, and dropped it as soon as I could. I still don’t have any passion for the subject, much to the exasperation of my mother who has an encyclopaedic knowledge and boundless enthusiasm for English history. I only hope that when I’m that age I’ll still have that amount of enthusiasm for anything. In fact, I wish that I ever had that amount of enthusiasm for anything, ever. Anyway. Enough of the history part, what about the repetition part? Well, a few months ago, Sol & I were talking about plans for 2013, and one of us (probably Sol) casually mentioned the Fred Whitton Challenge. Those of you who are gluttons for punishment, will remember that we did this last year, and it hurt. A lot. In fact, I reckon it took a good week or so before I really fully recovered. I well remember the evening after we finished the ride, going into Ambleside, and eating more than I’ve ever eaten in my life in a Thai restaurant, and still feeling a bit peckish so ordering about eight bags of crisps in the pub afterwards. I also well remember the climb up Wrynose, seeing my HR monitor reading 197, and watching my world go blurry around the edges. If the climb had been 10 metres longer, I would have collapsed in the middle of the road. I remember the biting, slashing wind as we headed up Cold Fell, my legs screaming after about 130kms already, unable to even achieve 10km/h for metre after hateful metre. I remember the feeling of total exhaustion and self-loathing as I attempted to haul myself up Hardknott Pass, and realising that I had to stop, and walk, and therefore fail.
However, I also remember the feeling of achievement when we crossed the finish line together. It cemented a bond between us, and I couldn’t have been happier. I remember the feeling of pure adrenaline as I pushed 75km/h on the descent from Kirkstone Pass, flashing between the dry stone walls, ludicrously hunched over the front of the bike, trying to present the frontal area of a small mouse. I remember the pride when an immaculately turned out chap on a beautifully prepared bike, all British Racing Green, polished leather, chrome and a magnificent handlebar moustache complimented me on how my bike looked. I remember the lady with the magnificent cowbells, clattering them enthusiastically at Kirkstone, and again at Newlands. I remember the climb up Whinlatter, the roads lined with spectators, people I’d never seen before, applauding with a heartfelt enthusiasm and handing out food and drink.
And so, of course, we entered again. And once again, our entries were accepted. And so, in roughly three weeks, I’ll be doing it all again. In terms of preparation, well, I’m feeling pretty strong at the moment. I’ve been keeping riding through most of the winter, and on the long rides I’ve done this year, things have by and large gone OK. I’m about 100kms short of where I was last year in terms of pure distance, but that’s not a problem. Besides, I’ve got a 160km ride lined up on Sunday, so that will redress the balance nicely. The bike is pretty much unchanged, apart from the wheels. When I put my entry in for this years ride, I made a foolish pact with myself that if I got an entry, I’d treat myself to a lightweight wheelset to give myself a chance of getting up the Hardknott Pass. And so I ended up using a non-trivial part of my savings to pay for a spectacularly beautiful pair of Drew’s finest lightweight carbon wheels. I really can’t complain, as even more than ever now, every time I look at the bike I can’t help but think “Cor… I’m going to ride that…”
Whatever happens on the ride, I’m sure it will leave behind memories, echoes, of the feelings of pain and elation, the sights and smells of one of the most beautiful areas on the planet, the camaraderie and companionship both during the ride and in the bar afterwards, the heavy legs for the few days after, and the feeling of warm satisfaction when I finish the Full English Breakfast in the Claremont House on the morning after. And if that’s what I’m doomed to, then bring it on. With extra black pudding.