Energy, I am reliably informed, comes in little bundles called quanta. These are very small indeed, but serve a vital purpose to make sense of a number of paradoxes, most of which end up involving infinite amounts of energy being expended in an infinitely short period of time. As I signed on to start the second running of the Shropshire Hills sportive I knew that at least ne of these facts wouldn’t be bothering me, as I reckoned I’d be in the saddle for about eight hours. Which is not an infinitesimally small amount of time by any standards. And to make sure that we didn’t accidentally finish the event in the blink of an eye, Sol & I got off to a good start by taking the wrong road out of town, neatly adding an extra few kms to the journey, and generating an entertaining moment of levity when Sol nearly managed to get into a fight with a neanderthal brummie, who actually uttered the words “coom ‘ere aand sai thaat” when he was quite rightly told to **** off.
Having escaped the urban hell of South Central Lower Bridgnorth, we set off on the right road at last, heading out of town on the road down toward Cleobury Mortimer. This is one of those places that is designed to catch out unwary tourists. I won’t spoil the surprise, but if ever you’re in the area, try asking a local for directions to the place. They’ll probably pretend not to understand until you spell it out for them. Anyway, Sol was obviously feeling strong, the wind was behind us, and we starting putting some miles under the wheels, punctuated by both of us dropping our chains off the chainwheels a couple of times. This was to be a recurring theme for the day, and it was usually accompanied by some fairly fluent anglo-saxon as one or the other of us coasted to the side of the road while trying to put the bloody thing back on. But, back to the main plot. The ride down towards the bottom of Clee Hill was lovely, with the temperature starting to get up, and the scenery happily not resembling The Fens in any way. The ride up Clee Hill was easier than I remember last year. Whether this is due to improved fitness, increased strength, or just a lucky wind direction I’m not sure. I strongly suspect the latter. The ride down Clee Hill was just marvellous. I engaged my highest gear, temporarily removed my brain, and just went bananas. The ensuing top speed of 74.5km/h was rather pleasing, as much for the cooling breeze as anything else. The first food stop at the bottom of the hill reunited me with an old friend – Bacon Oinks. We didn’t hang around long enough for me to eat more than one packet though.
The next phase of the ride, North from Ludlow to Church Stretton, was straight into the prevailing wind, and so we just got our heads down, and swapped the lead every few kms to preserve energy. Halfway through this section the character of the ride changes suddenly from fast open road to nadgery little badly-surfaced lanes full of gravel and potholes. And while I won’t say that I particularly enjoyed this segment, it was good to get it behind me as we rolled into Church Stretton, still with reasonably fresh legs and feeling good. The sun was now on the ‘hot’ side of enjoyable for what we were doing, but that’s fine by me – I don’t really suffer in the heat, and was genuinely enjoying feeling the sun on my back. That said, I was bloody glad that I’d plastered myself in Factor 30 before we headed out, as the hottest part of the day was coming up, and we were still just under the half-way point. North out of Church Stretton the roads open up again, before turning sharp left, and straight into the climb of the Long Mynd. I’d been looking forward to this climb all day. Well, all year in fact, as it’s just my kind of climb. Long. Very long. And with a vicious 20%+ ramp in the middle that gives you a sharp reminder that sometimes the hill will win, as you really need to have quite strong legs for this bit. Sol & I rode up this bit side by side, not talking, just pacing each other. And sweating lightly. All that effort was worthwhile though, as the view from the top of the Long Mynd must rate as one of the best in the country. Well, at least on the three days a year when it’s not raining. The only downside was the total lack of shade – the sun was now mercilessly scorching everything, and everyone on the top. I downed the best part of a litre of water on this section.
The descent off the other side is something I’d really rather forget about. Narrow, gravel strewn, single track roads with rush-hour traffic coming the other way, including the throughful chap in the convertible Jag who ran three of us clean off the road. Luckily I saw what he did to the two in front, so was able to call him a c**t as he then ran me off the road for good measure. Composure regained, we then started the last steep climb of the day, up to The Bog, otherwise known as The Stiperstones. This isn’t as long as the Long Mynd (no surprises there) but packs in some very punchy little 20% ramps on the way up to the top. My legs were feeling pretty empty now, but I knew the next food stop was just at the end of the last ramp, where I would be served a piece of cake the size of a football, with the density of a slab of Iridium. And so we rolled into The Bog visitor centre, and indeed, I was presented with a piece of ginger sponge that needed two hands to lift it, and a can of icy icy cold coke. After about 15 mins, we decided it was time to get moving again. The ride down off The Bog (I still have a little smirk to myself every time I write that) was fast, smooth, and good fun, and after a few miles we caught up with one of the chaps that we’d shared tea and cake with. As the next few miles were largely flat, and into the wind, we decided to work as a team, which was going well until we got to the first hill, at which point matey pulled out a 15 metre gap on the two fat idiots behind. I buried myself to get back on his wheel, only to watch it disappear again the next time we got to a hill. After a few kms, we swapped places, and I was glad to hit the front so I could get a bit of a rest.
The final food-stop of the day appeared at the 135km mark, and was very welcome indeed as I’d emptied another two bidons in an attempt to stay hydrated, but more importantly, there was a chance of more Bacon Oinks. So I wanged down two packs just to get my money’s worth. From there, a quick blast along the valley floor brought us to Ironbridge. As soon as we started the long climb out the other side, my legs just turned to jelly. Although it’s not a steep climb, it does go on for a while, and I was really suffering. I quite often go through a bad patch at about 120km on a ride, so I guess I should be glad that I made it 145km this time round before it happened. I just had to focus on the metre directly in front of the wheel, and keep churning away on the pedals. And slowly, but beautifully steadily, the top of the hill came, and all that was left was a run down into Bridgnorth, where the dancing girls and bands would be out to welcome us. Well, what we actually got was a polite clap from the good people of Upper Bridgnorth, which was every bit as enjoyable.
So that was that. 162km, and a smidge under 7 hours of riding time. Sol got through six litres of drink on the way round, while I made do with about 3 and a bit. I also managed to wang down another bag of Bacon Oinks after the finish, so all was well with the world. Big thanks to the organisers, as I reckon they’ve got it spot on with this ride. There’s a real family party atmosphere about the whole day, and the course is just the right side of too hard. I mean, it’s hard OK, but not brutal, like the Fred Whitton. And while there’s a definite sense of achievement with The Fred, there’s also an accompanying sense of apprehension. And about five days of recovery afterwards. The only thing I need to recover from after the Shropshire Hills is overdoing the Oinks.