Today things were a bit quieter in fact I didn’t pass another person on a bike in a ride of several hours. It was quite windy today it must be said and riding into a stiffish breeze can be discouraging but getting up over that cattle grid, its elevated position in the pantheon of bike racing iconography surely secure and its listing as a historic monument cetainly only a matter of doing the paperwork, and catching the full force of a gale travelling in more or less the same direction as you are is more than consolation for the grind in getting there. I think other than sailors bike riders must go on about the wind more than anyone else. The strategy, tactics and etiquette of riding when the air is anything other than millpond still must fill thousands of pages of books and gazillions of whatever the units of verbiosity for the internet are. Sometimes, after an hour or two battling a headwind the direction in which leaves, rain or snow is blowing, which way livestock is facing and which side of the field they are huddled against the wall, the destination of clouds sailing above you, the massed grassblades bowing down below you begins to make you feel like you can almost see the air currents, as migratory birds can see the earth’s magnetic field, and somewhere unseen a windtunnel operator fella with a white coat and GCSEs is leaning on a big lever turning up the turbine speed and feeding coloured smoke into the airflow whilst laughing manaically. Rainy days and Mondays do always get me down because whatever you do to try and make it better it’s still raining and it’s still Monday but windy ones, where the simple act of turning a corner transforms your whole day, I can deal with.
It seems like it’s been a long winter, cold and wet and full of non-cycling stresses and diversions but Buttertubs has waited for me and today was the reunion. Three months it’s been. I promised I wouldn’t stay away so long next time. One of us has seen other hills while we’ve been apart, one of us other cyclists but we didn’t talk about that. Neither of us has changed much although there is a big orange banner at the bottom erected by the parish council to welcome the bike race which I have probably already mentioned is visiting these parts in July. It’s not like a tattoo or something though, not permanent, and will be gone in time, well before July I would expect. In terrible shape I may be, and the wind still has a bite to it but winter has yet to run its course and today was a gift of sunshine and dry roads so to stay indoors would have been a terrible thing, being all warm, by the fire, with a mug of tea, watching DVDs, all snug on the sofa, yes, terrible…
The pass is the only road in my neck of the woods with pass in its name. It’s not the highest road in the area in absolute terms, which honour goes to its near southern sister, nor in the difference between the top and the bottom, which is claimed by another sibling to the east, but it feels higher because of the very steep drop down to the east side of the road. It certainly feels high in winter when the snow is blowing horizontally across the fell, the tarmac is icy, and the road home, which you can see from the top snaking down the valley below, seems a heck of a long way down.
From the south the climb is a few steep bits followed by a long moorland drag up to the top. From the north its just steep and some more steep then a bit of steep. The weather is often terrible. The pass is sometimes closed for days although of all the high roads between the two valleys this one allegedly has the first claim on any action to clear it. In March this year from the northern foot of the pass the only clue to the existance of a road at all was the ‘road closed’ sign erected on top of the drifts. In summer the pass forms part of a traditional loop followed by old folks driving around with tartan rugs on their laps and slighty less old folks on very powerful motorcycles so I prefer the pass in winter; snow, ice, wind and fear of going up there and not coming back down included.
Strength-sapping climbs, vertiginous descents, precipitous drops, snow and ice, gales, nutters on motorbikes and idiots in sports cars, a couple of treacherous cattle grids, and nearby competition from some of the best roads you’ll ever ride on a bike in the country, I love riding over the pass. I love riding it from both ends and if I haven’t ridden it for a while I start to dream about it. They might have to bury me up there although they probably won’t have to carry me far as in all probability that is where I will have expired anyway, although I hope it will have been because of the elements and not because I was balancing on my bike in the middle of the road taking pictures for the blog as I can be quite hard to see in black and white.