Saturday felt like a day for riding. I’d thought about it at work during the latter part of the week, when the calling is strongest. Those moments where conversations in meetings seem to float by you and all emails seem superfluous, as your mind is pre-occupied with the planning of lanes and hills and cafes and which bike and who with.
The weekend came and the sun seemed to be doing its best to force through the clouds and to light up the hidden blue of an alien sky. I’d forgotten that the sky was blue. The only colour that we’d seen this winter seemed to be the hints and tints in flowing rivers as they rose continually and endlessly crept over embankments, painting fields and meadows into a lush green. Today though was as dry as it was going to get. The tarmac was so sodden that even a 2 digit winter temperature wouldn’t dry it out in a hurry; there were as stated, blue elements to the sky and the wind was light. It felt as safe as it could be to set off on a long ride to who knows where. I set myself ready, two water bottles of branded fluid, two nut bars, finishing off with two small chocolate fingers as a last resort for rapid energy requirements. After all, there were plenty of places to stop for tea and cake along the way …
A recent article by my cousin had also inspired me, and so it was to be, or not to be (I was slightly undecided at the start) a metric 100 for January – 64 miles. This being so, and still very early in the year, a flat ride across the Vale of York to Easingwold, then into the Howardian Hills for a few short sharp and steep climbs, before heading home with a smile. The ritual of preparedness dealt with, I shared details of my intended route with my wife and set off. Boroughbridge came and went with ease, and the long flat lans, trimmed with hedgerows helped to speed me along to Easingwold and the first 18 miles. Too short a distance for tea; I hadn’t yet earned cake and rest. Historic Hovingham on the edge of Ryedale would therefore be the goal, with its history and grandeur among neat cottages and its fine village green, lined by streams.
Entering the Howardian Hills, the tarmac began to rise in angry fits, starting with the winding hill in the hidden gem that is Crayke village. Brandsby, Yearsley, Cawton all passed by in quick succession as I began to revel in the falling miles and rising gradients, speeding down into Hovingham past sculptured landscapes. Tea and cake were nearby and I was in a cycling winter dreamscape. What could possibly dent such joy and happiness…
The answer was a closed café. No, two closed cafe's in rural idyll miles from anywhere. No time to linger in sorrow, it was cold when stopped and there was tea to find! Heading towards Helmsley, where I knew the multitude of cafes would save the day, the miles became longer and the hills higher, combining to force a change of plan as I approached a minor junction on the left, sweeping into it and back towards Easingwold by a different route; a route where fate had gone before and laid down steep hills just for me, mocking my lack of planning. Nut bars were depleted, water bottles were looking limiting, but I had hope in my legs and this was Yorkshire, where the thought of tea and cake will drive you on better than Adrenalin or EPO.
Feeling strong again, and with the possibility of the Purple Partridge cafe in Raskelf at hand - or at least on my mind, filling my thoughts like a desert mirage; I sped downward now, rewarded for earlier efforts, and out of the Howardian Hills. Easingwold was forsaken as I arrived at the 45 mile point to be greeted by the finest tea and the finest cake and the finest chair on which to rest. Only 19 miles left, or at worst 21 miles for safety.
There must be nothing worse than riding a 100 (metric or otherwise) only to measure it later and realise that you’re 1 mile short! To lock my first of 2016 into a firm 100, I’d take in the Roecliffe loop, setting off refreshed and ready for another 45 miles - cake will do that to you when you’ve felt desperate for sustenance! Miles now fell before me, as sheep and cattle seemed to applaud and to urge me on. The rain had indeed stayed away. And whilst my bike was caked in muck and grime and debris from the washed roads, I was smiling widely as I pulled onto the driveway, greeted by my family with ‘where have you been!’
I’d been to heaven and back, with a short stop at hell along the way – that being Hovingham and its two closed cafes! But now I was home and had my first metric 100 tucked away for 2016. Less than 2 weeks after a chest infection, I took the concerned comments and questioning from my wife, safe in the knowledge that ‘what was done was done’ and couldn’t be undone. I lay down on the sofa grinning and sipping Yorkshire Tea, busily planning my next escape into the wilds of Yorkshire, and reminding myself to check the cafes on the internet beforehand next time. Inspiration and effort had combined, and the day of cycling solitude had refreshed me. The meetings of Monday morning would be easier now, and I had time on my hands. Time to plan a February 100!
Thank you Robert for a fantastic insight into a 2016 milestone. Interested in taking on this easy, yet sharp Howardian Hills Ride? Or looking for something similar in the UK? Pedal North has routes to suit every need, with an indepth review so you can prepare yourself for it too!