I joined a Team Glow cycling weekend organised by one of our very fun and efficient ride leaders Helen Pidd. Instead of bike packing, we had our base in Kirby Stephen at an independent and very well run hostel.
The Great Dun Fell scores 11/10 for difficulty according to the book Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. It is rumoured to be England’s Mont Ventoux and I’d wanted to tick this off my list for about a year. I can’t remember how I found out about it but I am so glad I did.
I don’t feel the climb warrants such a high score (one of the ladies did comment that the Lake District passes Hardknott and Wrynose are more brutal – I have yet to try those) but it was a slog. I arrived at the summit after 62 mins and only by zig zagging up the steeper sections because I rode it on my Wilier La Triestina which has a compact group set. Oh yeaaah….. I need a bigger cassette.
I’d say the first two thirds were the hardest. There is a metal gate right across the road at one point, so this is a climb that you do have to get off and walk but only to bypass the obstruction. I did stop about half way up to take a few photos. I had to when I rounded a bend and saw the rest of the road open up in front of me. It was a wonderful sight to see it vanishing in to the distance.
As I reached said distance I was in a kind of V-shaped valley. The hill sides closed in, the gradient getting steeper again up here and I could see my breath against the tarmac in front of me. It was as this point while travelling at approximately 3mph and eyeing the snow lines above me that I thought of the climbing mantra that I have printed on my road ID wristband…
‘Per aspera ad astra’
(Through hardships to the stars)
A friend told me that you need a climbing mantra. It helps you focus. As does imagining you have limbs made of steel and thinking SHUT UP LEGS a lot. Quite honestly, I thought all of those things. However I also thought how lucky I was to be able to do this. I was grateful to my body (It turns out these days I’m finding a blue inhaler useful) and I just wanted to enjoy the experience. I was in the moment. You have to be on a climb like Dun Fell. This is what I love about cycling uphill. Why it’s comparable to meditation, you go inwards, to dig deep.
Eventually rising to the top and witnessing the spectacular view all around me I started to get emotional – I actually cried a bit. It was just so damn beautiful and I felt so accomplished. The hard work was worth it… I then saw two walkers getting out of their car and pulled myself together pronto.
The feeling of elation continued as I approached the summit, my team mates that had already arrived were waiting, freezing, cheering me on. I cheered with them and went on to do a lap of the cool golf ball type structure. We waited for everyone else to summit, high-fived, jumped around to keep warm, took photos and then descended.
To my mind the climb was a kind of beautiful hell. And the descent is one of the best I’ve experienced in the UK. One of those rare kinds that make you feel alive and has you whooping with the exhilaration.
I think 11/10 – the extra one is for the experience.