Resolve. A dedication to the task at hand and an unrelenting motion toward achieving the goal. A certain hardness, selfishness, and determination.
The correct resolve is a pre-requisite before a big event. With the right resolve, all struggles pass, all obstacles are hopped, skipped, or torn asunder. With resolve comes patience. Always moving forward, there will be no questions of failure. By the time the event starts, it should be the most important thing in the world. That sounds selfish, but for all the sacrifices that others have made to get you there, all the sacrifices that you’ve made to get you there, the best thing to do on the start line is to give it your absolute all.
I started EWE without the correct resolve. And since then, I’ve been trying to make sense of a year that feels like failure. I’ve composed in my head lists of all the people who let me down and contributed to that unpreparedness. But it’s foolish to blame the things and people you can’t control. Liars and loudmouths only have the power that you give them. While I fretted and sulked at Mountain Biking, I forgot how much fun mountain biking was. I threw myself at work. Suddenly, I cared about getting a fancy Samsung Galaxy S3, I got some new headphones with great sound quality but too much sound insulation for riding. My priorities had swung away from what would work on a wind-swept hillside and onto more civilised things. Eventually, though, the actual riding brought things back into perspective. Mountain biking had saved me again. With lessons learned, its time to move forward. And to begin with, that means looking back to EWE.
Many thanks are due for creating what we did this year… All of the route scouts: Jase Billet, Ian Barrington, Stuart Wright, Cy Turner, Ben Haworth, Tom Levell, Stu and Nicola from the Dales Bike Centre. Matthew Lee and Scott Morris for Trackleaders coverage. Routebuddy for providing the mapping software that allowed me to create the route.
Along with Steve Heading and Rob Dean, I stayed the night before in Plymouth University halls. It had all the hallmarks of a pre-event get together. Like-minded people. Nerves. A couple of pints. And the last comfortable bed for, well, who knew how long? It felt unreal. These guys had put their trust and their time into an event that I’d made up. We didn’t really know what trails would face us. We only knew that the trails conditions were certain to be ghastly, and the forecast was for sun tomorrow.
The route out of Plymouth was on lovely Sustrans trails. Easy miles, pleasant surroundings and chatting with the guys. No-one was going to sprint out of the gate. When we hit Dartmoor, things got more fun, but also wetter. Some early pushing left us with damp feet, but undaunted spirits. Dark soils and moorland were serving up some real climbs and I was starting to pull away with a pace forced by singlespeeding. Each time I pulled away, though, there would be some gate or some flat section where Rob and Steve would catch up.
I had planned this section myself with simply a guide book and an OS map. I had known that stepping stones on Dartmoor were a well-known feature so I had deliberate chosen some bridleways with river crossings. What greeted us now was a river in high flow. 20 metres across and with a good few inches of water flowing over the stepping stones. I didn’t fancy my chances on the wet stones, so I strode across the river bed. My grasp on the laden bike was wobbly and my feet were unsure. The water was up to thigh-deep and beyond what could have been safe in a more remote situation. Nonetheless, I continued, receiving water all the way up to my nuts. Steve was wobbling around on the stepping stones. Rob was following my path. A branch hung down to water level and I had to climb it before reaching the bank. Wedging my bike onto the branch, I freed my hands to climb over, then drag myself and my bike out of the cold water. Rob soon followed and seemed to be enjoying himself. Steve was not. I felt responsible for putting him there. I lurked and watched his progress. Which was, currently, backwards to get off the stones. I thought about asking him if he was OK, but took one look at his expression and figured that it wouldn’t be received well (he later told me that this was definitely the right decision). Eventually, we were all up and ready to squelch out of there.
It may seem odd that I didn’t just race away from that river. But I it won’t seem odd to anyone who has raced like this. The rules say self-supported, but there are moral lines to draw. If it were a puncture, and conditions were fair, I would have left. But a fast flowing river is not a game and we support each other through such things. Let the racing come down to the riding.
As Dartmoor wore on, Steve and I were pushing (foolishly) hard. Rob had dropped back a bit and it turned out that mechanical troubles would mean I wouldn’t see him again until after the event. Riding on, I was hungry, but damned if I was going to let Steve have an early lead. I was thirsty, too, but toughing it out. At some stage, he did slip into the lead and out of my sight. I forced myself to be wise. To eat and be ready for the long haul. I intended to get something to drink in Okehampton, and then chase Steve up the road/Sustrans trails to Barnstaple. The road section was an ideal place to eat on the move. Having starved myself a bit on Dartmoor, I shovelled down food and water now. Riding and shovelling, I eventually saw Steve – stopped on the side of the trail to do something or other. He was fine, I was pleased, and motored on.
It wasn’t long before Steve and his gears caught me up. We were riding back to riding at a pace that was costing me a little. I spun and spun on the flat, trying not to lose him. I just about hung on for our eventual arrival at a kebab shop. I carried extra bivi water and a fully belly into the post-dinner bonus miles. My legs were flagging now. Recovering from illness and tired out from the previous month’s riding, I didn’t have the strength to still be hammering the hills. I’d walk bits, Steve riding past, then get back on and be forced by gearing to power so hard that I’d grunt past him again.
The rain and the darkness came together. I plugged in my dynamo light (thanks, Exposure!) for the first time, and suited up with waterproofs. On Exmoor now, the earth was red, the vegetation more heavily watered and densely holding us back. The rain was setting in for the night and finding shelter would be a big win.
These hours are a blur. I recall squelching mud, gates, tractor ruts and the vaguest of paths. But eventually, there was an abandoned farmhouse with an open garage. Perfect.
I travel without a sleeping mat, usually making a natural, soft bed. So the concrete was harsh. But you can’t beat having dry sleeping kit in the morning.