What is it that compels us to seek a life less ordinary. Or in this case, a cycle ride less ordinary? We humans span the range of adventure. Perhaps you find comfort in routine and the familiar? Or does a lack of change discomfort, nay disturb?
The truly adventurous do not want change. They need it. Be it a life changing move to another country, or a more prosaic and seemingly mundane adventure of trying a new toothpaste. Yes, the adventurers are your early adopters, these are the people who bought 3D TVs. Bless them.
Give an adventurer a bike, sit back and watch as they fill your Strava feed with crazy rides of stupid distances to far-flung places in silly times. Or perhaps they’ll climb Alpe d’Huez on an old school Chopper bike, or ride around the world on a heavy cycle hire bike. Ultra-Nutters.
Or so I always thought until I embarked on a bit of ultra-nutting myself.
Doorstep Epic rides
Not all adventures need to be so exotic. Say hello to the ‘Doorstep Epic’, coined by Morvelo, discovered via my always excellent fellow blogger The Man from Icon. The aim is to recreate the epic adventure of climbing many mountains or riding in far-flung places but without all the hassle and cost of travelling. Mix an idea, improvisation and insanity. Voila. You have yourself a doorstep epic to ride.
Be it riding every road in your local area, riding miles from home and back or ‘Everesting‘, climbing the same hill over and over and over and over again to gain the height of the great mountain. Or perhaps an Everesting attempt multiplied by 3!
To some repetitive rides like Everesting are ghastly. It’s not even cycling they proclaim, ignoring the fact cycling is just riding a bike. Why ride the same hill over and over again when you could be discovering new roads in Siberia or single track roads of Iceland? Pah!
I too felt this way until I discovered a nuanced beauty hides beneath the surface of repetition.
Swaintoux – A little madness to keep me sane
I’m no adventurer, just curious. Sure I once set off to ride from London to Spain for no reason other than I could. Curiosity brews within, there’s no knowing when it will erupt and an idea will form. Boom! Once an idea is born it must live fast and die young. No planning, just go, quick before you talk yourself out of it. Sometimes the fear of doing nothing overcomes many another fear.
Thus it was I set out to climb 2,000 metres, in er, north London. Not exactly hill country. A quick look online led to me discover the concept of a ‘Swaintoux’ – climbing the height of Mont Ventoux by riding my local hill climb, Swains Lane, 24 times. A little ridiculous, sure but not really epic in the true sense of the word. Everything is comparative. For some riding 100 miles is incomprehensible.
Would this be easy? I wasn’t sure. I knew I could climb the height having climbed many a mountain including Mont Ventoux itself, only Ventoux doesn’t have 20% gradients every lap!
Swains Lane is well-known to north London cyclists, a short, sharp climb. 0.5 miles, 7%, climb with a vicious 20% ramp near the end, but crucially, still significantly far enough away from the end to leave your dead legs begging for mercy on the remaining 7% slope.
Trepidation? Not really. My biggest fear was boredom. Surely I’d hate such repetition yet after just one hill rep I was captivated. What happened? Lap 1 was just like any other climb, riding hard but within myself, the scale of the challenge holding me back. My split time at the summit instantly became a target, a goal, something to maintain for the remaining 23 laps. Tally ho!
From there I completed the loop, for you can’t ride down Swains Lane as it’s a one-way road. Now I had a lap and split time, two mesmerising markers to dictate my pace. Nothing else existed but these two times.
Lap after lap after lap ticked by. The loop my own private velodrome, the banks steeper, air cooler. Round and round, captivated not so much by the idea but my own movement against the clock, entranced.
Five laps of Swains Lane is pretty standard and were completed with minimum fuss. Ten laps and I began to feel a little crazy but also special for this feat was now on the verge of the extraordinary, as in, not ordinary.
Metronomic legs maintained a steady pace, breathing regular. Split and lap times solid. I had no doubt I would achieve my goal.
The evening dark now, darker still on this walled in, tree covered climb. Traffic almost non-existent. The road seemed wider somehow, flatter too, less daunting. Twelve laps in, halfway, I was confident of riding forever.
By now I was loving the ride. The repetition was still a novelty. I began to understand the hill, one I’d ridden over a 100 times yet the repetition led to a new appreciation of the variable gradient, of the 20% wall near the top, of the flat finish that always takes longer than you think.
Half way and climb times slowed a little but with less traffic on the descent my lap times remained consistent, quicker in fact than my first. Inevitably the 20% gradient began to bite. On lap 13 I reluctantly left the saddle for the first time to grind up the wall.
Lap 20 came too soon. Time to pick up the pace. Everything in moderation of course. The gradient seemed to steepen, my gears disappear. Snake time. Weaving up now, a drunk terminator programmed only to finish. Lap 21, 22, 23, and wow, last lap already, 24 done, a sense of achievement yet well short of elation.
Something felt unfinished. My original intention came to mind, to climb 2,000 metres in North London. Two more laps would see me hit my target. Why not. Lap 25 and 26, done, I reluctantly rode away from the hill, legs and head still conditioned to ride the loop.
A great ride, better than the real thing, given I thought Ventoux was a boring climb, but then I didn’t attack old baldie. Could I have ridden more laps? Sure. Could I have gone for the Everesting attempt? Oh no! Certainly not at that pace and I’d want a few more gears to attempt such a feat. Not that I will.
This was pocket-sized craziness. A few hours and back home with no pains in the legs, no mental scars. Maybe I’m missing a great adventure and not finding the farthest reaches of my cycling soul. Perhaps, but I’ll find a different way there one day.
What about you? Need some ridiculous rides to enliven your days or prefer a good old cafe ride any day of the week?