Rolling through the delightfully named village of Upperthong, I couldn’t resist stopping to document the warning of headless children and their headless parents.
I’m reliably informed there is also a Lowerthong and even a Neverthong although I suspect the latter is more life advice than a place name…
Moments later (still childishly sniggering at ‘Upperthong’), I was hurtling downhill, pushing 40mph and leaning into a corner as I saw the bonnet of a car pulling out of a side road.
Instinctively, I pulled on the brakes and attempted to steer to safety. The rear tyre squealed for mercy as it let go of the tarmac, taking the bike into a superbike-esque sideways skid leaving the front brake to do all the work while I did everything in my power to stop it locking up.
Some time later, at the bottom of the hill my riding companion gave me that familiar ashen-faced look, revealing just how close that shave must’ve been.
This was just one of many crazy moments, the likes of which I seem to come across quite often… earlier in the ride I was fumbling around in the dark, slipping on slimy cobbles as water dripped down my neck (courtesy of the very long, very damp and VERY DARK Scout Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, near Stalybridge).
Later, I found myself being chased along the Woodhead Pass section of the Trans Pennine Trail by an extremely frisky and very vocal Spring lamb. We couldn’t decide whether he was excited to see us, annoyed we were disturbing his otherwise peaceful afternoon napping in the sunshine or just plain crazy but what must’ve been the lamb’s mother eventually came wearily trotting over and called him back after he nearly went under our wheels for the 3rd time. She had that “…he does this EVERY time a cyclist comes by…” look on her face.
Huh. Sheep do have expressions on their faces. Who knew?
Just before our run in with the sheep, we’d stopped for a photo opportunity at Salter’s Brook Bridge. It’s all historical and interesting here, there’s a (now ruined) shelter which used to be a haven from the elements back when people transported salt across t’ Pennines by way of long-suffering packhorse. The keen-eyed observers amongst you may have spotted some similarities between our two long-suffering packhorses… Yep, what we have here is the rare sight of 2 original orange Surly Trolls basking in the sunshine in their natural habitat.
This one is, of course, mine and I suppose these days it’s technically a Surl Troll since the ‘Y’ fell off. These days it’s back in what has become know as “heavy ass utility mode” with rigid fork, Jeff Jones Loop Bars, front & rear racks and Halo Twin Rail tyres.
T’other Troll (the gigantic one) is owned by our freakishly tall friend of Northern Walker fame. Ever since we rode together with Shona & Rich from Keep Pedalling, Tyler & Trevor from Surly Bikes and a bunch of other like minded crazy folks, the Northern
Walker Cyclist and I have been negotiating with our respective other halves for a free pass so we can go out and play on our bikes. And, one beautiful day in mid-May, that’s exactly what we did.
Behold: Trollfest #1.
OK, OK… I know all of 2 bikes hardly qualifies as a ‘fest’ but the next one promises to be much better attended. In fact, we’re hoping to double the number of attendees to a semi-impressive… um, 4.
These Surly Troll things are a bit rare, you know.
Now, he’s a lovely bloke that Northern Walker but he does have a dark side…
And he likes to torment fat blokes (or, at least this fat bloke).
Our route started in Manchester City Centre at the bike shop, picked up the Ashton Canal which took us out to Stalybridge where we marvelled at all the people clammering to get into Tesco’s while the trails were blissfully quiet. We continued on to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal which included the slippery walk through Scout Tunnel, an emergency banana stop and a number of missed photo opportunities.
We pushed on through Mossley and started the serious climbing as we hit Greenfield. With the promise of imminent cake, I dug deep and did everything I could to keep up as we climbed yet further into Diggle.
More photo opportunities passed us by as I rode down some surprisingly familiar trails which form part of the challenging Diggle Jiggle I rode sometime last year.
Dying a thousand deaths, I was again promised cake. We pushed on with stomachs rumbling and the sun climbing higher in the sky.
“Just a little further”, he said.
The Northern Walker’s bike computer topped out at just over 61kph but I was still accelerating as I got down into the elusive beard-resting-on-the-bars aero position, moved out into the centre of the road and just let the bike go as fast as it wanted to.
As it turned out, “as fast as the bike wanted to go” was “faster than I felt safe going” so I pulled the brakes on and started the gradual process of slowing to a stop. The combination of the momentum I’d built up, the weight of the bike and the fat bloke tearing it down a long ass hill was enough to leave the brake discs scorched and the pads fading… it stopped me, but if I’d needed to slow down in an emergency, I would’ve been out of luck. It was spectacular fun.
Eventually, we rolled into Marsden and I missed yet another photo opportunity as we leaned the bikes against the window at the rather excellent Crumbals on the Corner.
We gorged ourselves on tea, sandwiches and a huge slice of cake, basked in the sun, swapped cycling stories and lingered longer than we probably should have.
Dragging ourselves away from the deliciousness, we hopped back on the bikes and headed for the aforementioned Upperthong via Meltham, regretting ordering (and nomming) such a large slice of cake on top of a large sandwich.
As we dug into our food at Crumbals, I was warned about “the climb out of Holmfirth” but was reassured that, while it’s “sharp”, it’s also “short”. Uh huh. Yeah. Like, “yeah, we’ll have cake soon”…
The warnings about the upcoming climb continued as we again hared downhill on the way out of Upperthong (this is where the near-death experience occured, as I recall).
We stopped at Holmfirth and, as the roadies whizzed by in every direction, we saw the NCN route 68 sign gleefully pointing up a very sharp climb which curved to the left past some houses.
“Like I said, it’s sharp but it ends just around that corner”
With those words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I approached the climb, dropped it into the granny ring and said “Right, let’s go and get laughed at by the roadies…”
If I was going up that hill, I was going up it hard. Instantly, as the ridiculous incline started, I lost all momentum and instinctively stood on the pedals. As the Trollhoff clicked down next to me, I arrogantly clicked up a few gears and rode by my friend with the blind determination of a bloody fool.
I rounded the corner and the “short, sharp climb” only got longer and sharper. I made some kind of guttural noise and pushed on even harder thinking that maybe it starts to even out after the second curve… Mockingly, the incline increased and I was forced to sit down and drop into the lowest of the low gears. Before long, I had to admit defeat and get off and walk.
To add insult to injury, I was soon passed by the Rohloff-turning long-legged liar who, whilst once a friend of mine, was now some git I’d once met.
By now, the sun was high in the crystal clear sky and, as they say, only Mad Dogs and Englishmen venture out in the mid-day sun. I’d refilled my bidons back at Crumbals but as we took a wrong turn on the approach to Winscar reservoir, we were both running dangerously low on fluids and the salt we’d lost through sweat was all too apparent in the crystalline white patches on our jerseys and shorts.
“Welcome to Barnsley” the sign said.
“WHAT THE <bleep> ARE WE DOING IN BARNSLEY???” I said.
“I must’ve missed a turn somewhere…” the git said.
Checking the GPS, we found this ‘road’ heading in roughly the right direction. As we hit the surface (a mixture of deep sand, large sandstone boulders, loose hardcore and patches of lingering wet mud, we revelled in the unstoppable capablity of our rides. In their own way, they were very different machines – 1 with derailleurs, the other with (probably) the most expensive (and reportedly the best) internal gear hub in the world; 1 extra large, the other regular sized; 1 with uber-expensive Jones bars, the other with el-cheapo riser bars; 1 with now-super-hard-to-find Schwalbe Marathon Extreme tyres and the other with get-’em-anywhere Halo Twin Rails; but despite all the subtleties, these two machines had transported us across smooth tarmac at high speed, climbed obscene hills off road, descended obscene hills on and off road and handled just about every type of terrain you could fit into one day and, what’s more, they’d done it without missing a beat.
We were almost completely out of fluids by this point and we were both drawing on what little remained of our emergency energy reserves.
This packet of Clif Shot Blocks and the remaining contents of our bidons was the only thing that dragged us up the climb from Winscar reservior to Dunford Bridge.
It was my turn to lie as I said “this isn’t a long climb”; which it probably isn’t but by that point, it sure as hell felt like it.
When I eventually caught up at the highest point on the Trans Pennine Trail, the Northern Walker revealed the secret to his dehydrated-hill-climbing success: “Yeah, I just had to have a word with myself…”
Soon after, we legged it across the Woodhead Pass, missed more photo opportunities, hung out at Salter’s Brook and survived ‘the lamb incident’.
From here, I knew it was all downhill (or at least flat) all the way back to Manchester so we paused briefly atop the Woodhead Pass before belting downhill to the Longdendale Trail which we despatched in record time, dropping the hammer and not relenting until we rolled into Hadfield.
The phone rang. We had already been out for over 7 hours. We were a good 2 hours beyond our curfew. There must’ve been something in the gravelly voice that meant the boss let us stay out just that little bit longer.
Instinctively, we fell into the pub and ordered 2 pints of the coldest, most delicious beer in the world. I also ordered a glass of iced soda water and asked for it to be poured right away. The barmaid, bless her, stopped everything she was doing and instantly poured us 2 ice-cold glasses of bubbling nectar which lasted a good… 10 seconds.
The beer lasted about 10 minutes.
We parted ways and I hopped on the train back to Manchester, the Northern Walker (now my friend again thanks to the miracle of beer) headed for home over t’ hills. The 6ish miles from the station back to home were a blissful blur, my dusty bike steering its own way, my legs somehow keeping the cranks turning as my frazzled brain recounted the day’s highs and lows.
Best. Day. Ever. (since the last one and until the next one)