June 17, 2015, by David Greenaway
Nottingham Life Cycle 5: The Vice Chancellor’s Blog
Way of the Roses: Bridlington to Morecambe
This will be a different kind of Life Cycle blog, because this is a different kind of Life Cycle.
Despite the plan for only one Nottingham Life Cycle, we have now completed four, and for four different causes. Together they have raised £1.5 million. All of us associated with the Nottingham Life Cycle are really proud of that.
So far each Life Cycle has been an endurance challenge ranging from 1,000 to almost 1,400 miles with teams of eleven to fifteen riders. This year is different. Life Cycle 5 will again be focused on a compelling cause – dementia research with a target of £350,000, of which we have so far raised £150,000. But it was not planned as a single endurance event, instead a series of shorter challenges, to involve a larger number of riders.
So, last weekend 30 of us took on the Way of the Roses, a 170 mile challenge from Bridlington to Morecambe. That 30 included the five riders who have completed all four Life Cycles to date (me, Karen Cox, Nick Miles, Chris Rudd and Steve Wright), another ten who had completed one or more, and fifteen new riders.
Most of the new Life Cyclers had not cycled this kind of distance and / or had not spent three successive days in the saddle. Some took it on because family life has been affected by dementia; some because they just saw it as a great cause and they wanted to help make a difference. All committed to raising at least £1,000.
Way of the Roses is a well-conceived and well signposted Sustrans route, running the breadth of England from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. It traverses contrasting terrains, beautiful landscapes, and big vistas. I have cycled it several times and would recommend it unreservedly as both a challenge and terrific experience.
If, as we did, you set off from the east, you begin by riding through the East Yorkshire Wolds, lovely rolling chalk landscapes with a succession of attractive villages and towns (like Warter and Pocklington). It is flat(ish) and a good way to get into the challenge.
The stretch between the cathedral cities of York and Ripon, via distinctive market towns like Boroughbridge, is largely through the Ouse floodplain, obviously flat, with colourful meadows and charming villages. Once you have managed to navigate your way out of York (which always seems to be much more complicated than it should be) it is pretty plain sailing.
After Ripon the real climbing starts. In reality it does not end until just before Lancaster (and I had forgotten that). Initially it is big climbs up to about 1,400 feet, and long (sometimes scary) descents through to Settle. Thereafter it is shorter and sharper ascents and descents, lovely country through the Forest of Bowland, but really tiring just by virtue of being towards the end. At least the final few miles into Morecambe are flat!
In benign conditions, Way of the Roses is really tough, but satisfying and rewarding. Conditions this weekend were anything but benign. We enjoyed relentless headwinds for three days.
You could say, well what do you expect if you ride east to west, the likelihood of prevailing winds from the west is higher. True. But, it is a likelihood not a certainty. Moreover, day one from the east is easier than starting from the west. With so many new riders, I made the call to start in the east.
So we knew there was a weather risk, but no one would have predicted what we faced.
On the first leg from Bridlington to York, headwinds were running at around 15 mph. It would have been better without them, but that was fine on flattish terrain. On the third day, from Burnsall to Morecambe, we were dealing with speeds of 15 to 20mph. With a lot of miles in our legs and so much climbing so close to the end, that was really tough.
That just leaves day two, from York to Burnsall. This was off the scale, with headwinds (which were sometimes cross winds) of 55mph. I have never known anything like it. More importantly, nor had the most experienced riders.
Doug Thomson (who has climbed Mont Ventoux three times in a weekend); Gavin Scott (who cycled unsupported from London to Istanbul for LC4); and Andy Noyes (who has probably done both of the above), have never experienced such conditions.
The sheer effort involved in staying in control of your bike, and moving forward (on downslopes as well as upslopes) is truly draining. The words of a track on the new Mumford and Sons CD Wilder Mind kept going through my mind ‘My hands are shaking, for holding so tight for so long’. I know, different context, but real resonance.
It was also very dangerous, as I found when headwind turned to cross wind on a steep slope outside Pateley Bridge – my bike is light and I am light, and we were both blown over into the road. Scary stuff when the first thing you have to do is look back down the road to check if anything is heading your way.
At that point Helen Rutherford, who was leading the Support Team, made the call to pull in riders before the final climb and descent from Pateley Bridge into Burnsall. They were disappointed not to complete the final nine miles of that day, but understood it was the right call.
I said earlier that there was only ever meant to be one Nottingham Life Cycle, and that is true.
As we were building up to the launch of the Impact Campaign, I did the obvious and wrote a cheque. It was a sizeable cheque, and I enjoyed writing it, but it still seemed an easy thing to do, which got me thinking about doing something more, which ultimately led to Life Cycle 1. By the time we completed that, it was obvious it should not end there, not because it had been easy, far from it. I had been inspired by the commitment of those who took it on, and by the interest of our community more generally.
I was inspired again this weekend. Those with Life Cycle experience did what they always do, dig in and grind it out. No surprises there, but real respect given the conditions.
Then there were the newbies.
They were outstanding. For most this was way outside their comfort zone, in more than one dimension. All completed the challenge, in uniquely difficult of conditions.
They also quickly understood we were all just cyclists. Not one of them complained about choosing to go east to west. Indeed, the only challenge I had on that was on day three when my group (me, Susan Anderson, Andy Foote, Nick Miles, Kate Radford and John Robertson) stopped outside a garage to take a picture and ask about the distance to Wray where we were due a break (I was desperately hoping the answer would be one mile, not four miles). The owner asked us, ‘Why are you doing this from east to west; who wants to end up in Morecambe?’. No comment.
One final musical reference, having mentioned Mumford and Sons earlier. Like London Grammar, Amber Run are our graduates and they formed while at Nottingham. Their debut album is 5AM, a great collection. One of the tracks has a strong Life Cycle resonance. I leave it to the Life Cyclers to figure that out. If nothing else this could helpAmber Run’s sales, and that must be a good thing for our new graduates starting out?
Finally, a very big thank you.
First to the Support Team: Helen Rutherford, Paul Barrett, Ian Clifton and Gary Walker. They are just stars; true professionals in managing such a big squad in such difficult conditions, with great judgement, good humour and real humanity.
Susan Anderson, David Barsby, Benjamin Beranek, Laurie Cohen, Karen Cox , Andy Culshaw, Andy Foote, Sara Goodacre, Andrea Greener, Penelope Griffin, Andrew Holden, Chris Jagger, Alan Kennedy, Nick Miles, Andy Noyes, Wyn Morgan, Kate Radford, John Robertson, Susan Robinson, Chris Rudd, Justine Schneider, Gavin Scott, Chris Smart, Gordon Stoner, Helen Taylor, Doug Thomson, Steve Walton and Steve Wright.
The next mass participation challenge is the Life Cycle 5 Community Day on August 23rd, and registrations for all four rides are now open at: Nottingham Life Cycle 5 – Get Involved
Professor Sir David Greenaway