Jennride 2018

The Jennride is a bikepacking event in the Lake District organised in memory of Jenn Hill, the cycling journalist and racer who died of lung cancer in 2015, and I had heard great things about it from a couple of friends last summer, so I booked myself a spot as soon as entries opened in January. This year saw a choice of three routes to follow, with a 50km option aimed at first-time bikepackers, and a shot at the Lakeland 200 for absolute lunatics, in addition to the 100 mile main event. I was slightly worried that my current level of fitness might not be sufficient for the headline ride, but I was reassured by the fact that the convoluted course had numerous bail-out options and loops that could be easily shortened or omitted should there be any failure of equipment, body, or sense of humour, so I went for the off-road century option with a planned overnight stop roughly halfway round the route.Saturday morning saw riders line up under mostly blue skies, and we set off at 9.30am for the first hill of the day, Green Quarter, which spread the field out nicely before we all hit the long push up Garburn Pass. This climb to the second-highest point of the whole ride was a slog and even taking it easy I was starting to feel the effects of the previous night’s beers, which was slightly worrying. I took a couple of paracetamol and pressed on, only to puncture on the fast, slatey descent into Troutbeck. A quick repair of the slashed sidewall had me on my way again, and rolling down a bit more carefully I passed several other riders who had suffered the same problem.By the time we had made our way up from Troutbeck and down Jenkin Crag into Ambleside my headache had faded, and happily it stayed away for the rest of the weekend. By this time our riding group had settled down naturally into a quartet of me, Daz, Russ and Anthony, and we remained together for the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday, although of course we met up and rode along with numerous other riders and groups at various points over the course of the weekend. We took advantage of the offer of free cake and coffee at the Alpkit shop, where I was also able to pass on my thanks to ride organiser Rich Munro, who happens to have been the marshal who scraped me off the course when I smashed my leg up at the Grizedale PMBA enduro the other year.The next stage of the ride took us along the coffin road from Rydal to Grasmere, then back down the other side of the valley via Loughrigg Terrace, where I witnessed a chap on a fully laden, rigid fat bike accidentally ride off a two-foot high drop without crashing, most impressive. The sharp little grind over Loughrigg saw a few of our group lagging somewhat so we determined to stop at the next available hostelry to refuel with chips and beer (bikepacking is generally quite a laid-back form of athleticism, even compared with normal mountain-biking). We rolled into Chapel Stile in Langdale and left the route slightly to visit The Wainwright, where we topped up the fuel tanks.The route takes a southward trend from Great Langdale, aiming roughly for the hills north of Hawkshead, and on this leg of the ride we ended up in a fairly large bunch, rolling along admiring the views and chatting companionably with complete strangers, vaguely familiar faces, and old friends alike. The mass-start bikepacking event is clearly a gregarious experience, although of course if you do fancy a little peace it’s simple enough to either ride off the front or drop off the back. Having said that, it is pleasantly easy to make friends with people who are clearly just as mad as you are, and in pretty much the same way.Little Langdale, High Tilberthwaite, Hodge Close, Iron Keld; the place names and miles ticked past through the afternoon, with only an unintentional dismount into an extremely foul stagnant puddle to detract from the otherwise enjoyable meanderings. We planned to stop for food in Coniston, only a few crow’s-flight miles away now, but several noticeable hills and deviations stood between us on the official route, and it was a hungry bunch that rolled in at around six. A massive, slow-moving queue at the chippy didn’t help matters, and by the time we set off for Torver our plan of dispatching Walna Scar before bed was looking extremely shaky. In addition to this more than one of our number was feeling the effects of the distance and terrain quite significantly, so after a critical team meeting (in the pub, naturally) we decided to set out for a bivvy spot roughly half-way up the ascent, far enough that we would be sufficiently committed to carry on in the morning, but not too far to attain on our remaining reserves. A very tired band of riders wobbled their way up to the edge of the forest above Stephenson Ground, and at a spot named Natty Bridge we unpacked our gear and attempted to get some sleep.It was here that I discovered that I had made a major error of judgement when I set out that morning. Having trusted the Met Office and XCWeather forecasts I had omitted a tarp from my kit in the name of travelling light, but unfortunately shortly after we set off the predictions for the night changed from <5% chance of precipitation to over 50%. Sure enough, shortly after I’d folded myself into my bivy bag the rain began to fall. Within half an hour or so it had set in steadily with occaisional heavy showers to liven things up, and I was reduced to holding the aperture of my bivy closed tight in an attempt to keep the water out. The first few hours were most unpleasant, and I toyed with the idea of packing up and heading back to the van in the dark as I drifted fitfully in and out of consciousness in alignment with the intensity of the downpour. At around 3AM things became almost torrential, and I curled up as tightly as I could to hide from the elements, but after ten minutes or so the clouds seemed to have exhausted themselves and I was able at last to pass out. I awoke again at first light, surveyed the damage to my kit (nothing serious), rearranged a few things and nodded off for another couple of hours until my more sensible companions awoke under their various shelters at about 6AM.We packed and pressed on up Walna Scar, passing several groups of riders further up as they broke camp. The range of kit exhibited both bivy-and-tarp combos and full sized tents. Nobody else seemed to have gone for the unsheltered idiot-in-a-ditch option apart from me for some reason, although I have to say once I got moving I didn’t particularly feel any ill effects from my poor night’s sleep. Admittedly I had to push most of it, but even if I’d been fully rested I wouldn’t have fancied my chances up this relentless gradient. A couple of hardier riders attempted the feat and covered some impressive distance, but nobody quite managed to clean the whole thing whilst we were watching. Spectacular views of the Scafells on the way up made up for the discomfort of starting the day on the biggest hill of the weekend, and we made the most of the descent back into Torver, arriving back just in time to pick up a coffee at the small shop there. We basked in the morning sunshine for a few minutes and awaited the arrival of Anthony, who had camped in a hammock a little further down the hill in the woods.Pressing on around the bottom of Coniston Water and up towards Satterthwaite it became clear that the day was going to be one of those rare, almost-perfect ones: sunny, not too hot, light breeze, clear air, gorgeous scenery, brilliant trails. The preposterously beautiful Lake District was really pulling out all the stops and around every corner we encountered yet another absurdly stunning vista. I was feeling good, not flying exactly but easily keeping up a steady pace and really enjoying the excellent riding, popping and flowing my way down rocky, rooty descents and having to remind myself that I had luggage on the bike and needed to rein it in a little to avoid punctures or crashes. Even being forced to retrace my steps for half a mile or so due to somehow dropping my Garmin, an irritation that would normally have me swearing the surounding air blue for hours, barely dented my by now bulletproof cheerfulness.Not everyone was feeling quite so good, unfortunately, and on the final descent before reaching the shores of Windermere, a technical line down through old growth forest, Russ took a tumble and bashed his shoulder hard. Unable to lift his arm more than a couple of inches, he took the sensible decision to hop on the nearby ferry and roll back to base; it turned out that he had a separated shoulder when he visited A&E the next day, a nasty injury and definitely not one I’d have wanted to ride the remaining miles on, so bailing was definitely the right choice.Having grabbed some lunch and waved goodbye to Russ our reduced group of three pressed on into the final leg, slogging over three successive climbs and descents of Claife Heights, before turning towards Ambleside and another brief break to faff and refuel before the final push for home.  I felt amazingly good over the final miles, pushing myself on the climbs despite aching legs, and (by my standards at least) positively flying down the descents. The last downhill in particular, the Three Rivers, was brilliant fun, rutted, rocky, swoopy and flowy, and I had to have a word with myself when I hit one corner at slighly silly speed only to discover that had I drifted a few inches further I would have dropped about twenty feet into a ravine. I took the final few hundred metres to tarmac a bit more sedately and we regrouped to roll the last couple of miles back to the start, tired but satisfied, and pleased with ourselves for completing the entire course with no omissions whatsoever.The Jennride 2018 was fantastic, run over a brilliant course in spectacular scenery, with a great atmosphere and friendly riders, and just the right sort of low-key organisation. Huge thanks are due to Rich Munro and team for making us feel so welcome and for putting together such a smashing event, and congratulations to them also on raising over five grand for good causes. I had a brilliant time and will definitely be signing up for another go next year if I can sneak it onto the calendar again. I’ll bring a tarp next time, though.