We had been on the road for 8 and a half hours, it had been raining for at least 4 of them and the traverse along Cold Fell was living up to its name. The wind was picking up again ensuring keeping upright was hard enough and what daylight we had left was rapidly diminishing. The once tight knit group had spread out somewhat, the chat had dried up and each of us had retreated into our own little space. A small stand of conifers had appeared just off the side of the road. Never has a piece of woodland looked so appealing - warm, dry, out of the wind, in fact the perfect place to rest and arrange for the support team to come and pick us up. It wouldn’t be throwing in the towel, we could come back tomorrow and finish it off. It was a ridiculous idea anyway, attempting the Fred on the shortest day with weather warnings out in force.
No-one would think any less of us and I was cold, very cold and it was getting dark again. Later that night, collapsed on a pub sofa, warm and well fed I admitted to the other chaps that this had been the low point, the point at which giving up had seemed most likely. To a man they had also seen those trees and every one of us had considered stopping. We hadn’t though. Instead we had collectively dragged ourselves back to the task in hand and heads down powered on through to the final checkpoint where a generous pub landlord allowed us to thaw out in the warmth.
Final change of clothes, lights back on and the last 35 miles up Eskdale and over Hardknott and Wrynose were a thing of beauty. Personally I couldn’t give two hoots that a shade over 13 hours is not the quickest time or even that the blasted timing chips failing to work means that the first ever Shortest Day FW may not be officially recognised. Words fail to do justice to what a heroic feat this was, epic in every sense of the word. Massive thanks to the support team of Jenny, Dani and Emily, to Nic for letting us borrow her campervan and to Mark, Andrew, Ed and Matt for agreeing to take this on and managing to come out the other side. Some other highlights: My tyre blowout coming down Kirkstone, casing wrecked so an hour delay going back to the house in the van, change of tyre then a furious time trial effort through a thunderstorm to catch up with the peleton in Keswick. The old boy at the bottom of the Honister pass who stopped his van to tell us he was a local cycling expert and that we clearly didn’t know what we were taking on.
His advice to turn back kept us going through some of the lows. Newlands having the winter signs out – “route not advised” (see photo) Going down Hardknott. After 100 miles reduced to walking pace by the pitch black, river running down road and overwhelming fatigue. The weather. Rain, sleet and hail, all mainly horizontal because of the wind. Interspersed with hill fog, low cloud and even a good half hour of brightness around midday.
The Stanley Arms Hotel in Calder Bridge, definitely now one of my favourite pubs and a provider of warmth and light when it was needed most.