May 15, 2017

Low Row

Our tour's rendezvous point was the “ATM side” of the clock in the York train station. There was a coffee shop called “AMT” on one side, so I thought that might be a typo—until I spotted a pod of ATMs on the other side of the clock.

The composition of our group surprised me: women outnumbered men. On a cycling trip?! Including our guides, six countries were represented: Australia, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Scotland, and the USA. Three people had traveled with Wilderness Scotland before—an auspicious sign.

Our leader ferried us to Masham, where our second guide was waiting with our bikes. We started with lunch at a pub; coal [yes, coal!] was burning in the fireplace, and the resident dog was curled up in his bed and barely even looked up at us.

Merida Ride 400 road bike with handlebar bag
The bikes (Merida, Ride 400) were brand new, and labeled with our names. (So were our water bottles!) Capacious bags were mounted on our handlebars, and helmets were also provided (though I'd brought my own, along with my saddle and pedals). Luck of the draw, my bike was tagged “1.”

Wilderness Scotland asset tag #1 on seat tube
The bike fitting I'd had many years ago continues to pay dividends: I'd shared the diagram, labeled with each measurement, in advance. I expected that they wouldn't be able match it exactly (crank length, for example), but it was close enough. The bike felt like my own; I was immediately comfortable. The compact double gearing was the same as on my Cervélo (lowest gear 34-32), though the overall setup was heavier (especially with that handlebar bag).

We were headed for the Yorkshire Dales, to reach the inn where we'd stay tonight, near Low Row (inside the National Park). Rain started coming down. We pedaled through a flooded section (not my bike to clean!) and one of our guides shared a new word with us, a family favorite: “floodle” (rhymes with puddle). Spot on.

Sheep grazing under looming gray clouds, Yorkshire Dales, England
I'd donned my helmet and shoe covers, but not my rain pants. Silly optimist, I'd been. It wasn't cold, though; and my motto is “once you're wet, you're wet.” Meaning, it doesn't get worse. [But you do end up pretty grimy.]

Rocky Grinton Moor with green fields and stone walls in the foreground, Yorkshire Dales, England
Except that it got windy. So windy that, coming out of Leyburn and approaching the climb up and over Grinton Moor on Whipperdale Bank (2014 Tour de France Stage 1, albeit in the opposite direction), our leader chose to divert us. We'd ride around the moor, instead. I was grateful, because I was already off the back.

The sore throat that had plagued me for four weeks had finally abated last night; here I am, unfit and still mending, riding in the rain. I'd expected an easy first day, with gentle rolling hills. (Ha!) How did they get horse-drawn carriages up a 12.5% grade? I was gasping for breath; max heart rate was 177 bpm (sustained over a minute and a half).

Military firing range warning signs posted at a gate, Yorkshire Dales, England
Detouring around the moor took us through a military “danger zone.” It all looked so pastoral, but I imagine some of the sheep get unlucky.
DANGER: Military Debris May Explode and Kill You
Well, that's plainly stated.

Did I mention the rain? [Oh yes, I think I did.]

Large home at a crossroads on a rainy day, Yorkshire Dales, England
I'd been anxious about whether I would forget to ride on the left edge of the road; in practice, it wasn't a problem. Right turns took a lot of conscious effort, though, not to goof and wind up on the wrong side of the road.

The other tricky thing was to remember that the lever for the rear brake is on the left. One of our guides explained that the intent was to brake safely when you need to signal a right turn. An ex-pat colleague had tipped me about the switcheroo in advance, so I was mentally prepared. In practice, this also turned out not to be a problem for me. (Whew.)

Cyclists pause across from St. Andrew's Church, Grinton, Yorkshire Dales, England
From behind, I heard “I don't want to go up that!” ... just as I was thinking the same thing. It's the first day and I'm struggling, should I have bailed out of this trip? Then I thought how aggravated I would have been, sitting at home, to have my sore throat vanish the night before the tour would have started. Keep turning the pedals.

Stream flowing over a rocky bed between stone walls and homes, Yorkshire Dales, England
Rain is not conducive to photo stops. Trailing off the back also discourages picture-taking, not wanting to make the group wait even longer for me to catch up.

Getting up the inn's driveway was the final challenge of the day: steep, with broken pavement and potholes. Despair turned to delight when I learned that our guides had delivered our bags to our rooms (and, would fetch them in the morning). What an indulgence!

For the day, 27 miles with 1,745 feet of climbing. How ever will I fare tomorrow?

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