A few weeks ago I met Emma Osenton (@waterrat77) who calmly suggested in the bar that I entered an event she was organising – Clifcross. Gulping back my gaffaws and the preposterousness of this suggestion I mentioned that I didn’t have a cross bike, no problems says Emma enter on your hardtail. I then mention that I’m bascially rubbish and after finding out that it is a 30mile primarily off road affair in the South Pennines didn’t think I’d be physically able to get round, no worries says Emma I’ll take you out for a bit of recce on the route. Well I couldn’t refuse that kind offer so last weekend I pitched up rather nervously to have a look at the route, what I didn’t expect was that I thought we might have a look at a few bits and see how I got on riding them, Emma however clearly had other ideas as we set out to ride the whole route – gulp. Baptism of fire or what.
I did warn Emma that I’m not called the Snail from South Wales for nothing but Emma was fantastically patient riding slowly along with me and/or waiting at the top of the hills for me. I did feel somewhat guilty as by the time I got to the top I feared Emma would be getting cold but there was not much I could do about it as I was putting in all the effort I had. A word on the hills, the route is hilly and very steeply hilly in lots of places but I did pretty much get up all that I was able to ride up although I was so slow at times that I could see snails overtaking me. Emma on the other hand did not appear to notice that there were any hills as she simply appeared to glide up any and all inclines and I have to say it was humbling to ride with someone so good. As well as the hills there was another challenge on the route and that was snow drifts which meant that on many occasions we had to clamber over and through some deep snow.
As we were going round I was determined not to ask how far we got as I feared that if Emma had said ‘Oh we’ve not got halfway yet’ I might have collapsed in a defeated heap, I just tried to keep turning the pedals and moving forward. I fear that Emma will think of me as the world’s worst conversationalist because as she happily chatted away I could never really reply either because I was slipping away from her wheel and could not hear her or was puffing along beside her gulping in the oxygen and only able to respond in monosyllabic grunts but Emma’s cheerful and positive demeanor kept me going on the way round.
As I was riding I could not help but think of mountains, not the hills we were climbing or rattling down but those in our minds, or mine in particular each time I maybe rode off a small step or drop I had little waves of elation knowing that I was beginning to conquer some of the smaller mountains in my own personal Himalayas. After I reached the top of the final climb Emma mentioned that as this was a long ride for me and I’d put in a lot of effort I might not feel too good in a couple of days, my brain said ‘couple of days, I don’t feel good now!’ but with an intake of breath and one of Emma’s energy gels I rattled my way back down to the start.
I cannot tell you how incredible it felt to have got round the route, what for some people would be a good couple of hours riding was for me a monumental effort, but an effort that was rewarded by a phenonenal ride in incredible surroundings with a great person. The route really is epic in many ways and has something for every rider whether on a cross bike or MTB. For those like me just getting round will be a huge acheivement, for others who are fitter and better riders then there are challenges aplenty on the way round. Whatever end of the spectrum you are thanks must go to Emma for coming up with such an amazing route. I also owe her a personal debt of thanks for encouraging and cajouling the Snail round, I hope I can do it again when I’ll be riding on my own but either way I’ll be at the start line next weekend to try my best.