Thunderstorms, roads becoming rivers and waist-deep in places, but this is a lovely route around the Cheshire Plains. A modified Eccleshaw 200km by Wigley Peak Audax.
What a day, 30 degrees with no wind … please turn off the oven. Given the heat of the day, I decided that I would ride overnight, I love a good overnight ride. Even at 9pm the temperature was still 25 degrees. I knew that I risked a thunderstorm about midnight so I set off into the night, as I believed I could make Chester before the storm. Eight miles in and I already have a lightning storm following me, by 18 miles I was standing under a group of trees along the roadside which were been battered by one of the fiercest thunderstorms I have ever seen. But I was not alone, a local came past on his ebike having been to the pub for a meal with some friends. He offered to put me up for the night, but I still had plans to complete my 200kms.
After 40 minutes the rain had reduced, and the thunder was drifting away so I pushed on. One mile later I took shelter under a bridge, the last mile was like cycling through an apocalyptic storm. Most of the way I could not see the roads, just the river which they had turned into, I was riding blindly into waist-deep pools. The thunder was shaking the ground and the lightning was striking all around me and it felt only a few hundred meters away. Standing under the bridge was much better than standing under the trees and I had covered 19miles in 3 hours! DNF was now a very real possibility.
Finally, the rain had reduced, and the lightning was behind me. I took the chance and pushed forward to Market Drayton, about one mile! The streets were empty, but every house alarm was screaming away. I stopped for about 5 seconds and considered if I should continue or return home and call it a night… I had no intention of going home, I was having a fantastic night, a proper Campbell’s adventure (long story).
After the madness of the storm, it was a little strange to be cycling along country lanes watching the storm moving away. Although I kept catching the edge of the storm as I was moving faster than the storm was. As I approached Bunbury (Tatten Hall) the roads were dry and the night air was warm, now I was dripping with sweat rather than rainwater. What really stood out during this leg was St Peter’s Church at Waverton. The church internal lights were on and illuminating all the stain glass windows, I had to stop but I was already at a very high risk of DNFing the ride, so I took a quick look and a photo and moved on.
Stamford Bridge petrol station (55miles) was a welcome sight as I was ready for a rest and some food. The main issue was that the warm night had encouraged the insects out which always find me particularly appetising. I did the maths and realised that if I kept on riding at my current pace, I may arrive at the finish within the time limit (12hrs). This gave me a renewed incentive to ride quicker. The next 10 miles to Helsby passed quickly on dry roads with no traffic. Turning off at Helsby represented a long continuous climb over the tops which was nice after the flat roads of Cheshire. The climb itself is not too hard, just long with an easier section towards the top, which gives a false perception of reaching the top. However, once you are over the top it is a long descent followed by flat-ish roads that speed you to Knutsford.
I had a quick stop at the petrol station to text my wife and finish my bottle of blue milk. The sun was coming up and the sun felt inviting but I knew it would be hot before I arrived home. The section from Knutsford to Middlewich was fast but it felt long as I was starting to dehydrate due to the effort, I was pushing to make sure I could be home before the Audax cut off time. I Stopped at the Middlewich 24hr petrol station and had a meal deal and more blue milk, which I saved for the next long leg to the top of Keele Bank.
I know most of these roads now as I often ride them, and I spent a summer riding most of the Peak Audax 200km rides. Let us just say that I was on first name terms with the man at Dean Row petrol station! I was starting to feel tired now from all the effort to regain some time, which had worked but I will soon be paying the price, fighting the morning sun and dehydration.
Arriving at Keele University at the top of Keele Bank was a milestone. If I looked hard enough, I could make out the crop of trees on the hill where I live on the other side of the city. The sun was now at full cooking temperature and I was sweating just standing but I still had 7 miles of uphill but 10 miles to home. These final 10 miles were long and hot with a few close calls, Stoke on Trent drivers are crap. It is one of the reasons why I rarely commute to work.
Finally arriving home via the 12% climb, it was a great relief just to get out of the sun. Even though I had put sun cream on it was clear that I was still burning, turn me over, I’m done this side!