That was the weekend that was the Poynton – Snowdon Summit – Poynton Challenge. And we took it by the horns and smashed it.
Only a few weeks ago, Jason came to us to ask if we’d do some sort of charity fundraising ride to help some friends of his with a very poorly young boy. 4 year old Ollie had been diagnosed with battens disease. None of our group had heard of this genetic disease before, so through the wonders of modern technology, a bit of web searching on our phones brought up the very sad truth that Ollie’s life would be cut tragically short.
The Tuesday Night Riders stepped up and said a fairly unanimous yes, but what should the challenge be? A few ideas, some good and some less so were mooted and booted into touch until we decided that in order to raise some decent and much needed cash, it had to be a challenge that would stand out as being hard enough to make people open their wallets and purses to donate. This is where the Snowdon idea came forward.
At first, we discussed a team relay there, all riding up together and a team relay home. This sounded reasonable, but still not hard enough as with all the riders taking part, we’d only have to tackle about 30+ miles each, along with Snowdon. That was when the plan to do the whole thing together came about: To ride our mountain bikes from Vernon School in Poynton to the top of Snowdon and back with a night out in bivi bags. That should pique people’s attention nicely.
As the ensuing weeks rolled by, kit was bought, bikes were prepped and training miles went in, the miles and the bivi night being people’s biggest concerns. Dan did sterling work putting the just giving page and text donation line together, Marc came good with the offer of a support van to carry our kit to and from Snowdon and the money started to roll into the fund, helping us on our way to the £5000 target we had, rather ambitiously set for ourselves.
With only a few weeks to go before the challenge, we heard the devastating news that Ollie’s younger sister Amelia had also been diagnosed with battens. We had to do this now, more than ever.
All too quickly, weeks of good weather turned to wet and windy, just in time for our challenge. A call to postpone it was dismissed, we’d come so far and done so much, not to mention the growing support we were receiving, we couldn’t put it off for a bit of bad weather. After all, how bad could it be?
Saturday the 2nd of May arrived without the forecasted rain and our motley crew of bike riders assembled outside Vernon School for our 6am start. Well, almost all of our crew. A quick phone call from Andy to Paul revealed he’d slept through his alarm but assured us he’d be there as soon as he could. Much mickey taking would follow but for now it was nervous anticipation all round. The roar of Paul’s Audi announced his tardy arrival and he was good to go within a few minutes.
6.30am and we were on the road. Mile 1 soon ticked by and the pace was good, spirits high and the banter started to flow. Our first stretch of offroad pedalling came between Prestbury and Alderly Edge, met with huge cheers and a massive injection of pace. Good to see we’re all still mountain bikers, despite the tarmac miles we’d be facing this weekend.
Our first leg went by quickly with one comedy crash as we realised we’d missed a turning and in the slamming on of brakes, Paul took a trip over the bars. Payback for our late start perhaps. The meeting point in Davenham was soon reached and we happened across a lady in the local hairdressers who was the first to rattle our collection can and took a photo for our progress report.
Bottles filled and pockets stuffed with supplies we took to our next stretch towards Chester, via some more fast miles on good tracks through Delamere and onwards. An impromptu call of nature break, or maybe two were the only things to halt progress and we arrived in Chester earlier than expected for more re-supply and some very successful can rattling. It’s amazing how easily people can be persuaded to listen to you when the other people vying for their attention are talking politics so our chosen location, opposite a load of pre-election campaigners worked out nicely.
Saddling up again, we headed east along good cycle tracks to the Welsh border where the weather got rather more Welsh and it started to rain with a little more determination. Meeting point 3 was Prestatyn which was reached via a mix of more good tracks and some rather tedious A road. A persistent beep of a car horn was very nearly met with the customary hand gestures you might expect as we were doing no wrong, but thankfully, we noticed the outstretched arm from the passenger window brandishing a £20 donation. Good job we didn’t offend the good lady first.
A long lunch stop in Prestatyn gave Jason time to catch up with his holidaying kids and in-laws and also a chance for a local in said boozer to rattle our can very successfully around the bar on our behalf.
Once more into the wind and rain, we continued along the, thankfully, traffic free Wales Coastal Path as far as Colwyn Bay with only a puncture holding up our steady progress. A couple of road miles took us, via a chip shop stop, to Conway with it’s imposing castle and it’s welcome sight of our support van. One last re-stocking of drinks and snacks saw us on our final leg before Snowdon and some tired legs were called on to tackle the first of many Welsh hills.
Re-grouping on the road south to Betws y Coed revealed a couple of very tired faces in the pack and speeds slowed to a crawl on the climbs. All our faces, no matter what colour, were drawn to the occasional breaks in the cloud which revealed much snow on the higher flanks of the Carnedd mountain range. The slog onwards from Betws, for a predominantly uphill 10 miles, steepening to the end, sapped the last of Jason’s reserves so he took a seat in the support van for the last few miles. Our rendezvous with the van at the top of Pen y Pass revealed the lack of anything approaching sensible weather for a night time ascent so a rare sensible decision was taken to head into Llanberis and hit Marc’s thoughtfully scoped out bivi spot for the night.
Unloading the van in a few trips into the woods had us setting up a camp fit for a king, tarps strung between trees, campfire lit and well supplied with wood, stoves cooking tea and a bevvy or two being passed around. Suitably fed, our numbers started to turn in in preparation for the dawn start on the mountain planned for Sunday.
The alarm apparently went off at five, though there was little movement for some while as no-one seemed to want to experience the rain pounding on our tarp first hand. Had we realised that Phil wasn’t even under the tarp, we could have just asked him how hard it was raining. Nice one Phil, taking one for the team without complaint.
More faffing about than you’d find at an award dinner for champion faff abouters meant that the dawn start turned into a 7.30 start and a realisation that we were going to struggle to beat the 10am no bikes on the mountain cut off time. Best get pedalling then.
The initial 1/2 mile or so is a tarmac surfaced swine which saw one or two resorting to pushing bikes before we even hit dirt. A last re-group at the first gate would be the last time we all saw each other for about 4 hours. The battle we were about to do with gravity and the weather seemed to mean heads down and get on with it.
Passing above the first of the mountain railway stations, the wind decided it was time to start playing it’s part in slowing our progress. Very soon it invited it’s mate, sideways rain to join in. By the halfway point, visibility was down to a few feet and any section too steep to ride was a wrestle to hang on to our bikes as the wind tried to steal them from us. Under the railway tunnel and into the final steep stretch to the summit, the wind turned from annoyingly strong to THIS IS RIDICULOUS!
By now, our well strung out party were well out of sight of each other so I was surprised to be met by a descending Andy. I knew he was ahead of me but surely the Wee Man couldn’t have summited already. A quick chat and map check showed that he’d turned around to head down, fearing the time limit, within half a mile of the top so we carried on up together.
Never has a summit been savoured for such a short time, I think Andy’s hand had left before the muffled sound of his glove slap had met his ears and my 3 seconds contact with the trig point warranted a “Come On” shout. Sorry mate, off we go.
Early attempts to ride down the steps off the summit pyramid were thwarted by the gale force wind so we walked until a more suitable surface was reached. Dropping down the higher slopes, we met the fragmented group coming up and warned them of what was to be expected at the top, Marc and Ant joining us to head down, Dan, Forbes, Damian, Paul, Mark and Phil continuing to top out, Jason having made a solo sensible decision already to head down. While our foursome enjoyed the thrills of the descent, with stops to allow our steaming and hissing brake rotors to cool, the topmost party headed for the summit café for much needed warmth and hot drinks. Several even opted to purchase fleeces from the shop before it was announced that due to the weather conditions, the café was being closed.
Welsh weather being as unpredictable as it is, our regrouping in Llanberis didn’t seem to be on the same planet as our trip up and down Snowdon. Not only had the wind and rain disappeared, but it was warming up in the sunshine very nicely. This good weather allowed us to eat porridge, drink brews, prepare kit and snacks for the ride home, accompanied with a huge amount more faffing about for an hour or so. This meant it was around half an hour into Sunday afternoon before we turned a pedal for home. By which time, the rain was making another appearance as Jason took the van keys for the stint to the coast, Marc opting to ride a while.
Having all descended Pen y Pass at some rate of knots the previous evening, we knew what a slog the climb would be and we weren’t let down. Thankfully, it doesn’t last forever but the headwind up and down into Betws y Coed robbed us of the fast descent we had hoped for. A left turn over the bridge in Betws and we were soon crossing the River Conway via another bridge, into Llanwryst to turn north for the coast. Good road surfaces and a tail wind meant we’d hit the Colwyn Bay meeting with the van in good time so we caffeine filled ourselves in Costa, loaded up pannier pockets with bananas and Snickers, then took to the coast path again with a rejuvenated Jason back on the bike, Marc back in the driving seat.
The puncture gods being the twisted individuals that they are meant that only our second puncture of the trip was picked up within yards of the first on our way out the previous day. More thorns than it’s possible to hold in a tyre and a piece of glass were removed from Ant’s tyre and we were off again through Rhyl and Prestatyn towards the border.
A few quick mental calculations revealed that t would be late o’clock or later when we arrived home so we should make an effort to stick together in one line to save everyone having to push on through the wind alone. This proved quite successful for many miles and we made the meeting point in Chester well before lighting up time.
Lights were fitted, bottles were filled, snacks were stashed and Ant took control of the van as Marc headed onto 2 wheels again. A wrong way up a one way street through the bank holiday weekend boozers and a wrong turn at a roundabout delayed our escape from Chester a little but we were soon out into Cheshire on ever quieter roads as the evening drew on. The train of riders rolled well together into Northwich for another meeting with the van to fill up and meet the local constabulary. “What’s this then, some kind of bike ride?” seemed an unusual and rather un-necessary question to ask a load of bike riders, obviously on a bike ride, but we satisfied his curiosity and were allowed on our way towards the final meet up in Mobberly. What the sleeping residents of this little Cheshire commuter village had done to deserve the hideous outbreak of energy drink fuelled farting that was deposited on them, we may never know but it brought on much giggling in our ranks to help raise spirits for the final push to Poynton.
The late hour, clear roads and finish line almost in sight led to our pace picking up a little and we were soon through Wilmslow, passing the Deanwater and into the last few miles. On through Woodford and finally into Poynton, all joking about a sprint finish turned into a desire to finish together as a team and so it was that 10 riders pedalled into the other end of Clumber Road from the one we’d left about 41 1/2 hours before, to a welcoming committee and a stop. We were made to feel truly welcomed and appreciated, a bottle of beer and a donut has never tasted so good and a one man round of applause has never lasted so long. A quick picture of some somewhat smellier faces behind our mis-spelled bannor and it was time for much needed showers and beds.
Depending on who’s computer you check, where they pedalled from and how accurate their device may be, we pedalled something like 265 miles and climbed something like 14000 feet. The only statistics that really matter though are:
2 children have inspired us to do this.
1 family have so graciously accepted our help and supported us so well.
11 stepped up when asked and smashed the challenge.
5242.01 pounds has been raised so far.
343 wonderful people have donated.
We’d love it if those last two numbers continued to climb.
Massive thanks from the 11 of us involved in the pedalling to everyone who has supported us into and during the ride. Please don’t forget why we did this and keep checking http://www.olliesarmy.co.uk/ to see how else you can help.