The alarm went off but I kept my eyes closed. I wiggled one leg, then the other. Ow. They still felt as if they’d been kicked by a horse that hadn’t removed its shoes first. I could just stay in bed. Curse this good weather and ideal conditions. Oh well, it had to be done. The Beast had to be tamed.
I drove the enormous distance from Durham to Sniperley Park & Ride because, well, I’m pretty sure I’d formulated some pretty convincing self-justification for driving this massive journey, but if I was going to tackle 50 miles of beastly County Durham hills I wasn’t going to add an extra one just to get to the start. Into the car park and I spotted the tell-tale purple of a Strider hoodie from some way off and pulled in to park beside Jamie Steel. We were both a bit uncertain of what lay ahead so we got our numbers sorted and went for a warm-up around the car park. As the clock ticked down to 9AM riders began to assemble at the start and it was good to see such a wondrous variety of weird and wonderful machines about to embark on the adventure.
No timing, no chips, just a man with a megaphone and a blast on a horn and presently we were belting down the hill towards Witton Gilbert. Up the long drag out of WG so beloved by Ian MacKenzie for the Durham Tri-Club hill sessions then along past Broom House at which point I found myself alongside Alan Smith on a bike with some awesome tri-bars. We chatted awhile until I was shooed away and I sped ahead to see if I could catch Jamie.
A few miles later and the first real descent. Woohoo! Here we go, head down, bum out, no effort, free time. A few stragglers spreading out and a bit of jinxing required, and, yes, I’m sure there was something important I had to remember … what was it … Oh yes! This isn’t a closed roads event! If you’re a bit of an Etape junkie, as I am, this is an important point. It’s easy to want to hug the shortest and most fun line down a long fast twisty descent, of which there were many, but best to stick to your own side of the road. Jamie and I kept seeing each other, riding together, passing each other, and a lot of the time I couldn’t remember if he was in front of me or behind me. He wasn’t so keen on the fast descents but was strong on the flats and climbs. At the long twisty climb up to Tow Law he pulled away as I paused to take a close interest in some roadside shrubbery.
Never one to work for a living when I can sit on the wheel of a big bloke and draft, I found myself belting past Jamie a few miles later as I tucked into the slipstream of a couple of big jet engines. Jamie was suffering the further indignity of having gear problems that meant his big chainring had become a no go area, something that became pretty frustrating for him as we got ever closer back to Sniperley and the possibility of blasting down some of the descents became a lost opportunity.
After the twisty winding quiet rural lanes it was slightly unreal to finally get back to Durham and join the traffic back into Sniperley. A decent goodie-bag (the ‘Beast’ buff I like!) and a sunny sit down before Jamie arrived a few minutes later. We don’t know if was just me Alan and Jamie that tamed the Beast or whether there were a few more Striders out today. A nice course, a bit lacking in elegance but I admire and respect its functional brutality. It lacks the polish of the Etapes, but it’s also a fraction of the price and parking is a lot more straightforward. I’m certainly glad I got out of bed for it even if I did have a few problems climbing stairs on Monday after my horsie-beastie weekend double.Download file for GPS