Whenever I get the opportunity I like to take in one of the behemoth’s featured in the book “100 Greatest Climbs” to see how much strain I can put my on ancient knees before they explode in a welter of bone, sinew and blood, like a feral alien bursting out John Hurt’s chest cavity.
A recent holiday in Keldy Forest, North Yorkshire saw me travelling with Reg to tackle the fearsome Rosedale Chimney – the climb the recent Tour de of Yorkshire wimped out of.
The books author Simon Warren, who just happens to have competed in National Hill Climbs, helpfully explains his rating system in the book is an amalgamation of gradient, length and the likely hostility of the riding conditions. He concludes, “all the climbs are tough, therefore 1/10 is hard and 10/10 is it’s almost all you can do to keep your bike moving.”
Rosedale Chimney is a 1.4km climb rated 10/10 with gradients reaching 1-in-3, and Simon cheerfully goes on to recount how he snapped his chain “not once, but twice while trying to conquer this vicious stretch of tarmac.” Oh my.
My allotted day arrives and I kiss goodbye to an anxious wife, say a final farewell to the kids, and we’re off. The weather is pleasantly mild and quite bright, but there’s a noticeably stiff breeze whenever the road is exposed.
A 25 kilometre or so loop gets me warmed up, and as I ride along the valley approaching the climb I can look over to the left and see a daunting picture of the road snaking its way up to the top of the North York Moors.
I slow down deliberately, gathering myself and coasting pass the big sign at the bottom of the hill. The road twists and turns a few times then spits me out past the last building and now we’re going resolutely uphill. Out and exposed, with the road clinging precariously to the side of the moors, and the “noticeably stiff breeze” has turned into a capricious, gusting blast that seems to come from all directions at once.
I hit the 33% hairpins and suddenly I’ve run out of gears and my legs are barely moving. I now have an image from a Ted Hughes poem lodged firmly in my brain, and I’ve become a “black-back gull bent like an iron bar slowly.” My mind keeps repeating the line over and over, to the rhythm of my straining, shuddering, agonisingly slow pedal strokes.
The gusting wind has me going from almost a standstill, to skeetering nervously across the road and swerving wildly to avoid running out of tarmac. And upwards, always upwards. A protracted crawling and dragging upwards.
I’m fighting the bike and the incline now, legs and lungs burning, zig-zagging back and forth across the surface and praying there’s no traffic coming the other way. I want to sit on the saddle, but when I try the road is so steep that the front wheel keeps lifting and I’m barely keeping control.
And then slowly, agonisingly I’m past the hard bit, the road straightens out and the climb goes from suicidal to just plain hard. I reach the top and crawl into a gravel strewn lay-by to unclip, breath again and admire the majestic, but rather bleak and threatening views. A quick photo and I turn around for the descent.
It’s only now that I realise my ordeal on the hill isn’t over yet. The sign usefully suggests that “cyclists dismount” and the road seems to drop away into emptiness. I creep down slowly, gingerly, brakes almost full on, knowing if I gather any momentum it’s going to be difficult to reach a controlled stop, uncertain on an unfamiliar road and sketchy surface.
Twice on the way down I have to pull over to the side of the road to shake out and flex my aching fingers back into some semblance of life. Then the incline eases and I can sit back and wheel merrily the rest of the way, off the climb without looking back.
Well that’s that one ticked off. It was one hell of an experience, but I can honestly say I don’t ever see myself going back for another attempt.