Four Blokes. Three Peaks. One World Record.
7th July 2016
NetMonkeys like to stress how important people are.
Technology is inescapable these days and we are all too often amazed by what it can do.
Below is the warts and all diary account of four people attempting to do exactly that.
It’s well worth five minutes of your time.
So it’s over to the Four Blokes then for the full story…
So the journey is over and this, as far as addled memory and shattered soul will allow is how, I think, it all happened. It’s about 4 blokes cycling and walking a long way for a long time – so don’t get too excited. Probably best reading it when not too tired:
We stayed in the Pen-y-Pass hostel on the Thursday night. Two vans, two drivers, four bikes (plus a spare), four blokes and dreams of one (obscure and unofficial) world record.
Staying right at the foot of the mountain was Captain Ralph’s first planning master stroke (of many). No wifi or phone signal in such a remote outpost, and watching TV was banned by the bolshy manager but the location was perfect. The condemned men had requested pasta for their final meal. Cooked courtesy of support person #1 (Janet) and eaten with guest of honour Rob B, over a few ales, much laughter (some nervous) and final musings on what was about to happen. Bed at 10:15pm (some of the more organised members of the party had even practiced going to bed early and getting up early).
FRIDAY – DAY 1 – SNOWDON
We woke at 4am after a succession of toilet stops from all three of us incontinent geriatrics sneaking out of our bunk room during the night. (Young Mike D had the good sense to sleep in the support van). We dressed quickly and, just as the first drops of rain started, we stepped boldly out of the hostel door and onto the foot path of Snowdon. It was 4:36am. Stop watches were started.
We ascended quickly up into the gloom of the Pyg track and onto the path by the railway line and onto the summit. Selfies were taken, backs were slapped, GPS devices checked, fig rolls were chewed. We turned straight round and headed back.
“Do you remember where you were when you heard the referendum result” will be an easy one for us in future. It was on a Welsh mountain – delivered via the booming voice of a lone Yorkshireman coming up the other way. We mused on what this now meant to the world we seemed so far away from.
Back in the hostel for 7:25am. (6.5 miles in 2 hours 40 mins.). The obligatory porridge breakfast was waiting, a quick change into cycle gear and on the road for 8:20am.
THE CYCLE TO THE LAKES
Support vehicle driver #2 was 21 year old Florence, who’s love of F1 racing made her the ideal choice to drive the big tour van and bike trailer through the tight winding roads of Wales, England and into Scotland.
Along with Janet she tidied up our stuff and followed on, then overtaking us en route to prepare for the first food stop.
We cycled the first 45 miles pretty quickly, in tight formation, the moderate hills seemed easy on fresh legs as we aimed to keep a low level of effort going through the overcast morning.
The first stop was the pub car park at Pontbynnyd for tuna sandwiches. The sun came out. The pub owner made us a tray of tea and coffee for free when he heard what we were doing. “Ah, this is the life” I thought “this is not hard at all”.
Back on the road and through Chester (for a tourist photo snap). Near Helsby Mike D scarily attempted to cycle on the wrong side of the road under the wheels of an oncoming truck. Then an hour of hell of trying to get through gridlocked Warrington and rush hour Wigan. It pissed it down too as we slowed drastically. We took shelter at a bus stop for a a few minutes then pressed on. It was a grim time.
Next stop was the rain soaked Aldi car park at Standish. We had a choice of sandwiches this time – tuna or tuna with crisps – and the usual assortment of flapjacks and cake and bananas which we either ate or stuffed into pockets. Scoops of powder from a large drum of magic cycling dust weretipped into our water bottles and off we went again. As we headed through lancashire the sun came out again, the traffic was gone ….. but then our first puncture arrived. Ralph amazed us as the speed of which he can fit a new inner tube: “that’s years of practice for you” he said as he wiped his oily hands on the grass verge.
Then a decent pace to Milnthorpe. It would have been faster but for killjoy Mike D insisting that we still had 300+ miles to go and maybe we should conserve energy. Actually, this was just the start of Mike transitioning from Mild-mannered Mike into Right Bastard Mike – barking out orders about who should be behind who and who should overtake and when and what pace we should be going at. In Milnthorpe a large supply of fudge was hand delivered by my parents who’d driven 50 miles to the underwhelming setting of the village ‘pay-and-display’ car park. We were joined there by Support person #3; Andrea plus kids bearing gifts of delicious cake (and to our silent dismay more tins of tuna).
Mike D’s helmet was briefly stolen in the pub over the road whilst he used the toilet. The culprit, armed and dangerous with a pint of bitter, was apprehended but released with a just a caution (not to nick cycling accessories in future).
Then onto the Lakes via Lancaster. We accidentally got onto the main A591. Cars overtook at massive speed but we decided to stick with it. Another puncture (which miraculously turned out to be our last) was sorted even more quickly than the last. Mike K’s stomach started cramping and he started moaning. A dreadful sound it was too: the sound of imminent disaster.
Julie and Helen (support persons #4 and #5) appeared waving in a lay-by and the WAGs contingent was complete.
From Windermere onwards it was a beautiful summer evening ride through quiet country lanes, past the occasional sheep and chattering drinkers outside the Wainwright pub nearing Langdale. We cycled all the way to the midge infested car park of the Old Dungeon Ghyll where the Scafell Pike path starts to save time cycling it in the morning. It was 9pm and we were then driven back to the hostel in Elterwater.
The 173 miles were done at an average of 16.8mph. We were pleased with that, but how long could it last?
Andrea filled us up with more pasta. Mike K worried us as he spent a couple of hours rushing to the loo and generally feeling ill and not eating. Bed for about 12:30-1am.
SATURDAY – DAY 2 – SCAFELL PIKE
Up at 5am after a poor sleep all round but Mike K at least felt good enough to carry on. Another hasty toast and coffee snack, a quick drive back to the Old Dungeon Ghyll for a 5:50am start and off we went a-walking.
It was a quick march into the morning sunshine through Esk Hause, over the bolder field and the Summit of Scafell Pike. The mountain was a busy place already – a 10 peak race was in progress – with runners coming past thick and fast.
We got briefly lost on the way down the other side as we headed down to Seathwaite. we were caught between the conflicting directions of a bloke coming up Scafell and the path on the map. A rare navigational mistake as it turned out. The last couple of miles were jogged to make up for lost time but still it was a 4 hour 30 min expedition.
CYCLE TO BALLOCH
Porridge from the support van that had driven our bikes round from Langdale, another change of clothes and oiling of chains and greasing of chafed ball bags, (our inhibitions were being slowly stripped away as we slowly transformed from business professionals to wild baboons) and off we went.
The recently repaired road to Keswick was heavy with loose chippings and a little scary. A peleton doing the coast-to-coast sped by, Mike D giving chase. Then it was the rolling, hilly road swinging east towards Gretna via Carlisle.
Appropriately Scotch pies awaited us at the visitor centre as we rolled over the border into Gretna Green. After so much bloody tuna they were so tasty. We bade Florence farewell as we had done earlier to fellow organisational goddesses Janet and Andrea after their fantastic stints with the vans. Helen and Julie took over. They didn’t seem so sure what was expected of them and suddenly we were scared. Very scared.
The stretch from Gretna was long and straight ahead, but tiredness brutally came upon us. Miles were slowly counted down where previously they just flew by. Mike D’s seat broke off, but thankfully could be refitted so he didn’t face 30 miles sat on a bare carbon pole.
Five minutes laid down on the grass at Abington services and the boost of more food did some good. £5,000 total was not far off as we checked the justgiving page for some last scraps of motivation. Off we (reluctantly) set off once more.
The long climbs towards Glasgow were very wearing now but after we swung left towards East Kilbride a second wind took hold and we picked up the pace. The fast A roads avoiding Glasgow City centre worked well. We decided to make our last stop (somewhere near East Kilbride) very brief. Just a quick 5 minutes for a bottle of coke since the night was slowly closing in. Signs for the Erskine Bridge which was close to our stop over at Loch Lomond appeared….an eternity later it came into view….another eternity and we crossed it in the evening darkness. Yet another ten tiring miles through rain and cold past Dumbarton and generally being absolutely shattered. (16.6mph average for the 165 mile day.)
The Anchorage B&B, in the awkward town of Balloch, run by eccentric Tommy, with its big double beds and a table already set for a takeaway curry seemed like heaven. Even though it had gone 11pm and sleep was needed we devoured a pile of rice, bhuna, naan and Balti and agreed it was the best rubbish meal we’d ever had. We endured some terrible jokes from Tommy, and crawled under our sumptuous duvets at 1am. From a disco in the street outside, the strains of “Sultans of Swing” could be heard playing into the night as we drifted off.
SUNDAY – DAY 3 – THE CYCLE TO FORT WILLIAM
Alarms were set for the more forgiving time of 7am but Ralph and Mike K were up and chatting, unable to sleep, at 4:30am. This extreme exercise lark does weird things to you.
The final cycling leg would be powered by Tommy’s greasy full Scottish breakfast and a final few (largely indecipherable) words of encouragement from his dense Glaswegian accent. And after it the thought of another 90 miles on the road didn’t seem bad at all.
An 8:30am start, the sun was shining and soon the shores of Loch Lomond came into full view. What a stretch this was. A good surface through beautiful and then ever more bleak surroundings up and then down to the Bridge of Orchy for the final food stop. “We’ve finally got it all sussed” said Helen as Julie pulled back the van door to reveal a nicely turned out, well presented, well organised, tuna free “spread”.
Julie and Helen also told us the petrol station had knocked £25 off the bill as a donation – just one of a number of acts of kindness on our travels.
Only another 45 miles to go. Over Rannoch Moor (where a small bird attempted suicide by flying through the frame of my bike), past Jimmy Savile’s graffitied house, through the incredible beauty of Glencoe. Mike D, who had stopped giving orders, even decided to piss himself as he cycled instead – well what did it matter at this point – the rain worsened, but the speed picked up. Stopping occasionally to attend to my aching back, waving every now and again to the smiling faces of the support crew taking their final action shots as we raced by.
At the far end of Fort William was the oasis of the visitor centre car park.
The last 90 miles at 16.6 mph were done. The bikes strapped to the van for the last time and our sore bottoms sighed with relief.
The rain stopped (hurrah!) and we struggled out of our sodden cycling gear into the warmth of whatever dry (but foul smelling) clothes we could find in our bags.
Ah, Ben Nevis. Our moods first lightened and then giddiness took hold as we knew the end was in sight. Up the long, long winding path into the rain and cold, over scree and boulders and stretches of snow onto the lunar like desolate landscape of the summit. Thoughts for Callum and a final summit selfie and back, quickly, down the way we had come. The path busy now with 3 peak walkers coming up.
The final 600m were on the flat, along a river and over a bouncy bridge to the carpark. We were just over the 63 hour point so no need to hurry really but still, there was only one thing for it. We ran….ran with joy in our hearts and blessed relief. Ran, round the bend to the loving arms of the support crew and the amazing balloon decorated van and champagne and beer reception they had somehow created.
The world record was broken. But which one? The oldest man to do it under 72 hours. The oldest team under 72 hours. There’s so many to choose from. We think we have done the 9th fastest overall attempt though, as far as we are aware based on the information and records we have managed to obtain.
63 hours and 34 mins was the final reckoning.
Then, back to the hotel in a panic. Mike K dashed out of the van to be sick, Dave and Mike D getting their party gear on in the carpark as the taxi waited to hit the nearby town before it closed. Off we sped to the paradise that is JD Weatherspoons.
Ralph appeared, after helping Mike to his room, still in his sodden gear but with a big smile on his face. More greasy food was ordered, Alcohol was drunk. We decided, once again, it was the best rubbish meal we’d ever had.
Then reminiscences of what had just happened. We tried to explain the rules of the peleton to Helen using salt cellars and brown sauce bottles but it was no good.
We wondered, with envy written in every sentence, for the umpteenth time how the legendary Spike and his mates had done it all without sleep in 42 hours last year.
We reminded ourselves how lucky we were that the good ladies in our lives had devoted so much time and patience for this.
And finally, we bought one last beer and took it back to the hotel for a night cap with Mike K. He was thankfully looking a little better.
So all that remained was the journey home. At 70mph for hour after hour after hour heading south back down the road from whence we came.
How the hell had we cycled all that way and more?