Car park or the country park?


Rob on a bike cycling along a country road
📸 Photo: Alex Wright

Just to manage expectations, this post is about the potential rewards which can be enjoyed through perseverance, rather than a THRILLING read about urban planning or other perhaps more…risqué nocturnal activities. If that’s what you’re here for, sorry to disappoint you. If not, read on…

Lincolnshire is renowned for its vast blue skies, bright yellow crops and rich, lush green fields. Last Sunday was not showcasing Lincolnshire in this way. Dark grey clouds loomed ominously overhead, casting shade across the crops. Meanwhile, I was clad head to toe in lyrca. Not for the hell of it, but as part of the Duckworth Wolds Discovery Macmillan Charity Event. It was a 35 mile pedal around the usually stunning Wolds.

Ahead of me was Nettleton Hill, half a kilometre of climbing and an average of 12% incline hitting a maximum of 17% at one point. The hill was one I was aware of but never before attempted, despite cycling plenty of routes in the area. Thanks to the good folk at Lincsquad, the upcoming climb was going to be timed. Alex, my cycling pal and I had already covered about 19 miles already by this point.

Hill climbs aren’t alien to me. In recent years I’ve enjoyed endured the challenge of Trapping Hill, AKA ‘Côte de Lofthouse’ on more than one occasion. It’s been a segment of several Tour de Yorkshire routes and will also be part of this year’s UCI Road World Championships. It’s three times the length of Nettleton Hill, more than twice the height and is a Category 3 climb. Having completed Trapping Hill without stopping in the past, Nettleton’s offering should have been small-fry in comparison.

There were a couple of problems though. Firstly, I’d only cycled a few times this year. Having a second child a few months ago meant that spare time for cycling had been limited to say the least. Secondly, I’d spent all of the previous day digging stumps and roots out of the ground in the garden and sledge hammering fence posts. In short, I was knackered and certainly not ‘match-fit’ for this kind of thing.

Despite having strong intentions not to take it on, the weakest of peer pressured was applied so I’d buckled and agreed to do the climb. With stop-watch primed and clipboard…held, the marshal counted down: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO! GOOD LUCK!”

I trundled off with a sense of trepidation, not because of the fitness concerns, but because I hadn’t a clue what awaited me. The start point meant the hill was initially unsighted so it was only once I’d turned the corner that I got a sense of what I had to tackle. It didn’t look particularly bad but within a few cranks of the pedals once I’d reached the climb, I knew it was going to be tough.

I’d got about a quarter of the way up and I’d already had enough. Mentally, I wasn’t prepared. Physically, I wasn’t prepared.

Every fibre of my being was telling me to stop. To give up.

And then I spotted a small car park on the right hand side of the climb.

My immediate thought was that this is the place I could bail out and turn round. This was it; my escape route. At this point I also remembered that we were set off at spaced intervals of one minute. It wouldn’t be long before the next victim made their climb up the hill and overtook me. I stopped the bike to catch my breath and compose myself.

Sure enough, the next cyclist soon reached me. He kindly asked if I was alright. In return, I mumbled a made-up excuse about a sore knee and encouraged him to continue. For whatever reason (probably the potential ripping I’d receive from Alex, and the personal shame I’d feel from the torrid experience of bailing out) I decided to carry on.

I eventually skulked my way to the top, thanks to the applause and encouragement from those already there. It felt like a bit of a hollow victory but I was glad to have made it. The rest of the ride went well and all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The remainder of the day was spent on the sofa, soaking up Hamilton’s success at Silverstone and the England cricket team’s triumph at Lords.

My body recovered pretty well by the time I returned to work on Monday and waking up the following day I felt even better. On the journey into work that day, I received an unexpected phone call from Sharon at Duckworth Land Rover, the organisers of the event. She was delighted to inform me that I’d won a “special prize for best effort*” on the hill climb. The marshalls at the top of the hill noted I was “very polite” and had “nice legs**”. Fearing at this point that the call was one massive windup, I took great comfort from the Smart Call function on my Samsung Galaxy mobile phone which confirmed that it really was Duckworth Land Rover who were calling me.

So what was the “special prize” I’d been given? Turns out, it was a free pass for Doddington Hall near Lincoln who were one of the sponsors of the event. Result!

It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to say a massive ‘thank you’ to Duckworth Land Rover at Market Rasen, the marshalls, Doddington Hall and anyone else involved in putting on what was a great event for a worthy cause.

And the moral of this story? Don’t settle for the car park if it’s the country park that you’re actually aiming for.

*I’m presuming this is a very polite way of saying you were absolutely shit and came rock bottom of the timing board but fair play for trying.

**Thanks Alex, for paying them to say that.