200-miles of Gravel Cycling

'Blood, Grit & Tears'

Sigma Sports Adventure Ambassador, Natalie Creswick, talks us through the highs and lows of her appropriately named 200-mile gravel ride - 'Blood, Grit & Tears'. A tough challenge for a fantastic cause. 

Riding With Purpose

When I agreed to do a 200-mile gravel ride with Phoebe Sneddon the last thing I expected was to be juddering down a steep, rocky and loose descent that we’d tackled last year on a mountain bike marathon. But if we were going to do it, it had to be hard. Riding bikes long distances is what we do for fun so this had to be tough enough for people to want to dig in their pockets to sponsor us.

A friend was seriously injured in a snowboarding accident in February. While we were coping with lockdown, he was coping with being isolated in hospital, far from home, completely separated from his wife and two young daughters and beginning his recovery journey from being paralysed from the collar bones down.

It’s something that could so easily happen to any of us as we pursue the sports we love so much.

Challenge Accepted

Our friend was in desperate need of a new lightweight wheelchair specific to his needs and that’s how Blood, Grit & Tears was born. A 200-mile nonstop bike ride across the Peak District featuring 5600m of climbing to raise funds for his much-needed transportation.

It had everything from rocky climbs to sketchy descents, every inch of Lady Bower reservoir and all the amazing scenery you’d expect from this gorgeous part of the UK.

The ride itself was full of all the highs and lows you’d expect from sitting in the saddle for 26.5 hours.

The support we received throughout the ride was incredible. From being handed Werthers Originals by a stranger, people popping wheelies, freshly baked banana bread, gates being opened and hot chocolate at dawn.

Highs and Lows

The lows all seemed to fly at us during the daytime. Being dropped by support crew Stu while he was walking up a climb. Finding the bridleway completely blocked by a fallen tree, with no way out except a steep scramble up some rocks and a push uphill through a wet, boggy field.

To make matters worse the wet and windswept heights of Flash, the highest village in England looked a lot closer on a map. Additionally, whilst riding through a jungle of overgrown paths, legs snagging on brambles and nettles, either a man or a sheep hid behind a dry stone wall and coughed at us.

But as it grew darker, we also began to appreciate the little things. Being dive-bombed by barn owls, a fried egg sandwich at midnight, the harvest moon lighting our way across the moors and the silence of the nighttime wilderness.

The absolute high was our friend and his family driving out to see us in the middle of nowhere, miles from their home, with a supply of mozzarella pastries and packets of love hearts. They gave us such a big boost 11 hours in when the legs had just started to flag.

Reflecting on a weekend of Blood, Grit and Tears, two themes jump right out at me, friendship and food.

Friendship brought us there in the first place. A way to support a friend in need in a situation where it can feel like you’re powerless to help.

A Team Effort

The power of friends working in a team; our support crew Scot, Becky, Scotty and Stu from Magspeed Racing working in unison to feed us, provide hot drinks and find things in bags. Quietly keeping our wheels turning without sleeping themselves and always full of positivity and enthusiasm.

The friendship of Phoebe and I, riding together as a team. Looking out for each other as we passed through the inevitable dips and troughs. Keeping each other going by singing hits of the 90s, talking nonsense about bats and guessing which animal was going to try and run Phoebe over next (the badger was the closest to an untimely end. All three of us were left with hearts pounding).

Fuelling the Ride

No event I’m involved in would be complete without a lot of food. But also because our approach to nutrition was what meant we got through it relatively unscathed. I’d estimated how many calories we’d need and we made sure we took that on board. Eating every 45 minutes, even at 3 am when the nausea scale was high.

Keeping hydrated with multiple top-ups from our crew. Don’t get me wrong, it was brutal, but I walked away from the Peaks feeling way better than I had after the last time Phoebe and I had ridden 200 miles off-road together and that was over two days with a night of sleep and cafe stops along the way.

All that’s needed now is to work out what we do next. It turns out you don’t always need events to push you out of your comfort zone. With a bit of creativity and good people around you we found it’s still possible to get out and do something epic. The only problem is, there’s only one way for us to go from here. Bigger, longer, tougher.

It’s not too late to donate to this worthy cause.

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