The EWE - Aidan Harding
Aidan Harding had a dream... maybe whilst killing time in the saddle during one of the many multi day adventures he's taken part in. Why travel to those far corners of the World when you can do it right here on your back door? Colorado Trail Race... UK Style! After the inaugural EWE in 2012 Aidan takes up the story.
England-Wales-England: EWE. The concept was to create a self-supported multi-day race for the UK. Such races exist in America (Tour Divide, Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail etc.), providing challenge and inspiration for those who are into riding 18 or more hours a day repeatedly until the trail is done. EWE was to be a UK spin on this. We don't have big mountains and long gravel roads, but we do have some pretty relentlessly folded terrain and diverse, exciting riding.
The first decision in creating the race was this: instead of making long miles every day, the trails would be steeper up and more challenging than most. In-between the mountain biking hot-spots, we would try to take fast bridleways or roads if none were available. The overall distance ended up at 1300 miles.
And that was all it took. A hand-full of rules. A route compiled by local volunteers and filled in by me. A start date. And 3 guys who were ready to go into the unknown: Steve Heading, Rob Dean, and myself.
The stage was set by record-breaking rainfall in June. In fact, it only seemed to stop raining the day before we started. The trails were now churned up to winter-like conditions but lined with brambles, nettles, and other summer nasties. The rivers were swollen, and the fields were flooded. We all chose waterproof shorts.
Anticipating long pushes into the evening, we also all chose dynamo-powered lighting. SP-dynamo hubs looked a long way from what you see on the front of postman's bike or Dutch townie. The Exposure Revo light unit near-skipped out of your hand, it was so light. Combined, they were no penalty over a normal light + battery setup, but we weren't tied to having to find a wall-socket. Perfect.
The trail itself rarely let up. The South West of England was endlessly hilly over Dartmoor and Exmoor, with only the Tarka Trail joining them with relative easy. With rain on the first night, the best choice was to switch on the lights, put on the jackets, and push on to find some cover.
There was another brief respite on the Somerset Levels, but the Cotswolds soon hit us with more hills. Beautiful countryside, but not easy miles.
And into Wales. There was no messing in the Black Mountains and Brecon. When descending off The Gap isn't the rockiest downhill of your bikepacking day, you know it's a tough one. Harsh but fair was the only description for these trails. Proper mountain riding.
Mid-Wales plunged us back into bogs, via a thick carpet of sheep poo. Patience and humour were tested as tracks on the ground went AWOL. If you keep moving, though, you progress.
The return to England came with the rain finally breaking. Over the Long Mynd and along Wenlock Edge, I had a fine evening. As on so many other days, fuelled by take-away food and chocolate. This time, though, with ginger beer.
Cannock Chase was a culture shock. Weekend riders wondered at my 1000 yard stare and I gratefully borrowed tools from Swinnerton Cycles to service my hub. The Monkey Trail was good, though, and the bike still felt surprisingly nimble. A testament to going with as minimal kit as possible.
Riding on up towards The Peak District, my emotions were all over the place. I was making good progress, but various body parts were suffering badly. My feet, in particular, had been continuously wet for 7 days and continuously worked over by riding and pushing the bike. The skin on my face was permanently sore from exposure to the wind, rain, and finally sun.
Eventually, the ride ended for me at Parsley Hay. Steve Heading had decided to finish here. I knew that I could not finish the whole route in time to be back for work, and this was one of the most convenient places for me to re-enter the real world.
In terms of actual racing, it had been pretty close on day 1. Rob Dean was seriously delayed by a GPS problem soon after, so fell out of the running. Impressively, he stuck to it, though, and pulled through various problems to ride more of the route than Steve or me. Ahead of him until we quit, Steve and found little to separate us. Sometimes riding together, sometimes chasing one or the other all day with a time difference of only a few minutes. It was sociable, but we were both looking for the win. Both looking to be able to make a decisive break. In the end, my hub repair put me behind him leaving Cannock, and we both quit at the same place.
EWE will be back next year. With an improved route, and a better idea of the challenges head. With a less record-breaking June, it might even be less destructive to feet.
Massive thanks to those who helped to create the route and those who supplied me high performance and reliable gear: Singular Cycles, USE/Exposure, Wildcat Gear, Maxxis, Gore Bike Wear, and Velosolo.