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ZC in the Lakes

Cover photo taken by Will (Zetland Cycles)

Zetland Cycles (s)Low Key Lakes Weekender

To give it it’s full name(with our own edit of the title lol), was a cycling event with some truly magical twists that took place on Saturday 11th > Sunday 12th September 2021.

This was a format test event which was invite only and myself (Chris) and Daniel were very fortunate to have been invited to trial it out. Whilst this might sound exclusive, there were very valid reasons for running it this way and quite honestly it was the most inclusive cycling event I’ve ever been too.

Unlike other events, the focus wasn’t just on riding — but as much about the preparation, planning, chilling, eating and just feeling comfortable.

There’s a lot of events out there that cater for the smash and sesh vibe. They’re very popular right now following the influx of people into cycling and its great to see cycling thriving like this, but that’s not for everyone and so we were really excited to see how this alternative approach would work.

So the the format of the event was pretty simple. No preset route. No GPS’s or phones for routing (allowed to track) and a focus on analogue photography. Just a bunch of checkpoints on an OS map, of which only 1 was compulsory.

The prizes were as followed:
• Best Route
• Daftest Bike Choice
• Best Nature Moment
• Best lunch / Coffee Stop
• Best Dressed
• Best Analogue Photo

We were all actively encouraged to bring film cameras to take photos and an get an OS map to plan our routes. As you can see from the prizes they are more subjective than competitive — and if I’m totally honest, I didn’t actually pay attention to them (I had to look back and double check what they were to write this). That’s not to dismiss them — as they were a fantastic selection and some people really committed to achieving them, but more to reinforce the fact that I didn’t feel I needed to have any sort of pressure to adhere to something. My goal was simple — ride the lakes (I’ve only ever hiked there before) and rekindle some of my orienteering skills from my youth on a bike.

Day 1: Planning, Eating & Camping

Something I loved about this weekend was the whole of the first day had absolutely no cycling. It was very much a set up, plan and rest kinda day. People were travelling from all over the UK to attend and so complimented the fact everyone would be arriving at different times.

For us — driving up from Bristol, this meant we were one of the later arrivals.

ZCHQ — with the summer house being the home of operations with views over Carlisle.

As we pulled up into the little hamlet of thatched cottages, behind some other arrivals it was clear from the off this was going to be lovely weekend. We said hello to the other people who had spotted us further back on the drive, turns out they had also driven up from Bristol and little did we know we’d be spending a lot more time with them later on…

Walking into the garden we were presented with a sprawl of tents and a mix of all sorts of bikes from hardtail mountain bikes to swish road bikes and all the things between. However the first one that caught my eye was a single speed with coaster brake and basket on the front. My kinda of people!

The single speed steed owned by Nathan — absolute style icon. SPD jelly shoes 2022 is the hot tip.

After some quick hellos we got our camp set up. I opted for some luxury since I didn’t actually have to pack it on my bike for once and bought my tent, but Daniel kept it pure and had his bivvy and tarp.

As we were some of the later arrivers and Autumn is very much present, we made sure to get cracking with our route planning while we still had some light.

Light fading. Checkpoints on the map and some recommended sections to ride, then getting stuck in to planning.

Honestly this was one of the highlights of the whole weekend. It was such a fun buzz of people huddling round and sharing their ideas of routes and plans.

Something a lot of events get wrong is the lack of consideration for how people are attending the event. Some people come with friends. Some people know they’ll be seeing people they know there and others are turning up on their own. Whilst some people are quite happy doing their own thing (will come back to this), for many this can be pretty isolating.

What this format did was get everyone chatting to one another, bouncing off ideas, sharing tips and if someone was on their own it was an opportunity to chat to them and see what their plan was and if they wanted to ride alone or if they wanted to join you, or even ask if you could join them.

Me and Daniel had the plan of riding together and I had an idea of how far I felt comfortable riding in an unfamiliar place over what is pretty technical terrain, so I came up with 2 routes. Having hiked in the lakes several times before to say some bits are bit hilly is an understatement. Also not having used an OS map properly for several years, one thing that always stuck with me is stuff is always further, steeper and harder than it looks on the map! The first route was a shorter loop about 40>50km but we added an optional loop just over halfway where we could extend it and do a further 20km.

If you’re ever route planning somewhere unfamiliar, always give yourselves options and never be afraid to turn back.

Will did a fantastic job of not only putting together a load of checkpoints, but fully curating them with a menu, with different categories and descriptions. He also highlighted sections on the map which he recommended riding. Delicious! 👌

There were multiple campfires and plenty of quiet spaces to wind down.

Once everyone had finished planning it was time to eat. Will has cooked up a huge pasta for everyone (several kilos). It looked absolutely incredible, but me and Daniel wanted to check out Carlisle having not been there before and ended up grabbing a local Italian pizza (uncut lol) and bringing it back. Luckily Will was straight in with a pizza wheel to save the day there so it wasn’t a pizza pasty (calzone) situation.

As the evening drew in and after a quick speech from Will we all huddled around camp fires and winded down with stories and plans for the next day. A curfew was set of 11:30pm to respect those who wanted to sleep and this actually made it a really nice wind down of people chipping off one by one.

We went to sleep feeling calm, collected and keen for tomorrows adventures.

Day 2: Roll out!

As is the case when ever I camp, I woke to plenty of people milling about getting their brews on getting set up for the day.

Whilst the location of the camp was glorious, in the lakes it was not. We were actually about 20km from the edge of the lake district, meaning a 40km round trip there and back. Will was well aware of this and so had made recommendations on some free car parks where those who didn’t want the extra ride (albeit lovely country lanes) and just wanted to get stuck into the lakes could park up.

So those that wanted to do the riding experience could roll out and those that wanted to just experience riding the lakes could save their energy to ride a bit more there.

Morning gatherings and rollout from camp.

I feel like it was actually a pretty good split between those rolling out and those that opted to drive a bit closer. We opted to go closer — having a plan of 40km or so would have been doubled and not what our intentions for this weekend was.

It turned out that a big group of us had all decided to roll out from the same car park which resulted in another group rollout which was lovely to be a part of.

Second rollout spot. Quiet little village on the edge of the lakes.

The rollout was short but sweet as everyones routes all quickly peeled off as their own adventures unfolded.

As we started climbing our first hill of the day we spotted a group up ahead, after they stopped for a quick wind check, we caught up with them.

First climb of the day — straight into it!

Turns out it was Will and the guys from Bristol we had met when we arrived, Laurence, Chris and Sam! After a quick chat about the route they were planning, we realised we had planned pretty much exactly the same route. They were more than welcoming for me and Daniel to pootle along and this actually turned out to be another highlights, riding along with this rad bunch. In total there was 6 of us, all ranging in ability and bikes — although this was very much the mountain bike squad.

We still had a bit riding through some country lanes and our first trails before we properly hit the lake district, but this was a stunning entrance into it and got us warmed up nicely.

This was a taster of what lay ahead. Heaven.

It was refreshing to be riding with such like minded people who also take snack packing seriously, so there were plenty of stops to admire the views and top up on Percy Pigs.

Farm tracks and quiet back lanes. Other than the local 4wd greenlaners club we didn’t really see any cars.

We made our final descent of the morning, hugging the edge of the mountains to the base of our first big trail for the day. Another quick wind check and snack selection before we started the first big climb of the day.

Skiddaw House Climb

The first big climb of the day was what I had initially thought was going to be the biggest climb of the day. Whilst it was probably the steepest and longest continuous climb, we would later discover we would end up climbing to nearly the same elevation later again!

We had chosen the trail that takes you up to Skiddaw House, an old hunting lodge which is currently for sale — so if you fancy buying the remotest house in England, now is your time.

The farm road very quickly turned into a gravel trail.

The climb started smooth and steady and very quickly turned rougher and steeper as we got further up the pass.

Climb up to Whitewater Dash, a very pretty waterfall.

As the we came up past Whitewater Dash the terrain became much more rocky. The sort of riding you’d do as a challenge on an eMTB, but for us mere mortals on human power, it was time for a stroll.

Some big rocks in the mix. Never looks as big or steep in photos.

We had a nice back and forth chat with some hikers as they passed us while we pushed our bikes, then we’d catch them again once we were back riding. They went on to summit Skiddaw, something we wouldn’t be doing and in hindsight kind of glad we weren’t.

The Trail straightened up and become more ridable. Looking up at Skiddaw the weather had crept in, meaning no nice views from up there today.

Whilst the weather had crept in and covered the peak of Skiddaw, over all it was actually perfect riding conditions. I think had the sun been out, dehydration would have been a real issue and to be honest, I love a bit of moody weather and it didn’t rain!

Did I mentioned we liked snacking? Skiddaw house top the top left of the water splash. We also had plenty of those on the ride!

After the long climb we could see Skiddaw House off in the distance. This was a proper sendy little descent, with washed out bits of the path, making for some awesome kickers and topping it all off with the water splash at the bottom!

Abandoned Audax hotel.

The plan was to sit down for a spot of lunch and coffee — but this was a short lived idea as the midges are very much still about. This was likely due to the small little wood next to the House, so a swift decision was made to continue our descent down to the compulsory checkpoint at Grainsgill Beck mine.

Grainsgill Beck Mine Descent (Compulsory Checkpoint)

A lot happened in this section. It was by far my favourite bit of the whole ride along rolling descent with a mix of peaty soft mud and technical rocky single track — and on a rigid 26er mountain bike, this was the pinnacle of excitement.

As fun as it was for me — for the other Chris not so much.

Chris (in blue) assessing the bike after a tumble.

This was was the biggest and most technical ride Chris has ever done and up ahead I saw him attempt some barkour with a stylish OTB moment. Fortunately he was fine, albeit a bit bruised. However the bike had taken a hit jamming his dropper post. Luckily this is a very much a first world problem issue and didn’t hinder the rest of his ride too much. (It was also a fairly cheap fix once he got home).

Bumping into friends.

We grouped up again whilst waiting for Chris to get himself sorted and in the distance I spotted a lone rider. Being in the middle of no where where you’re more likely to see sheep or hikers its always exciting to spot another cyclist.

Earlier I mentioned that some people were here to do their own things. Well it turns out it was fellow Araf rider Tom! Tom is cycling all 100 of the mountain passes in the UK. So this weekend he was busy checking off some of his Lake District ones. A very different mindset and style of riding to us, but as always we was grinning ear to ear!

As he was riding where we had just been and vice versa we gave each other little insights into what was up ahead. Hasten to say, we both had some bloody epic riding ahead.

Another refreshing stopping point.

After another lovely stop by a stream to recharge we had our final meander down to the compulsary checkpoint Grainsgill Beck mine.

The old abandoned mine was the only compulsory checkpoint.

It was nice to have a compulsory checkpoint and have the thought that everyone on the ride would be there at some point in the day.

The delayed coffee stop from Skiddaw House was now here.

Laurence and Chris both work at FCP Coffee and so part of their ride was always going to consist of a well deserved coffee session. As someone who doesn’t drink coffee this was a perfect opportunity for me to do some rock hunting. So whilst the boys chatted about presses and grain densities I was off milling around for stones, much to the delight of our ride geologist Will who helped me identify some stuff.

FCP in the Lakes while I’m happy chilling on my rock enjoying the view! Thanks for these photos Will.

Whilst we were having our much needed rest, it would be a lie to say we weren’t all a bit shattered.

Skiddaw House was the split point for the ride, the longer route would have taken us down into Keswick, a lovely lakeside village. Whilst a longer route — it would have meant a pub. Essentially we would have been able to chill out and properly refuel before we cracked back on. However as this was some of the hardest riding some of the group had done and a few people were flagging (myself included) we opted for the shorter loop. This meant however that we had all smashed through our drinks and snacks.

Having looked through the route, I had seen how close the contour lines were for the final section — my positive mindset had said that they were traversing them so they shouldn’t be too bad — but hindsight taught me I should have checked their elevations. I guess this part of being a bit rusty with reading OS maps and having digital elevation maps with digital route planners, a minor oversight.

Smiles for the final miles.

Our moods were not dampened though. The whole ride was full of smiles, laughs and in general just damn good vibes.

We winded down our first bit of tarmac in several hours (probably contributing to the smiles) and skirted back round the edge of the mountains finally orientating ourselves back in the direction we started.

Up up up

I mentioned earlier I thought the Skiddaw House climb was going to the biggest climb of the day. Well it was. But this final bit of the ride made a damn good attempt at topping it falling just 30m short!

Running on fumes the final bit of the ride full embraced the steady as fuck mentality. The smooth surface was fully appreciated, but as you come to expect around here, the higher you go the more that fades away and we were back on gravel trails after not too long.

Last tarmac climb before a celebratory gravel skid.

Whilst this sort of moment in a ride can become a slog — it really didn’t feel like it. Being surrounded by people who didn’t want to drop you and were there to have fun and enjoy the surroundings meant that whilst we dipped between grinding gears and taking our bikes for a walk, it never felt like a burden.

Mountain climbs forever looking flatter then they actually are!

This climb was totally worth it though. The views over to Scotland across the estuary are something I’ll always remember.

Scotland in the distance and the hilly descent to the pub.

Also what follows a climb is one of the main reason we do them on bikes. Going back down! The last downhill section was literally scaling down the side of the mountain. It was less of a path and more of a grassy verge. Plenty of jumps and skids were had on the way down.

As with all good bits of riding, there aren’t really any good photos because you’re too busy in the moment. Here’s Will and Sam coming in hot… literally Sam is cooking his brakes here 😂

Whilst the trail down from Skiddaw House was my favourite part of the day, this came in a hot second, and really was a fun way to finish up the ride.

To the pub!

So that about wraps it up. We were back on the quiet country lanes with our eyes set on a pub.

Well earnt pub stop and a thumbs up from the organiser.

It was pretty much all down hill on rolling roads meandering to the pub before we clocked off for the day. We’d hoped for a pub lunch, but had to settle for a bag of crisps and pints all round as the kitchen was closed.

Achey, covered in sheep shit but with an ice cold pint in hand this was why we do what we do.

So was it a success?

Yes. There’s no beating about the bush here. This was hands down the best bit of cycling I have ever done and by far the best cycling event I have ever attended.

Will’s recipe for a format that is inclusive and accessible worked fantastically and it’s reinforced some of the decisions we have made and question other ideas we’ve had about our events. So we’re looking forward to manifesting those ideas in the future.

The only unknown take out, which I’m looking forward to further discussions on, is how does this actually roll out as an actual event.

One of the key successes of the event was the people. The format included an equal gender split and everyone was fucking lovely. But that was because it was curated by Will on an invitation bases.

Once an event becomes open to all there is no control over that element. Traditionally this means that more privileged people fill up spots first as those unable to work, on lower incomes or from minority backgrounds tend to either not find out about these things as quickly and also aren’t always able to have the means to attend.

It’s conversation that is being talked about a lot at the moment which is great and we’re curious to hear you thoughts and experiences on this. Feel free to drop a comment on our post here.

There are ways to address this and have absolute faith in Will addressing this well in the future.

Until next time, what a pleasure it was and honour to be asked to pootle along. After the last 18 months or so this is something that has restored my faith in people and excites me about the future of the cycling landscape.

I’ll leave you with a photo of all 6 of us from the group. Thank you random hiker man for taking it, your dogs were lovely!

Ready for the free kick.

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