This is the Fred Whitton Challenge. It’s not on Twitter and it’s not branded as, Xtreme, Tough, Epic, Ultimate or Awesome, though it probably is some of those things.
We live in an age of hype and hyperbole. But just the name alone – Fred Whitton – feels like a refreshing antidote to that. And that is why I have come to ride it.
The Fred Whitton is a sportive cycle challenge round the Lake District National Park. It’s 112 miles long – the same distance as an Ironman cycle, with almost 13,000ft of climbing over seven major passes. The steepest climb, the Hardknott Pass, hits a gradient of 33% (1 in 3), a pretty severe test for your legs when you get to it after 100 miles. The road was built by the Romans 2000 years ago and an early cycling guide from a century ago describes it as “difficult going West, cruel coming East”. The Fred Whitton, of course, comes east.
The sportive is generally ridden on one long day, but I’m doing it over two because I want to make it an adventure and sleep on a pass under the stars along the route, to have the fells to myself for a night. Plus filming yourself takes loads of time. And, I guess, I’m also a bit lazy and I fancy a few ice-creams and swims along the way! Whatever the reason, I’m going so slowly that I have nothing to boast about in this little film.
What drew me to the Fred Whitton Challenge is that, away from cycling, the name doesn’t mean much to people. But for those who complete the ride in a day – THEY know the triumph of doing something difficult, rewarding and satisfying in an understated, quiet way. I love that the Fred Whitton is humble but also hardcore. That wilderness can be beautiful at the same time as brutal. Something that is simple can also be difficult. And THAT makes it a goal worth striving for.
Spend a little time around Britian’s high places and you’ll discover a fine tradition of modest sounding names masking fierce challenges that anyone would be proud of completing. As well as the Fred Whitton, there’s the Paddy Buckley and the Ramsey Round, the Joss Naylor and the Bob Graham. If you take on endeavours such as these, few will care or understand your efforts. They won’t know how much you have to put in, how much you get out. But YOU will understand, and that is worth a good deal.
Adventure means different things to different people at different times in life. You can pack for a touring journey, but still ride light and fast. You can ride for fun, take your time, take photographs, or you can go fast for some Type 2 Fun. You might push yourself hard, or you might push your bike when the ride gets hard. You can sleep under the stars or treat yourself to a hotel on the credit card. Everyone is invited – and that’s part of the magic of cycling. The crucial thing is that adventure feels worthwhile and meaningful, that you do it with enthusiasm, and that it feels important to you, not to other people. Do it, in other words, in the way that Joss or Bob or Fred would do it.