My plan was about the same this year as it was last year - get up north with a few days to ride, shake the air miles out, get used to the area and the rocks, enjoy the weather and some fine ale, and get ready to race. Other than new wheels, tires and a new handlebar set up, I had a new bike. The bike I rode last year was an Empella with a 1" aluminum steerer. That was a bit too flexible for the descents. I talked Zap out of a Trek XO cross bike, and it was working well. I also added a layer of tape to the bars the evening before the race to help soften the blows on my blistered hands a little.
This year I hiked up the back of Whernside with some friends on the Saturday before the race. This is the evil section of the course that has been my undoing every year, so a preview would be good. Ray hadn't raced here before and Julie didn't race last year, so it would be good for them to see it up close and in all of its gory detail. It's a good hike, and it was a sunny day so there were a lot of people taking advantage of the day.
The August rain they'd had there had eroded the dirt around the stones in the trail, so they were a lot more prominent than they had been before. Instead of wasting words on this I am including some shots of the rocks, stones and scenic views of the fell for your enjoyment. It will give you a good idea of how challenging this race is technically, and how beautiful the area is. It was nice to get a chance to see it at a leisurely pace, too - it's much tougher to enjoy it on race day, of course. Keep in mind that it rained on Sunday and these were wet all the way down. It is the north of England, you know.
For the full Keith Bontrager diary, click here.