Scaling the heights on another Sky Ride

Last weekend I tackled my second Sky Ride. The forecast was for torrential rain and 50mph winds. What could possibly go wrong?
Not for a second did I consider that those 50mph winds might be behind me. In my experience a strong breeze will always be in the face of the peddler - whichever direction you ride.
Communication is very good from the Sky Ride team, with a number of emails in the days and weeks before each ride reminding the cyclist of where she is supposed to be. Frankly, I wish that the Sky Ride people could organise the rest of my life with equal efficiency. With forecasts verging on the apocalyptic the night before the ride, I kept checking my phone for news that the event had been cancelled. None came and I decided that if the ride leaders were prepared to ride, then I was too.
I will admit that it took some effort to haul my sorry ass out of bed on Sunday morning. The predicted rain had arrived, the sky was slate grey and the duvet really was very cosy. Fortunately I had packed my bag and laid out my clothes the night before. A final encouraging kick from my husband was all it took to get me up and ready to ride.
The Sky Ride was called Sights Around Stone. It was categorised as Steady and would take in a 16-mile route around Stone, Barlaston, Moddershall and the National Trust-owned woodland of Downs Banks. When I arrived at the meeting-point I recognised one of the ride leaders from the Cannock Chase Criss-Cross Challenge ( A few changes had taken place since he'd seen me last and I was hoping we'd both notice a difference.
In my previous Sky Ride I spent about as much time pushing my bike as I did riding it. Try as I might, I couldn't pedal the blessed thing up the succession of vertiginous hills included in the ride. I returned home shattered and a little crestfallen. In the following days I asked brilliant bike mechanic Ben Platt if there was anything he could do to help.
Ben changed my rear cartridge to give me a bigger ratio. I moved from an 11-26t to an 11-32 and added a long cage derailleur to cope with the extra slack in the chain. Vitally (as far as I was concerned, at least) Ben had also removed the mudguards. My ride had been pimped.   
Our hardy band of cyclists set off and in what I now realise is traditional for Sky Rides, we began with a climb. And I was OK. In fact, I was more than OK. I was at the front!
The route soon left the highway for a network of country lanes. Almost all of them included hefty climbs but I found that I could keep spinning fairly easily, enjoying testing my limits and enjoying the fabulous views at the top. Alastair, the ride leader who had watched me trudge around Cannock Chase, was encouraging: "It's partly your fitness and partly the different gears," he said. I knew it wasn't. It was the mudguards that had been holding me back.
The great thing about Sky Rides is that you meet other people who are also loving life on two wheels. Everyone is incredibly friendly, perfectly illustrated on this ride, when we made an unscheduled stop at the home of one of the ride participants. His unflappable wife provided refreshments for us all, while their energetic dogs pointed out that if we really wanted exercise, we should be chasing a tennis ball.

Some of the Sky Riders on our impromptu stop. The dogs are out of this picture, chasing tennis balls but if you look closely, another pet is welcoming the unexpected visitors.

As well as a very pleasant half an hour in a fellow cyclists's garden, the ride provided me with my first chance to cycle across a level crossing and through a ford. We rode past through the beautiful village of Moddershall, almost at eye-level with the village pond, where ducks laughed noisily as we passed. In this birthplace of the pottery industry, we went past the stunning home once occupied by Josiah Wedgewood before riding past the factory on which his wealth was built.

The house formerly occupied by Josiah Wedgewood - one of the Sights of Stone.

And do you know what?
It didn't rain until the moment I put the bike in the back of the car and set off for home.  


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