Last Sunday was ‘Avon Day’ arguably the best day in the year to climb in the Gorge because though the routes are always absorbing, whether technical and balancy or steep and pumpy, for me they are let down by the continual roar of the traffic from the Portway down below. For one day a year, however, the growling rumble of the cars and lorries is replaced by the patter of thousands of be-trainered feet and the gasping pants of 20,000 pairs of lungs as Bristol Half Marathon closes the Portway for a few precious hours.
Early on Sunday we parked on the downs and walked down to the road just as the leading runners passed by, we wandered on as the foot traffic increased from the first few athletes to the many body of the race, a colourful mass of humanity stretching back as far as we could see along the Portway. We wandered up the Ramp to the short steep climbs that waited there, the Ramp as always twisted the mind turning from a steep walk into a terrifying slope and then back again in the blink of an eye.
I warmed up on New Horizons II which was as delightful as ever and then turned my attentions to Arms Race a route which, on the last attempt, had seen me dangling from the metal spike runner as I lacked the strength of mind to resist its tempting call. This time however I was determined to ignore it no matter how pumped my arms would get (which, judging from my last encounter with the route, would be a lot). It’s always hard getting on a route after a spoiled on-sight; I had no useful information about the route, no idea about the best sequence or where to rest or which wires to place but I had no illusions about how much my arms were going to hurt from the constant effort of staying on the route.
Maybe my mind had made the memory of the route more pumpy than it was, maybe I had warmed up more thoroughly, maybe in the intervening 6 months I had got stronger or fitter or maybe I felt better knowing that the thousands of people running below me were in more pain than I was. Whatever the reason the route felt ok, I felt relaxed enough to rest properly, to only place gear where I needed it off good handholds (not every 10cm off poor crimps as before) and to take in the world around me, the sea of runners interrupted by the occasional jogging banana or hotdog, the efficient volunteers at the water station and the slowly growing sea of blue bottles in the gutter. When I passed the spike I felt no desire to reach up and hang onto it, I didn’t even clip it, smiling smugly at my past self I climbed on, placed a cam and carried on up to the ab station. Job done.
There’s nothing like the smug glow of self-satisfaction to remove all desire to climb hard routes so as a result I spend the remainder of the day belaying and observing the last few runners jog past and the clean-up operation begin. I did persuade myself to climb Mirage, another brilliant Ramp route which is pumpy but short-lived, before relaxing and watching the road sweepers sweep up a few thousand bottle caps. All too soon the road was clear and the cars began to filter noisily past once more.