Cycling from one side of the country to the other. In one day. For you Bob. Because you wanted to do it. Because you left us before you could achieve it. And we made it Bob. We smashed that challenge for you. I hope you know. I hope you’re proud.
When I first told people that I was taking on this challenge I don’t think I really believed that so many people would be there with me. Now I realise that I could not have done it without them. Ten of us descended on Whitehaven in the end. Five riders and five support. Eleven bikes (we had a spare in case of emergency), one van and two cars. People flew in from Denmark, got trains from Manchester and drove from Nottingham and Leeds. Those who arrived in time carb loaded at a local Italian restaurant and then we all retired to our B&B to map out our rest stops for the next day. The decision was made (through tense negotiations between my sister and I) to have three planned breaks on the ride. The first would be at 40 miles in a village called Greystoke. The second would be a lunch break in Nenthead at 80 miles and the third would be at the top of the last big climb of the day; Stanhope, 99 miles in. The van would stay close by and leapfrog us throughout the day so it was never far away if needed. The two cars would go ahead to the planned stops and only mobilise if needed.
The van contained enough food to keep most of Cumbria away from tummy rumblings for a week. Not least because the lovely landlady at out B&B (The Glenard if you’re interested) had made us two rounds of sandwiches each to top up the grocery raid my Mum had done at Tesco the day before. At this point I should apologise to the people of Carlton, Notts who all had to go without sandwiches, wraps, sausage rolls and quorn sausages last Friday as my Mum had exported a whole shops worth up to Cumbria – thanks Mum.
Also on board the van were multiple water carriers, purchased from the Pound Shop, which meant we could top up our bottles easily, as well as many bike tools and spare parts.
We headed down to the sea in Whitehaven at 5am, headed gingerly down the slip way to dip our wheels in the water and switched on the Garmins. Which is when I found that the route had disappeared from my Garmin! How or why I will never know but I know I put it on there, even switching it on to check after the download. Now it was gone. Luckily two of the other riders had been more successful than I (as well as my sister managing to borrow a Garmin from a friend for the van to follow our route) so we were able to set off.
Of course the first bit of the ride was a climb. And as we came away into Cleator Moor we passed a road sign; Robert Owen Avenue. His first two names. I don’t need to say more on that one.
We were just getting going on the country lanes when one rider, clearly already hungry at the sight of the sandwich mountain, decided to eat a wasp! A little tip for cyclists: wasp eating is not a good plan when out riding. Poor Nat pedalled on with a seriously swollen face as we advised her to make croaking/gasping noises if her throat closed completely and not just collapse at the side of the road without telling us.
The ‘mean Gods’ weren’t done with us yet though, they decided to throw a poor blackbird out of a hedge and into my wheel at mile 14. I don’t expect anyone would enjoy killing a bird but for a massive animal lover like me it was a pretty rough incident. My sisters partner came to console me and explain that it had died instantly as it’s head had come off…a disturbing statement as I could see my sister in the back ground cradling said bird in her hands whilst making slightly dramatic noises! It’s head had not come off but sadly it’s neck was broken and it did die. Sorry blackbird.
Five miles down the road and the cry of ‘Stop!’ went up once again. A puncture and also a chance for Nat to take a selfie of said swollen face.
Onwards again and, although going was slow, we were approaching the first break stop when Nat decided to be all adventurous and throw herself into a pot hole and off her bike. Despite feeling a bit queasy and generally bleeding a lot Nat insisted that she would get back on and complete the day. At this point she earned herself the nickname ‘Hard As Nails Nat’ and boy does that girl deserve it!
I should also mention that we managed to climb Whinlatter Pass without realising it until we were at the top! We thought we were still on an approach climb. The downhill was the first of many awesome descents with Em showing us how it was done by being fearless on the sweeping bends.
We finally rolled into Greystoke after four hours to find the car and van teams cheering us in. They had spent a pleasant morning at a fantastic cyclists café in Greystoke and continued to rave about this café for the next twenty-four hours. Such a shame that we cyclists didn’t actually get to see it!
At this point two of the riders chose to let Nat, Sian (my sister) and I go on alone to try to make up time. My Uncle decided to carry on alone behind us and Em, who had always said she would only do part of the ride, jumped in the van to re-join us at the end.
We got into a good rhythm and managed to catch up on time a little before the start of the big climbs. Hartside at 1904ft; a long winding climb with a large café at the top. When you start the climb and look up at the café you can’t believe you have to reel it in but it does creep closer and eventually we all arrived at the car park to the welcome sight of the van. A quick grab of water and cold sausages (as well as the donning of windproof jackets) preceded a wonderful descent of around five miles.
I won’t take you through every climb (they all started to merge after a while) but I will tell you that we were ready for lunch at 80 miles. We made a small dent in the food stash. An earlier conversation about the childhood love of crisp sandwiches led to packets being emptied into sandwiches now…don’t tell me you all haven’t tried it in the past (if you haven’t go try one now – my favourite is salt and vinegar crisps with ketchup and butter on white bread)!
Off again and I knew, from doing the C2C over three days last year, the climbs we had to face in the next section. Rookhope and Stanhope had made me tearful and sulky last year. Then I had been on a mountain bike with panniers and had had to push. This year they still hurt but there was no way I would be pushing! I was still tearful though. The long climbs gave me time to think, to reflect on why I was doing this. Emotion is not good when climbing on a bike. When tears start to well up your throat closes a little and your breathing goes haywire. I had to keep refocusing and telling myself I could be emotional after but not now.
Aside from a quick grab of Ibuprofen from the ever welcome presence of the van (everything hurt by this stage) we carried on to the last rest stop. I did feel the need to protest at the sight od every dead animal (and there were many) that they had nothing to do with me and my lethal wheels.
And so, at the top of Stanhope we joined back up with Em and Alun to complete the last 30 miles. And boy did those 30 miles drag on. And on. And on. And on.
A couple of examples of conversation from the last thirty; Me (to Nat): ‘Are you alright?’ Nat: ‘Uurrghhalburghle (pause), that wasn’t yes or no by the way.’ Me: ‘I know’.
Em (to me): ‘Do you want to get on my wheel?’ Me: (feeble) ‘I don’t think I can get on’ Em: ‘I’ll slow down’ Me: ‘Ok’ – I then proceeded to get on her wheel for about ten metres before dropping behind with the resigned thought that really it was easier not to try.
I think that Em would still feel this conversation was a huge improvement on the epic ‘Red squirrels driving furraris (sic)’ conversation between Sian and myself earlier in the day. Lets just say that no one in my family could possibly get past a ‘Red Squirrels Slow Down’ sign without starting a bizarre and pun filled chat regarding the real reason that red squirrels are dying out (their bad driving) and whether grey squirrels can drive too (they can’t).
Despite the crossing of the Tyne nearly stumping us in Newcastle we got through and then out into the outskirts before finally arriving to our wonderful welcoming committee in Tynemouth, thirteen hours after we set out.
My emotions didn’t consume me completely as I feared they would but tears were shed. We had done it. Ten of us had made Bob’s ambition come true. He wanted to cycle the Coast 2 Coast in one day, we have ticked it off for him. It was time to celebrate. I shall thank all those who took part individually in more detail but for now may I list for you the best team I could have wished for:
Nat: Hard As Nails, need I say more.
Alex: The best Power Flapjack maker in the world!www.rockrun.com/wp/power-flapjack-recipe
Jo: My rock.
Sheelagh: A delight and chief photographer.
Alun: Just thank you, thank you so much. It meant a lot to have you there.
Sian: You were amazing. Incredibly strong in many ways.
Em: Unfailing smile, support and understanding. You were a star.
Mum: She of the amazing snack basket! Chief of logistics.
Dad: I know it was tough for you. Your support vehicle skills were fantastic.
An epic day of cycling. An epic weekend really; what with all the preparation, the early start, the long day, the celebration and the goodbyes. I know we were all drained and shattered but also elated.
I shall choose a new challenge, keep pushing myself in order to not let the grief take over my life. But I will be kind to myself too, perhaps a little more time relaxing.
But now I find that the inquest is next week. Time to gather my strength once more.
Be More Relentless.
Link to the Strava profile of our ride: http://www.strava.com/activities/178770992
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