The weekend ride was a brilliant mixture of adventure, rain, pain, chocolate sandwiches, banter and enjoyment. We woke at around 6am to get everything ready, pack the bags and have breakfast ready for a 7am departure. Because of a last minute puncture we actually ended up leaving at around 7.45 but morale was high and the sun was semi-shining as we left Gilesgate in Durham. Because I was the lady of the group I only had to carry a camelback with my raincoat in it, some inner tubes and a puncture repair kit and I did feel slightly bad as the boys crammed in bananas, drinks and sandwiches to their bags. Ah well!
The first 22 miles or so until we got to Stanhope were pretty average riding. We were on main roads with lots of rush hour traffic and it was hard to stay together as a group. But once we were passed Stanhope we took a right turn which took us away from the main roads and up into the scenic views towards Rookhope. This is really where the ride got interesting because the pennines sprawl out on either side of you and its a really undulating road. Its kind of like a mixture between Dartmoor and the Yorkshire moors. Last year when we did this ride you could see for miles and miles, it was clear blue skies and bright sunshine, but this year it was blustering winds, drizzle and mist everywhere! So there was much less distraction on the uphill slogs.
What this picture doesn’t show you is that I had to hang onto a snow pole in order to be able to stand still enough to take the picture! It was really really windy. Sometimes there would be a transient break in the clouds and we would all shout ‘blue skies up ahead’ but more often than not the sunshine eluded us and we had to battle on in the clouds.
Dad was particularly struggling because of the gears on his posh Claud Butler. Most of us had downgraded to a compact chain ring at the front so that we would be able to master the long hills (except my brother Sam who did it all on a mountain bike!) but Dad had a racing set on at the front. I think his big ring had was a mahoosive 64 teether! (If you want to find out more about gears and gear ratios then there is a really useful blog post here) We worked out that his lowest possible gear was the equivalent to my highest! Needless to say he was absolutely knackered by the time we got to Rookhope. I was sailing along and really grateful for my bargain upgrade to an 11-34 cassette a couple of weeks ago at Start Cycles in Newcastle. The upgrade was a complete game changer – hills that I really struggled on last year were a different story this time round. Gear upgrades are the way forward!
Another piece of kit that I was really grateful for was my dhb bibbed cycling leggings. I bought them off wiggle last winter in order to be able to ride in the cold and they are absolutely fantastic. They are one of the only set of bibbed leggings designed with women in mind and they are really affordable at only around £40. They have a warm lining and multi-panel padding which really helps on a long ride in wet conditions. Even though the rain persistently drizzled in the afternoon and the wind was really strong on some of the descents I didn’t get really freezing. I would suggest if you are a new rider then the first must-buy is padded shorts, and the second is windproof top layers. Makes cycling so much more fun when you are wearing the right attire!
As promised, we stopped at the 50ish mile mark at the Hartside cafe about an hour after we had gone through Alston (I was bursting for a pee in Alston and ALL the pubs were shut so I had to dash into the world’s smallest tea shop in all of my kit and politely ask to use their facilities. Bull in a china shop comes to mind!). What a welcome break that was! We were all soaking wet and the mist meant that we only had a rough idea of where the cafe was thanks to our cycle computers. The last time we stopped Rob stated all of our frustrations by saying that we just couldnt work out how far we had to go – the cafe could be 200yards away or 2 more miles. Luckily as soon as we started cycling again we saw a sig that said ‘Hartside cafe 250 yards’ and breathed a deep sigh of relief! The mist was really dense on the top of the summit.
After a quick bowl of chips, some soup and hot chocolate (and a brief attempt at steaming off our lycra on the open log fire) we set off again down the hill and into Cumbria proper! After that you’ve really won the battle – just a few more roads to Penrith and then on through into Greystoke and Johnby and we were at the farm! Just in time to see Muffin the farm labrador giving birth to her first set of puppies!
A memorable weekend all in all, it went by way too fast and I can’t wait for a bigger challenge. Maybe coast to coast? Any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment.