After a 5am rise we picked up Dave and his impressive stock of sandwiches at 6am. A fairly traffic free drive saw us reach Whitehaven at about twenty past eight. Just before this Dave treated us to one of his jokes ‘I see no ships, only hardships’. It was to be the first of many, unfortunately for me.
After using the Tesco toilet to lighten the load – every little helps! – and getting my bike ready I left Dave lying in Tesco’s car park stretching his back and fussing over his sandwiches while I wandered off trying to find a way of dipping my back wheel into the harbour, technically the Irish Sea. I must have looked suitably clueless because soon a local man took charge of the situation and led me to the proper place, a sculpture that has been erected on a slipway into the harbour to mark the official start point of the C2C. I did wonder if he was employed by the good people of Whitehaven to make sure that witless cyclists do the ride properly and don’t just set off from the Tesco car park. Once my sister Sarah had taken the requisite photo I rode back to meet Dave and we began the ride at a quarter to nine.
Straight away you are faced with the climb out of Whitehaven which lasts about half a mile and is around 8% or so. Once we were over this we headed off in a south westerly direction with the wind right behind us and despite the heavy traffic it was good to get the ride under way after all the preparation. The first 20 miles flew by in little more than an hour and it wasn’t until we turned south just after Cockermouth that we had to work into a wind, the drop in speed came as a bit of a shock to the system but soon we were heading south east again and were holding our own against a side wind.
All this talk of wind makes it sound as though we were obsessed, and indeed this was true. Normally bikers like light winds, or no wind, as rides normally have the same start and end point. In a linear ride though you only think about direction. Our conversations on training rides over the previous two weeks had gone something like this:
Me (when referring to the easterly winds): Imagine if the wind direction is like this on the day?
Or vice versa, we even started sending each other emails and texts along similar lines, each passing comment on wind direction or strength, and who says cyclists have limited conversations! A few days before though I noticed that the Met Office website was predicting a change so our communication took on a more optimistic tone. For wind enthusiasts out there the direction in Cumbria at the start of the ride was a South Westerly and the strength 12 mph rising to 15mph later in the day. The day before there had been Westerly gales of around 35mph which sounds really good but would have been quite scary on some of the descents over the Pennines.
So here we were breezing along, literally, the wind at our backs, the rain holding off, perfect. After 45 miles we got to Penrith and said farewell to the A66. For me the next stretch was one of the hardest of the day, a couple of hours in and with the initial freshness gone from my legs the rolling heavy road started to take its toll a little. I mentioned this to Dave as we approached the Hartside climb, mainly to prevent him going up too hard, but also to seek reassurance ‘was he finding it hard too?’ I thought. He seemed quite easy and said that the roads were a bit heavy and that we’d take it easy on the climb. Strangely enough once on the climb I felt good, at 5 miles long and around 6% it’s the sort of climb where you can get into a rhythm and keep it there and after half an hour we were at the 1,900 foot summit, the high point of the ride and a magnificent view. There was a problem though, where was our support vehicle? My wife and sister had arranged to meet us here so we could take on energy drinks and food. We had planned two stops, one here at around the 60 mile point and another at Staindrop at around 100 miles. It was pretty cold and we didn’t fancy hanging around so I made a quick call on my mobile. The estimated meeting times that I had given were based on an average of about 16-17 mph and with a following wind most of the way we were well ahead of schedule and they were just outside Penrith.
Five minutes later and we were belting down to Alston hitting 35 – 45 mph most of the way, a great bit of the ride. The ride up Alston High Street on the other hand was one of the worst. It’s not exactly cobbles, rather uneven polished bricks, but they shake you to bits just the same and it was a relief when they were over. A few miles down the road and our support vehicle containing my wife Shelly, my sister Sarah and more importantly Dave’s sandwiches caught us up. We were at the 65 mile point, nearly halfway, and as I watched Dave tuck into to his sandwiches I realised that all the food that I had brought was banana flavoured, especially the bananas, stands to reason I suppose. Well almost, I had seven energy bars and six were banana flavoured, the other one being chocolate orange flavoured and almost uneatable. I looked over at Dave enviously.
The next stretch was possibly the hardest, especially the long drag as you approach the Durham border. It’s around three miles or so and probably not much more than 4% but we were into a stiff head/cross wind and it was surprisingly tough, this was where Dave had his bad patch. Once over this the road swung back towards the east and we followed the valley past High Force, through Middleton in Teesdale and on towards our second stop at Staindrop.
40 miles to go and most of it flat, we had to negotiate Darlington Centre and Yarm High Street, easy places to have a mishap among the traffic, but we got through okay and once we were over Leven Bank we knew we had done it. We both felt quite good on this last bit and did the last 40 miles in 1 hour 50 minutes. We finally arrived at Redcar sea front at 4.25pm after 7 hours 40 minutes total time and 7 hours 4 minutes ride time. We were surprised that we had done it so quick, averaging 19.3 mph, but we had good conditions and favourable winds most of the way. The tide was right out so down the beach we trudged carrying our bikes for about a quarter of a mile so we could get the photograph. There was no Redcar equivalent of the Whitehaven man to show us the way but that was no excuse, it had to be done.
At the time of writing we think we have raised about £450 – £500 for Middlesbrough Mind so there was a great sense of achievement. As a ride I would thoroughly recommend it, Whitehaven seems the obvious place to start and the Hartside climb is almost essential but once you reach Alston how you get to the East Coast is up to you, whichever route you do it works out at around the same distance – ours was 137 miles. It’s tough but not too tough and is well within the scope of most club cyclists within a day. Make sure you do it on a day without a head wind though, we reckon it would have taken us about 1-2 hours longer if it had been an easterly wind and it would affect morale. Oh yes and another thing, follow Dave’s example when planning your food rather than mine and pack some sandwiches!
Paul Christon – October 2009