Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Moonrakers and Sunseekers 309km audax 19th November 2021

Next time I’ll do some training.

My first 300km audax and first time riding over night (and into the next night!) Jelly baby reflux is a thing. What did you do on Friday night?

Spoiler alert - my completed brevet card

Why? I was not certain I could do it. I was very certain 300km as a daytime distance in summer was a possibility back in 2019. That was the year I pushed myself way beyond what I thought my limits were and completed my first RRtY (12 consecutive monthly 200km rides.) I signed up for Moonrakers and Sunseekers in 2020 after a reasonable summer of pushing myself on longer multi day solo camping trips. A 300km in November is mad. For reference I have a 14 yo right knee replacement that I want to last as long as possible. There is also the slight problem of being partially sighted which makes night riding extremely hard (almost impossible in rain) and slows me even more as I can't let go downhill. I'm slow enough anyway. We all know Moonrakers wasn't held last November as we were in national lockdown (I had covid, we forget it was lockdown everywhere as we didn't leave the house for nearly 3 weeks) and that was the start of my fitness flight. I totally forgot about Moonrakers until I realised it was on my Audax UK list in September. I had let my second RRtY "go" in July so my last 200 was June and I'd ridden one 100km ride in the previous six weeks. I would not be starting unless the weather conditions were as-perfect-as-you-can-get in November. No rain, ice nor wind could be mentioned on the forecast.

The weather forecast was perfect, very low chance of rain and 9-12 degrees for the whole of Friday night and into Saturday evening. After backing out of an overnighter earlier this year when the weather conditions were also good, I had to go for it. 

I packed my disabled rail card and battery bank. Jelly babies were stashed along with cheese rolls, cheddars, marzipan, cereal bars and salted peanuts in my bar bag. There were 3 overnight controls with food available but as ever I made sure I had enough to survive. Imagining all the worst case scenarios I had a padded jacket, ski gloves and commuting rain jacket in one small pannier. If my night was to be spent in a ditch or the colder weather forecast for Sunday moved in early, I would survive.

I volunteered Steve to help at the depart/start, mainly so I had no excuses to bottle. We rode slowly into Bristol for 9pm to settle my nerves, following the last 10km of the route I'd be doing tomorrow and know well. I would be riding past home at 298km. After all the hardest part is starting. It was great to see a few familiar faces and collect my brevet card, knock back a mug of tea and munch a banana to calm the nerves.

21.40 group start aka the fast ones (my start was an hour later)

I started in the last bunch to be let loose (170 starts in 4 groups from 21.40-22.40) so already I'm an hour down. In theory it doesn't matter, it's not a race, but when you know you will be riding full value on the limit of the audax time limits it is a demotivating fog to wade through. Immediately I was phased by flashing rear lights of some of the other riders and I didn’t jump a red light to stay with the bunch, so that was it, at the back after 5 minutes and still in Bristol. I resigned myself for a steady warm up to Devizes, not caring about resorting to the granniest of granny gears for the big pull out of Bath. Conditions were very good and warm. An occasional late starter wafted by and eased off into the distance. 

After a short optional tour of Devizes, I found the Moonraker pub at 51km which was the first control. More friendly encouraging kind people stamped my card and handed me a kilo of flapjack. A couple of other late starters caught up. David left the control with me and we rode all night together, we were total strangers at that point. It was awesome. I was extremely close to just turning right and heading home. Thanks to David I didn't.

I watched David power up the inclines on his fixed gear, obviously capable of powering off into the night and being back in Bristol for lunchtime. We talked about many of our cycling experiences. Tales of iconic ultra distance races; Trans Continental Race, Pan Celtic, Pyrenees (David) and All Points North (both of us) The stuff of cycling dreams. A quick stop at an audax hotel to bolt some carbs but no time to sleep.

Audax Hotel

Salisbury control at 91km was a wonderfully random gazebo set up next to a roundabout with Will and helpers reappearing and the best mug of tea ever (and more flapjack) Surreal at 3.30am or whatever. The only traffic had been perturbing blue lights of the emergency services looking after everyone and the odd very considerate lorry passing wide and slow. 

A couple of hours evaporated in exciting bike chat and we rode the whole length from Christchurch illuminated by a watery sun rise through Bournemouth to Poole. A lot of seafront bike path next to a glassy and slightly foggy sea with beach huts like paint charts. I was flagging big time. Halfway welcome 153km in at the Lilliput Sea Scout hut by another army of intrepid lovely volunteers who had been preparing and cooking all night. I was the last of 150+ breakfasts served at 8am. It was epic.

Audax breakfast in Poole

I needed a good break as my Garmin needed to recharge as well as me, it was on 20%. I waved David off and was honoured to meet the legendary Mike Sheldrake who gave me a massive hug and sent me on my way at 9am with encouraging wisdom. It was chilly and the drizzle very persistent in the never ending rolling hills to Podimore services at 227km. Totally solo, no sign of audax life. My legs worked but only at one speed, setting 1 on the food mixer. I'm still riding to time limits but needing to boost my Garmin charge, I allowed myself a latte to wash down more of my cheese rolls. The server helpfully pointed out that everyone else passed through hours ago. 

Glastonbury was where I believed I might make it, all familiar ground now. I was held up by cattle droving near Godney with a queue of cars. It was dusk at the start of the gravelly Strawberry Line in Axbridge with dog walkers dressed in black with black dogs and a huge struggle to see where the path was as everything was covered in pretty leaves. I've no idea how I survived the horrific mud slide at Thatchers' new diversion but somehow I stayed upright. I should have been back on the road to avoid that section but hadn't paid my Garmin much attention as I know the Strawberry Line. 

I totally crawled in the pitch black and eventually made The Strawberry Line Cafe in Yatton 15 mins after closing at 5.15 although technically on time, just. I flashed off a quick pic for evidence, and a quick message to arrivée to say where I was and to apologise for keeping them waiting. Thank goodness for no punctures.

Strawberry Line Cafe Yatton 5.15pm

Now the thrash to get back "on time" fuelled by jelly babies, as they were all I could manage on the go. Local knowledge helped for the ride through Nailsea but not rarely dipped car lights dazzling me on the lanes. Riding past home at 298km was torture. A final fling of navigational ineptitude getting the route onto the B2B Railway path wrong having ridden the section last night and losing another 5 valuable minutes.

I made it back by the skin of my teeth to cheers from Will, Holly and Steve, embarrassingly my moving speed of 19km/hr at Poole had dropped off to 17.7km/hr by the finish. Audax allows about 15km/hr including stop time. A plate of fantastic dahl was handed to me and tales of the day were told. Given my fitness levels and circumstances a full fat value ride was plenty good enough for me. Who am I kidding? I should have been back by 5pm. 

Bristol Somerset Wiltshire Hampshire Dorset - 5 counties in one day

Epic organisation and control teams by Great Western Randonées. I'm regretting not picking up a Strawberry line stick to whittle into my wooden spoon. I was the person who spent the longest time by far in the saddle. Another "lanterne rouge" for my collection. The jelly baby reflux lasted several days. I was staggered that the lack of sleep for 36 hours didn't impact me until I was in the bath later that evening.

Am I imagining things? Did I say "next time I’ll do some training" rather than "never again...?"

Monday, September 21, 2020

Not All Points North 2020 #NotAPN20 5th-7th Sept 2020

Now I’m beating myself up. It was only a couple of hours to turn the pedals to the Kirkstone Pass Inn and I took the easy option of a left turn to Oxenholme station in the pouring rain instead on that Monday morning, and thus scratched from (Not) All Points North 2020.

Descent to Kirkby Stephen

I only managed 25% of Not All Points North 2020 #NotAPN20 over 2 days. I could not face the thought of another wet night that night stressing over finding a camping spot knowing my tent was soaked. I was worrying about that night at 8am in the morning.

Rewind less than 2 months to July 2020. I became aware that the “All Points North” event that had been scheduled for late May had been postponed to September, due to Covid-19, and was now being held as an informal event for anyone who wanted to devise a route and visit the 10 controls spread over the North of England.

Not a race. No entrance fee. No tracker.

No mass start.

No fixed start place or time.

A very generous 12 days to “count as a finisher”. Normally the expectation is to finish in 72hrs.

I had been planning to ride another event as my first “multi day event” this summer. Suddenly the dream of me trying something way out of my comfort zone was on again.

Most importantly I had a week's leave coincidentally booked from 5th Sept. Originally we planned a cycling/sailing holiday in Greece in those long gone days when you could plan holidays, Greece wasn’t happening. 

What a turn around. I immediately dropped the ten control coordinates into Komoot and started plotting a route. I had a goal again. We could choose in what order to visit the controls, as long as a loop was completed.

I know Cumbria and Northumberland/Tyneside well enough that there would be regular “more familiar” bits but I’ve never really been to Yorkshire at all, certainly not cycling. At the end of July we had had a week touring #upNorth riding a Dales and Lakes Loop and then C2C and Hadrian's Wall which was already planned before Not All Points North was on my radar.

As I've never toured/bikepacked on my own over multi days I also planned a long weekend to complete Lon Las Cymru in August sandwiching our holiday and NotAPN20, allowing three weeks tapering before NotAPN20. I completed the route in pretty wet conditions, I had to adapt the original plan and didn't make two x 200km DIY audax as hoped but I did prove I had the capacity to set out and survive on my own in bad weather. The wild camping was particularly testing. I also crashed 10 miles from the end, resulting in a knee injury that very nearly jeopardised NotAPN20.

Starting and finishing at Sheaf Square outside Sheffield Station the extreme points of NotAPN were Silloth on the west coast and Berwick upon Tweed on the east coast, tiptoeing into Scotland. My route came to just shy of 1000km and 10000m of climbing and clockwise was chosen so I was getting the tough Yorkshire Dales done (Arnicliffe and Keld) whilst fresh then familiar Cumbria (Kirkstone Pass) and a visit to Silloth AONB and across to Kielder Forest for a different kind of wild, hopefully with a “recovery” tailwind.  After Berwick I was planning to track the coast on NCN1 (via an optional side trip to Lindisfarne if tide suitable) onto Amble then heading inland to cross the Tyne at Wylam, where we’d camped in July returning from C2C. Down and up to Blanchland/Draycott Water and the last very tough push through N York Moors via Rosedale Abbey and Castle Howard and back to Sheffield, hoping being so close to completion would wind me home. 6 days/5 nights with a day spare to flex into if needed. My route clockwise (we had to keep our route private, no help allowed with formulating your route.)

My planned route Not All Points North 2020

I knew there would be some walking, I’m a plodder. I knew I found wild camping stressful, not the lack of facilities/roughing it aspect but the fear of being able to find somewhere suitable to pitch before dusk and being discovered. I was buoyed up I managed to get campsites booked at Troutbeck nr Penrith, Kielder and Amble so only the first and fifth nights were “wild”.

Mistake 1 Rigid plan

I planned like “we” do for tours, but on tours mostly you’re being fairly conservative each day so when you have bad weather/mechanicals/hills are hillier than they appeared on paper there is time to regroup and still make the plan. I was planning to average 100mile days which is not much for others but not tested on multi back to back stints for me. My eyesight is poor, so I keep night riding to a minimum.

Mistake 2 Overpacking

I knew others would mainly be bivvying and carrying less even though I had pared down my kit. It always rains and/or there are cyclist eating midges when I tour and I need a sleep mat so a lightweight tent it is. Bikepacking bags do not fit tent/mat/sleeping bag/winter clothes/some food on an XS frame, so I just went with smaller front panniers on the back with a bar bag. I’d treated myself to a dynamo hub and usb charger set up as my birthday present. Brake pads changed, bike serviced, I'm an incompetent mechanic so that gave me some reassurance. I also bought myself a Brukit, so I could feed myself and make hot drinks in the tent and perhaps even en route at the top of a stunning climb? However much I analyse it for me the only thing I should have left behind was the Brukit, it was never used. I bought a lighter sleep mat but can't justify the £100s for ultra lightweight sleeping bag and mat.

CP1 My starting point the steps of Sheaf Square outside Sheffield Station

Mistake 3 Starting too late - Saturday

We could start anytime from midnight, but it didn't matter as it wasn't a race. If I'd caught the train up to Leeds (from Bristol) on Friday night (rather than Saturday morning) I could have started at 7 and would not have been caught out in the Dales in the dark not being able to find a camp spot. So I would not have been so wet, and would have started promptly on Sunday morning. I'd also have left my post ride bag at my daughter's in Leeds rather than carrying it on my back up to Wetherby where we arranged to meet mid afternoon to hand it over. Keep post race plans out of race logistics! Do not ride with a rucksack for 70km! I found out afterwards that I would have broken the rules in the regular event as you have to finish with all the kit you start with. Lesson learnt.

Panniers off for the reserved bike space on Cross Country Trains Bristol Temple Meads to Sheffield
The curved mirrored walkway at Sheaf Square is not flattering to short rotund cyclists!
The ride from Sheffield to Wetherby was a little tedious, I was right to treat that as "getting it done" so the more pleasant roads after Wetherby were much appreciated, especially as I'd left the rucksack with my daughter at the cafe where I devoured a baked potato with beans and cheese, classic audax fare. 

Traffic density plummeted and it was a tonic to be leaving the conurbations behind. Studley Park was the first control and all the NT staff were racing home. It was 6pm already. I walked round and round that church trying to find the opening times, in the end I took pics and googled them. What a waste of time, I hadn't used the time to fuel so a dead 45 mins. Studley Park was lovely though.
CP2 St Mary's Church Studley Deer Park near Ripon

I pushed on towards Pateley Bridge, I had been sensible and looked up "resupply" when planning and knew the Spar in Pateley Bridge was open until 10pm.

Mistake 4 Carrying too much food

I've always toured in the wilds of Scotland/Wales/Lakes/Pennines etc and often there are no shops/cafés for hours or over a day at a time. With Covid this is even more relevant as I had found on my previous two multi day trips this year. So I was carrying enough food to manage for nearly a day, inc a back up pouch of dahl. I was worrying about fading light, couldn't stop for a pizza in Pateley Bridge and rushed round the spar buying random sardines, tea cakes, butter, bananas and a 2l bottle of water etc and then had to carry them in a musette I had bought for just such emergencies. I strapped the water bottle on the rack with a bungee, I'd had to do that in Wales.

Then the hill out of Pateley Bridge was straight up. I wanted to get to the reservoir to camp but by the time I was up the top and could contemplate some flat land it was dark. My new dynamo lights were good but don't stay on walking so I put the spare blinkie on too. I nearly lost the water at one point, all this faff = time. It was raining.

I could see I was at my route end near the reservoir but couldn't see where would be ok to camp, it was very marshy. So I rang a B&B but it turned out their availability calendar was wrong. He took pity on me and said I could camp in the garden if I had breakfast in the morning. It took another 45 mins to get to Grassington, tent up and the very kindly B&B owner made me hot chocolate and a huge slab of cake was brought out. I only had use of a cloakroom and didn't like to wash so it was wild camping really.

Mistake 5 Starting too late again - Sunday

It rained overnight and I packed up a very wet tent in the rain as early as I dared, and had a fantastic breakfast whilst stressing about time. I stashed the food I hadn't eaten from the Spar in panniers and bungeed the wet tent on the rack. 

If only I'd been away at 7.30 and not 9.30. I was repeating my mistakes. On the other hand I needed that breakfast, it was stupendous. A nice level ride out to the 2nd control at Arnicliffe to warm up. The rain was easing.

There was a cyclist lurking, taking pictures of the pub (we had to take a pic at each control, and answer the relevant question, see image above) I took my photo as evidence and she said "are you Fiona?" Turns out it was Sarah, my online cycling/audax friend from Lincoln, we had never met nor had we shared we were entering NotAPN20. This was a big highlight of my weekend, meeting a real live "other nutter but very normal like me" person on the road. We both had the same tent and Sarah had camped near the reservoir and got away much earlier. We both thought we were carrying too much. I think I ate a banana and we nattered a short while and she mentioned something about her route avoiding Butter Tubs. I knew I had big hills all day but did not know if Butter Tubs was one.

CP3 Arnicliffe
Sarah at Arnicliffe
Sarah left a couple of minutes before and I passed her not long after, now I know our routes deviated after that. I was heading towards Fleet Moss and Hawes, another legendary climb I didn't realise was on my route. A brief speedy downhill section and a couple hailed me as I passed "are you actually from Bristol?" I stopped and said "yes" So were they, a few seconds chatting and it turns out he was the Golf Captain at the club Steve plays at, 5 years ago. They were walking the Dales Way and completed it. His wife very kindly found me on Instagram and forwarded the only photo of me (I had declined Sarah's kind offer to take a photo at Arnicliffe.)

I slogged my way up what I now know is Fleet Moss. I was quite glad I hadn't realised the names as I may have psyched myself out. Walking was involved. 

Then a whoosh into Hawes, a touristy busy place that I certainly didn't want to stop in. I knew there was a hill up the other side, a little hill called Buttertubs. 

I took a wrong turn in Hawes and ended up in a café/museum car park with public toilets. Never a pass a public convenience without using it on a bike. I came out and found 4 cyclists, then (too late) I spotted they were from VC167 the arch rivals of Audax Club Bristol whose shirt I am sporting. Colin is the points champion and they dethroned us as national Audax champions last year and luckily they were pretty friendly and I didn't get lynched. They knew all about NotAPN20 as the organisers are in their club (I think) They wished me "bonne route" and said very nice things, very nice folk.
Mistake 6 Not Eating Enough

Buttertubs was conquered very slowly, with more walking. I was hoping for some food at the 3rd control in Keld, an unscheduled tour down into the village looking for the phone box that was on the road at the top. The pub only had tea/coffee and crisps so I drank a pot of tea huddled in the porch as non residents were not allowed to stay inside. I ate some of the rolls I still had from home, but didn't eat enough. I found it hard eating all day.
CP4 Keld
Rolling climbing continued but eventually (4pm?) I could see the Lakeland Fells in the distance and was on the descent to Kirkby Stephen. The vista was just stunning. A highpoint of my weekend. I finally had phone signal so rang my parents in Penrith to say they wouldn't be meeting me for a pub meal in Troutbeck (the Penrith one) tonight, I was way behind! I needed a proper sit down meal and I whizzed down to Kirkby Stephen, an endorphin boosting descent ruined by a beeping car who yelled obscenities at me when it was OK for me to safely pull in to let them past, it was the 3rd car in the queue. The others thanked me. People ugh. But as always, the vast majority are lovely. That was my only incident. Traffic was exemplary otherwise.
I pulled up at the first café in Kirkby Stephen, the White Hare Café. Benches outside, a track stand pump and a very welcoming owner. it was gone 4.30 (Sunday closing time) and his final customers were departing. That was no problem, I was welcomed with open arms, well if we hadn't have been social distancing and all that. I had another baked potato beans and cheese the same as yesterday, brought out in minutes with a huge pot of tea. Maz was concerned at my dilemma re where to camp that night and rushed off to google campsites (which I was also doing!) After a lovely chat and quite impolite shovelling down of food, I paid up and thanked Maz. I used the facilities and on departing he insisted I took a paper bag with a ginormous piece of flapjack in "for the tent later", I had said I would be wild camping somewhere as no campsites on my route. People are just so lovely. I inelegantly pulled on legwarmers and thermal arm warmers to beat the evening chill, the wind was affecting perceived temperature as I was still quite wet. I set out rejuvenated, things were getting better.

The ride across the moors towards Orton was spectacular, we were here on our Dales and Lakes loop at the end of July.

Mistake 7 Not setting up camp early enough - again

I promptly repeated yesterday's mistake. I could have camped on Orton Moor but I was motivated to get as much done to recover the day as possible to make tomorrow less daunting. 

Sunday 6th was also #RaphaWomens100 day and I was not at 100km. I had that motivation to push me on riding with Emily Chappell's "Invisible Peloton", or more accurately my invisible peloton of people who inspire me on the bike. I "rode" with other women around the world vicariously and made my 100km even if not the 100 miles that had been the aim.

The evening sun was stunning, my thermal arm warmers were pushed down. Through Tebay then the drag up on the wide but empty road running parallel to the M6 southbound. I hauled myself up high and finally turned westwards away from the motorway din. Both the light and weather were closing in, I took a side road and stopped at the first decent looking field with a big wall to hide behind with the sheep. I dead lifted my bike over my head, threw the luggage over and carefully climbed the gate near the hinges, only to find a very marshy sloping field with lots of sheep poo. A theme of my wild camping spots it seems. The flattest driest bit was still a sloping and diagonal pitch. No hope of lighting my stove for a drink again. I ate some more rolls from home and the flapjack and tried to sleep. The inside of the tent is also wet from packing it up in the rain this morning.

I started to sort myself out at first light, I had slept very badly again, pulling myself up the mat all night and listening to the persistently heavy rain. This was my view when I thought about a mug of tea at 6am, the rain in my face, I quickly gave up on that idea, it's not safe to light up under the very small porch. My left knee was very sore, there was nothing wrong with it last night, my right knee has been the worry after the accident on Lon Las Cymru 3 weeks ago.
So so wet at dawn on Monday
..so I had 2 tea cakes with slabs of butter for breakfast. This is what it's really like bikepacking. Not staring wistfully at a beautiful sunrise as other bikepacking blogs have you believe.

I was packed up for 7.30, not late today, but I was absolutely drenched with all my cycling kit on including thermal arm warmers, leg warmers, rain jacket. My shoes have been soaked since Saturday.

Mistake 8 Giving up without taking time to regroup

In my head I had already given up. I hadn't considered giving up last night so I didn't even sleep on the idea. I just could not face camping wild again tonight as I was now behind my campsite reservations and it was impossible to rely on getting a site on spec at present due to Covid limitations. I needed dry shorts and a shower as I was suffering already with saddle sores, which has never been a problem for me before this summer.

I huddled under a tree and put Oxenholme station on google maps and listened to the directions. I passed one other cyclist in the opposite direction who turned out to be another All Points Norther, I didn't know at the time, but it was a lovely cheerful greeting from another human. My legs were weary. I turned off my NAPN route. If I'd cycled the same distance west rather than south I would not have been far from Windermere or a cafe or a supermarket. Then I could have regrouped, looked at my phone in the dry so I could see it, realised that Kirkstone was easier than yesterday's hills (which I did know but I wasn't processing) Mainly I could have eaten something and possibly booked some dry accommodation for that night. I would not have scratched so early if my head had been playing ball.

I rolled into Oxenholme, bought a ticket and sat down on the platform to wait an hour for the train to Penrith. I felt a bit pathetic. I do know that I doubt I'd have made the whole course, perhaps across to Berwick and down to Durham but my saddle sore problems were ramping up. I need to get that sorted out. It was just ironic that the injured knee that nearly prevented me starting was absolutely fine. The other knee had swelled sleeping at an angle over night, I couldn't walk on it once I stopped cycling and it was OK 48 hrs later. I think my sort of cycling is more about damage limitation.
Scratched and waiting for a train at Oxenholme

Mistake 9 Having comprehensive bail out plans

Perhaps my head failed me because it was easy for me to bail at that point. I had my parents in Penrith to descend upon, if I'd got to Blanchland my route then went past my brother's house in Durham and my daughter lives in Leeds. I had my railcard and lots of stations to get a train from. 

Not All Points North was my first ever multi day endurance cycling event. So perhaps it was an inspired way to learn. After all, my first multi day solo trip had only been 3 weeks before and I had been injured for the intervening tapering period. That certainly did not leave me in the ideal focussed frame of mind. I'm certainly less fit than I was in March going into UK Lockdown as I have had no access to the gym up to now, I don't own a turbo trainer and have ridden less miles than normal too this year.  I was very cross with myself on the train, it did not occur to me to get off in Penrith buy another ticket and go back to Oxenholme and just get on with it.

I have not been put off, I will apply myself and give myself a better chance next year. I am not in it to win it, just in it to prove to myself that I can get round without relying on anybody else. I will down that emergency gel before deciding I was too hungry and lethargic to just continue slowly until I eventually came to a café.

Thank you to All Points North organisers for opening up an informal event in this strange disjointed year, not charging a penny for the great privilege of taking part and making it a really special accessible event. I loved it, even if their were times I questioned my sanity that is what endurance cycling is about. I have written this blog post to remind me next time what not to do.

The biggest hurdle was entering, and actually starting. So really I'm pretty proud of myself for psyching myself up. I didn't think I'd meet another participant and I did and the social media interaction made me feel like I was part of the event even if I felt a bit of a fraud entering. 

I'm wistful that I didn't see the AONB around Silloth, didn't make my planned sidetrips into Kielder Forest and Lindisfarne, nor the fantastic café at Blanchland my brother had told me about. I still haven't been to the Yorkshire Moors. I will return. I love it #upnorth 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Summer 2020 Tour Part 2 - C2C Tyne and Wear and Hadrian's Wall Thurs 30th July-Sat 1st Aug 2020

After a day of rest at mum and dad's on Wednesday in Penrith to recuperate (only involving a walk up Aira Force) after our 3 day Dales and Lakes Loop, we were in a fit state to continue with our C2C on Thursday. All our stinky kit had been washed and tent/sleeping bags were now dry. Ironically, Wednesday was a perfect cycling day. No point in stressing that fact. Blue loop anticlockwise this time, again over three days.

Day 1 Penrith to Waskerley via Hartside 86km 1657m

After the unplanned drying out, washing kit and recovery day at my parents (was supposed to be overnight only) we were set up for the rest of the classic C2C via Hartside and Alston with wonderful contrasting cycle paths both wild and urban.What a fabulous day. Up and down dale. 

After a decent breakfast we headed out the wrong side of 10am. Wet out of Penrith of course and through Langwathby retracing the start of Part 1. 
I'm sure transport planners put these signs up to scare cyclists, no I didn't crash into the sign.
...and up we go on the lanes.
We came into Hartside from a back lane, far less traffic than the main road all the way. Now that looks a good descent!

That road is not flat up to the junction! Hard work, but once we were on the main road we were nearly there. The one advantage of bad weather is far less traffic to contend with, all quite pleasant in spite of the rain. It's advisable not to attempt Hartside at a weekend, a favourite haunt of motorbikes en masse. The few we saw were all very considerate with many waves and nods of helmets, reciprocated of course.
Of course the very familiar café did not come into view, it burnt down a couple of years back so just the summit sign, car park and a burger van.
Rain evidence!
Now Steve loves a burger and greasy spoon and I am a real snob about fast food, I just don't like it unless very good quality. However, even I'm not going to disallow a burger after that effort, and quite fancied a cup of tea myself. The fact we had a rest day was to our advantage as apparently the burger stand is only open Thursday-Sunday, and only a couple of other workers in vans, cyclists and motorcyclists around, so no wait.

Unfortunately for Steve he had to share his burger, turned out it was fantastic, butcher quality, freshly cooked, masses of toppings. Big up for the burger van at Hartside Summit! Allegedly the sausages are just as good.
Although we had been sheltering under the portakabin to eat our burger and drink our tea it was starting to dry up but quite breezy still. Not really end of July weather.
Alston was not that far. A cross roads of bike routes at the highest market town in the country, complete with it's own pavé. We stopped at Blueberry's Café eventhough it wasn't justified in distance, we are on holiday after all. It was a traditional Pennine café last year but during lockdown it had been re imagined as a high quality local produce general stores with 1 cafe table inside but outside seating. I had my daily latte and some cake for pudding. Independent businesses need all the support they can get. Cyclists can't bring all their provisions with them so tend to spend more locally on food etc even if we don't buy souvenirs!
The Northumberland sign evoked images of cavalry chasing across the moors in times gone by.
A couple on mountain bikes stopped too and kindly took a pic for us, yes we all used hand wipes etc

I never knew about the Prince Bishops.
A scenic and lumpy ride to Allenheads, again tempted by a cafe but just popped in the spotless public conveniences and off to Stanhope.
Stanhope was lovely and slap bang opposite the church was the most traditional fish and chip shop ever. 
So fish and chips and curry sauce for early "chippy tea" it was. We sat out of the wind admiring the church, very pleasant even if my photo makes us look like it was just the bins for company. Very fine fish and chips too, hot oil so fresh and beer batter crispy.
We did know there's a bloody big hill out of Stanhope up to Waskerley. My goodness we knew it after fish and chips! Conquered without walking and off onto the gravelly Waskerley Way. I made use of the obligatory bike stands bike paths always seem to have at the start, and a nice sculpture too. Plenty of old pit railway lines make a fabulous network of bike paths in County Durham.
We wombled off along the moor, all too open to camp discretely here. We dropped down into the wooded area and managed to find somewhere out of sight in the end, but in midge central. The tent went up fast and we got in it faster. The half dozen that accompanied us inside ate me to death all night, Steve didn't get one bite. But it was the only time we put up a dry tent woo!

Day 2 Waskerley to Prudhoe via Durham Sunderland and Newcastle 114km 571m

The forecast random heatwave day was today, almost all on bike paths. Our midgy camp spot...
Forced out of the tent by heat (what's that about?!) we packed up and lugged everything back onto the path and cycled up to one of the many benches to brew up. Breakfast on a bench on Waskerley Way is how every morning bikepacking/cycletouring should begin. It's how I always imagine our tours will be. Folk out early, mainly blasting up and back on their own enjoying the early morning solitude (I presume from Consett) every single one of them grinning from ear to ear with a welcoming "morning" greeting and smiling nods. 
We packed the stove away and continued down to Durham, deviating from the C2C for old times sake. Today is quite long but no hills, Steve was quite looking forward to a no hills day.

We came across a garden centre type cafe and had a second breakfast coffee and cake and almost immediately came out onto the road, past my brother’s house (he’s still in Eskdale) and onto Steve’s Granny’s house a couple of miles away where he was born, and the first member of his family I met as she used to feed us huge afternoon teas when we went over on the bus at weekends. It's coincidental that my brother has ended up in Durham, we were not brought up there.

Onto Sunderland, via Chester le Street, where we met at Sunderland Poly Rag Ball in 1985. All I can say that Sunderland has changed beyond recognition, I'm not sure I ever went by the river. Our university days were to the backdrop of the Miners' strike and mass unemployment. I did ride a bike around town but that was it.

It was so hot but a lovely route for an urban area. Roker Beach was heaving for the finish of our C2C . After a peaceful morning the hoards were a slight shock. It wasn't that bad, just felt crowded in comparison.

A couple of obligatory photos and onto South Shields passenger ferry to Tynemouth. 

Just before the ferry my bike seized and clanked alarmingly. I stopped quickly, a bolt had come out of the rack and it had dropped down. We stole one bolt from a water bottle holder and cable tied the water bottle holder on. Note to self: must go and put another bolt in, I'd forgotten about that!
We waited for the ferry and crossed over the Tyne to Tynemouth, the alternative is a passenger/bike tunnel but it was far too nice for that. We hadn't found "end of C2C" evidence in Sunderland but did find end of NCN72 Hadrian's Cycleway's "evidence" as huge buoys. Most start in Ravenglass and loop via Whitehaven to Silloth and then Carlisle and Hadrian's Wall through Newcastle to the end here in Tynemouth. Of course were were planning on most of the route the wrong way round. We didn't see a soul cycling the route our way, we were against the tide.

After another picture Steve vetoed "flogging" out to the lighthouse, as he put it, and we found an outside table at a dockside pub, where the road had been pleasantly closed for social distancing, and had a mid afternoon pint whilst people watching in the shade.
After the cool down we followed the Tyne all the way to Newcastle. and had an excellent cup of tea and chocolate caramel slice to share late afternoon at the Bike Hub. it was so good we went back for a second slice. No hardship being outdoors now. We've not gone short of refreshments today and have drunk gallons of water.

Past the Sage, Gateshead Millenium and Tyne bridges. We stayed in an apartment by the Sage with the whole family 5 years ago when #2 daughter graduated from Northumbria, #1 also came to Newcastle for university, so we used to be up twice a year for six years ferrying them.
...and all the way out to Prudhoe past George Stephenson’s house. Such a lot of contrasts but bike paths are hard work, all the stopping and starting and pedestrian avoidance doesn't make fast progress. It was all so lovely, I'd been expecting a lot of run down urban sprawl out of Newcastle but it was very rural very quickly.

We had managed to secure a camp site for tonight, more Wylam than Prudhoe so we doubled back down the other side of the bank from Prudhoe back towards Wylam again. We found the deserted campsite and they wanted £30 a night! £15 had been quoted as you'd expect for a backpacker rate for 2, turns out that was per person, there were two other tents on the scrappy rough field, the rest of the site was old static caravans. They honoured the £15 in the end. I'm not paying £30 for a shower. I'm sure Wylam was the only place to have rain that day. It ironically started as the tent was pitched. We phoned the local pub and luckily got a table and after a lovely (hot not rain) shower, I finally scrubbed off all the splatted midges and suncream, we rode down for a lovely meal in Wylam itself, actually inside. It felt reasonably normal, although incredibly quiet for a Friday night. The Ship Inn does fabulous food if you're ever passing. The highlight of Steve's holiday, other than the rest day. Lights on for the return trip.

Day 3 Prudhoe to Penrith via Hadrian's Wall Headwind 123km 1790m

I think I may have broken my husband today. Another long and hilly day via Hadrian's Wall and at Brampton then peeling south and back to Penrith was the plan.
It was wild and remote but a very different feel up top here to the classic C2C Pennines route, following Hadrian's Wall route in reverse. Today was much cooler with plenty of hills and cycling into a stiff westerly headwind and showers.
Steve was struggling, we took 4 hours to hack a lumpy 45km and finally found an excellent lunch stop at Bardon Mills, a perfect café/village shop with the owner doing absolutely everything on his own. We ordered toasties and coffee and sat outside sheltered from the wind and I contemplated the time, it was 1pm. Our toasties came and we ate them and then ordered another drink, so I knew Steve was delaying, and I bought some shortbread to take away whilst inside. 

When planning I had registered the frequent train stations from which we could abort the trip if need be. There was no way we could continue at this rate and get back before dark and I didn't want Steve to suffer anymore, it's not wise with a heart condition, so I told him he was getting the train back. I think he was quite relieved, he didn't want to spoil it for me. after buying a tic online, he headed off to get the train back to my parents in Penrith via Carlisle and I continued, with the shortbread stowed for power fuelling. I had 80km left and I tried to put my foot down. Haltwhistle was lovely too but the hills just kept on coming.  

I turned off the route at Brampton and headed south heading for Lazonby, the sun was peeping through and finally I had just a crosswind to contend with. I was really enjoying myself. After yet another hill I stopped on a wall at 100km  and admired the view to the west and ate my shortbread. I had 25km left. It was idyllic. I had a message from Steve to say he got back to Penrith, it's not easy to get on a mainline train from Carlisle with a bike at the best of times never mind just now, so that was a relief.

I chopped out a gratuitous Beacon Edge at the end. I got back after 7 with some jocular teasing "what kept you?" I was so pleased we finished the plan of basically 3 routes over two tours Steve had completed the vast majority.

It was hard with Covid limitations but we mainly managed to forget all that stuff. Just being free outside with tough physical challenges is a diversion from working too hard the past few months. Absolutely loved touring still, and felt like we recovered some fitness. It was wonderful to see my brother and family on the campsite in Eskdale (and pass their front door in Durham too!) and especially my parents after a long 6 months. Life is for living, sometimes plans have to change but go out and take what you can. Live each day. Be free. Appreciate what you have. Keep Pedalling and you get there eventually. 650km and nearly 9000m of climbing in 6 days is not that bad really!
The view from my wall.