Coast to Coast Bike Ride

By Tompky - 2:56 AM

Last weekend was challenge number 10 of the 12 I am doing this year for Great Ormond Street Hospital, and one I was not particularly relishing.  As mentioned in previous posts, I am not a great cyclist, and have little experience of doing long distance bike rides, other than the London to Paris route I did earlier this year which was mainly flat and a lot of it was off-road.  Taking on the Coast to Coast from Workington to Sunderland would present a very different challenge with over 9000 of climbing over 2 days.  The other significant challenges was whilst I had my girlfriend Ellie, and her dad Tony, an experienced cyclist himself as my support team, most of the actual riding would be done solo which always makes these things tougher!

Driving across to Workington on Saturday morning, we were aiming to start at 8am, and arrive in Garrigill at around 530pm to complete day 1.  The drive across did nothing to calm me down, driving through pretty torrential rain right up until Workington.  As we approached the lighthouse, as with most of my challenges so far, it appeared we were going to get lucky with the weather again, the rain subsided, the wind dropped, and although it was cloudy I was wrapped up well and didn’t feel the cold.  A few photos later and I was on my way. 

The C2C route is pretty well signposted throughout, although in a few key places it looks like they have possibly been stolen or are too weather-worn to read, so I downloaded the Map My Ride app, where you can select the C2C ride and it will provide you a GPS map to follow all the way.  The first section I did was Workington and Cockermouth which was a good opening section, reasonably flat and either on very quiet minor roads or cycle paths.  It provides a good 8/9 mile warm up to get you prepared for the next couple of days.  I had a brief stop here, caught up with Ellie, and was soon back on my way.  My plan was to see her every hour or so just to check in.  Our next meeting point was Keswick, which was a further 15/16 miles on, so a quick break and I was back on my way.

I rode for a further 5 miles or so, which had got a little bit more bumpy, and I started to use my quads a bit more with a few little climbs that I am sure would be no bother for experienced cyclists, but for a novice they were definitely noticeable.  As I approached Bassenthwaite, this is when I had my first couple of mishaps.  The GPS route I had inadvertently entered was one that had been selected for mountain bikers (double check this when you select the route) which took me on a left turn straight into a farmer’s field.  I was still unaware I was following the mountain bike route, so thought this must cut through back onto a road.  Unfortunately, this left me carrying my bike for a couple of miles through boggy grass fields until I came out at a small opening.  Again, this was unsuitable for a road bike, which meant I had to keep walking until I found a small steep path back towards the road path.  My feet had got damp and I was a bit irritated by the previous couple of miles, so got my head down and ploughed on to Keswick, where again I had a short stop, changed my trainers and socks, had a quick bite to eat and continued on.

The route then continues, pretty much shadowing the A66, crossing each side of it as I headed towards Penrith.  Again, whilst this is probably no problem for an experienced cyclist, for a novice there were several steep, short hills that I really struggled to get any momentum up whilst trying to climb them.  The road continues from Penrith to Langwathby, where I met Ellie again, and was warned by some locals that the next part of the ride is by far the trickiest.  At this point I was 52 miles in, with 17 to go to finish the day although I knew the biggest climb of the whole trip was coming up.  The climb up to the now burnt down Hartside Café, which stands 1900 feet above sea level is long, and again whilst most experienced riders don’t find it particularly steep for me it was a real challenge.  You climb for around 5 miles up to the summit, and there were several sections where I needed to take a break.  For the most part you are on a quiet side road, before joining the main road with approximately 100 metres to go.  The main road is still reasonably quiet, and I was passed by maybe only 5 or 6 cars whilst tackling the last stint.

A quick breather at the top, and I was back on the bike and tackling the downhill summit, which was great!  After such a long climb it feels like you have deserved the freedom of freewheeling back down the other side, picking up decent pace.  This downhill stretch pretty much lasts until Garrigill, minus a few little up and downs along the way.  The light was fading when we reached Garrigill, so I decided to call it a day having reached where I wanted to be after day one.  We headed back to our accommodation in one of the local villages and enjoyed a great night in a local pub, before getting an early night.

We set out the next morning, and again decided to start at 8am, with the last 57 miles expected to take to just after 5pm.  On all the forums I had read prior to the ride, they had said that the 10 miles between Garrigill and Allenshead was the toughest part of the ride, and it didn’t disappoint.  Almost immediately after leaving the village you turn right into a steep incline, which then leads to another steep incline, which then flattens out before another steep incline and so on until you are well and truly out of breath.  This was a really tough section, and Tony and Ellie were stopping at the top of each section encouraging me on which was massively needed.  It was a real wake up in the morning but after these 10 miles, it was then on to Stanhope, which was probably my favourite section of the ride.  It was reasonably flat, on a good road, and I felt after the climbing of the previous night and the morning it felt like a decent rest period.

From Stanhope the route is then meant to head north, up the Waskerley Way, however Tony recommended against that, saying it was not tarmacked in places and increased the likelihood of punctures, so I decided to press on to Wolsingham and then take a left towards Lanchester.  Again, these roads were fine and quiet although there were a few more hills than it looked like would be on the Waskerley Way.

From Lanchester I joined a cycle path that signalled 6 ½ miles to Consett.  Whilst this bit was flat, the terrain was not tarmacked, and was more compacted gravel, which caused quite a bit of friction between road and wheels, so it felt like I couldn’t really pick up any pace at all.  Around a mile outside of Consett it turned to a great tarmacked track which meant the pace could be picked up and felt like I was making progress again.  From Consett it is pretty much one straight line to Sunderland, passing through Washington.  The path is pretty good between this stretch although there are a few bits where it turns into more of a footpath and the going gets a bit tough particularly on a road bike.  Between Washington and Sunderland there are a few points where the signage isn’t great, which was proven by Tony setting off from Sunderland to meet me, and despite supposedly us being on the same path we inexplicably missed each other.  Fortunately, after all his efforts, his superior cycling still meant that he beat me back to the finish and was there to see me to the finish.

Approaching Roker was a great feeling, and you come along the river before it opens out and you can finally see the sea.  The pier with the lamppost then comes into view which is a fantastic end to the ride.  Overall it was a tough ride for me, novice cyclists like myself will find some of the climbs hard, and ultimately some of them had to be walked/run up.  The route keeps you off any major road which was a bit of a relief, as it always makes me a bit uncomfortable with cars whizzing past me.  The scenery was great throughout riding through the Lake District, but it is a bit of a relief when you get to the County Durham side and it all flattens out a bit!

As always, I am doing these challenges to raise as much money as possible from Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, if you would like to donate please do à www.

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