8th – 10th July 2005
A group of business colleagues from Oldham have ridden the Sustrans C2C route many times over the years, and this year their money raising was to go to Team Ash. What’s more, Gary and I were invited to join them over the three day, 170-mile long ride.
The C2C ride has many options, dependant upon what kind of riding suits the participant. The route that we were to take is generally regarded as the hardest, as it is almost 50% off road, with some tracks passing over 2000 feet in the Cumbrian and Northumberland mountains.
Assembling on the quayside in Whitehaven on Friday morning, the crew consisted of Hugh, Tony, Jeremy, Paul, Phil, Sam, as well as Gary and myself. Also there, with the hardest task of all, was Andy who drove the backup bus, grinding along behind whilst taking care of all our logistical and refreshment needs. We lined up for a group photo, dipped our rear ends in the sea (as is the custom), and without further ado we were off along the disused railway line that runs from the town centre and out into the heart of Cumbria.
Although we had maps, we rarely needed them, as the entire route was marked with blue Sustrans C2C signs. Many thousands of cyclists take part each year, and we came across many others doing the same thing over the three days. The first part of the ride was easy and the weather was hot with no cloud (perhaps a little too hot for some at 80 degrees +), and it stayed so for the entire ride. Eventually we came to the hills, passing through Winlatter forest (the highest forest in England) with its stunning views and hairy descents. Emerging from the forest we took refreshment at the inn, where I was bought a flagon of beer. Not being used to the filthy stuff, I then had a problem with the trees suddenly jumping out into the middle of the track, which was quite disconcerting. Eventually we wobbled into Keswick, had a shave, a shower and a…… er, change of clothes before a hearty night in the town.
Saturday was the day of monster climbs and an early start was necessary. We stopped briefly at the ancient stone circle as we climbed out of Keswick, contemplating the druids of old in what surely must have been the crucible of the Lake District in ancient times. Much huffing and puffing ensued as we slowly made our way over mountain after mountain in the stifling heat, until the lakes were left behind. A quick detour took us to Penrith where Phil bought us all an ice-cream (aptly from an ice-cream trike). I thought we’d done the worst of it, but of course there was a sting in the tale as we rode, pushed, slithered and slogged up the slopes of Hartside Height. We were all flagging by the time the summit was made but, after a quick re-fuel at the inn, we only had a 5 mile downhill blast which took us straight to the Alston youth hostel. Alston was a small town with friendly locals who we kept bumping into as they, and we enjoyed Saturday night on the town (which consisted of several pubs only).
That night, as the night before, Gary got little sleep (in fact no sleep), but this did not seem to be affecting his ability on the bike, as he was flying up the hills like some kind of polka dotted endomorph from the Tour-de-France. Tony was finding the hills hard work as he was suffering more than most due to the heat, but he never gave up even though it would have been easy to just jump in the bus. Sam was doing well as, even though he had youth on his side, he had never undertaken a ride of this length.
The final day started like the last ended, with one big climb after another (5 in all I think), and 70 miles to be covered. Our packed lunches from the youth hostel were swiftly devoured as we took shade from the sun in a bus shelter. Although it was evident that it’s nocturnal function as a public convenience was regularly exercised, we crammed in anyway. This was at the foot of the last climb, which had alarming signs on the gates stating “Beware of adders. If bitten get the hell to a doctor…” At the top of the moor was the start of the Waskerly Way – a 35 mile long disused railway line with a gradual downhill grade which eventually met the sea in Sunderland. Apparently the president of Sustrans, when asked, stated that it was his favourite part of the entire national network. This was like manna from heaven after the hard riding up to that point. The track was dry and the wind was directly on our backs. Although a railway line it once was, it was by no means boring, with many changes of scenery dotted with sculptures and remnants of our industrial heritage.
The gentle slope combined with the wind on our backs, allowed all eight of us to stay together, wheel to wheel, for long stretches at high speeds. Sam was setting the pace early on with all seven tucked behind. The dust being kicked up by sixteen knobbly tyres was quite a considerable portion, and by the time we reached the Stadium of Light we were all caked in the stuff. Gary and I rode along the harbour to the beach for the dipping in the sea of our front bits (as again is the custom), before loading the machines onto the bike wagon, generously supplied by Phil. A quick trip along the promenade later and we were all tucking into well-earned fish and chips.