If a bicycle ride is just training for a different bicycle ride, then I think it is losing out on the opportunity to be something beautiful in its own right. My training for London Edinburgh London has been an adventure all of its own and this 400km solo diy audax was another example of a complete event without reference to any other event.
With a 400km piece of string and a map of the country to play with, planning a long distance cycling event allows me the freedom to see what wonderful places I can visit in one day. Sometimes I over-stretch myself, such as on my failed 600km ride around the Wolds, Moors, Dales and Pennines. However I couldn’t know whether I was being over-ambitious until I tried; so this ride took me from the outskirts of Hull, west to York Minster, north to Durham Cathedral, south to the North Yorkshire Moors, east to the coast, and finally home through the Yorkshire Wolds.
As an Assistant Curate in the Church of England, and with only one day off each week, fitting in a 400km ride took some creative thinking – and with permission to miss Evening Prayer I set off late on a Sunday afternoon, around 4pm. There were nothing but flat empty country roads between home and York, so I slipped a pair of headphones in and listened to some music as I rode along: Portishead / Orbital / DJ Shadow / Massive Attack / Rachel Sermanni…
The music seemed to fit both my mood and the cadence; I hardly noticed the time pass as I found myself rolling into York and unplugging the headphones as I prepared to raise my alertness level to deal with the traffic. Earlier in the day I’d been at York Minster to see some friends Ordained as Deacons in the Church of England, and here I was back again but with a slightly longer journey ahead.
I slipped my headphones back in again as I headed north from York. The late evening sun was fighting with the clouds as orange bursts stabbed through light grey nondescript duvet-clouds.
Mr and Mrs Weather-soothsayer had used our national broadcasting company to foretell of a ‘weak weather front with light rain overnight’. I do not put my trust in these magicians and their divination of percipitation likelihoods – but I had packed a coat. I wondered whether this blanket of cloud would keep me warm overnight.
I popped into the Angel at Topcliffe for a coffee and to bemuse the Sunday pub-goers with my clothing antics. Slipping arm-warmers on in a pub is probably acceptable, but rolling up the leg of cycling shorts and pulling on leg-warmers is très risqué. God knows that the flesh of the upper thigh is a temptation; the sight of which is to be abhored. I’ll be in trouble for that then – I certainly had odd looks from the family at the table next to me. On a different note, I’ll never forget the sight of a dozen cyclists applying sudocrem to their undercarriage while stood outside the Sun Inn at Long Marston on the 3 Coasts 600.
90km cycled and I was beginning to get into the groove of this thing. Perhaps it is sacriligious to suggest that some roads are boring – but those flat roads from Hull through York and up to Topcliffe were made bearable by the soothing soundscapes I was listening to on my headphones. Now, as the road was starting to undulate a bit more, the scenery was also starting to warm up. Jaipur on the outskirsts of Thirsk added a bit of Indian spice to the view with their Rickshaw.
Six hours had passed and I was now into Darlington with the hope of a pint at the Quakerhouse. Starting at 4pm was causing me some confusion because I knew I needed to eat, but that I hardly felt as though I’d got into the ride properly. The trouble was that I wasn’t going to find anywhere to eat before too long and needed a plan. As I took some rest and enjoyed a pint of Avenoir a delicious Oatmeal Stout from Yorkshire’s Hop Studio brewery, I remembered a 24 hour fast-food place just outside Ferryhill and set my mind to stop there for my evening meal.
As a member of the VC167 cycling club who lives a long way from most of the club’s members in the northeast, it felt good to be riding the A167 past Newton Aycliffe: riding through our club’s heartland. I waved a social hello to the club as I passed on my way towards the climb through Ferryhill.
Roadworks and traffic control lights which have not been set up to allow cyclists to get through are a problem. I waited for the green-light and set off on the climb – only to be met by cars coming the otherway once the traffic lights had chosen to ignore me. Thankfully I was met by tolerent and understanding motorists who gave me room to continue to the top.
I pulled into Ferryhill’s deserted fast food place, was welcomed by the staff, and invited to bring my bike in too. The nerve jangling colors (I would type colours but they were clearly colors not colours), the fluorescent lighting and the greasy food made me feel more tired than I was expecting. I checked the time and it was about midnight. Okay – so with 160km covered in seven hours I had an excuse to be a little on the tired side. However the warmth of the welcome, and the hospitality of having hot food at this time of night was appreciated and it was nice to chat to the team there. Unfortunately as I set out again the ‘light weather front’ had arrived and the drizzle was starting.
I had a feeling that the weather would be fine once I turned south and all I had to do was reach Durham just up the road. I was aiming for the place I lived while studying at Theological College: a housing estate in the car park of the University of Durham Hospital. After reaching my turning point I felt the urge to ride up to the Cathedral and get a photograph there – in the town I was met by a blithering-drunkard who suggested stealing my bike would be easy. I gave him my best Paddington Bear ‘hard stare’.
In the wind and the rain I left Durham and headed south following the A177 through Coxhoe, Sedgefield and into Stockton-on-Tees. With the rain quite heavy in Sedgefield I did try to find some shelter but the church porch was firmly locked and all I could find was a modern bus-shelter without a proper bench. I slipped on some hilariously orange overshoe, and countined south into Stockton-on-Tees and the empty streets.
Although tired, I was enjoying myself. There was an other-worldliness to the experience and a freedom of having the world to myself. I’ve talked before about how my understanding of Holy Scripture can change with a minor shift in perspective. There is a line about ‘even darkness is not darkness to you’. Many years ago, I used to think of God as a stern holy-policeman checking up on whether I was good or bad; which makes this ‘darkness not dark to you’ sentence a bit threatening. My perspective shifted once, alone in the North Yorkshire Moors, when I realised that this wasn’t about hiding from God, it was about not being lost from God. Even the darkness is not dark to you – there is nowhere I can be lost from God. God will be with us everywhere. We will not be alone. We can’t be lost from God by mere darkness.
I rolled through Ingleby Barwick admiring the completed dual carriageway and the vast junctions for moving cars around efficiently. I felt my cycling prescence would be less welcome in a few hours. The problem with taking Monday off work is that all the ’24 hour’ facilities are closed over Sunday night. I found a Co-Op that would open at 5am, but as it was only 4am I didn’t want to waste an hour waiting. I continued to Hutton Rudby.
Now the dozies hit me. I weaved across the empty road. Half asleep in the saddle.
I was dreaming about cycling. Then I was cycling. Then I was dreaming. Then I was jolted upright.
I needed to stop and managed to keep going to Stokesley where I found a wooden bench in the rain. I unwrapped my emergency foil blanket and laid underneath it on the bench. Sleepiness and soundscapes were going to follow me throughout my ride. The gentle patter of drizzly rain on an aluminium foil blanket which rustled as I moved helped me to drift away.
The shock of a twinge of cramp had me awake five minutes later.
This wasn’t going to work – I wrapped up the foil blanket and looked for the Co-Op in Stokesley. It was 5am, but this Co-Op didn’t open until 6am… blast. I carried on without food or water. Next stop? The depths of the North Yorkshire Moors.
I was very careful with the braking on the steep descents and simply picked the lowest gear I had for the 20% climbs. All I had to do was balance and pedal one foot in front of the other. Balance was a problem. The world wanted me to go to sleep. The rain warmly caressed my face, the rivulets of water gurgled down the roadside. The dawn was coming and the Curlews were circling me; hauntingly crying cour-leee, cour-leee. The wind brushed the tops of the purple heather creating a white noise that was cancelling out my brainwaves – making me think I was already asleep.
I reached Castleton utterly exhausted. It was 6:15am and the Co-Op opened at… 7am. Well, there was nothing for it. I wrapped the foil blanket around me, sat on a bench and closed my eyes. The warmth of the sun felt like an extra blanket on me, the shelter from the wind allowed me to drift off and I forgot myself for 30 minutes. I must have looked like a mess to those passing by on their way to work. Bright orange overshoes – silver foil blanket, yellow and black coat. Head slumped.
I woke at 7am as the Co-Op opened and felt much better – a freshly baked pastry, can of red bull and a pot of Muller rice gave me the energy I needed to tackle the highest section of the route. I’d not forgotten my spork either – so I ate the Muller rice like a human.
Clouds were rolling in on a strengthening wind, the tops of the moors were painted grey. I climbed from Castleton looking for Ralph’s Cross and the highest point on the North Yorkshire Moors – the point from which ‘it would be all downhill’. Over the top I crawled and then suddenly found myself a different cyclist as I was able to sit upright, enjoy the view and gain speed all the way down to Hutton-le-Hole; bunny-hopping the cattle grid as I entered the village.
The night has passed, and the day lies open before us;
let us pray with one heart and mind.
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever.
In Malton I found the Cake-a-licious cafe and sat down to a cooked breakfast. I was finding my appetite again and ready to renew my strength. Strength that was needed to climb Horse Course Lane from Settrington, but once over the top I was blessed with the longest gentle descent to freewheel along, with stunning views either side, all the way to Lutton where the tailwind really took hold and pushed me along through the Yorkshire Wolds. Village after village, church after church, pub after pub… I found myself bowling along beautifully and wondering, “Is the sea over that hill” time and again.
Eventually Flamborough arrived and I chose to cycle a bit further to reach the lighthouse and views from Flamborough Head. I find it emotionally rewarding to reach significant points while travelling and this was one more special place to add to my overnight experience.
Oh boy was I in trouble again. The wind that had been my friend was now my enemy. My worst enemy. I could barely move forwards and my speed dropped to single digits as I wrestled the pedals round in circles. All I had to do was follow the coast south a little and then turn west – but the wind had other ideas. I crawled into Bridlington and along the seafront before heading truly west into the teeth of the ‘light weather front’.
Each village I passed through was a relief as I stopped for another drink, another chocolate bar, another ice cream – anything to keep me moving. The effort was beginning to show in the soles of my feet. No longer sleepy-tired, but energy-tired I struggled forwards. 60km of unrelenting effort. At last I reached a kink in the route that had me facing south once more and I rejoiced that I’d reached South Dalton. There is an amazing Michelin star gastro-pub there, the Pipe and Glass. However the curse of Monday was going to have one last kick at me – yes, it was closed. The lack of headwind made a big difference though and with only one hour more riding I made it home.
Shower / food / celebratory beer… obligatory upload to Strava… forwarding files to AUK DIY organiser… then sleep… sleep… sleep.
Waking up on Tuesday I felt amazing. I’d done it – only my third ever 400km event. I’d visited York, Durham, the North Yorkshire Moors, and the coast all in one go: and they are all places which I delight in seeing. This adventure was over and as well as being an event in its own right, it also ticked the last of my #LEL preparation rides.