Tuesday, 22 July 2008

DAY 4 – MONDAY, JULY 21ST - Longtown, Cumbria to Edinburgh – 85 miles

Gary slept like a log – although sadly I couldn’t sleep thanks to his constant snoring. Breakfast was provided by the landlady, who didn’t once crack a smile. My morning pronouncements on expected mileage were greeted with amusement by Gary, who has taken to referring to them as ‘the Iraqi Propaganda Ministry bulletins' in debt to 'Comical' Ali's bulletins on the ‘success’ of the second Iraq War.

But, after getting eye medication for Gary, we are finally faced with a beautiful sunny day with little sign of wind and we crossed into Scotland without much problem.

A landslide on the A7 looked set to cause an even longer day. Instead – after a short B-road diversion – we were back on the road, but minus lorries and many of the cars, which had been re-directed. An incredible piece of fortune for us!

With perfect conditions this looked like the first day we could get ahead of ourselves and actually enjoy what we set out to do, stopping at Langholm for an early break. The countryside was now very beautiful and the gentle gradient of the road wound through the surrounding mountains to give a long downhill to Hawick for a quick re-supply.

A perfect day to ride the perfect road...?

Heading to Selkirk there was a series of three hills, which felt pretty much up and straight down again. By this time I've learnt that Gary likes to take his hills 'steadily' (ie slowly), so lunch was a welcome break.

We continued on to Galashiels and to what threatened to be a big hill, but for once the landscape was kind as well as beautiful and the hill never really appeared. Instead there was a steady rise to a plateau.

When we reached the top we could see Edinburgh a mere 15 miles away. And with 12 miles to go Gary declared that the ride was effectively completed – even if he fell off or had a puncture he could still stagger to the finish.

The final miles were mostly downhill, but the traffic built up as we came into the city. But we eventually arrived at Waverley station at 6.30, way ahead of schedule.

Found the very nice hotel and, after a couple of celebratory cans of lager we headed out to meet Gary’s brother Greg to celebrate completing the challenge!

Today's route:

Bike route 288919 - powered by Bikemap 

Next morning Gary was heading back early on the train, whilst I could dawdle around and buy some stinky cheese to take home. A stunning train journey back down the east coast to round off the trip.

In summary what have we learnt?
1. Most importantly, Gary admits that cycling like this is ‘bloody hard’ and you’d have to be an idiot to want to do it. Consequently:
2. Gary’s bike won’t be seeing much use for a while
3. Despite the grumbling and bickering we made it through without killing each other
4. Matthew needs to learn how to read a map properly and tone down the optimism
5. It’s best to unclip your pedals when you come to a standstill on your first ride

Monday, 21 July 2008

DAY 3 – SUNDAY, JULY 20TH - Morecambe, Lancashire to Longtown, Cumbria – 76 miles

We woken up very early by other guests in the B&B – American contractors, apparently working at the local nuclear reactor - snoring and showering. The landlady cooked us a large breakfast and gave us a potted history of the area.

And, on a positive note, the bill went down from the arranged £75 to £45 thanks to me having to sleep on a camp bed, and then even further to £20 when Gary discovered that they didn’t take credit cards – and because he had apparently been ‘good value’…

First up we visited the Eric Morecambe statue on the prom for a photo. One of our greatest comedians, he was actually christened John Eric Bartholomew, but took the stagename Morecambe after the town he was born in.

On the road it was soon clear that my bike was not in the best of shapes, with the pedals making a dreadful (and expensive sounding) creaking noise. Aren’t these expensive machines meant to make things easier?

But, despite a strong wind, it was a sunny morning with clouds racing across the countryside. Limping into Kendal we managed to find a shop to repair the bike, while Gary discovered an M&S to stock up on essential supplies – couscous, salad and fruit – just the kind of fuel you need when using up 6,000 calories a day…

After mucking about for an hour and a half again the next issue was to scale the biggest hill of the ride – the 10-mile, 600m climb over Shap Fell. Actually, with a pretty low gradient, and beautiful countryside, it makes it a surprisingly enjoyable, if far from easy, ride.

Shap Fell - Long, but worth the effort...

After lunch on top of Shap Fell the route showed a gentle downhill/flat ride all afternoon up to Carlisle. But sadly the un-seasonal north wind that had been the bane of the ride so far meant it felt like we were struggling uphill. But at least my pedals weren't making their grinding noise any more.

And Gary's wasn't happy to find out that the route is 10 miles longer than expected again [thank goodness for the new online route planners, this shouldn't happen again!].

But with the help of a pretty level road and little traffic, it was 25 miles – and 2 hours - of surprisingly enjoyable riding to Penrith. Not quite the market town we expected, we sat under a beautiful bandstand for something to eat and drink, circled by young BMXers, while local youths in various ‘pimped’ cars – including a dreadful yellow Nova and a red Citreon AX van - drove noisily around the town’s inner ring road beeping their horns. Quaint it most certainly wasn't...

Cycling another 20 miles into the wind to Carlisle got harder. And when we arrived at 6.30, the place seemed to be full of more ASBO teens and drunks.

The final few miles to Longtown felt even longer and we arrived to find the place shut up, except for an ancient pub serving micro-waved haggis and steak pie. I actually quite enjoyed mine, but Gary's face was a picture! And we were too tired to even crack open a tinnie...

Today's route:

Bike route 288917 - powered by Bikemap 

Sunday, 20 July 2008

DAY 2 – SATURDAY, JULY 19TH - Marple, Cheshire to Morecambe, Lancashire – 76 miles

With appalling weather forecast it was no surprise to wake up to grey skies and steady rain on the second day of the ride. But after an hour of hairdryering wet clothes and a classic greasy breakfast a rather larger problem emerged – neither of us could find the key to the padlock we'd attached to the bikes overnight (NB a dispute still simmers on the issue, but - for the record- Gary had the key last).

Despite repeated searches of bags, rooms and outside the key still wasn’t forthcoming, so we borrowed a (blunt) hacksaw from the landlord to attack Gary’s bike lock. But despite everything you might suspect if you’ve had your bike stolen, the saw did little more than polish the lock’s metal.

We were on the point of either calling a locksmith, or heading home, when the landlady miraculously found the key, behind a door on the landing we weren’t aware existed. It was almost too tidy, almost as if they had hidden the key to wind us up - although it was suspiciously close to where Gary unpacked his gear...

Nearly 2 hours late, and with the idea of visiting my granddad's old house long gone, the delay had at least allowed the rain to mostly blow itself out and we headed off to Manchester in cloud, sun and showers. After stopping at a bike shop for me to buy a new inner tube - and to field the usual questions about my 'Lefty' front fork - we reached the city at lunchtime, in a shower of course. We were further slowed down by having to push the bikes through the pedestrianised city centre before rejoining the A6 on the other side.

The next few hours were a pretty unrelenting slog into the headwind through undistinguished suburbs and rain showers. By Bolton, Gary’s speed had dropped so low (about 7mph) that we faced arriving in Morecambe at 10.30pm. However, backbone stiffened by threats, and with a more determined attitude things got back on track, while the road and weather became increasingly pleasant and the traffic lighter.

Either I've turned into the Michelin Man, or it's very windy!

After my traditional puncture, and the equally usual underestimation of mileage, we arrived into Morecambe at 8 and met the landlady of the lovely 'boutique' B&B who seemed to have started celebrating our arrival early.

Morecambe itself seems to be stuck in a time-warp, with dodgy pubs and takeaways on the seafront. We found a dismal and empty - although pleasingly quiet - pub for a drink and de-brief. Sadly, and despite us being pretty much the only customers, it was suddenly transformed into an equally dismal and empty retro-disco featuring ZZ Top and Deep Purple on the juke box.

However we weren't so disappointed by excellent fish and chips from a shop run by Asian identical twins - which we devoured happily on the windy sea front before heading home for an early night (with me sleeping on a folding bed, thanks to another booking mix-up).

Today's route:

Bike route 288914 - powered by Bikemap 

Saturday, 19 July 2008

DAY 1 – FRIDAY, JULY 18TH - Birmingham to Marple, Cheshire - 88 miles

Having set everything up the night before it was a reasonably early start with porridge and tea, setting off at 9.30.

They're smiling now, but just you wait...

Sadly within 2 miles of my own home we were lost and, as per predictions from the bike shop who fitted his clipless pedals, Gary had forgotten to unclip his shoes when coming to a halt and ended up falling off the bike into oncoming traffic.

Back on track through some of Birmingham's less attractive suburbs it wasn’t long before we were heading out into the countryside. Erdington, Sutton Coldfield and Lichfield all shot past pretty effortlessly, although it always takes a little while to get used to cycling with panniers on. Naturally I'd done no practice rides with them on.

However, short of Ashbourne, and despite every precaution, I got my traditional first-day puncture. I suppose one advantage of their regularity is that I've got pretty quick at changing inner tubes. We were fairly quickly back on track for lunch at Ashbourne.

My usual cycling lunch is a petrol station Ginsters pasty, with chocolate and can of coke. However 'Gourmet' Gary insisted on a proper sit-down meal - blow the time and cost - at a rather fancy 'bistro'.

So 90 precious minutes later we were back on the road. With 50 miles gone, and only another 35 to go I was pretty sanguine. But this was the point at which the landscape, and the weather, changed.

...for the hills to start

Gone was the gently rolling countryside of the morning and instead we were faced with the far more challenging hills of the Peak District [having since checked, this hill is nearly as high as Shap Fell!]. At the same time threatening clouds gathered and the traffic increased on narrow country roads, with large trucks thundering past uncomfortably close.

Despite reasonable progress the hills, and near-torrential rain, began to take their toll by Buxton. Added to which the ride had ended up 12 miles longer - and hillier - than my calculations, which is naturally a downer. I'm always one for combining a challenge with beautiful surroundings, but sometimes you wonder if it wouldn't be easier just to go along the most direct dual carriageway from A to B...

But with lights on, we finally arrived in Marple (the town where my dad grew up) to find the B&B we had pre-booked, on the very road my Granddad lived on.

As we were shown to our double room, we had to quickly point out our marital/relationship situations, the landlord breathed a small sigh of relief: ‘Well we did wonder, you didn’t seem the type. But you never can tell these days’.

Bikes locked in the shed, separate rooms sorted and ablutions completed there was just time for a trip to the local Italian restaurant to stock up on carbs for the coming day.

Today's route:

Bike route 288904 - powered by Bikemap 

Friday, 18 July 2008

Day 0 – Thursday, July 17th - Birmingham

With the start looming, Gary arrived in Birmingham in his lovely Audi ready to be stuffed with carbs, have his bike checked over and get his kit whittled down to fighting fitness. Does anyone really need 6 pairs of underpants and 4 jumpers for a 4-day cycling trip…?

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Birmingham to Edinburgh - Some Background

This enterprise was born out of a late-night argument about the relative difficulty of running and cycling – ie cycling being ‘easier’ than running. As a marathon runner, Gary was correct to point out that, over a given distance, running was harder. But perhaps an 'experiment' was the solution.

So the completely arbitrary challenge of cycling to Edinburgh from Birmingham first seriously came up in early 2008. With plans firmed up in April the challenge was on. Not quite round-the-world, but then both of us have mortgages to pay.

My original plan of covering the distance in three days was, quite understandably, ruled out by Gary as ‘suicidal’ (good job, given my under-estimation of distances!) and the four-day schedule was agreed and training regimes set and kit bought or dusted off and serviced.

Sadly it became very clear that Gary’s commitment to intensive training, meant that he was going to be seriously under-prepared. But no matter, ‘form is fleeting, but class is permanent’ as they say…