14 May 2008

Coast to Coast

So, we did it! 140 miles, 3 days, hard work but lots of fun. We were blessed with good weather most of the time. We did drive to Carlisle in the end - in hindsight it might have been better not to, or perhaps we should have worked out parking more carefully, as it took us a while to find some - but once we did, finding the railway station and getting a train to Whitehaven was straighforward enough. It wasn't very busy, so the guard was happy to let four bikes in, rather than the theoretical two.
Friday night tea at Whitehaven's Weatherspoon's, washed down with London Pride (3pts) - it wasn't that bad then. The B&B in Whitehaven shall remain unnamed, as I don't feel like recommending it. The landlady was friendly enough, bless her, and breakfast was good old traditional stuff - though she did make us porridge on request. It was the little things - the unwashed tea cups in the room, so-so toilets... perhaps we just didn't like Whitehaven.
At breakfast we met two other 'lads' - they were doing the C2C in two days! True enough, later on we found them at the starting point and they took our pictures - the traditional 'dipping the wheel' C2C shots. We sort of rode together for a while out of Whitehaven, then they pressed on - fitter than us by a long chalk. It was a very smooth ride until we got to a place called High Lorton. Then a long, hard climb began and that set the tone for the following day and a half - if the road goes up, it will go down, and viceversa. We reached Keswick for lunch - a couple of diabolical sandwiches from the Co-op - and then pressed on to Penrith, where we got at about 6.30pm. Along the way, I had an encounter with some llamas - these ones being taken for a walk by some people who clearly held them in high regard (while in Peru they are despised as unsociable and inedible animals).
Penrith was good. We stayed at the Fellfoot Independent Hostel - and found it very good. No TV, but a very friendly welcome and relaxed atmosphere, with people who understood what we were doing. Lavish, healthy, no-fry-ups breakfast - too much of it, perhaps? - and bags of good advice on where to eat and drink in the town, and how to get out of Penrith while avoiding the initial big climb of the standard C2C route. Recommended
Day 2, then, started with a slight detour, then we went on to Little Salkeld Watermill where we had a cup of tea, organic and all. The weather by then was very hot, and the climbs got longer and more difficult, culminating by lunch-time at the Hartside Cafe - the highest cafe in England (1903ft). Lunch at such scenic location made us think, foolishly, that the worst was behind us. In fact, hours of climbs and descends through what I by then had nicknamed 'dead rabbit country' awaited us - Garrigill, Nenthead, Allenheads, and finally, Rookhope and the eponymous Rookhope Inn. This was very good in its own style - a very traditional inn, with en-suite, good food and good beer - and even some very intimate live music by what seemed to be three generations of a family, grandad playing the concertina, mum the Bodhrán, dad the guitar and daughter guitar, ukelele and beautiful voice. Ah, and the family dog keeping us company, especially Ian who seemed to get on well with the little beast.
Sadly, because it was Monday, the inn were short of staff so we had to skip the cooked breakfast we had been looking forward to (they gave us a generous discount in compensation). We ate a couple of nutrigrain bars and set off, fully expecting the great weather of the previous two days to continue. Oh shock, oh horror. As we started climbing the Rookhope Incline (a mile-long uphill path, the list big climb of the whole C2C route) we realised it was very foggy and much cooler than previously. The incline, in those conditions, proved diabolical and we were getting very cold.
Luckily, just as our morale was about to decline, we stumbled upon the Parkhead Station. I wonder if it would have made a better stop, in hindsight, than Rookhope - if only because then one ends day 2 on a (literal) high, then day 3 is all downhill. In the event, it proved to have excellent coffee and bacon & sausage barms, a real life-saver in the circumstances, and friendly staff with Sustrans connections. They assured us the views there are great - as it was, you could only see 15 feet ahead - we just sped away towards the coast.
We decided that, for efficiency, we'd end up in Sunderland rather than Newcastle - the latter is fine if you are being picked up at the end point by the sea, but we had to take a train to Carlisle and it made more sense to reach the sea in Sunderland then train via Newcastle. In the end, we didn't quite touch the sea - yes, there was no 'wheel dipping' ceremony in the North Sea shores, but it is the getting there that counts and we were pressed for time, OK?.
Main lessons from the whole experience:
1. Train more! We did the right kind of training, but nowhere near enough of it.
2. Look after your bike - my bike behaved well but that overhaul less than 2 weeks before setting off revealed plenty of teething troubles - and could have been worse
3. Pack light. No, really: pack light! Ian and I managed to jettison fully half of all our stuff at the end of day 1, which we offloaded on a friend of Ian's who lives near Penrith - this despite the fact
I had carefully compiled a packing list that I deemed to include only 'essential' items (I've also written a 'calculator' to assess time needed for the ride, based on parameters).
People at work have asked me if I feel alright after doing this. I tell you: I feel great! and I would do it all again tomorrow if I could. It was worth every minute.

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