Isn’t it true that the ‘exception proves the rule?’ Okay, so one of our nine cyclists was 59 years old, but the other eight were well into their sixties so we’re happy that an aggregated age of 570 meets the group criteria for ‘sexagenarians.’ Five men, four women – all of whom displayed their own particular strengths throughout the five days.
Our task? To dip our back tyres into the Irish Sea at Whitehaven on a Tuesday afternoon and to dip our front tyres into the North Sea at Tynemouth the following Saturday morning. This entails, of course, a tough 140 miles cycle over The Pennines with hard-to-resist real ale quaffing stations, in hotels of varying quality, in between. To be fair, there was commendable restraint on the quaffing front at least until the Friday night in Gateshead. The fact is that this was a demanding event for each and every one of us and though an average of 35 miles might seem quite easy, climbs to the top of the Whinlatter Pass, to Hartside Height (and its oasis of a cafe) and to the highest point in the National Cycle Network at Black Hill stay as reminders to us, as participants, of some of the challenges we faced.
Rather than a mile by mile description, here’s a brief flavour of what our C2C expedition involved:
Training (or lack of it): it is difficult to underestimate the discomfort of undertaking a cycle like this without some training. Sadly, for some of us, amongst whom I include myself, a few weeks of flat cycle training on social rides on a Tuesday evening was a bit inadequate. Those within the group who had put in the hard miles, mainly on the most challenging hills and undulations which Surrey could offer, saw those hours spent as ‘money in the bank’ when the biggest C2C climbs emerged.
Travel: a support van is certainly really helpful if not essential. Taking bikes on trains is not easy, whatever diehards may say, and taking nine bikes is just about impossible. As someone who previously undertook a recce of this cycle solitarily and with a rucksack on my back, let me also say that not carrying your own luggage is certainly desirable. So, big thanks to Dick and his assistant Jules. The train journeys from London and Northampton, undertaken on this occasion, were perfectly good and enabled a punctual 3:30 pm start on Tuesday afternoon. Joanne even pointed out the iconic Flying Scotsman in Carlisle station as an added bonus! Journeys home on the Saturday were equally reliable and, after 30 hours in the saddle, seemed extremely comfortable.
Accommodation: it’s important to know where you need to get each day both as a motivation and as a challenge when the going gets tough. We all adapted: Hazel ate her rare steak without a drop of blood on show, Belinda ate all her own meals, Karen found gluten-free food in the most unlikely places, while Sarah got close to maintaining her healthy diet. Our best stop was the iconic Allenheads Inn – a friendly, quirky, 18th century inn which would win no prizes for modern H & S standards but wins our prize for the most memorable stay. So, the advice is ‘make it memorable.’
Costs: not inconsiderable for sure. The van needs hiring and needs negotiating in a way which leaves you with a low insurance excess. As Dick, our driver, will tell you, low walls are incredibly difficult to see in the wing mirrors and even small dents exceed an insurance excess of £350. Accommodation should be possible averaging @c.£50 per head for bed and breakfast. Train fares, meals, snacks and of course the odd beer or seven all add up. Don’t expect much change from £500.
Cycling: Tuesday afternoon saw a reasonable 21 miles first leg to Low Lorton with just enough of a climb to prepare for the climbs to come! Wednesday’s cycle was challenging certainly and by the time we made the final run-in to Edenhall we were all grateful for the shelter and showers which lay ahead. Thursday and Friday both provided us with tough climbs and exhilarating downhills. It wasn’t long though before we learned to distrust downhills, knowing there would always be ‘payback.’ Friday’s initial climb – described by a local as ‘a complete baaastard’ – made our midday coffee and cake break much deserved. Thereafter that day, the extended cycle track into Gateshead was level…and therefore sheer heaven… other than for one of our cyclists, Pete, who was given the nickname that night of ‘Pete Two Punctures’ – nuff said! Saturday morning should have been a level, lovely run-in to Tynemouth. So it was, to a point, until Chris went flat three miles out from our North Sea destination – or at least his back tyre did. Chris’ decision to scoot or walk his bike those last three miles rather than to call up the van was typical of the spirit this trip engendered. By midday, we were there, together, just as we had started, dipping our tyres into the unwelcoming yet seductive North Sea.
Quotes? Well, of course, they won’t mean that much if you weren’t there but…
- Something you don’t often hear a woman say; Maggie on this occasion, “Ooh – nice tarmac!”
- Paul: “Right hand down a bit, Dick; mind that…er… wall”
- “What can we expect in this next section Clive?” (and, after the answer) “Liar!”
- Clive: “Feel free to overtake; I’m finished.”
- Local farmer: “Ee, you don’t wanna be going down that bloody rood.”
- Jules, with sandwich, to female participant, “Wanna bite of my pork?”
- All participants to Highways Agency van driver on phone who overtook the group as we were turning right, “F***ing arsehole!”
In summary, a fantastic effort by senior citizens who demonstrate how age is just a number and that fitness is available to all who, wherever possible, refuse to be restricted by ill health. Of the three travelling (and walking) supporters two have had cancer, whilst one cyclist has had liver cancer and a liver transplant, one skin cancer, two have had heart attacks, all have had their fair share of health’s ups and downs and one was suffering from shingles during the trip. None were daunted by this task – they were all quite fantastic.
Well done everyone! As I said on more than one occasion, “I am so impressed by your fitness and resilience.”
As the legendary sports commentator, David Coleman, might once have said, “Quite remarkable!”