Sunday, 17 April 2016

Ampleforth 200

I've found recovering from the 400km Easter Arrow has taken longer than expected. I rode out to Swainby from Durham to visit my Spiritual Director and although it was only 115km I was flagging towards the end, my pace getting slower and my perception was that I had little available energy. On top of this all my bikes needed servicing. I'd lost some mojo!

The sun came out this week and I thought I sensed my energy and enthusiasm lift. It is said that 'winter miles = summer smiles', but perhaps 'winter miles = cold and grumpy cyclists'. Well, I'll see when the summer finally returns.

So I opted for an traditional do-it-yourself audax event, collecting receipts to prove I'd travelled the places I planned in advance. I spoke to Joe, my local diy audax organiser and he approved my Durham - Stokesley - Ampleforth - Masham - Durham suggestion. With audax, all I had to do now was navigate my own way between them and prove I'd been there.

Just after 6am on Sunday morning, I left my start location at Durham University Hospital. The sun was already in the sky, but it was freezing after the cloudless night. There was ice beside the road and I was wrapped up warm.

Once again I was onto familiar roads, following the A177 down to Bowburn, nipping over the hill in Coxhoe and rejoining the A177 down to Sedgefield, accompanied by the dawn chorus of hedgerow birds. Sticking with the A177 which was almost deserted, I continued to Stockton-on-Tees but then opted for a deviation from Ingleby Barwick - instead riding through Thornaby.

The quieter roads between Maltby and Stokesley were still frosty so I was cautious, but extremely grateful for the deep winter gloves and fleecy windproof cycling jersey.

In Stokesley, cyclists were gathering for their Sunday club run. I grabbed a receipt from a cash machine and then headed towards Bilsdale but as I left town I saw a huge peloton of club riders coming towards me. I waved to them all and got enthusiastic waves in return. There were at least 50 riders, in pairs and close formation - it was fantastic to see such a well organised club out riding.

The climb of Clay Bank certainly warmed me up and I had the whole of Bilsdale and Ryedale to myself with no more than a dozen cars passing me for an hour. Having a major B-road through luscious green countryside on a bright sunny day was a real treat.

Once I'd climbed Newgate Bank all I had was the fast sweeping descent to Helmsley and as it was nearly 10am I fancied a stop for breakfast.

Despite it being mid-morning there was barely anyone around in Helmsley either, and I enjoyed my bacon sandwich and coffee in an empty tearoom on the market square.

At 10:15am I headed south looking for Ampleforth, so just after Sproxton I took the diversion used by caravan owners to avoid Sutton Bank. I hadn't expected the climb that faced me, but the view back into Ryedale was wonderful.

I had made a fairly good pace all the way to Ampleforth and as I stopped by the Post Office to gain my second receipt and eat a banana, I thought it would be nice to slow down and relax a bit more. My knees were feeling slightly tight on my iliotibial band and I didn't want to injure myself, so I decided to use low gears and a gentle pace on each climb.

There were more cyclists around now, and on this beautiful sunny Sunday I was feeling blessed to be out riding my bike. From Ampleforth I rode past Byland Abbey and into Coxwold shortly after. I'm looking forward to the Coxwold cyclists church service this year on the 8th May.

There is a nice climb in Coxwold but after that lots of downhill to Thirsk, I crossed the A19 and used the quiet leafy lane via Sowerby. It was a bit busier now, especially along the A61. At the Busby Stoop roundabout I crossed over the A167, I've been riding up and down this during the winter and it was interesting to approach this roundabout from another angle. 

I crossed the River Swale at Skipton on Swale and turn onto the B6267 heading for Ainderby Quernhow where there is a tunnel under the A1M. The headwind was slowing me down a lot, but I think I was still making good time and didn't really feel under pressure. I was heading for the next control point in Masham, but thinking ahead, felt that finding Sunday lunch in Masham might be difficult as it's such a tourist location.

In Nosterfield, about 4 miles outside Masham I stopped at the Freemason's Arms. The food was fabulous - I had a massive Sunday lunch and met a really nice couple celebrating their 40th Wedding Anniversary. They kept me company as I ate and we chatted about cycling, faith and work - after hours of being alone it was really nice to have some company.

After a lazy hour in the pub - with good food and a nice pint of Blacksheep Bitter - leaving Nosterfield for Masham and riding uphill into the town; I fetched a receipt from Bah Humbugs sweet shop, then turned around and rolled back down to cross the River Ure again.

Now I was on roads I've not cycled before. Undulating road through High Burton with a great view west of Coverdale and the steep sided hills of Masham Moor and Witton Moor to the south. The Sun was intermittently behind clouds, but the day remained warm allowing me to remain in my arm warmers and light gloves, not feeling cold but at a perfect cycling temperature: warm from the exertion.

The route's undulations seemed to take me up more than down, so I was delighted when I passed over the top and had a sweeping downhill to Patrick Brompton and then a fairly flat ride through Hackforth to Catterick. There were a lot of roadworks at Catterick due to the A1M widening. I got to see what goes underneath the road surface. Lots of concrete. In Catterick I stopped for a banana and some water.

I'll admit I was flagging by this point!

Before long I was crossing over the River Swale again into Catterick Bridge and turning east. Then I discovered a tailwind and picked up speed to 30kph with no effort. I was quickly into Scorton. Next I took a different route to my normal choice. Instead of headng north to Moulton, I stayed on the B1263 to North Cowton before taking the short-cut of West Lane past Croft Motor Racing Circuit. The scream of highly tuned engines being thrashed to within inches of their lives was loud in the air around me and I saw flashes of cars speeding round and round. Unfortunately one or two of the spectators were inspired to behave in the same way on the road.

I was now back onto the A167 and feeling very tired. Riding alone was taking its toll this time. I wondered if riding for a couple of hours in company is easy due to the distraction of conversation, but alone I was finding myself wanting to stop each hour. In Darlington I stopped for a chocolate bar and drink.

Finally I was onto the A167 and homeward bound. I just rode it - it wasn't too bad - this quiet Sunday was proving to be really light with traffic, however, I found there were the beginnings of shooting pains in the backs of my hands and the tight iliotibial band was starting to be noticeably uncomfortable.

By the time I got home - 210km - I was utterly shattered. So I immediately used the rollers to work on my leg muscles and after a hot shower collapsed into the sofa eating soup for dinner. I've got to get fitter - this was such a tiring experience. I've ridiculously reached 97kg and I need to get this down to 82kg because I'm putting far too much pressure on my knees and wrists. Monday the diet begins in earnest.

Despite the exhaustion, the route was wonderful and the weather had been a blessing. The warmth in my body flowing from direct sunlight was part of the reason I made it. A cold wet day would have seen me abandon I think.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Easter Arrow

If I wasn't falling asleep on my keyboard - I'd be bouncing with joy at the fantastic cycling event I've just taken part in: Chris, Mike, Richard and I have just finished a 24 hour Audax - the 'Easter Arrow', we covered 425km cycling non-stop.

We weren't the only people riding today; about 20 teams of 3 to 5 men and women have covered distances between 360km and 500km all meeting at the 'Punchbowl' Wetherspoons Pub in York. Our team was known as 'the Pilgrims' because we were not just riding this Easter Arrow - we were on a spiritual and physical pilgrimage to remember Jesus' death on the cross. This may seem a bizarre combination of activities, but it has been one of the most deeply emotional activities I've experienced to date.

We four, plus another cyclist (Rob), met up through a cycling internet forum when I asked if anyone wanted to ride an Easter Arrow and include a series of deliberate acts of worship to respectfully incorporate the Christian understanding of Good Friday into the cycle ride. Over the course of a few months, we put in place plans for the route, the team, how we could faithfully weave Christian devotion into this, and to invite others to ask for prayers or pray for us. We have been moved by the respect and love we've been shown by our friends on 'Yet Another Cycling Forum (yacf)'

I fancied a nice warm ride, and thought it would be fun to ride from somewhere in the balmy south of England up to York - Rob suggested St Albans and Richard pieced together a stunning route. The plan was to ride east to Chelmsford, then turn north and join the London-Edinburgh-London route through St Ives, Kirton, Market Rasen, and over the Humber Bridge before turning west to Howden and finally north again to York. Although the official shortest distance was 402km, we knew that we'd be covering more like 425km as our preferred roads avoided ugly main roads. Unfortunately for Rob, with only a couple of weeks to go he realised his knee injury wasn't going to be resolved in time and regretfully pulled out.

At a hotel in St Albans 'the Pilgrims' had breakfast and then started our day with Morning Prayer from the Church of England's Daily Office App.

Over the last few years I've found myself intellectually and spiritually connecting with the Daily Office in Morning Prayer; I find the Psalms occasionally resonate with something I might be worried about during the day, or the Bible reading may come back to my mind in analogous situations. The Psalms can be troubling to read because there is often 'lament' in them, and sometimes the psalmist cries out in anger to God; calling for justice. In those moments I just hold the grief of the writer in my heart as I pray for them through their own (admittedly harsh) words, and sometimes I imagine the words of the Psalms are like a snowflake in the palm of my hand, being gentle melted in the warmth of my prayers.

Our chosen start time was 8am and we gathered for the obligatory group photograph, pleased that despite his bad knee Rob had been able to join us for prayer and wave us off.

We set off at 8am and headed for the Abbey because it felt that riding from St Albans Abbey to York Minster would have a nice symmetry to it. [Edit: I fell asleep while trying to write this... 11 hours solid sleep, a massive cooked breakfast and a Sunday service later I'm trying to remember where I got to with this blog!]

Normally I would be able to write about the route we took, where we turned and interesting things along the way, but this blog is forced into being different: for the most part I had no idea where we were or where we were going! Richard had planned the route... and it was an excellent route, but I didn't really have a mental map of the placenames we were passing through, or their geographical relation to each other. This is embarrassing, because I used to drive all over the country for work purposes.

The four of us had gps devices on our bikes, and it soon became obvious that the most reliable device was on Chris' bike. Richard was using a beta version of RideWithGPS and at every junction the map was replaced with a pop-up instruction, which ironically obscured the map and was counter productive. My little garmin 200 was struggling with the 425km route and although it recorded my journey well enough, it froze instead of giving me directions.

At first I felt we were riding through a never-ending stream of built-up areas, but Richard had a treat in store for us; a short section of off-road. The rain from the night before had left big puddles, but the dry weather prior to that meant the path was at least navigable by bicycle.

We then passed through Welwyn Garden City and reached Hertford. We stopped on a tiny patch of grass next to a dual carriageway, beside a multi-story carpark - opposite All Saints' Church - because 9am on Good Friday is the time Christians associate with the crucifixion of Jesus.

This tiny patch of grass became 'Holy Ground' for 10 minutes as we stopped to read Scripture and pray.
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.” ’ The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. (Matthew 27:32-44)
We prayed together for all those who suffer in the world. Prayer can be considered a deliberate act of witnessing or acknowledging to God that the world is in need, knowing that God is already aware but that the action of prayer draws us in and changes us. We took time to remember that because Jesus experienced suffering, God genuinely understands our human suffering. We were aware that this bicycle ride was going to involve some suffering - nothing like the suffering of those fleeing war-torn countries - but a voluntary and personal experience of fatigue, pain and exhaustion. We prayed for all the other Audax teams setting off for York.

The skies were clear blue, the sun was beating down and making us warm, we were enjoying our hobby of cycling a long distance, and we were deliberately and consciously worshipping God and giving him thanks for the freedom we have. Our route continued through Ware and over the River Lea, through Sawbridgeworth and under the M11. The suburbs dropped away leaving us in gently rolling countryside as we approached Easter. Good Easter is a small village in Essex on the outskirts of Chelmsford and it was a happy coincidence that our route weaved through - clearly this photo-stop was called for.

The weather was so good and we'd made quite a fast pace to reach Chelmsford ahead of our schedule. We picked up some receipts to prove we'd been here, topped up our drinks bottles and moved on quickly. Our route was now turning north and we stayed on quiet country lanes, and it felt to me that for the next few hours we passed through an endless supply of archetypal English country villages. This part of Essex has expensive looking thatched cottages and beautifully kept gardens and greens. We passed so many welcoming pubs... but we kept on going. Between each picture perfect village was wide-open rolling farmland drenched in glorious sunshine!

Our next devotional stop was planned for 12 noon and we'd cycled 83km as we reached Ford End. We stopped on the grass outside St John the Evangelist Church - the church was open but our stop was only going to be brief, so we read a passage from the Bible and prayed. This is the time during the crucifixion of Jesus when his death was approaching and 'darkness covered the land'. The bells struck 12 as we read:
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.(Luke 23:44-45)
The juxtaposition of our situation and Jesus' situation was stark. There was not a cloud in the sky and yet we were recalling Jesus' last moments. We prayed for all those who feel oppressed by darkness in whatever form that takes. We took time to remember that later in the day we'd be cycling into the darkness along with the other Audaxers so we prayed for protection for us all. Even though we were deliberately focused on the death of Jesus, we understand that we live 2000 years later, in faith that God defeated death in the resurrection of Jesus. We humans are no longer alone: God walks with us in our darkness, Jesus is our light that will never go out.

After 4 hours cycling our stomachs were beginning to tell us to eat, so we rode onward looking for somewhere to grab lunch. Then, unexpectedly, we found Paradise! Paradise Cafe to be exact - and for an Audaxer it was a dream cafe. There was hot food delivered quickly and inexpensively. I ordered a baked potato with cheese and a full-fat soft drink - for less than a fiver it was just what I needed.

While we ate, we had a bit of a frank discussion about the ride so far. The four of us had never ridden together before so we had to make sure our communication was top-notch. It became clear that I was pushing the pace a bit too hard. Actually, I was pushing hard enough to make Chris and Mike feel uncomfortable and worry that they would be unable to complete the whole 24 hour event. I'm really sorry - I think the joys of Spring sunshine had got into my legs. The challenge ahead of us was specifically a team event and riding with a team is often more difficult than riding alone. Alone you can ride fast or slow depending on your mood or legs. In a team, it is most likely that each rider will feel strong at different times, and perversely the riders who need to ease off a bit are being stretched to keep up, even in the beneficial drafting of a paceline. This was a good conversation to have over lunch because we affirmed the desire to ride together and look after each other properly. We'd had a good rest at lunchtime and set off again continuing our pilgrimage northbound.

At 3pm we were stopping for the next point of devotion: remembering the death of Jesus. As we approached Duxford we saw a War Memorial on a green outside St Peter's Church and pulled over - before we read the Bible and prayed we agreed that for the next 15 minutes of so we would ride in silence (except for safety or directions).
At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Mark 15:34-39)
We prayed for those who are dying and for those who have lost loved ones, then we remained in silence as we rode on.

The crowds of Cambridge were quite a thing to be riding into the midst of as we came out of our period of silent contemplation. Our route follows the London-Edinburgh-London route that I'd been given by the organiser, Danial, and my goodness what a superb route! Through the heart of beautiful English countryside and right through the centre of Cambridge. Wonderful, we really felt we'd been treated to a blessing of a ride so far - and there was even better to come.

To reach our next control we used the Cambridge to St Ives cycleway. A fully paved, smooth surface route alongside a dedicated bus route - no motorcars - just walkers, horse riders and cyclists, with the buses on a dedicated concrete guided path. We travelled rapidly - taking care to slow down for horses and walkers - all the way straight to St Ives and our control stop at a supermarket just inside the town. The sun was heading for the horizon, it was about 5pm as we left thinking that an evening meal stop at 8pm would be a good idea. Richard knew of a Wetherspoons in Spalding.

This was the flattest part of our route - about 40 miles of well surfaced roads in long straight lines. I loved the way the setting sun caught our paceline and laid out four shadow-riders keeping us company.

On the outskirts of Crowland we met a couple of cyclists coming the other way, it turned out to be Martin and Anne - the organisers of the Double Dutch 200km Audax doing some final route checking. We passed them at a closed section of road - only passable by levitating over the 'Wet Cement'.

We were starting to get tired and on the approach to Spalding. Richard, who'd been pulling long turns on the front of the group, started to fall away from the back of us. This rang warning bells and we slowed right down. Richard's energy was all gone and the evening meal stop looked like being just out of reach. He held it together for a moment longer - getting us to the Ivy Wall Wetherspoons pub. We were glad to make it as Richard was in a very bad way at this point - totally exhausted. He needed food urgently and we decided to stop for a long rest. We were doing very well for time as we'd had no significant problems and after riding for 12 hours we'd covered 225km. We only had 200k left to go and another 12 hours to do it in. We found a table hidden away around the corner because we certainly felt out of place here.

The Ivy Wall seemed to be a great place for Audaxers to congregate and this was starting to be a very sociable Audax. There was an Arrow team from Dulwich, one of two teams that had set out from London an hour apart and we also met the Audax Club Hackney team. Our routes were all slightly different but we were planning to be in York between 8am and 9am the following morning. All of us had the long Good Friday night to get through.

Richard had recovered well in the hour we were stopped, so at 9pm we set off again for our next control in Kirton. There was a darkness covering the land and our earlier Bible readings and reflections were brought back to mind.

Kirton was not very far from Spalding and we arrived at 10pm to find a grocery store still open. We expected this to be our last chance to stock up with food and drink for the night so I bought a bunch of bananas and plenty of water.

There is something otherworldly about riding at night, it feels safer because there are no cars around, but all you can see is picked out by your headlight. The rear light of the cyclist in front becomes hypnotic and as tiredness oozes through my muscles I find myself fighting off sleep. We were still blessed with flat fenland roads which all ran in a fairly straight line beyond Hubbert's Bridge and then up onto the riverside bank at Dogdyke. We passed well to the east of Lincoln and stopped briefly for food and extra warm clothing at midnight. We paused to pray for all the Arrow teams at this the 'darkest hour' of the night.

Our next control was Market Rasen. I'd noticed on the route that there was a massive climb ahead - with the route profile jumping out of the flat fenland like Ayres Rock from the Australian desert. We grabbed a cash machine receipt from Market Rasen and as we left the town we found the hill. The climb was fairly simple and a nice steady gradient, but it warmed us all up so much that when we reached the top we foolishly shed some layers. I say foolishly because we now had a massive - and wonderful - descent which seemed to last for tens of kilometres. Ahead we could see the pylons of the Humber Bridge and to the east we could see the Disneyesque spires of Immingham.

We crossed the Humber Bridge in darkness and the tailwind we'd been enjoying for quite some time was howling in the massive concrete pylons to the accompaniment of the whistling from the high tension steel cables. It was about 4am as we reached Welton and the church where I hope to be serving as Deacon after Ordination in July.

We were riding so well together, after the concerns expressed in Paradise the team had communicated pace and energy levels really well and stayed together. I felt like I was riding with old friends - we were so well matched. The flat riding continued all the way to Howden where we found the second Dulwich Arrow team resting at the 24hr petrol station. It is difficult to be cheery in the face of exhaustion but we managed to grunt hello to each other over the top of machine-made coffee. The sun rose while we used caffeine and matchsticks to keep our eyes open.

Dulwich left ahead of us and with only two hours left in our twenty-four hour event, we headed back out into the cold air of a new day. Easter Saturday and we'd made it through the night - but we still had 20 miles to go. I couldn't face the navigation of quiet country lanes anymore and led the group along the A63 to Osgodby and then turned north on the A19 to York. At this time of the day there was little traffic and we had a great run in to York. We headed for the Minster to complete the St Albans Abbey to York Minster Pilgrimage. This turned out to be a very emotional moment as we knew we'd completed an amazing adventure together - we travelled through the story of Jesus' death and resurrection, we'd been travelling companions who ridden from one day to the next, through the night with God as our companion. In the words of the Shema, we'd expressed love for God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

All we needed was proof that we had completed the ride within 24 hours, so we headed to York Station for a photograph together before finishing off meeting all the other Audaxers at the Punchbowl Wetherspoons.

The 'spoons was totally packed with riders who'd come from the whole of Great Britain to meet up this morning - so many friends and familiar faces. The Chairman of Audax UK, Chris, had come along as well as Audax Ecosse organiser Martin. The famous Steve Abraham arrived too - taking it easy after his One Year Time Trial. VC167 was also well represented and the results are in - there were 78 finishers, and 13 of them were VC167, the largest representation by any cycling club!

When I set out to ride an Easter Arrow and deliberately remember the Religious aspect of Good Friday, I wasn't sure the idea would be welcome or that anyone would want to do it with me. I am delighted to have made new friends and experienced a 24 hour pilgrimage. I'm also delighted to put previous failed Arrows behind me (2013 & 2014).

God bless you all, from your exhausted Blogger.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

North East England: Cathedrals 200

There's nothing quite like setting off for a bike ride just before 5am, into the cold dark hours before dawn - but I'd only made it 5 minutes down the road when the drizzle turned to hailstones. I surrendered to the need for a raincoat and stopped on Framwellgate Moor.

I do like cycling in the pre-dawn quietness, I think its the combination of empty roads and knowing that by the time others wake up I'll have been cycling for miles. This morning I had an 'easy' 200km DIY Audax planned, I was heading up to Newcastle before turning round to enjoy a whole day of cycling south, with a tailwind down to York. The shortest cycling route from Newcastle to York is only 130km, so I had a little planning to do in order to raise the distance to the randonneur's 200km minimum.

Wrapped up warmly, I enjoyed the 22km ride up the A167 with no cars around; through Chester-le-Street and past the Angel of the North. Gateshead was deserted and traffic lights were mainly in my favour as I drew closer to the River Tyne. My first target was St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle, and this meant crossing the High Level Bridge.

On the narrow enclosed footpath/cyclepath I met a couple who were drunk and, of the pair of them, the bloke had set is mind on getting into a fight with me. I got off my bike, and aware that it was extremely unlikely I could say anything - he wasn't thinking rationally - I decided, without a hint of sarcasm or a hint of being patronising, to apologise for upsetting him. Then I prayed for him and his friend. He struggled to comprehend what I'd said, but the prayer seemed to have an effect on the woman, who then decided to guide the bloke away. They let me pass. A bit further on there was a young man who wanted to walk across the bridge and was afraid of going anywhere near this couple. I don't blame him. With hindsight I should have avoided them.

Newcastle has two Cathedrals, the Roman Catholic St Mary's Cathedral and the Church of England (Anglican) St Nicholas Cathedral. St Nicholas Cathedral is the church building where Bishop Christine Hardman has her 'official seat'. For those readers who are interested, a church building becomes a 'Cathedral' when it contains the Bishop's 'cathedra' - from a similar sounding Greek word, which basically means 'chair'.

I stopped only for a quick photograph in the half-light of dawn. Turning round, I headed straight back over the High Level bridge but this time using the road. I was aware that the drunken couple were still there, but now they seemed deep in conversation. I continued to pray for them as the day went on because my mind came back to them frequently: I was out cycling and having a brilliant time, they were dealing with the impacts of being drunk. I hope they got home safely and didn't end up in a fight or hurt anyone.

My second target for the day was Durham Cathedral - where Bishop Paul Butler's 'cathedra' is housed. The rain and hailstones had stopped and I had a very gentle tailwind now, which reduced the return time to Durham and I was back quite quickly. There was a long day ahead of me, and because I'd been drenched with rain and hailstones, I wondered if I could pop home and clean down the bike, spray the chain with lubricant and change a couple of items of clothing. If I called back home I wouldn't want to wake up my family, but as I rolled onto the drive, I had a text from Carol asking how it was going - 'fine' I replied, 'fancy a cup of tea?'

My pit-stop was brief, long enough to make Carol a cup of tea and head back out onto the road. I freewheeled under the Railway Viaduct on the short section downhill to the city centre, then climbed the steep cobbled road up to the Cathedral. The sun was starting to shine and the day promised to be really nice!

As I rode away, I continued past the Cathedral along the cobbles of North Bailey, the road just inside the old castle walls. This took me past the front of St John's College then down over the River Wear via Prebends Bridge and out of Durham past the University buildings.

I cycled along in glorious sunshine, the roads glistened with the night's rain, but there was no frost or ice to worry about. The wind was to my back as I tackled the last of the hills for the day, through Coxhoe and south on the Roman Road now called the A177. Ahead lay flat roads and a tailwind all the way to York! Yay!

Looking behind me though, the sky was black with rain clouds, there were hints of rainbows at the edges, and there was a chill in the air blowing towards me. I set my mind on staying ahead of the rain and cycled hard to keep warm.

I rode through Sedgefield and re-joined the A177 south towards Stockton-on-Tees. This is usually a dual carriageway with plenty of room for motorists to overtake without having to slow down for me, however the outside lane was cordoned off for roadworks and for a 3km section I was holding up car drivers. I rode as hard as I could, keeping about 40-45kph and my head down, and I was relieved when the roadworks were over and we could get back to business as usual - me cycling comfortably and motorists making their own way unimpeded by me!

I rode through the centre of Stockton and along the dual carriageway into Ingleby Barwick - just as the rain and cold finally caught me. I made it to the supermarket and the heavens opened, so I decided that this would be a good time for a coffee. Standing shivering in the doorway to the supermarket I drank my expensive coffee and nibbled on some slices of Soreen loaf. When the rain had cleared I nipped down to St Francis of Assisi Church for my next control stop. I worshipped here until we moved to Durham. I like the fact that there is cycle parking at church - Ingleby Barwick is a great place to ride with families.

I have a lot of friends and good memories from Ingleby Barwick - this was where my enthusiasm for cycling blossomed. The Tees Valley is beautiful and cycling on these roads is fairly easy thanks to the gently rolling hills and not much motorised traffic.

I left Ingleby Barwick heading south still, over the A19 and through very familiar lanes to Hutton Rudby and East Rounton. The hedges along the road were teeming with small birds, the most noticeable had bright flashes of yellow on their backs and I think they were Greenfinches. There were other birds too, providing a soundtrack of chirping songs to my ride.

There was an awful lot of spilt diesel on the roads near Easton Rounton and I was cycling cautiously to avoid slipping off my bike. The rainbow sheen of light reflected off the diesel made it easy to see - and the amount of this pollution was obvious. I was glad to get away from the pollution on further quiet country lanes between East Rounton and Northallerton. Rain clouds were breaking up and the sun was spearing down in shafts onto the Cleveland hills. I could see what looked like persistent rain falling on the North Yorkshire Moors and I was pleased not to be cycling down through Bilsdale today.

In Northallerton I needed to refill my water bottles and stopped at a petrol station. It really isn't very glamorous to eat Soreen loaf and drink water stood on the stinky petrol station forecourt... I started to shiver and decided to push on as quickly as possible.

My next target was going to be Leeming Bar, and I followed the main road from Northallerton. It was busy with fast moving traffic, but the sun was keeping me company and I started to warm up slightly as I worked hard to ride at a brisk pace - but the rain wasn't far behind and the heavens opened once more on the outskirts of Leeming, so I dashed for the coffee shop at the services to find some shelter.

A couple of young lads on BMXs were discussing whether they could ride down a steep set of stairs between the coffee shop and motel. I remember being that young and being dared (or daring my friends) to ride in ludicrously steep and difficult places. Before they had a chance to commit themselves, the hotel receptionist came out and told them "Don't be stupid! I don't want to be picking up the pieces when you fall off - go on! clear off!"

The rain passed and it looked like I'd be safe from a soaking for a while: the surrounding skies were blue. I sent Carol an update on my progress and set off again, but on an amazing section of road: Leeming Bar to Boroughbridge.

The service road is the A6055 and runs parallel to the A1M for non-motorway traffic, which essentially means horses, cyclists and moped riders. However, because this is also the diversion route if the motorway is closed, it is a very nice piece of smooth flat tarmac too. The tailwind, the flat road, the sunshine - it all came together and I was rolling along at 35kph for about 15km. It took roughly 25 minutes to cycle from Leeming Bar to the A61 turning for Ripon and at times the service road is higher than the A1M, so I was able to look down on the motorway traffic as I sped along in glorious sunshine, riding my bicycle - brilliant!

I loved every minute of speeding along powered by cake and a tailwind, and the sun was beating down on me so I felt warm too. There is a little zig-zap to cross the A1M near Rainton and as I turned I discovered just how strong my tailwind had been - suddenly it was a lot harder to cycle - and a brief splatter of rain hit me too. My pace dropped right down and I was feeling cold once more. On reaching Boroughbridge I just looped around the bridge and headed straight back out again, north - I was aiming for a longish stop in Ripon after visiting my third Cathedral for the day.

I met Bishop Nick Baines outside Ripon Cathedral - he was waiting to meet some people from BBC Radio4 for an interview. I rather clumsily asked him if he had a seat in Ripon Cathedral - already knowing the answer. I didn't know that he has three seats though - one in Ripon Cathedral, one in Bradford Cathedral and the third in Wakefield Cathedral. It was nice to meet him and I owned up immediately to being a #TraineeVicar. He shared with me the mission activities he's involved in around the huge Diocese he is responsible for. I don't think he would have the luxury of using a bicycle to get around, I think he has to stick to travelling by car unfortunately. A car full of Radio4 people arrived and dithered around looking for somewhere to park outside the Cathedral. The driver settled for using the age-old trick of reversing the wrong way down a one-way street - because everyone knows that's okay - not! Bishop Nick said 'cheerio', and went to help them. I rode into the centre of Ripon to find something to eat.

I failed to find anything to eat or drink in Ripon - not because of a lack of places - but because on this Saturday lunchtime the City was heaving with tourists and Radio4 presenters. I gave up trying to find anywhere to lock up my bike and rode out of town hoping to find a nice pub on the way east. I'd ridden for 170km so far today and my little garmin satnav thingy was saying I only had 40km to the finish in York.

I rode on - no water in my bottle, no more Soreen loaf left - hoping I'd find somewhere to rest and get refreshments fairly soon. Cycling back over the A1M to Kirby Hill, I turned left to follow country lanes and look for a way to cross the plethora of local rivers. Thanks to thinking ahead and planning properly, I knew exactly where I was going. Just west of the City of York, the River Ure and the River Swale join forces and shortly become the River Ouse, which passes through York itself. Bridges can define the routes into York: I could either cross the River Ure at Boroughbridge and the River Ouse at Aldwark Bridge, or - as I was actually doing - cross the River Swale at Thornton Bridge.

I was unaware that the flooding earlier in the year had wiped out Thornton Bridge! Thankfully it is being repaired and is currently open to cyclists and pedestrians.

Now all that remained was a 30km southerly blast into York, but I was tired, I was out of food and drink and my legs were aching. I'd averaged just over 26kph and was feeling the effort in my legs. Although "no hills" sounds easy, it does tend to mean that I push on really hard. Hills can be a blessing, because I take it easy on the climb and whoosh downhill - but on flat roads I just keep pedalling and working hard.

Because of the flat countryside, I sensed the open air and broad sky around me. Glancing up, I saw a Buzzard coasting along above my head. It was only about 10m over me, and I found myself hypnotised by the grace with which it soared effortlessly through the air. Fortunately the road was empty because I was weaving around looking up instead of looking where I was going.

The sun was continuing to smile on me and I realised that my skin was drying out - I could feel my lips were dry. These last few miles were exhausting - I joined the A19 for the final run into the City of York and in no time at all was stood in front of York Minster, or to give it the full title: Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York, my fourth Cathedral of the day and the building containing the seat of Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. The Archbishop has been subject to meeting smelly cyclists before, when Martin, Claire and I had cycled from Durham to York and back to fundraise for the Cranmer Hall teaching facilities.

The Archbishop of York is currently on a Pilgrimage of Prayer, Witness and Blessing, walking around the Diocese of York. I was in York alone and just rested my bike against the doors of the Minster to take a photo and finish my ride. 211km, cycling for 8hrs and taking just under 10hrs including my stops for shelter.

Starting early in the morning, 5am, has the knock-on effect of finishing early, especially when pushed along on a brisk tailwind. It was 3pm when I arrived at York Tap for some much needed rehydration in the form of Oatmeal Stout.

If anyone is interested in following in the tyre tracks and visiting these Cathedrals, I'd be happy to share the route with you. I found this a wonderful way to explore the North East of England and deliberately calling in to churches kept my mind focussed on prayer. The couple I'd met in Newcastle first thing in the morning had remained on my heart and I know that Newcastle Cathedral has a ministry and mission to pray for and support those who enjoy the hedonistic nightlife of the city.