Friday, 5 February 2016

Harthope Moss 200

This winter's storms have made for interesting cycling conditions. Last week I tried to ride the Waskerley Way to Parkhead Station in upper Weardale, but I only managed 15 miles riding at 45 degrees to the ground ... with hail and sleet stinging my face ... before I got a puncture and froze trying to fix it in the middle of nowhere.

Today was different, at least that was the plan. 'Let's ride north with a tailwind' said Dean. I set off into the dark at 6:30am south towards Toft Hill, stopping to admire the view east to Teesside. A pony trotted across the field to say hello and I stroked his nose to thank him for keeping me company.

Dean rode out from Darlington to meet me at Toft Hill and we arrived at the same time, which is unlike me. Dean had no time for a flask of coffee before we rode on together following my lazy route-planning. We stuck to the main road through Woodland but it did give us shelter from the wind across Teesdale.

The wind was tinged with rain, so after 50km we stopped at Middleton-in-Teesdale in our favourite cafe for a toastie and some coffee. The Conduit is good value for money and always quick with the food.

We left into the rain again heading further west to Langdon Beck on the B6277, where we turned north at last and had the wind behind us. Ahead, however, was the road to St. John's Chapel, over Chapel Fell - also known as Harthope Moss. This is the highest through-road in England, so picking a day with stormy wind and rain to ride over it might seem dumb. We waved at the police driving towards us and they gave us the 'thumbs up' - all go for our crossing.

As I stopped to take a photograph, Dean shot off into the wind and I struggled to track him with my camera, which was shaking a lot on full zoom and I only caught an impression of him flying away! I tried to race down after him, but only caught up when he was waiting for me just beyond the beck. We rode the last big climb together.

As we dropped down the far side, the skies started to clear and there was sunshine ahead - marred only by me missing a left turn and riding almost all the way to St John's Chapel before doubling back to follow the route that Dean had chosen... a better route than mine. We met up again in Ireshopeburn before riding on together up Weardale towards Cowshill.

We were entering some of the easiest riding of the day now, with the stormy winds to our backs we took the B6295 north through Allenheads (a great place to stop on the C2C), and further north through Allendale Town all the way to Haydon Bridge. The hills were nothing and the downhills were amazing. Dean commented that the hills just kept on giving as we rolled and rolled and rolled...

I've never been to Haydon Bridge before and was thinking that north of there was Hadrian's Wall country: meaning 'empty of provisions'. I asked if we could stop at the pub for some lunch thinking that 'The Anchor Hotel' was going to be the only place to eat - and not realising that there was actually a whole-otherside to the town across the River South Tyne. The soup was excellent - but it took an hour. We wondered if they were growing the carrots and coriander for the soup from scratch - so it took a long time and it was quite pricey, but it was really good soup. Perhaps not a place to stop if you are in a hurry, but a great place to stop if you want good food and can afford it.

It was 1:30pm when we left Haydon Bridge. We crossed by the new bridge and joined the B6319 to head northeast on the north bank of the river and away from the extremely busy A69. We navigated along tiny country lanes to Wark on the banks of the River North Tyne which we then followed directly north towards Bellingham. Placenames in England can be funny. Bellingham is pronounced Bell_inge_um: a bit like Bell_'hinge'_um but dropping the 'h' from 'hinge'. I did not know this and while we rode along this absorbed us in conversation.

The 'tailwind assist' was drawing to a close and we turned west for Falstone near the base of the Kielder Dam. As soon as the wind was against us we slowed considerably and worked hard to reach Falstone. So we stopped for the third time on this ride, at a tearoom which is supported by funds from the European Union. This European funding means that it can afford to be open and provide hospitality to weary and drenched cyclists. Google-street view misleadingly shows Falstone to be sunny! Imagine this picture with less colour and more water.

With just 50km left to go it was starting to get dark and we returned eastwards towards Bellingham and then north toward Otterburn. There was some tough climbing ahead for tired legs and I was flagging a bit, so I topped up with sickly energy drink in Otterburn before we continued to Elsdon. There is a wonderful cyclist's tearoom in Elsdon but we wanted to see if it was possible to catch the 7pm train from Morpeth back south and decided to just keep going. The climb of Winter's Gibbet features on the Mosstrooper 300km Audax and is much harder with an extra 100km in my legs. This evening it was fairly easy as I found a low gear and twiddled my way to the top. The sun was setting as we reached the Gibbet and felt it best not to stop for photos!

I know that sometimes cyclists say, 'Its all downhill from here.' but honestly we had the most wonderful 30km from the top of Winter's Gibbet to Morpeth. Sure the road undulated a little, but there was nothing to cause us any difficulty. It was a brilliant way to finish our 200km ride and even though it the nighttime darkness had enveloped us we rode along having a really nice time.

We had started in the dark - and finished in the dark. I was really empty of energy and feeling the effects of the wind, rain and hills as we caught the 7pm train home. a 12 hour ride with a couple of hours sat in cafes and pubs. That was a fantastic way to take a break from essay-writing.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Washington to Moscow: The route planning stages

It might seem like a really massive distance to try and cover in two days; but cycling from Washington to Moscow should be doable for many cyclists with a bit of preparation. A group of us are doing it in May, and I'm planning a route that I've nicknamed 'WashCow' and v3 is available on the RideWithGPS site.

With the rain lashing down and the wind blowing outside, there is only one suitable antidote: sitting in front of a fire planning a nice big bike ride for a warm and sunny May Bank Holiday in Scotland. Well, it seems like a good idea, I just hope some of the roads and bridges remain standing after all these storms.

There will be a bunch of cyclists taking two days to ride from Washington to Moscow, so I'm enjoying myself looking at route options. This should be a fun adventure and I hope that I can ride alongside my friends all of the way, but I don't know everyone who is going. We're hoping to travel the same roads - but this route I'm working on is just a suggestion rather than a requirement; basically other riders are free to chose where they go and how they get there. This isn't a Cyclosportive, it isn't even an Audax. It is just a bunch of cyclists, touring in their own time and under their own steam: there will be no medals or anything! To add to the melee there's a bunch of Scooterists doing the ride as well.

We'll be riding public roads - so if you're interested in coming along it'll be happening in May 2016. Some caveats:
  • I don't know everyone who will be riding, so I can't predict whether this route is suitable for others.
    • It is a suitable route for me.
  • This isn't an 'event'.
    • The route will not be signposted like those 'Sportive' things.
    • Its not an Audax either; so I'm not providing a turn-by-turn routesheet.
    • I'm not aware of any backup vehicles, I plan to be self-sufficient.
  • I am making my GPS route planning available because it might be useful.
    • I've had silly off-road moments thanks to RideWithGPS in the past
    • I think I've avoided any off-road silliness.

Day 1: Angel of the North to Hawick
Approximately 130km (80 miles), with most of the big hills for the weekend.

I'll start with a ride from Durham to the Angel of the North along the A167. Should just be 16km (10 miles) and I can meet up with everyone at the Angel of the North. I know this isn't quite Washington, but it is near enough and its where we've agreed to meet.

Then the plan is to follow the A167 north through Gateshead and cross the river Tyne on the High Level Bridge with a view of the Sage and the Baltic. There are good wide roads and some well-surfaced cycle lanes all the way out to the other side of the river. Once over the river, I'll be weaving my way through some residential streets to reach the B6324 and follow this to Stamfordham. Its a basic road, not too quiet but not too busy, the main selling point is that it goes the right way without silly hills.

After Fenwick, on to some little lanes to reach the famous 'Ryals' a stepped series of lungbusting hills. Which I'll ride down. Yay!

Reaching the A68 and avoiding using it, I will cross straight onto the A6079 and use this to reach the narrow lanes to Barrasford. I like this bit of the route because it will keep me on nice little lanes all the way to Wark and across the river North Tyne.

Navigating now is going to be exceptionally easy. I'll follow the B6320 to the hill just above Bellingham and take a left turn towards Kielder Water and follow this road all the way through the National Park to Saughtree. A long way!

I'll turn right in Saughtree onto the B6357 and the largest climb of the weekend starts immediately, rising 200m along an 8km section. I'll pass Dod Fell and Wigg Knowe riding through Wauchope Forest and then start a fast descent to Wolfelee. I plan to turn left here onto tiny country lanes and cut off the Bonchester Bridge corner to join the A6088, there are some more hills but nothing like the preceeding 'Col'. I'm expect this section to be hard but rewarding.

The A6088 looks like a bleak open fast road, so just after Kirkton I'm going to turn left onto more quiet lanes and drop down into Hawes and stay at a B&B (Beer & Bed).

Day 2: Hawick to Moscow
Approximately 150km (93 miles) and after the first couple of climbs should feel a lot easier, depending on how the legs have recovered.

Leaving Hawick on the A7 it would be a good idea to get an early start before the heavy tourist traffic wakes up. I rode this in 2009 on a LEJOG and I think I was on the road about 5/6am. A late start here has the potential to turn this into an ugly ride, but as I'll be riding on the Sunday of a Bank Holiday I expect it to be quiet early on. It is about 16km (10 miles) along the A7 to Selkirk including the two big hills of the day.

After Selkirk I'm on the A707 for 10km (6 miles). I don't know this road but it won't last very long and then just after Caddonfoot I'll be leaving the mainroads and following a National Cycle route I've done before. Stunningly beautiful and totally quiet narrow lanes south of the river Tweed, for 26km (16 miles). It will begin to feel too long and too lonely... but I've ridden before and eventually I reach Peebles and I'm sure a coffee will be in order.

After Peebles there is a short section of the A72 to Lyne Station where my route joins the B712 down past Castle Stobo and after a little climb on an unmarked road drops down into Broughton. Although there are no significantly big hills around here, I pass from the Tweed valley to the Clyde valley along the B7016 within sight of Goseland Hill. The road I remember being surprising flat for such a significant crossing.

I'll go through Biggar and then with one tiny section of the A73 from Thankerton to the next left turn - I think it is signposted Carmichael - I will be back on tiny country lanes again for 16km (10 miles) to cross the M74 into Lesmahagow. There is a climb past a big supermarket which is going to feel hard, but there is a pretty good truckstop cafe on the left hand side.

Next is a little bit of a rise to reach Boghead, and then I plan to join the B7086 for a while before turning left again onto the quiet and narrow 'High Kype Rd'. After about 5km another side turning onto an even quieter and smaller road cuts a corner off and brings me to the B743, south of 'West Cauldcoats'. The B743 is hardly a busy road itself.

I will follow this to Dungavel and take the B745 and then an unmarked road to finally reach the A71. There is not much choice to avoid this road, and the traffic moves fast. The road is wide enough though and fairly open so it should be safe enough. Last time I used this I had a tailwind and I blasted the whole way to Galston. This time I plan to turn off at Priestland and use the much nicer looking National Cycle Route to Greenholm along the south bank of the river Irving.

In Greenholm I'm going to rejoin the A71 because the next section of cycle route goes into Galston awkwardly, and I think there was broken glass at the Galston end. So a brief flit down the A71 and then...

Well, if I'm going to Moscow 'proper', then I need to turn north on the A719 for 4km, or if I'm going to the Kilmarnock Travelodge it's just straight on along the A71. There is still some planning to do regarding the final day.

So: My route. God willing I will be well enough and to ride, that we'll all be blessed with good weather and that there are no family emergencies to prevent this event going ahead.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year : 2 Angels 200

The Ice-Road-Trucker Version
following a Star

Doing extremely silly things isn't stopping as I get older, it is just changing form. Instead of staying up to the wee small hours drinking to celebrate the New Year, I got an early night. Not for any sensible reason but because I wanted to get up at 4:30am and go for a New Year Day bike ride.

Alarm at 4:30am, on the road by 5am. Sticking to the A167 because the temperature has dropped below zero and there is an icy topping to the tarmac. Meeting up with Aidan at the Angel of the North and he is riding his tricycle - a beautiful piece of engineering which will reduce the chances he'll experience a slippery fall.

We ride south following the A167 on totally empty roads - then waving at two policemen 'Happy New Year!' as they arrest a young driver... perhaps someone going home after overdoing the booze? No one else around. Miles after miles of empty dual carriageway.

We had some company though; Catalina was brightening up the sky for us, and wow she was bright. This was our once in forever chance to see Comet Catalina because she'll be gone leaving the solar system and heading into 'outer' space.

The last time Aidan and I rode this route, with Anne and Ulrich, dawn arrived as we passed Thinford. But this morning it was still pitch black, just the Moon and Catalina in a clear black sky. I mentioned this to Aidan and he reminded me that we'd set off two hours later last time. What?!? Whose idea was it to set off at 5am on a deeply cold New Year Day. Oh yes. Mine. Oops.

South with geese flying along in formation next to us, drafting the lead goose and presumably taking their turn-about. Not much drafting for us though, as Aidan and I were often side-by-side. I didn't want to get too close to the edge of the road where the frozen puddles were.

Coffee on the frosty forecourt of a garage in Northallerton and then down further south. We reached the Angel at Topcliffe by 10:30am and thankfully the hotel bar was open for more coffee.

The weather-people forecast a strong southerly but as we turn around and ride back north we wonder where it went. Back to Northallerton and a warm welcome from Phil Tiermat at the THoFC (Tiermat's House of Fine Coffee) where the youngling is preparing for her own frosty dip into the North Sea at Saltburn - brrrr.

We leave the A167 at Great Smeaton and... I push my bike! Aidan trailblazes along the untreated Girsby road and sends back hand signals. I get off in advance of a wide patch of ice and push my bicycle uphill until the tarmac returns, then onward again to the bridge at Dinsdale. We stop for flapjack and admire the view of Middleton One Row on the opposite bank of the River Tees.

With some more energy in our cold bodies we ride on side by side through Middleton St George and over the A66 at Long Newton. We aim for Sedgefield thinking of dinner and find the Dun Cow public house and restaurant. The food and drink is excellent and we warm up seated in a bay window beside the machines outside. Time for a 'Good Stuffing'; pint of please! (Never mind the wrongly labelled glass.)

Stepping back outside it is very cold again, but the good news is that now we have the climbing ahead of us; through Coxhoe and then over to Low Pittington. Soon we were back in Durham and I was home. Aidan safely home a little further west from me.

Happy New Year - Wishing you a God blessed 2016.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

VC167 Christmas Party

About 40 riders turned out for the 15mph/45mile social club run ahead of the Christmas party. As a VC167 member who mainly rides alone, I really enjoyed riding with so many others wearing the club kit! I had an hour's hard riding, south from Durham, into a headwind, to get to Newton Aycliffe and meet up with the club. From there we rode in a loop west to Staindrop, over the Tees at Whorlton, back through Aldbrough St John and into Newton Aycliffe.
There must have been more than 50 of us who met up for a Christmas Buffet at the Cobblers Hall public house in Newton Aycliffe. £12.50 for a fantastic buffet and real-ale! We had an award ceremony for Gordon Panicca who'd scored over 100 points in the 2015 audax season. It was nice to see Graham Wanless recovering from his broken leg too. Some of the VC167 riders were squeezing a 200km audacious cycling event into the ride/lunch day out.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Angel with soggy feet

Simply a 200km diy Audax with friends on a Sunday.

(Simply? It started and finished in the dark and I was knackered by the time I got home... simply... pah!) I do wonder what could be less interesting to read than a ride report about some friends and I blattering up and down the A167 on bicycles. Sorry: the route was designed to be straightforward and fairly fast, to minimise riding in the cold and dark.

This could also be called the "2 Angels 200"

I left Durham and rode north on the A167 to the 'Angel of the North' in order to meet friends. Then we turned south and followed the A167 back; all the way down to the Angel pub in Topcliffe. Here we turned around again and headed north... back through Northallerton to Great Smeaton where we finally took to some flooded country lanes and wiggled back to Durham; making the distance up to 202km.
This ride was made in the aftermath of Storm Desmond which had battered the UK with gale force winds and record breaking rain. On Saturday evening I'd walked down to the River Wear in Durham, to see the water roaring past - within centimeters of overflowing into the road. Roaring past. The noise of the river was intense, and as I stood there a tree crunched along the edges of the bank in the dark. I felt very small in the face of this expression of nature's strength.
Sunday still hadn't dawned when I set out in dark at 6:30am; heading north to meet Aidan, Anne and Ulrich at the Angel of the North outside Gateshead, then immediately turning back towards Durham and retracing my tracks.
Using the A167 might sound unpleasant (or dangerous?), but it is a nice wide road and there is plenty of space for cars and trucks to overtake. We were lit up well and I never felt in any danger, plus this was early on Sunday morning and the traffic was very light. A little bit of headwind and some refreshing rain was the only weather related challenge, but we'd become separated from Ulrich who was not operating to his best strength this morning; so we pulled into a coffee shop at Thinford to regroup.
After Thinford we managed to stay together while heading south; down through Newton Aycliffe and Darlington. The prevailing wind had come round and was giving us a push along the road, so we'd kept a fairly constant 30kph in a tight group - although after Northallerton Ulrich had really fallen away from us, and our group split as Anne stayed with him.
Aidan and I were well matched and able to ride side-by-side and chat; and with the wind to our right we found that a naturally rolling pattern formed: the outside rider slowly drops back, pulling left and moving up as the other one of us took the extra effort and - in turn - slowly dropped back. This is my first experience of this happening easily and automatically.
Topcliffe: 110km. We popped into The Angel which was decked out in sumptuous Christmas decorations. Aidan and I agreed that the pint of Pennine Brewing Co's 'Blackfell Porter' would contain sufficient vitamins and minerals to qualify as a meal. Anne and Ulrich were only minutes behind us.
We did not stop long at the Angel, because at this time of year daylight is a scare resource. After about 20 minutes we were on the road again, heading north back along the A167. Ulrich seemed to have gained strength from the stop and we were now able to stay together, this time with Anne and Aidan on the front. Bizarrely the wind had changed direction again and we were experiencing the mystical magical 'everlasting-tailwind'.
In Northallerton we stopped for some rations: The Co-Op at the petrol station. Ulrich was suffering more than we'd expected and eventually just headed straight back to Darlington - having had a miserable ride. (Sorry Ulrich.)
With about 140km of cycling up/down/up the A167 we finally left and headed east onto the lanes of Hornby and Dinsdale. Surrounding us were flooded fields and the Tees had broken through its banks and spread across floodplains. It was very dramatic.
We approached Dinsdale bridge and the 'Road Closed' signs were warning us of problems ahead. I'd checked the Environment Agency's website and was expecting some flooding. The river Tees had broken into the farmland and flooded the road north of the bridge. Some bridges in Cumbria have failed and collapsed, but the Dinsdale bridge seemed safe and sound.

Faced with the flooded road, Aidan cycled trough, I followed him - both of us staying dry - and Anne opted to walk through, putting safety first.
I was really starting to feel tired as we rode along towards Middleton St George, where Aidan broke off and headed directly back home to complete his 200km diy audax. I had to continue north on my route through Sedgefield to Pittington in order to pass the 200km mark. Anne was riding with me, or often slightly ahead of me. Anne is an extremely strong rider and has buckets of energy. As the road became a little hillier she dropped me, so we regrouped in Sedgefield for coffee at Cafe Number Four. The cakes looked enticing!
Anne now parted company with me and headed straight back to Newcastle via Durham and I stayed on the lanes east of Durham to ride up to Pittington. The sunset was beautiful but the temperature had dropped significantly - so I stopped to layer up with an extra coat and some glove liners.
I arrived home at 4:30pm, 10 hours after setting off, having ridden for under 8 hours. I was cold and exhausted. I think that riding hard down to Topcliffe had emptied my reserves more than I expected and left me with very little energy to get home. But what a warm welcome I had - Carol had prepared a Sunday roast and my daughter guided me through 30 minutes of static stretching exercises - stretching me in places I didn't know I had places! The benefit was amazing because the following morning I had bounced right back to full strength with no aches or pains. I'm going to have to practice what I've been taught - 30 minutes of stretching was amazing.

Riding in winter is very hard - even with a favourable wind I think the low temperature sucked extra energy from my legs. I also put more effort in early and paid the price - instead of keeping a steady pace all day long.