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.