Not the usual cruise blog but a lot of guests have asked me how my charity bike ride on the Coast to Coast (the c2c) went this weekend. To put everybody in the picture tragedy struck a lovely family the Graham’s last August when their 23 month old son Reuben passed away suddenly due to a brain tumour, Reuben was a happy little chap and his father is a major account manager for Celebrity Cruises and used to look after Cruise365. Nicola and Michael (Reuben’s parents) started a small charity with the aim of raising £5000 before 31 October which was raised in days and it was decided to establish Reuben’s Retreat which the story can be accessed by clicking the link below
I would like now to share with you my Coast to Coast experience.
Wednesday 22 May 2013 – Whitehaven to Keswick
The night before the start of the big ride I packed all of my cycling clothes, spare inner tubes, power bars etc into a Camelbak back pack, this was quite good for me as i never travel light. I took my youngest son and my daughter to their cricket game and little Reuben sent me a present of a double rainbow (which I am sure was for myself and my brother who were to undertake the biggest physical challenge of our lives), I believe Reuben sends rainbows to tell people everything will be alright, below is the picture of that beautiful double rainbow.
Thursday 23 May 2013
We loaded our bikes onto the bike rack and my wife Carolyn drove us to Carlisle so we could catch the train to Whitehaven and the start of our journey. The train from Carlisle takes just over an hour but beware only 2 bikes are allowed on each train and this can not be pre-booked. We arrived in Whitehaven and after some negotiating found the start line in the marina where the tradition is to dip your back wheel in the Irish Sea as the picture below shows me doing.
It was time to depart and the weather unfortunately closed in and it started to rain but at least the wind was behind us. When you leave Whitehaven you have a gradual ascent for 10 miles on old railway tracks, before our first serious climb, you see all these large hills in the distance and you keep thinking surely we won’t be climbing them, oh yes we did ! Below is a picture of the back pack that I had 3 days clothes in as well as a pic of the hills we had to climb on day one.
When we got to the top little Reuben was mischievous and give us not one but two hail storms to battle through and we were soaked before the beautiful descent into Loweswater and out first opportunity to have a break at the Kirkstile Inn where warm soup and tea in front of a real fire helped warm us through. A picture below of beautiful Loweswater.
After a long day in the saddle we still had the challenge of climbing up Whinlatter Pass and through the forest before a big descent (my favourite part of the day) into Braithswaite and on to Keswick where we stayed at the YHA for the evening. Advice to anybody doing the c2c Whinlatter is not easy and only suitable to people who have trained hard (unlike us) a more gentle start from Workington is a better option if its more of a holiday than a challenge. I wasn’t having much luck on day 1 and I did end up with a puncture before Whinlatter so a quick inner tube change was needed.
Friday 24 May 2013 – Keswick to Langwathby
Day 2 was the most difficult day and we did have to change our plans as we were a little over ambitious when booking a hotel in Nenthead (55 miles from our start point). The weather was what can only be described as awful. We had strong headwinds into our faces and heavy rain, this is the type of weather that slows you down and can break your spirit, after 2 hours we were only 10 miles into our journey, I started to worry and think of alternative stops, luckily the guide I had gave ideas for accommodation and I managed to get accommodation at the Bank House Farm in a static caravan which included a farmhouse breakfast, this was right on the route and lifted us knowing we would reach our destination. The ride out of Keswick is beautiful but the wind made the whole day a slog. We took an alternative route to Greystoke that involved a lot of climbing but unfortunately we missed our turn and ended up adding approx 5 miles to our day. Below is a picture of the journey out of Keswick before the rain got very heavy.
After a climb out of Penrith our destination was close and just another 6 miles to our beds for the evening. we ordered a Chinese takeaway for 3 (between 2 of us and yes we did eat it and no I don’t feel guilty). Below is a picture from the top of the hills before we missed our turn looking for Greystoke and our Chinese meal !
So after 30 odd miles of slogging in bad weather I was hoping Reuben would be kind with weather on day 3, the thought then struck me, it had to be a challenge as a lot of people have worked hard on their challenges so why should I get it easy.
Saturday 25 May 2013 – Langwathby to Stanhope
What a difference a day makes, we woke up to beautiful sunshine on the day that promised the biggest climbs as we left the Lake District behind us. I had to climb my personal nemesis Hartside Pass which is a 4 mile Climb up to 1900 ft above sea level. Hartside is popular with motorcyclists and in my mind i wanted to climb Hartside and I had my euphoria moment when I did it. I put on my my headphones and turned into the little engine that could. Below are some pictures of Hartside and me at the top (some from a distance some from the climb).
After a stop for a Flapjack (that my brother Stephen says has healing powers) and a mug of tea we descended around 700 feet in what felt like 5 mins before heading into the most deserted part of the trip to Garrigill, on leaving Garrigill we found the hill out of the town which wasn’t really on the map as a climb was a leg sapping experience which I have to be honest I pushed my bike up most of it, this was a two mile hill with false horizons that only the fittest and experienced cyclist could conquer.
Time was getting on and as a keen football fan we decided to take the direct route to Stanhope so we could watch the Champions League Final. This involved a big climb out of Nenthead and then a 13 mile sweep through the dales, this sound amazing until you take into consideration Saddle Soreness ! I felt every pothole and had to stop every 4 or 5 miles as it hurt like I don’t know what. County Durham is my home county and I was relieved to see the sign meaning that the main climbs were behind us.
Sunday 26 May 2013 – Stanhope to Sunderland
We both woke up very sunburnt as we were silly and did not pack suntan lotion, luckily we were joining Glyn a friend for the last day and after a text his wife Janine brought us factor 50 to stop severe sunburn turning into 3rd degree burns (quick tip a small sachet of suntan lotion only takes up the same space as a power bar so make sure you take some). Our legs were very tired and the last day is a gradual descent into Sunderland with only one problem ‘Crawleyside Bank’ which I now know is a 2.8 mile climb and not very pleasant especially when your calf muscles are tight. Never mind that was in the past and we got there making sure that we did the whole journey from Whitehaven to Sunderland using our legs only. After meeting Glyn half way up Crawleyside and a brief stop at the cafe my favourite part of the trip was about to start and Waskerley Way did not disappoint a beautiful downhill section to Consett on old railway lines.
Consett is as I’m sure a lot of people know famous for its heavy industry and Steel Works that closed years ago and is a town totally regenerated. It is also the point you decide if you are going to end in Sunderland or on Tyneside, we chose the Sunderland route as it is the original c2c route. I have a few pictures below of the artwork that you see in and around Consett, I was a bit upset to see vandalism on some of the statues and I sincerely hope that the people who did this grow up and stop. Below are some marvellous statues on route.
Once we navigated Consett we had a lovely downhill section past Beamish, Stanley and Chester-Le-Steet to Washington. This was where my Saddle Sore Bum really hurt but it was a godsend that Glyn joined us as his enthusiasm helped drag us along and put a smile on our faces. Washington is just outside of Sunderland meaning that we were within 10 miles of finishing and from here I took pictures of two of the North East’s iconic landmarks ‘the Angel of the North’ and ‘Penshaw Monument’.
After some tricky paths and an avoidable accident by myself (I managed to go over the handlebars when I forgot i wasn’t on a mountain bike, only my pride was hurt). We soon passed the Stadium of Light which two out of three of us enjoyed !
The finish is a lovely regenerated path by the river where you pass the university and head to the finish line at Roker. I put my favourite training song on my iPhone ‘Titanium’ and drove my bike into the North Sea. I was very relieved and sore when I finished and with a great satisfaction that once my cash pledges come in I will reach my target of over £1000 for Reuben’s Retreat. The last day was a 40 mile ride meaning we biked just over 140 miles when you take into consideration our detours.
Tips for other people who challenge themselves to the c2c
1) Train Hard – we didn’t and that wasn’t big or clever, I have only been on my bike 3 times in 2013 before the c2c and the longest ride was 18 miles.
2) Do not overestimate how many miles an hour you will do, there are a lot of hills and you will be in the saddle for approx 6 hours a day, you may average 10 miles an hour on your favourite local route but this is unlikely going through the Lake District or the Pennines.
3) Use the right type of bike. I used a hybrid which is tough enough for offroad but has bigger wheels and thinner wheels than a mountain bike.
4) Pack Lightly. We did the c2c unassisted so it was essential to travel light and I used a Camelbak Charge back pack that you could put in 2 litres of water as well as clothes, power bars and toiletries if you packed carefully.
5) Make sure you have the right tools for minor repairs, spare inner tubes and a pump with you, don’t forget the suntan lotion and first aid kit (like I did)
6) Take a map and a guide book, I recommend a book called the Ultimate c2c guide by Richard Peace.
7) Work out where you are staying and book in advance and please do not be over ambitious with your mileage, fit cyclists can make Penrith on Day 1, Rookhope / Eastgate or Stanhope on Day 2 and finish on Day 3. The rest of us should consider 4 days to enjoy the beautiful views.
8) Eat plenty, drink water regularly and make sure your body is fuelled, you will burn approx 300 calories an hour and if you let your reserves dip too low you will find it difficult to build it back up and be effective on your bike.
9) Talk to the locals and fellow cyclists they give good advice and it adds to the fun of the journey.
10) Make sure you plan how to get to your start point and how to get back from your finish point (I still owe my wife a nice meal for helping us)
Remember, you can have the equipment of Bradley Wiggins but if you have not trained hard enough power bars and caffeine gels won’t miraculously get you through the mountains, grit and determination will. My mate Phil advised me when climbing hills look at the Tarmac and not the hill and take your time, it worked for me, thanks Phil.
If Reuben’s Story has inspired you and you would like to donate please can you go to the following link