I awake early to the sound of the radio alarm and the heavy rain noisily tapping on the velux window above me. I immediately remember what day it is and what I’m supposed to be doing and I’m a mixture of excitement, anticipation and trepidation.
Today I’m attempting to cycle Coast to Coast in a day, the Walney to Wear route with my boyfriend and adventure partner, Chris (although we’re actually starting from Foxfield not Walney as it’s right on our doorstep and is still essentially on the West coast!). We dress, eat breakfast and Chris does some last minute ‘faffing’ with the bikes before we put on our waterproofs and head out into the rain. We had said we wouldn’t attempt to cycle if the weather was really bad but neither of us mentions this as we mount our bikes, smile at each other and head off 2 miles towards the coast at Foxfield. Determined to do things properly I insist we go right to the coast to dip my hand in the sea, but when I see how far the tide’s out and how muddy the path is down to the sea, my morals slip slowly away and we decide we’re close enough and head off!
It’s an easterly wind typically so we battle forwards in heavy rain with the wind in our faces, going through phases of talk and laughter to silent contemplation until we finally reach Kendal for our first stop of the day. We head for the nearest supermarket cafe, and looking like drowned rats in oversized waterproofs we queue up with horrified Sunday shoppers while Chris orders 3 breakfasts and multiple hot drinks in a desperate attempt to warm up.
We eat breakfast whilst discussing the benefits of leading a ‘normal’ life and how we could be strolling around the Trafford Centre with hundreds of others before deciding that would be far less exciting, and then we’re waterproofed up and off again, en route to our next stop, Kirkby Stephen.
Only 36 miles in (114 to go!) and already 3 and a half hours cycling the next section was tough for me. My legs were tiring, the undulating hills becoming more painful to see and there were moments when I wondered what on earth I was doing and wanted to give up. It was still raining heavily and the wind hadn’t eased. Having never cycled more than 60 miles in a day I was unsure of how far I could go, but as usual there was that pull inside me, pushing me to carry on, willing me to achieve and never give up, even through the pain. So I carried on, Chris (a seasoned long distance cyclist) by my side, motivating and caring as always. The roads were undulating but I got a brief surge of excitement as we crossed over the M6 and headed towards Tebay, the sun briefly shining on our faces.
We finally arrive at Orton, 64 miles in, and I’m exhausted, wet and thirsty. I was hoping to carry on through o Kirkby Stephen but my legs are screaming to stop so we go into the local cafe and consume more tea and attempt to dry our clothes around neatly dressed families eating their lunch, again looking horrified at my somewhat bedraggled state!Chris discusses options of staying overnight somewhere and finishing the route over 2 days but it’s only 3.30pm and I’m unwilling to consider giving up at this stage.
It had finally stopped raining as we set off for Kirkby Stephen,minus my waterproof bottoms for the first time all day. The sun, trying it’s best to shine on us through the clouds, made such a difference and we’re in Kirkby Stephen and on our way towards Tan Hill in no time. I knew there was a climb to comeand I cycle anxiously onwards as we start to wind slowly uphill. Typically the skies had darkened and the rain had started again and after a steady climb and a nice downhill breather we round a corner and I see the dreaded sign, “Tan Hill Inn” to the right. We turn and immediately start going uphill and into the cloud, strong gusts and heavy rain in our faces. I drop into the lowest gear possible and focus no more than 10 metres ahead of me, trying to block out the road ahead. Chris goes into what he later described as a “sense of humour failure” as we battle on through the wind and rain, climbing steep hills then undulating road with tranquil moorland to either side and what would most probably have been exceptional views had we not been shrouded in wet clouds all the way!
After what seemed like endless cycling we finally see a grey building in the distance – the Tan Hill Inn (otherwise known as heaven at this point!). Reaching the Inn we leave our bikes outside and walk into a warm welcome, a hot open fire and finally some friendly non-horrified faces. Up here we were ‘normal’ at last, in our wet gear surrounded by walkers, other cyclists and even a group of soaked tractor drivers! We chatted to a group of mountain bikers attempting the route over 3 days, got our picture taken pulling pints behind the bar and sat by the fire drinking tea and cider. The atmosphere was great and really lifted our spirits (or was it just the cider!).
It was 6.30pm now, we’d been travelling for almost 12 hours and were still only 86 miles in, another 64 to Sunderland. I began to realise that unless we wanted to be cycling until 3am, Coast to Coast today was going to be unachievable. We discussed options, and eventually decided that as my Aunt and Uncle were going to pick us up from Sunderland anyway, that we would cycle to Barnard Castle (100 mile point) and get picked up from there.
I left Tan Hill a little disappointed as I don’t like giving up, but Chris cheered me up on the cycle to Barnard Castle, which turned out to be the nicest part of the day. The sun was finally shining, the clouds slowly drifting apart and the new born lambs happily galloping in the fields. We reached Barnard Castle at 8.15pm almost as my Mum and Uncle arrived with hot tea and blankets! Back at my Aunt and Uncles home in Newcastle we showered, ate home made fish pie and relaxed with a well deserved glass of wine.
Even though we didn’t make the entire Coast to Coast cycle, it was still a great achievement to me, and a fantastic experience. 100 miles is the longest I’ve ever cycled in a day, and although I was exhausted, I was happy. Experiences and challenges are always so much more fun when shared with someone. Chris and I supported each other during our low points throughout the day. We laughed lots, worked as a team and made the most of the bad weather.
I love challenges, they really push our limits, and even though there are times I really wanted to give up, I know that if I didn’t have moments like this then it wouldn’t really be a challenge at all. By pushing myself I understand more about what I can achieve if I really want to. I could be the ‘normal’person who goes to the Trafford Centre on a Saturday, or who prefers to stay at home watching TV and relaxing, but I don’t want to. I want to live my life to its fullest, explore, adventure and really feel alive. And this weekend I did exactly that, with the help of some special people.
We’re already planning a Coast to Coast rematch, so watch this space…