After being woken up on a cool morning by lots of loud crows (not seagulls) and after being up already a couple of times in the night I was a little tired. Soon after I heard Aidy’s car pull up alongside my tent so I knew it was time to get cracking! – we had a huge day ahead (unknowingly knowing How Huge of a day it would end up).
By the time we got the stove going, had a cup of tea (needed brrrrr) and my porridge we were on our bikes and ready to go at 8am (not 7am) – ney bother! We got a quick photo outside the C2C walk sign and headed off to Whitehaven, already meeting our first hill just outside the Caravan Park which required 1st gear – Many MANY more to come…
We arrived in Whitehaven and saw that there were already quite a large number of cyclists (all with road bikes except us two) queuing up to get their picture taken next to the C2C Cycle sign
So, we headed off towards Keswick, with me becoming already confused telling Aidy that soon we’ll be cycling over rivers on wooden bridges etc (not knowing that this would be after Keswick). We started passing town after town, Cleator Moor, Frizington, all feeling good knowing the miles were flying by under our wheels – we were averaging around 10mph overall with 16mph average on a straight which wasn’t bad for a mountain bike. At this point I recognised some tunnels and buildings from the previous time (disaster) I tried cycling just Day 1 of the official C2C cycle from Whitehaven to Keswick with my mate Rick Tattersall around 10 years ago. I remember being so unfit, overweight, massively under-planning the requirements my body would need though such a challenge. I think I just took a 700ml bottle of water with me then and a 5kg pack. This time I had 1 Camelbak containing 1.5ltr of water mixed with a high grade carbohydrate supplement to fuel me constantly and would last 1.5 hours. I also had a 700ml bottle of water mixed with a high grade protein supplement to repair battered muscles. My bike must have had around 5kg of stuff strapped to it and I also had a 10kg pack on my back. So not only was I carrying miles more than the previous time the Whitehaven to Keswick would only be a third of what we were intending to do today! Such a contrast!!!
20 miles away from Whitehaven we started hitting the beautiful heart of the Lake District, passing the north-side of Lake Loweswater and past the tall mountains of Grasmore and Grisedale Pike. At this point we were both a bit low on fluids and needed the toilet and were lucky to find a village hall-type-place with fifty or so runners about to begin a fell run. I asked the organiser if we could cheekily take on some water and use the toilets which he kindly offered us – Aidy almost pinched a ham sandwich they had set out to welcome back the runners haha – he said they looked too good!
So after being refueled we headed off towards the dreaded Whinlatter Forest Park/Pass, thinking that my previous experience of this place would serve us well when we approached it. We passed Low Lorton and started to scale up towards Whinlatter Forest Park on very steep roads, probably around 20% incline. We made it to the top (then amazed to see a local bus pass us shortly afterwards going up the same hill) and we headed on the straight road through the forest towards Whinlatter Forest Park. Aidy would have been so pleased to pass this place and get it out of the way as I spoke about it non-stop using it to reassure myself and how we would tackle it etc.
We arrived into the park with me thinking that I would suddenly remember which path we needed to go. Now, the last time I was here with my friend Rick I remember thinking that we had taken the completely wrong path which took us up the highest point, the climb which was relentless and agreed with Aidy that we wouldn’t scale this since we had so much more to go afterwards. We realised there was an official start point to the Whinlatter Forest Park cycle which I must have completely missed the last time I was here – there was a blue route and a red route, blue which appeared to be a bit timid, red which appeared to be a little more challenging – so obviously we took the red route. The route quickly became apparent that this was intended for absolute experts who were 100% confident and skilled to tackle it. Me and Aidy did fair pretty good I have to admit, cycling down paths just a little wider than your bike wheel and then a steep 200ft drop. The views were incredible and we were pretty happy with our progress until we saw the next part of the route which snaked steeply up this huge hill – me and Aidy thought NAH and instead started to look at paths getting down towards Keswick and so we can go onwards. We found a path, a fantastic path which looked like it was hardly used in many years, jumping over branches etc – until we found the latter parts of it – a very very steep uneven rocky path which looked impossible to cycle down unless you were cycling for Red Bull. So we wimped out and carried our bikes down – or should I say held on the back brake and used the bike to control our decent down the hill. It wasn’t long until we were able to cycle the rest of the way down and arrived at Braithwaite about 5 miles outside Keswick. We had a quick rest here and headed for Keswick for a good break, absolutely shattered and unable to believe this was just a third of our journey.
Because I had taken on so much carbs and protein on throughout the day, I had no stomach for a good meal – unlike Aidy who had a monster burger.
After an hour’s stop, which was much longer than we originally intended – just because we were so tired and needing a rest, we headed off towards Penrith feeling slightly refreshed (slightly). Here we passed at last over the rivers on wooden bridges and the views were fantastic . The C2C signs kept us pointing towards Penrith since we were still on the C2C path and we arrived in Penrith around 6pm, much later than we originally wanted. Here Aidy was only spotted by someone he went to Uni with!! He’s such a legend everyone knows him haha!
We left Penrith and started to head south-east towards Kirkby Stephen, starting to realise that the day would soon/hopefully come to an end, being able to eat some good food, have some beers and get a good night sleep. We thought we should end up at our destination at around 10pm and we called the Fat Lamb B&B to say we would be a little late. At this point I was lying down on the grass taking a break in a village somewhere until I realised that I was lying down in something very offensive and very smell, all down my back! Sorry I had to share this with you but this will later explain why I haven’t been wearing my jacket – only wearing my tiny skin-tight compression top.
At around 8:30pm we knew we needed some food in us and we stopped in a remote village pub, the residents all looking at us like we were completely foreign. We told an elderly couple near us we were still heading for Kirkby Stephen and hoping to get there for 11pm and the guy said it will be around 12am! – nah mate it’ll be 11pm.
We had no idea how much harder this final stretch would be with the insulting hills and the outright exhaustion me and Aidy had. At 10pm we were near but still so far away. When you think 15 miles, it’s not far away, not if you have a car handy. By bike this is an hour’s good pace, good if you’re not averaging 6mph up hills. Darkness started to creep in, drizzle started and me without a jacket started to get very cold indeed. I had no lights on my bike – I lent the bike from my awesome friend Gareth McDonald and he never needed lights for his bike and I was absolutely certain I wouldn’t need them for this challenge.
How wrong I was, 11pm we were still 6 miles from our destination, again having to call the B&B explaining our delay. Thankfully someone was staying behind for us to wait for our arrival. At this point it was so dark, especially under the cover of trees I could barely even see the white lines on the middle of the road. At one point I glimpsed at my speedometer and I could just make out that I was going 30mph even though I couldn’t see the road or where we were going – just feeling the wind fly through me and trying to keep on the white lines on the road. Every car going past must have thought IDIOT, probably what I would have done at a guy cycling without lights. Being so close to our B&B it felt like it would never come. These final 10 miles felt by far the longest, hating the downhills knowing that it would result in an uphill eventually.
We arrived at Kirkby Stephen thinking this was our destination before we realised that Ravenstonedale (4 mile away) was our target – this was probably the lowest point of our journey. As we approached Ravenstonedale we hit a hill just leaving Kirkby Stephen which was relentless – Aidy wanted to get off and push and I was most glad to join him for a brief respite.
The final 3 miles still felt like a drag rather than a finish – there was no final sprint – there was nothing left in the tank for either of us. Some final HUGE hills to welcome us to our destination and trying to give positive advice to Aidy that we are so close – I think Aidy was probably just sick of hearing the sound of my voice. He said he was hallucinating at one point due to the darkness and his eyes trying to make objects out in the road.
WE ARRIVED – 12am precisely – Paul, the owner despite the late hour was still so hospitable allowing us to put our bikes safely in the back, taking us to our room asking if we wanted any hot drinks etc. We just wanted our beds and we had tea making facilities and wanted no longer to bother the owner and allow the poor guy to go to sleep himself. Aidy was out within 2 minutes and I still did my stretches like a good boy, plugged all of my gadgets in the wall to recharge, had a hot shower and then headed off to sleep just before 1am. What a day – what a horrible, wonderful, incredible day!