I left work at 4:30PM with the hope of arriving in Penrith around about 12AM, 8 hours to do 100 miles with over 2000 meters of elevation – seemed managable if that a little optimistic but knew it would be about 9 hours with a few stops.
Kit on and bike ready I step outside and turn my Garmin on to find the route hadn’t uploaded properly…Not a fantastic start to say the least! Back in the office I go to re upload the route and set off on my way.
My pal Jim from Albannach was heading down from Glasgow to meet me so as mentioned I was keen to try and get there ASAP. The start of the route was all pretty familiar, out towards Otley, Ilkely & then through Skipton. From there onwards it was all pretty new to me, I new I had to take a route ‘off the beaten track’ in order to avoid the busy A65, a single lane busy road that leads to Kendal. The road is used by HGV’s and other articulated trucks and isn’t wide enough to safely accommodate for cyclists so there was no other option.
I’d spent more time on Saturdays route then I had planning my route up to Penrith which as you’ll find out wasn’t at all worth while time spent.
Some of the roads… or forest paths should I say, were extremely time consuming and some more mountain bike trails then walking paths. At first I thought it was a good test of the bikes rigidity, making sure my tyres, luggauge and mechanics were structurally sound. Although all of the above withstood the rough trails it burnt away valuable time.
I knew Settle might be the only main town I’d stop in so decided to grab a wrap and some pancakes to shovel down on the way. Again, probably not the wisest food options but I didn’t exactly suffer from lack nutrition. I’d only had a loaf of Soreen, bag a jelly babies, caesar wrap and 6 pancakes which I don’t think really amounts to 100 miles worth of calories. I was hounded by time constraints and eager to avoid riding in the dark as much as possible though.
Everything was plain sailing from settle towards Sedbergh, I found myself trying to bypass a section of road through a forest (at the time I didn’t know this). I took a left off the main road on to a single track with big hedges either side. I’d been on a few of these by now so at the time it was no different apart from the fact it was pitch black. About a kilometre up the road I come to farmers house, shepdog’s in pens outside barking there heads off. I stop and question whether it’s a good idea to continue and make an attempt at finding the path that would lead me across the stream. My gut feeling was turn around and just follow the road. At the time, regardless of the fact the dogs were barking, I didn’t think much of it apart from my frustration in not being able to cross! I head back to the main road and find another turn, similar to the beaten track I’d just moved on from and attempt to find another way around.
As I’m making my way down the path I notice the light in front of me growing rapidly, with headphones in I wasn’t aware of any noise. I turn to look behind me to find a 4×4 charging straight towards.
Terrifying to say the least.
The driver continues to drive at me as I frantically panic, not sure if I should put a foot down or try and continue cycling on to avoid getting hit. There was no where to go. He slams on the brakes and skids to halt centimetres from colliding with me. He gets out of the car and confronts me, asking what I’m doing on his land & waking his dogs. I explained I was touring and that I’d cycled from Leeds, trying to get across the stream and showing him my Garmin, trying to explain I’d been guided up the wrong turn by my sat nav. He was extremely aggressive, coming right up in my face as if he was about to hit me. I apologised and explained it wasn’t my intention to wake his dogs. He erratically got back in his car and reversed his 4×4 out of the lane.
This experience was worse then getting hit by a car. Some one using there vehicle as a weapon on a single track lane in pitch black with no one around. Without a doubt one of the most unpleasant & unsettling experiences of my life.
I took a minute to get my head straight, bring my adrenaline levels back to normal and get a straight train of thought to continue on.
40KM to go – I was done. I didn’t want to cycle anymore, I just wanted to be home in honesty. I felt very alone and extremely unsafe, one thing I’ve come to realise is loneliness & boredom are difficult things to deal with when cycling unknown roads but feeling unsafe at any point is a horrendous feeling.
I was anxious about the rest of the route, about what might be ahead or what might be coming up behind me. The darkness didn’t help pick my mood up either.
I knew I had to crack on, I didn’t want to pitch up around there as I didn’t want to bump into the farmer or any other potentially un helpful local.
I arrived at 1:30PM to find Jim pitched up in a field beside a grave yard. The tiredness had disappeared and although after 2300 metres of climbing my legs we’re feeling it I was quite alert. We chatted for a few hours until realising we’d better get some sleep what with a big day ahead of us.
The sleeping setup worked better then expected, the main hassle being organising my self in darkness whilst trying not to attract attention to any locals passing by.
I was woken a few times in the night by the rain hitting the tarps but baring that I got a good 4 hours sleep.
It was fucking miserable when we woke up. I don’t usually use foul language but it’s probably the best descriptive term to express how absolutely foul it was. None the less we got packed up and organised and made our way into town to find food and and wash facilities.
I selected my Garmin route to investigate which way out of town we were leaving… *loading, loading, loading…* No response. Another GPS disaster… 2 bacon roles down we set off to make our way towards the coast regardless of the lack of navigation – 300KM planned with 3000km of climbing, not a great start.
In hindsight again it wasn’t too problematic as we could still route to the next town, something I know I’ll be able to do on the TCR – Back up maps, paper maps will be essential but already knew back up maps would be.
The ride began looking as if the weather might budge, humid and moggy but it was all a bit of mirage. If anything it only got worse. As my mum said though, what do you expect from the lake district?
As weird as it may sound, one thing I’m looking forward too is flat or mountainous roads. Yorkshire/ the north is forever undulating, hill after hill it gives the feeling of getting know where fast.
At about 40km in my mentality depleted, a front flat added to my deflation (although was easily changed which was a relief) and what I realised at the time was even having some one else there didn’t help. I just wanted to stop. Cold and completely saturated I had no motivation to continue and I was really struggling to shift that mind set.
We cracked on and arrived at cockermouth to stop for food and supplies. Neither Jim or I were feeling fantastic, Jim was feeling a cold settling in and I was ready to sack it in. We decided we’d done enough, got what we needed from the venture and calling it a day would at least mean not getting ill and having to take a week off to recover. Jim headed off towards Carlisle and me back to Penrith to catch a train.
On the way back I had mixed feelings about the decisions I made, the mind set I got into and the slow decline of my optimism and unwillingness to continue.
Would I do the same on the TCR? How would I react to bad weather etc… I see the decisions made that weekend as good ones looking back. As mentioned, to continue for another 250km in the rain, piss wet through, freezing cold to come home full of cold with 4 weeks to go until the race. I think it was a wise decision.
All these ‘moment’s’ though did get me thinking about decision making and what to do in these situation. I think the Penrith trip was a worst case scenario. There won’t be any excuse or reason to stop/quit on route and I strongly stand by that.
In terms of kit, particular from a bike packing perspective, my main issue was getting gear in and out, particularly food. I know I’ll have to carry food along the way and getting in and out of my rear saddle bag was a bit of nightmare. Even at the end of the day, I had to remove everything even though I just wanted my sleeping bag, bivy and matt out.
Although the experience might not have been 100% according to plan, it was great to catch up with Jim, share kit details and talk about plans, what works and what doesn’t. I feel like I’m getting some continued bad luck since my trip down to bristol at the start of the year but better to get experiences like this out of the way then go in blind during the race. After all you don’t gain anything from experience you’re already familiar with.