If you’re new here, I’m currently in the middle of a 150 mile cycle across the country (as you do, except that I don’t), and apparently that’s not something you can recount in one blog post. Please feel free to go back and catch up if you missed the first part, and we’ll see you back here in a little while. There are dramas over there so it’s worth it, I almost guarantee.
So, it was an eventful start, as we’ve established. But like a Kelly Clarkson power ballad I was ready to Overcome, and I finally managed to get a groove going. Having put myself back a substantial amount of time, I knew I had to just put my head down and turn the wheels. Push, pull, push, pull.
The next stop was the crossing at Windermere. Although anxious to get moving, I allowed myself to enjoy the break while we waited for the ferry – the sun was truly shining now, and in different circumstances (and wearing less Lycra) I could have easily been holidaying in Southern Europe. We’ve put Windermere on the staycation list. I won’t be taking a bike.
Dozens of riders all clattered onto the boat; accompanying drivers in their cars not quite knowing what to make of us all as we floated over the water, temporarily suspended from our quest. We were unleashed like wildebeest on the other side, with only a few miles to Kendall where the first feed station was waiting. At last.
I’ve never enjoyed a segment of orange so much in my whole life. I could have cried, but I figured I’d already done enough of that. I scoffed a few sandwiches, bolusing just a single unit for them, sacrificed my vest to the heat and enjoyed another reassuring squeeze from Ian. A now stable blood sugar of 5.5 shone up from my Libre like butter wouldn’t melt and insulin pods wouldn’t fail. Ha.
We left Kendall feeling buoyed and satiated, and immediately hit another brutal, undulating climb. I was determined to keep pedalling, slowly but surely snaking my way out of the town with gritted teeth, dripping with sweat, but feeling like I’d actually accomplished something. I traversed out of Cumbria and into the Yorkshire Dales without a hitch (HALLELUJAH), even allowing myself to chat to a few people who saw this girl, alone and slightly perplexed, probably wondering what the hell she was doing amongst all these accomplished riders. I caught up with Ian once, as he sat chilling with a pony on the roadside (the surreal just keeps on coming), mostly jealous that said pony had better hair than him. We enjoyed a brief Haribo-sponsored boost and pedalled on, entering feed station two and inhaling some soup, bread and another 40 slices of orange.
At this point I felt more relaxed. My bum was ok, my legs were ok, my sugars were behaving and my kidneys had stopped hurting. But we were still only 64 miles in and had been on the road for six hours already. I was drained for sure, but we only allowed ourselves a few minutes’ break – this leg of the ride enticing us with the promise of reaching the elusive halfway point.
Ian once again started by my side before steadily pulling ahead as his strong physicality carried him forward, getting smaller and smaller until I was alone once more. It was peaceful and I began to sing, first in my head and then out loud, realising that no one but the odd sheep was anywhere near enough to hear my questionable taste in motivational music. The huge, impressive hoards of cyclists that had repeatedly passed us in packs in the first leg had diminished, miles away by now.
Just me, and my bike. And my thoughts. And the most abundant amount of beautiful scenery I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. And random outbursts of The Jackson 5. I can’t be sure, but I think there was the odd moment of delirium – brought on by a heady mix of too little sleep, the earlier diabetes-related commotion and the physical and mental demands of what I was currently in the midst of. I hit another climb, one that just didn’t end. Every time I thought I was hitting the brow, it just turned a corner and got steeper, like a playground prank. I found myself plummeting into deep annoyance once again – both at the route and at myself for thinking I could manage it.
This truly was a rollercoaster like no other. Literally, and mentally, I could barely keep up with the twists and turns. With the help of the Libre it was easy to see my blood sugars were at least sitting pretty on a flat line – which I took as an apology for their earlier duplicity.
Moving upwards at a tragic pace, I flirted with the idea of stopping. Of sitting down on the kerb, and just losing it. But I knew that every minute I allowed myself to do that, was a minute I was not edging closer towards the next target. If I stopped even for 10 minutes, it was 10 minutes during which I would move nowhere, and clock up zero miles. If I kept going – no matter how slowly – I was still moving in the right direction. Revolution by revolution, breath by breath, I had no alternative but to continue East.
Around five miles from the third feed station I hit my first serious headwind, and it made me realise how lucky we’d been with the weather. I could see a threatening blanket of dense, dark cloud just a few miles to the south, but I was hit with nothing more than a few drops. I braced into yet another climb and spotted two familiar silhouettes at the brow – nothing more than tiny dots. Despite being so far away in the distance, instantly I knew – my mum and my auntie were stood peering anxiously towards me, having not yet realised who they were finally looking at.
I started waving, finding the power in my core to speed up. I was almost maniacal at the sight of them, and not entirely convinced I wasn’t hallucinating. I unclipped as they protested that I should just carry on, having only meant to give me a supportive cheer from afar, but I threw my arms around them and yet again allowed a few tears to fall.
I had to laugh at the absolute absurdity of stumbling across this familiar pair – who to me signify safety, comfort and security – in a tiny layby in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales. At the juxtaposition of embracing my mum, and breathing her in, and hearing her voice like I’d just popped home for a brew and a natter, against being halfway through one of the weirdest experiences of my already bizarre life.
I only stopped for a few seconds, waving my cheerleaders towards the nearby third feed station. As I waited to re-join the road, a passing fellow rider boomed into the wind in a thick East Yorkshire accent, ‘Leave her with me, I’ll get her there!’ I laughed, brightened and took off with my new pal. That’s the thing about this kind of feat – you go from heartbreak to elation in seconds, and it is always fellow humans who will pick you up off the conjectural floor. My new companion relayed his personal nightmare as we pedalled powerfully and confidently towards Catterick. Having cycled the entire route in the opposite direction the week before without a hitch, the rear mech of his very expensive carbon frame bike had snapped without warning just after Kendall. He’d then left his Garmin in the recovery car, and then his phone with the mechanic, losing himself more than two hours of the ride.
I’d found my kind of companion.
We breezed into Catterick, losing my new mate as I parked my bike. I never managed to find him again to thank him for probably preventing me from jumping into the safety of my Mum’s car there and then.
It was here I realised we weren’t going to be in Whitby before dark.
We set off again, starting strong as we wound through the back lanes of the Vale of York. It was flat, which I thought would be the ultimate relief, but turned out to be somewhat boring. What goes up must come down you see, and variety really is the spice of life… And also ridiculous cycling challenges.
Although the sun was still shining, the roads at this point were slick with rain, giving indication of the earlier torrential downpours that many riders had been caught in. There are some benefits to going slowly, it seems.
The slippery roads proved treacherous, and we witnessed a dramatic fall somewhere outside Northallerton. Thankfully the rider came away with nothing more than a shock, and the consideration of all cyclists within sight lifted me for the 9402th time that day. We pedalled, and pedalled, and pedalled. As we continued on I noticed my padded cycling knickers, which had up until that point served me well, starting to give me some serious grief. 117 miles in, it was like everything in my undercarriage had conspired to hold a mutiny. Each turn of the wheel sent sharp, searing pain through me, as the skin from my bum steadily peeled away. Yes, that’s TMI but if you’re considering this ride you need to know the perils that may thwart you.
Desperate not to lose time, desperate not to hold Ian back anymore, I just went with it, awkwardly trying to tug at my pants as I rode. We couldn’t have been more than three miles from the fourth and final feed station when I started seeing spots, the pain now jolting directly from my arse to my forehead, as if someone was holding a scalding iron to my backside. I had to stop. I whimpered, and put my head down on the handlebars, struggling to breathe from the panic of feeling like this was actually never going to end. I have news for you folks: more than a failed insulin pump, more than a 30% uphill gradient, the strength of pain that is experienced when a bum without skin grinds repeatedly against a hard saddle is what will get you in life.
I gave myself another self-imposed metaphorical slap around the face. I was a sweaty, bitten, stinking, sunburnt version of my former self and I hadn’t got this far for nothing. Some investigative digging revealed that the suspect pants had bunched up into the padding of my shorts, shedding my skin and causing the excruciating pain.
I tentatively got back into the saddle after a roadside reshuffle of my various bits and pieces (maintaining dignity was not a concern at this point), and praised the sky above for how much better it felt.
Once again – I was going to be ok. Just.
A few minutes later we pulled into the final feed station, where there was a smattering of very jaded cyclists wilting on scattered chairs, staring blankly at nothing. I secured a sachet of Butt Shield (real name) from the waiting medic, and slathered that bad boy on like I was basting a Christmas turkey.
And that concludes that section of visual storytelling. You’re welcome.
We refilled our bottles, had yet another feed (although we were both feeling pretty sick by this point. Apparently there’s only so many millionaire’s shortbread one can consume in a day) and visibly deflated once more when a marshall told us we now had one of the toughest legs ahead.
My thoughts: who the HELL keeps putting these mountains in the middle of the road?!!
We couldn’t stop now. Dusk was looming, and the sight of the broken cyclists on the chairs made me determined not to join them. We needed to get this thing done. Now.
It gets repetitive doesn’t it?
We set off for the last time. Turning, turning, turning. Slowly, surely, steadily we continued. As we moved towards the impending North Yorkshire Moors it felt like I was cycling headfirst into a tidal wave – everywhere I looked was UP. Really, really up. It was unbelievably intimidating, but it was the only way. Looking for any small mercies, I was relieved that my final drops of remaining energy were at least allowed to focus on the ride rather than my blood sugars, or my arse, or my insulin, or the weather, or any combination of the other ‘obstacles’ we’d faced in the past 13 hours.
We hit another monumental climb, and gave it a go, but both of us had very little fight left in us at that point. We saw physically powerful, strong grown men ahead of us clip out and start walking, and we knew we needed to follow suit. The mossy, damp and darkening moors were eerie, sinister and compellingly threatening. My mind wandered into the central pages of Dracula and I distracted myself with a brilliant little daydream; my imagination running wild at the thrill of thinking about something other than cycling for five minutes. I was brought back to earth very abruptly by the sight of a ram charging quite powerfully towards me. I froze, wandering if it was this guy that was going to finish me off with that much-loved chief weapon… surprise.
Yep, there I was, having an evening standoff with an actual ram, surrounded by fog in the middle of nowhere as I pushed my bike up a hill.
Ram navigated and climbing done, we clipped back in and immediately descended at speed into a very picturesque village, taking us very swiftly right back down to the lower height we’d been just 10 minutes previously, yet again with nowhere else to go but up.
SERIOUSLY. Sick. Joke.
We had to finish a sea level. That’s just the law of gravity. Surely it was only a matter of time before the inclines would have to pack it THE HELL in?
No, friends. Think again. Still we pushed, the spots in my eyes periodically reappearing as a full body protest took hold. Every revolution, every breath, every turn, I felt something on my person now wince or groan or grimace. In my mind I was furious – where, sweet Jesus, was the end of this damn day? The darkness fell, and the fog swept in, and we saw no one and nothing for miles except the odd arrow that told us we were still on the right, but never-ending, road.
Then, as we passed a pub full of happy, tipsy fellows enjoying their Saturday like normal humans, we saw a road sign that had the magic word on it: Whitby.
I burst out laughing, somewhat drunk at the thought of it. Finally, finally, after some 13 hours of pedalling, and 15 hours since we set off, I finally let myself believe we were actually going to finish. We pushed on, navigating the changing light alongside the changing terrain. And then there were cars, and streetlights, and I could smell that unmistakable smell: the sea.
We glided into the town, smooth and strong and smiling. So many times I choked back a lump in my throat, not willing to crumble until I stopped pedalling for the final time. The road arrows never failed us, leaving me to take in what I could through the darkness. Having been to Whitby a fair few times in my life, and having such a strong affinity to North Yorkshire, I really did feel like I’d made it home.
One last push along the promenade and we finally saw the line. We floated in to the whoops and cheers of a wonderful (and very cold) support team – the anxious remaining selection who were yet to be reunited with their loved ones. I unclipped at last and threw my arms around James, the man responsible for the whole thing, who had had a longer and more laborious day than anyone on the ride. Having been holding back the tears for hours, all I could manage was laughter as he put a medal around my neck. Relief. That’s what I felt.
I hugged Ian for dear life, knowing that not only had he carried me through, but that I’d slowed his day down by a matter of hours. But it was always our ride, together. We just stood for a minute, holding tightly and giggling like school children while everything else around us froze. There was no one else in that moment but us, just like there had been no one else for so much of the journey.
Me, him, our bikes, the road…
150 miles of every emotion it is possible to experience in one day of your life.
We felt it. We did it. We made it.