It has been exactly five months since I was last at work. Slowly but surely, I have been eating into my savings, biding my time and waiting for the phone to ring. It has been a stressful time, to say the least.
As a London resident without employment, as I am sure you can imagine, it is particularly hard. Prices are high and to travel anywhere by public transport, you either have to run very fast before you get caught or take out a loan for a year’s travel ticket. Thankfully, as you may already know reading this blog, I had a way out and that was on my bike.
I cycled back home to Yorkshire from London (Read that blog HERE) and within a couple of days and after months of videos calling (during lockdown), I was reunited with my family. My initial plan was to remain there for a couple of weeks as a mental break and see how it all unfolded.
Five weeks later, I was still in The Yorkshire Dales and my phone rang. There was finally work on the horizon. As the lockdown shows signs of ease in the UK more buildings sites are opening up and in particular more Historic Building sites, as is my profession. I wasn’t given an exact start date, but I was given enough information to help me decide it was time to once again leave my loved ones and head to ‘the big smoke’.
As soon as I hung up the phone, I was planning my return. I would cycle back (obviously) but this time, I would go further and for a new adventure. Wales has always been high on my list of places I wanted to cycle through and having lived in Yorkshire for the past month it seemed like the natural progression of beautiful, untouched scenery and mountain roads.
I jumped onto Komoot and began to plan. I would hijack routes from a previous year’s GBDURO ride and edit it to suit my locations. This didn’t take me long, I was soon making plans on where I would re-fuel, possible camp locations and landmarks that I had to see along the way. All in all, I predicted a ride lasting around 4-5 days and epic 30/40.000ft of climbing and many, many breath-taking views.
Route complete, I now had to overcome another obstacle – my bike. Since purchasing the bike in May 2020 (around four months ago at the date of writing this) I have ridden just under 3,000 miles and climbed just over 160,000ft of elevation. The equivalent of climbing Mount Everest five times(ish). This would be a slog for any road bike but as a gravel bike and following the routes I have whilst also fully loaded up with camping gear etc, this bike has taken a bit of a beating. That made itself very evident to me during my recent Yorkshire Trigonée challenge (Read that Blog HERE) when my gears were skipping and eventually, I had to call it a day.
The result of which was a bill of around £250. This included a new cassette, a new chain, a new front tyre, brake pads and a big service.
The expensive life of a cyclist!
As you may know, business is booming in the cycling industry and whilst I am excited by the number of cyclists I see on the road and/or Instagram these days. It does have its downsides. One of them is waiting times at independent bike shops. It would be two weeks before I got my bike back on the road. Two weeks of resting, walking the dogs, reading books and being with my family. All of which would eventually lead to my undoing.
Two days before I was to set off, news broke about storms hitting Wales. I listened but figured it would blow over just in time for my ride. The day before I set off, it looked worse. The day I set off, storm Ellen was battering the region with winds of up to 70MPH. The winds heading South to North would show no signs of relief and as a cyclist, with a fully loaded bike, this could only mean one thing – headwind.
I set off on my first leg, leaving my family home in the Yorkshire Dales and waving goodbye to my family in tears. I am not an overly emotional person but having just spent a month with my family it was hard to say goodbye. Since I have been working and living in London for around three years now, we only really get the odd week here and there with each other. A month back home was welcome during this global pandemic. I was to head to my other family home just outside of Harrogate and from there head back to London via Wales.
On my arrival to my second home, it was clear I had to change my plans. The situation in Wales was worse. Storm Ellen has taken hold and the entire region was put on Yellow alert (High Winds Alert) not only this but the forecast of rains and dropping temperatures was now predicted. It would have been foolish for me to attempt such a ride. I decided to spend the night where I was and formulate a new plan.
The new plan, to head directly south. Avoiding the onslaught of winds, rains and main roads (or try) I would follow National Cycle Routes for as much of the journey as possible.
Leaving for the second leg, I was greeted with a clear sky and bright sunshine, the clouds had parted as if to wave me off from Yorkshire. I was in a good mood, it was horrible to say goodbye to my family again and the tears flowed but physically, I felt good. I set myself a target of around 110-120 miles for the day. This would be half of the entire journeys and would mean I would be home in two days.
“The Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) is an exciting route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders linking the North and Irish seas, passing through the Pennines, alongside rivers and canals and through some of the most historic towns and cities in the North of England.”
I would soon join the Trans Pennine Way just before I reached Leeds. The TPT route stretches over the North of England like a spider’s web, reaching from coast to coast and north to south of Yorkshire and beyond. The small borough of Great and Little Preston seemed to encapsulate the ride perfectly with its hard-packed gravel lanes and blue lakes surrounding by lush green lands.
Following the river and down into the Lower Calder Valley, I was soon on the canal towpaths, greeting strangers on their boats and avoiding their inquisitive dogs sat in the middle of the path waiting for me to swerve. The sun was still shining, and I stopped for an early bit of lunch.
As I was leaving Yorkshire behind, I was soon in Rotherham and heading towards Leicester. That’s when it all seemed to change. The lush hard-packed gravel I came to love turned into rolling lanes and everything veered upwards, the climbing began. Never one to shy away from a climb, in fact, I often think climbing is my favourite part of cycling. Once in a rhythm, I am confident of climbing anything that comes my way. Being mindful of fuelling myself along the way, I break the climb into small sections.
Get to that lamp post! Get to that car! Avoid dangerous driver! Get to that bin! Stand in awe of the view at the summit. And repeat.
I am not sure of the exact moment it happened but around the third big climb of the day, my left groin was noticeably aching. Not enough to make me wince or stop but it was there. There was one big climb left for the day still ahead of me and I decided to get it done.
Completing this climb would leave me with only a few smaller climbs on the final day and one big one just before it was pretty much all downhill to my front door in London. Good idea, right? Well, maybe not.
The route from Renishaw to Bolsover is not for the faint-hearted. I guess that’s why they built a castle at the top, its bloody high! For around ten miles you’re climbing. It is steady at first, a gentle 1% and 4% here and there until you get close to Bolsover. The segment on Strava (that doesn’t take into account the first section or final section for some unknown reason) clocks a lovely average of 5%.
Now, taking into account at this point I have already cycled 65 miles with the fully loaded bike, I had, just two days before this had been off the bike for two weeks due to the servicing well, what do you get? Each pedal stroke was an effort now, I was a fully paid-up member of the ‘Granny Gear club’ as I reached the Bolsover summit. I subconsciously started rubbing my legs before I realised what I was doing. Something wasn’t right.
My legs were now feeling it. My left groin ache was turning into pain and running down to my knee and now I was feeling it in my right knee. However, it was still not enough to stop me progressing. It was another 35 miles down the road just before Leicester that I found myself camped in a forest.
It wasn’t until I laid down in my tent that I knew I had made a mistake. I couldn’t lift my left leg to my chest without a wincing pain and my right knee was progressively getting worse. I couldn’t sleep, the days ride rolling over through my mind. Why did I keep going? What am I trying to prove? Why didn’t I follow my own advice and enjoy the ride and ignore the numbers? I eventually drifted off to sleep, hoping by some miracle, I would be fine and ready to get home in the morning.
Ride by the numbers
9:24 Hours of Riding
5,846 ft Elevation
View ride here
I awoke at 5 am and the miracle didn’t come. I packed up my camp and loaded my bike and set off pushing the bike through the forest and back to the path I had left the night before. Lifting the bike over braches I felt the aches, lifting my left leg without my own hands to aid wasn’t an option. This was not good. I decided to get to Leicester City centre and decide my fate.
Maybe It would pedal out and I could progress. Simple, I would get some breakfast and a coffee, feel great and leave all the pain behind me.
The short ride to the city was not fun. Every rotation on the bike was now hurting on each leg. So much so that I was visibly wincing and scrunching my face in pain when I had to climb a small hill or perform a standing start at a traffic light.
There was only one option. To scratch, to concede to defeat, to call it a day, to admit I had been stupid and get a train. What a nightmare. It was (and on reflection, still is) a horrible feeling having to give up on an adventure because you have made a mistake. It is one thing to scratch a ride with a mechanical but when you know you have messed up, that’s a whole new ball game. I felt angry.
Thankfully the trains to London were regular so after a quick exploration of Leicester’s most historic buildings and monuments, I was on my way back and in London before lunch.
I was soon faced with my next issue. Cycling from central London, home. I have never experienced anything like it. Not sure if it was the fact I have now accepted my fate and the fact I was injured, or it was because it was sat on a train for the past couple of hours but the pain seemed to intensify. Nothing was broken, I was sure of that but with each stroke of the pedal, it felt as if my legs were on fire.
The route from London would normally take me in between 30-50 minutes. On this occasion, it took me nearly two hours. My front door couldn’t come soon enough and it did thankfully. I put the bike in the shed and jumped straight into the bath. What a day!
It is now a few days after my return and I am still in a bit of discomfort. The bike is locked away and my only friends are called Yoga and walking. The worst thing about all of this is my self-disappointment, I let myself down. I have ridden for long enough to know that I should have taken it easy on my first day back. I was overcome with the excitement of a new adventure and ignored the signs.
Whilst I am still processing my mistakes and learning from these I also have to be happy with the choice I made on the day. That was the sensible and right thing to do and who knows what would have happened if I had attempted to ride the remaining 118 miles back to London with the same aches.
It is a tough one to take, the lessons are clear and sometimes, I am my own worst enemy.
My plan now, REST. I will hopefully be back in work within the next week, so my focus is shifting. My second year of University also starts in a matter of weeks so, all in all, I will be back into some sort of ‘normality’.
Planning for my next short adventure is already underway, somewhat prematurely I would agree but I love bikepacking so I just can’t help it. Wales is still very much on my radar but as Winter in the U.K is around the corner maybe this will have to wait.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read my rambles. If you have any questions or comments leave them using the reply box below or via the social.