It’s all in the name and we’re not called Team Pannier for nothing. Carrying our own gear may slow us down slightly but it also gives you a great sense of freedom and independence. This is never more the case than on the second day, travelling from one hotel to another with only the supplies you brought with you. It does also make you vulnerable, you have to make sure you take everything you’ll need but at the same time you have to keep the weight to an absolute minimum. Famously on our first ride Spanners brought such a large array of items you might guess he’d got his nickname from that. He brought a massive box of tools and bike parts amongst other important things such as his electric toothbrush and a pile of not-so-light reading material. Well over the years we’ve managed to get the amount we take down to a bare minimum which does result in the strange sight of Spanners going out for his evening meal in shorts and flip flops - no matter what the weather is.
Getting up that morning and heading out to The Rooster café we were just looking for weight to put in our stomachs to fuel the day ahead. After five plates of full English or sandwich variants of the sodium filled breakfast tradition, we were ready for the off. We had an exciting day ahead of us as we were about to travel across the North Pennines and all the beauty and hill climbing that that involves.
Out of Penrith we headed out straight up a hill in the sunshine, what a lovely day and what a good decision to take the correct route this time. Of course last time we took a massive detour (you can read about it on the original C2C posts) setting off from Penrith at lunch time. This time we got to experience a new section of route and Andy wouldn’t hear our “one time at band camp” comments for a while. Or so we thought, in a laughable amount of time we were at the pub we’d reached around 5 last time. The amount of detour we did really came to life and was in full view as we crossed the village green and gained half a day.
That was good because on everyone’s mind was Hartside, a hill that held many memories for us from the previous trip, Neil having a melt down, me and him pushing up the last sections (never too proud to push) and the café being closed at the top. From what I could remember at the start you couldn’t see the top or even the climb ahead and so you were always guessing where it started. This time we had a clearer idea and we knew what to expect.
As we felt we were near the start of the climb we had a quick pit stop to de-robe, take on supplies and have a final psyche up before hitting the pedals. As we crossed the road on to what we thought was the start of the climb we were hit with something we hadn’t planned for or expected – a head wind. It wasn’t a small one either, it made the lower levels a lot harder than expected and made any great effort futile. Dropping back to chat to Rich we rode side by side looking at it from a positive point of view “hopefully when we get closer to the hill we’ll be more protected” “as the climb zig zags at least we’ll get some tail wind”. With one last stop to gather together we then pushed on.
It soon became clear me and Rich were happy to battle the wind together and we chatted as we climbed up the winding road. Looking back down below us we could see clearly the bright jerseys and windcheaters of our cycling buddies. Yet despite our lower than normal tempo, every time we looked back the gap seemed to have grown. As the wind hadn’t died down I sat in behind Rich’s big frame and sheltered from the wind as we came on the main road section of the climb. The desired shelter from the hill had worked to some extent but we were still feeling a lot of wind resistance, then we turned a corner and we had the most wonderful feeling – a tail wind! Never had climbing up hill felt so easy, Hartside isn’t the steepest of climbs, it just drags on and on but now, for a short window it felt like a breeze to ascend.
Arriving at the (thankfully) open café we took on plenty of food, raiding as much supplies as possible without risking a shortage later. Being on the summit Rich and I were now fully open to the elements and quickly added as many layers as we could. Having eaten our snacks and got changed, the other three now arrived. Andy had some mechanical issues and had to stop a couple of times of the ascent to try to fix them. That explained the gap that had opened up and the wait at the top. Not questioning it any further we decided to head out of the wind and grab a hot cup of coffee. Eyeing up the tray bake we all snacked and drank, content knowing the big climb was done. Having bought our drinks through the outside hatch Rich and I headed inside for some quick warmth. Finding the last two seats in the café – it’s popular with both bicycle and motorbike riders – we shared a table with an oldish couple.
Having finished I left Rich at the table and stretching my legs, I stood enjoying the view from the window. Turning around I could see a tall attractive blonde woman asking Rich if my seat was free, looking her up and down Rich seemed quite keen for me to confirm I was indeed done. However he soon finished up as her biker male friend came over to join her.
We now had two nice steps to look forward to. Taking our team photo at the summit sign and then a long, long descent in to Garrigill. We remember the long down hill drag fondly from before as after what felt like hours of climbing we were finally ticking off the miles. However setting off this time we knew it was going to be different, Andy set off quickly and keeping up with him was a task. The headwind was making the descent a pedalling affair and not much fun. Soon however I was catching Andy up as was no longer pedalling and just taking the freewheel ride down. Passing him he shouted through the wind about struggling with traction. Spinning his legs I could see what he was on about, his legs were on but his cogs weren’t home. We all pulled over as the route took us off the main road and paused to look at the problem.
Neil, Jon and I thought about the problem and came up with two solutions:
- Andy could walk for an hour or so to the nearest pub and my Dad could pick him up. He was at the football so it would be quite a few hours from now. Andy could at least watch the last day of the football league unfold.
- Andy could walk for an hour or so to the nearest pub and then order a taxi to take him to the nearest bike shop.
By the time our great minds had come up with this Spanners had taken the wheel off and had a screwdriver at the innards of Andy’s bike. Poking about at the rear cassette (the rear cog thing so I gather) we could only watch on in wonder and awe. We had no idea what he was doing and he would probably modestly say that neither did he but clearly he did. All of a sudden he had the wheel responding to the cassette again and we were very excited that he’d fixed it. However not happy with how it was then responding he took it apart again. This turned out not to be his smartest move as he then chased ball bearings across the tarmac that dropped out. Painstakingly putting them back in he put the cassette on again, only this time it didn’t work. Not knowing which way it tightened he tried one way with the screwdriver and then the other.
Next we needed oil. Who had oil? Anyone? We had enough sugar to sink a ship but nothing oil based. Or did we? Neil suggested sun cream. So Spanners is there putting one ball bearing after another back in to Andy’s bike, coated in sun cream as teams of riders road up past us. As it got on to an hour later we were finally cheering and hugging Rich as he got Andy’s bike going again. It might not have had his lower gears which may make going up steep hills but we could get going again. The only problem was that a brief look on our phones found that the nearest bike shop on route was just the other side of Garrigill, UP over the other side.
The hill out of Garigill was a hill I’d not forgotten and had in fact being psyching myself up for. I knew it was after Hartside and was the climb that had stopped us getting to the pub before it stopped serving food last time. There wasn’t a danger of us going without food at this point, it was still only early afternoon unless Andy’s bike gave in of course. Last time we’d come off the long, sweeping descent from Hartside and hit the wall that is the bottom of the climb and a wall mentally as we had to walk pretty much all of it.
As we came down towards the climb we all let Andy push on just in case anything went wrong. Andy and Jon hit it first with Neil and Rich just ahead of me. As I turned the corner in to the steep climb I could see Andy stopped ahead taking off layers. Spinning my legs quickly I closed the few yards to Neil and Rich and pushed on towards Andy at the side of the road. At first I thought we’d all be stopping with Andy but looking back everyone else seemed to be pushing on so I did the same. I opened up a gap on Rich and thought that would be it, I’d be away. However as the road continued to climb I turned and could see Rich slowly closing the gap. I pushed on, now the early exertion and steep ramp at the start we starting to tell. Again Rich closed and before we crossed the road (B6277) he was beside me. We crossed together and we were both at our limit, neither wanting to cede ground.
The previous year Rich had left me for dead on Holme Moss, asking me to come round him on a steep climb I had burnt myself out early on and never recovered. There weren’t those doubts in my mind this time, I was going to keep with him until the top. Dropping in behind him I let him lead and sat on his wheel, occasionally coming level with him as the gradient eased. Riding side by side I could see another sharp rise in the road ahead, I had to be ready to spin my legs through the climb to keep with him. As we hit the base of the incline I increased my cadence and pulled away from him, across another shallow rise to a steep section again. Once more I span my legs and I was away, the elastic had snapped and I could see the summit. Giving everything I had I finished flat out, cresting the hill breathless but happy in the sunshine.( You can view the climb and its gradients on http://veloviewer.com/segment/4140450/Garrigill+climb a wonderful web site set up by a gentleman named Ben Lowe from Sheffield.)
Rich drawing up beside me only a short time later gave us time to hatch a plan, Rich would ride down to the bike shop in Nenthead and explain the issue with Andy’s bike and see if he could help. I’d wait for the others and then we’d meet him down there. It had never occurred to me that Andy’s bike could have failed again and luckily it hadn’t. I can’t imagine what that hill must have been like without the full range of gears but he certainly didn’t make as much of it as we had seven years ago. It was just a question now of whether he could make it down the steep descent to Nenthead, oh and whether a small bike shop in the middle of nowhere has the right parts for his bike.
Arriving at the bottom we were greeted by Spanners telling us the man in the bike shop could fix it. So we had no choice but to sit in the pub and have a bite to eat and a drink. This was a really pleasant experience, we could sit in the sun, eat a baguette and Andy could even enjoy a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord while wearing his cycling jersey of the same brand.
The man at the bike shop was an absolute star, a real bike lover and an old school teacher. You could tell he just loved working with bikes, talking about bikes and being around other people who liked bikes. We chatted outside and inside his shop as he worked. Parts, boxes, magazines and postcards scattered around his small shop / workshop it was a fascinating place. He’d been cycling in Peru and his favourite place was New Zealand from what I remember.
He explained what was wrong with Andy’s bike and also what was right. Turns out Shimano something or others are better than the other type you can get. As he found another fault with the bike he then overheard us talking about Viz and brought out his own copy for us to read. He charged a very reasonable rate for parts and labour to say we were in the middle of nowhere and he could have charged whatever he wanted. We were happy we were back on the road, Andy had new parts on his ten year old bike and the bike shop man moved on to the guy next to us to discuss his bike.
As the C2C is a popular route we often pass and are passed by the same people. Often riding in groups there are charity rides and friends like us out on a ride. We’d been passed by a group of guys all riding Genesis bikes at Hartside, they were all working their way through pint after pint at the pub. Another group of Scottish riders were riding in charity t-shirts and one guy warned us the hill we were now about to climb out of Nenthead was the worst of the lot. After getting him to repeat this a few times and deciphering his thick Scottish accent I worked out that it’s 1.5 miles of climbing. Surely not, how can that be?! Of course we’d finished here on day two last time and that first climb was straight after breakfast when we were at our strongest. I wasn’t prepared for this, I’d given my all on the climb out of Garrigill and now I had to do it again.
It was now 3pm and the mechanical issues had sapped quite a bit of time out of our day. We’d cycled 30 miles and still had another 30 to go. Admittedly apart from this climb we were pretty sure it was an easier second half left and we should make good time. Jon was always a good voice in these situations, often optimistic with timings and usually not that far out. The previous night he’d been out by an hour and a half but his optimism probably stopped it being two hours.
We now had full fat coke and white carbs inside us, it was time to press on. Jukebox led the way and he was off, Rich following him. Andy and I riding side by side as team Genesis passed us on their bikes, no panniers of course but pints to carry. They also didn’t have far to go for their evening meal, stopping in Allenheads just up the road that night.
Whether it was the energy from the pub or wanting to get to our accommodation in good time I don’t know but Neil pushed on, even on the descent he was ticking the miles off. We soon passed the place where we stopped for lunch last time, astounded that we’d stopped so soon after breakfast we’d obviously either found the climb harder last time or they’d let me listen to my stomach. As Neil set the tempo in the valley (any excuse from me to make it sound like we’re in the Tour de France) we reached a café where we stopped last time (did we do any riding?) and Neil was waiting for us.
That led us on to another climb, do they ever stop coming? This was actually my favourite climb of the weekend, I’d just finished yet another fun size Mars Bar and was in the mood for it. The road out of Allenheads (I struggle typing that, I hate where an extra ‘S’ is added where it shouldn’t be, it’s Tesco not Tescos, ASDA not ASDAs and yet it is Allenheads we’d agreed before we got there). Anyway, the road out of Allenheads is a beautiful climb, snaking through trees before bringing you out on to the tops above the trees. Amazingly it has its own ski / snowboarding centre so it must be pretty high. On the ride itself I had Jukebox and Spanners chasing me and I really pulled away from them opening up a sizeable gap, more proof that I’d trained well for the ride and was doing well. Or so I thought. Having seen video footage since the ride I now know that Rich was videoing as he rode and Neil looked like he was out for a casual jaunt, sat up vertical on his seat with one arm down by his side. Still it felt good.
Sheltering from the wind on the top, we worked out we just had one climb to do. An off road section that took us up to an old railway type station on the moors. As we dropped down in to Rookhope we knew that this was it. Signposted off the road we took a quick comfort break and set off uphill yet again. Only it wasn’t that easy, the surface was not suited to our thin tyres. We may have been riding hybrids and mountain bikes but everyone was on thinner tyres for the roads. Slipping everywhere we went from side to side trying to find a better line. Spanners led the way and I tried to follow. Faltering on the surface Jukebox passed me and Jon and Andy closed in. With no other choice and unable to continue Andy, Jon and I pushed our bikes. As the other two pedalled they kept the same pace as us on foot, the conditions not allowing them to pull away. 13% gradients and rocks don’t make easy riding.
Heading down from that high point, we were on a rough, raised stone dirt path / road. Bone jangling and concentration sapping it was hard going. Jon, Rich and Andy made good headway and Neil and I steadily followed, struggling to maintain a fast pace that the descent should have served up. After a short while we crossed a road and we were now on a surface more akin to a goats trail than a cycle path. With our pedals catching every so many yards it was all we could do to stay on and keep progressing. Constantly choosing the best track and regretting it twenty yards further on. It started to get wetter and soon coming around a corner we were faced with a big puddle to get through (I'd make it sound more manly but it was just a puddle really). Going through half of us managed to end up with a wet foot or two. It didn't seem to matter. We knew it was downhill all the way to Consett now and soon we were on proper cycle paths. Riding all together the conversation turned to food and Chef and I discussed the prospect of a Chinese that night.
Not much later we were getting text messages saying my Dad was at the accommodation, it couldn't be far now. Getting this close to stopping always made the last miles hard, every turn you're longing for it to end, it wasn't challenging any more, just a drag to the end. We reached the point at which we needed to turn off the official route and what a treat we were in for. All down hill in to Allensford, a great long ride downhill hitting some great speeds, down, down, down. Wait a minute, what's this? Uphill? Steep uphill? Right in to the accommodation? That's not on! Still within minutes we were at the front door of our luxury accommodation, all booked at a bargain price - thank you AirBnB.
With the "love bus" and our chauffeur now with us we had the choice of any Chinese restaurant. We chose the one with the best reviews and headed out. However seeing the prices inside we ate our complimetary prawn crackers and got up to leave. You can take the boys out of Yorkshire... The hostess quickly called us back with a 30% discount for takeaways and we were happy! Two pints later and plenty of the best prawn crackers (ever) we had our takeaway. Wanting to grab some takeaway beers on the way back we stopped at a Tesco Express and ended up with discounted hot cross buns and cookies we didn't need - you can take the boys...