C2C on a Unicycle
Saturday, 1st July 2000 to Sunday, 2nd July 2000
Is it sensible to do the coast to coast on a unicycle, probably not... but we did it. That is Paul Selwood, Sarah Miller and my self Roger Davies did it. We can all blame some little brat who burnt down the youth club Oxhill in Stanley and Len Donkin. Len who I know through Durham City Jugglers approached me with the suggestion that we helped him raise some money for the new youth club. Of course I said "yes" and said I know some other fools who will come with me. I even persuaded my partner Claire Molloy to come along with her trainer unicycle (bike).
When it came down to it we actually had 2 charities, my niece has Rett syndrome. So I decided that it would be good to raise money and awareness for this as well - so if you are reading this and know nothing of Rett syndrome, have a look at their web page.
Anyway date was set and we put together a crew, Len & Sue Donkin (+caravan) and Andy Norwood (+little van +manic little son + manic little sons "full suspension bike"). Friday evening and we filled the vehicles with wheels, food and people then trundled over to the Pennines to Workington where we stayed in a fantastic B&B.7.0am next to the light house at Workington for a photo. then we set off along the quay towards to town. The cars stopped where we were to turn off the road on to the old railway track and successfully blocked the the way for us... We were on our own for the first time 3 unicycles and a bike. The old railway track winds its way out of Workington and gave us a good warm up. Our only panic was that we had left the cars with the old Sustrans map and we had the new... this was our first realisation of how bad it was to trust these maps: the route was not the same. By a fluke we did meet up at the correct point.
The route is rolling to Cockermouth along beautiful county lanes and in the lovely summer sun was a pleasure to ride. In Cockermouth is the first official stamping point again, the map was wrong, it was marked as being in the wrong place. We of course didn't realise this until afterwards when we tried to find the C2C again and couldn't!
We had picked the right day, it was sunny and warm with a gentle tail wind. We could not ask for any more and we were eating the miles up. Not fast, but we knew what was to come. We arrived in Keswick for about 11.00am, only 29 miles in 3 hours.... oh well. Finding the checkpoint here was no problem and I bought some special C2C beer (thought better than to drink it!). What we also learnt from the checkpoint that some of the next section was closed and were given instructions of where to go. We promptly forgot them and headed out of town going in the direction we thought the detour was... it was not. Not deterred we headed for the main road anticipating a nasty ride on the busy road, only to find the detour! We were directed onto the railway track in the valley: staggering is all I can say of this section it was really beautiful and gently inclined giving the Cokers an ideal surface for some speed. What fun chasing the bikes, three in particular had a bit of thrashing, they were posing on their moutainbikers out of Keswick (you know doing wheelies and not looking you in the eye), so I cruised past them up the hill at a speed they didn't have a hope of keeping up with and then Claire zoomed past them on the railway smiling nicely.
Those poor bikers who passed us though...... they didn't have a Sue, we did! Lunch was more like a banquet with different pasta's, sources and cheeses, served on a lovely trimmed lawn under a cherry tree in Threlkeld.
After Threlkeld and we had arranged to meet the crew at Greystoke, only 8 miles on the route on our maps. Relatively flat as well so, no problem. Well, you know that map..... we followed the route signs and it took us to Mungrisdale and then off the map.... climbing some 200m extra. It was on the long drag that Sarah had a face plant; the road was soft from the sun and a new surface and the stones were sticking to our wheels. She had picked up a larger stone and it had stopped the wheel dead - thankfully she was wearing her wrist guards.
By the time we got to Greystoke the extra mileage, hills and heat we were all suffering. It was only 46 miles and we hurt, we needed to do 88 miles to get to our night stop.
We arrived in Penrith in more or less one group. The C2C route directs you into the centre of the town, along the main street... but forgets to direct you out again! If it had not been for the 3 nice mountain bikers eating ice on the steps of the post office I think we would still be there now!
The way out of Penrith was a long (1/2 mile) and reletively steep, I struggled up, but the others ended up walking at least some of it. What made our detour in to Penrith extra painful was realising that we could have taken a relatively straight and flat road for less than a mile and got to where we were after almost an hour.
At Langwathby (57 miles) Claire and Sarah realised that they could not travel any more that day, this was not an easy decision for them. They wanted to do it all, but with Hartside and the other mountains (aprox. 1700m accumulated climb) over 29 miles and with only 3 hours to do it in.....
Paul and myself headed for the hills. Again the route was not as the map, not further, just on roads not marked on the map. The land was getting rougher and sparcer as we got closer to the mountains with deep ravines that you have to ride into and out of again. It was after a particularly steep one of these that had forced Paul to walk the last 10 meters that he said "I am going to stop at the next stop". He had suddenly hit a wall.
It was only a few miles further that we met Andy, Claire and Jack in the Van. They refueled me and agreed to meet me half way up Hartside; this hill worried me, I was sore and tired, had 2 miles of rough off-road and then a 3 miles notorious hill climb. 2 cans of Redbull and I was hyped up for it!
I don't know what they put in that Redbull, but it defiantly makes me hyperactive. I jogged up the off-road and beat Andy to the agreed meeting point. Then it was motoring time.
What a hill that is! so smooth and consistent. I don't know why it has the reputation it has, I hit a steady 9mph and held it for the 2.5 miles up the hill where I met the support. Re-fuel and off again, this time I had some bikes in sight (our friends with the ice creams), I was able to haul them in over the last mile of the hill, great incentive.
5 minutes at the top, then off down the hill. The bikes were ahead of me and I was trying to keep up, it was no easy but definitely fun! I held a constant 17mph for the next 4 miles most of which I had my brake on - it is rather steep.
By the time I got to Garrigill I was out of water and the hardest climb started, it was so steep that I could not spin so was out of the seat for every pedal. This made me wonder what I was doing, this is where I needed encouragement and support had misjudged my mileage and where not there.
At the top of the pass above Neathead I HAD to stop: and who should come around the corner.... what a relief. It is really odd what goes through your mind but what I needed more than anything else was to change my shirt, it was covered with sweat and bugs, lots of them.
My brake totally failed totally going down into Neathead and my knees hurt (a lot). Then the last 10 miles to Allenheads where we were staying. I asked Andy to stop every hill top, these were steep long hills, I needed it. I also changed my T-shirt 3 times (including one of Andy's)!
The down hill into Allenheads was a blur to me, I was so relieved to be there. I rounded into the village and just as I was accelerating up the road I heard Sarah call. I had arrived at the cottage at the same time as everyone else, much to their surprise.
Sleep!............... the cottage that Sarah had sorted for us was so fantastic, it even had a lovely warm shower and double beds! Bliss.
We knew we had done all the hard work, although we had almost the same mileage to do on the second day, it was not like the first. So in the morning we were all feeling great, nothing could go wrong! well that is what we thought before we stepped out of the door.
Rain, rain and rain.......
It wasn't that rain that makes a lot of noise and tells you it is going to be wet, it was the type that always is saying "I am going to stop soon" and gets you really wet and never stops.
The 3 unicycles set off up the hill that climbed out of the village, not really the idea warm up. As we toiled up the hill the neighbors decided to take some pictures, so from the protection of their car they would force us to look as if it was easy! I reached the top of the hill followed by Paul, we immediately dived into the caravan - it was really wet. Only a few minutes later came Sarah, she was not going to stop, she was moving and would keep on moving; we had to dive out to follow.
We had a brief visit with the cars at Rookhope before we headed for the incline railway which was the beginning of the Waskerley Way cycle route. We walked this! an off road inclined railway on a Coker is not a good idea: and when it is wet as well..... At the top Paul decided that the ruined needed watering, is this really the way to treat our industrial heritage?
The track above the inclined railway would normally have been a pleasure, but not when visibility was down to 6', a head wind and the only way we could ride was to through the stream. By the time we got to the road and the support we were absolutely soaking. This was on of the occasions where we got jealous looks from the hordes of bikers, we had a Sue and a Caravan. Sarah rung her socks out adding to river already running down the road. Len (being such a nice guy) offered Sarah some socks to put on.
During a normal day the Waskerley Way is an easy and beautiful ride. The surface is so soft and smooth. With rain and a head wind it is ok.... but we did wish that the weather would sort it self out. It was on this section where we met more of our two wheel colleagues than anywhere else. Most of these were traveling in groups and had come from Whiteheaven or Workington setting off some 3 or 5 days before. They were staggered at what we were doing.
As we came in to Consett (103) we had an outrider from the youth club who had come to meet us, 14yr old Stephen on his bike. He was soaking but seamed happy - they grow them hardy up there! He immediately turned into our guide, directing us though Consett where the C2C signs seamed very sparce. We were almost at Stanley now and another break at the youth club, Stephen suggested that we altered our route slightly to get to the front door of the youth club. Sounded good to us: well it did until we got to the front door to find it locked! :-(
We then headed down the hill to find the proper route thinking they were waiting for us there...... no! well all I can say in thank God for mobiles..... They were waiting on the track several miles back.
The Youth Club is fantastic, a real resource for the community, it had everything. Sarah was in for testing it all! straight into the showers and change of clothes. Coffee for me :-)
The rain that had been doing it's best to flood the whole UK decided that it might stop for a little bit. This was the cue for the 2 wheelers to join us again. So 6 of us set off for the coast; Stephen having been given permission to come all the way with us and Jack having pestered Andy enough to be able to come.
Down to the coast, really is down, long and gentle 30 miles of it. We were a real group traveling down, Claire shooting off the front, Jack weaving in and out of us to find the deepest and muddiest puddles. Stephen being the guide, giving us descriptions of this and that sculpture on the way.
As we approached Sunderland we met Miark coming the other way on his Coker, he said hello and carried on - well this is Miark. Stephen then turned to me and said "that was another unicycle..... !" , it did take quite a bit of explaining that he was "Miark" and we sort of weren't too surprised to see him, he turns up every where. The poor lad... he now thinks that it is normal to meet a Coker when you go on a long ride.
At Sunderland Jack announced to everyone that he wanted to be called "Mud Boy" for the rest of the ride - this seamed very appropriate, he really was good at finding the muddiest puddles.
We were quite elated traveling through Sunderland, we had made it. This was the first time this has been done and we had done it! Riding across the bridge and down the quay to meet Andy, Sue and Len was fantastic. Andy's bother and wife was there as well giving us a real welcome.
At the final stamping point at the coast guard station was a group of other riders and their welcoming committee. I am afraid we stopped their celebration to look and question what was this one wheel thing coming down the quay at speed at them. The staff in the Coast Guard station all came out to welcome us at the finish.
We did it and were we tired. It was really hard work, almost too much of an effort to get of the unicycle and struggle over the brushwood to get the see to dip our wheels (no full emersion, Sarah and myself had enough squeaks from our bearings.)
And home... to a well deserved Chinese meal and sleep........