Ride 1 – Riding in a winter wonderland
Snow. Snow? It’s nearly May. Yes, but does it know that? The weather didn’t look much better for the weekend, so I needed to get a few miles under my wheels. I reasoned I’d been out riding in January and it couldn’t be any worse than that. For the reader’s benefit, I have not recently moved to Britain and should know better.
I headed out for a quick 20-mile loop around Bishop. At first it was pleasant riding. As Ranolf Feinnes says, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. I was properly wrapped up. I could see the storm approaching over the dale it seemed distant and I hoped to get back before it hit. Anyway, I was about to ride away from it.
It caught me on the bypass. By the time I reached West Auckland to turn round, it was a full snowstorm and I was freezing. My gloves are warm, but cool very quickly if the get wet and they were sodden. I turned back into the storm and had to stop in Bishop to wring out my gloves and let my hands warm. I wondered if the conditions warranted a cafe stop, but stopping on a 20 miler would be extreme even for me, the cake-chaser in chief. I got home colder than I’ve been in a long while and congratulated myself for lighting the fire before I left.
Ride stats: 21.8 miles; 1050 ft; 01h 26m 38s
Ride 2 – Tour of the North Pennines
This is what cycling is about for me. Not the early start and not having to finish the ride before I was ready. But the sheer enjoyment of experiences I wouldn’t have with any other form of transport.
Maybe my decision to head high into the North Pennines was inadvisable in a week where snowstorms had featured and more were forecast. Leaving my grand fondo challenge and 5,000ft of the April climbing challenge to the last day of the month certainly was. To top that I had only ‘til 11am to ride. That’s why I was out of bed at five thirty a.m. Needs must.
New neoprene gloves and fleece-lined neoprene overshoes from Endura and full winter kit were going to keep me warm in near freezing temperatures. Climbing up towards Folly Top in brilliant sunshine, there were large patches of ice to dodge in sheltered spots the sun had yet to reach. Just after Woodland a barn owl came floating out of the frozen mists over the field just ahead of me. It glided there, captivatingly motionless in the air, scanning the roadside verge for a hundred metres or more before peeling off, following a ditch up to a farmhouse. And that’s the point where I chalked up my thousandth mile for the year. What a reward!
Dropping into Teesdale at Egglesham the road was in the frosty shadow of the steep-sided valley all the way to Middleton-in-Teesdale. The absence of the sun left me very cold very quickly and I was six miles further on, looking down at the first of the Low Force waterfalls before I started to feel warm again. The woods around High Force were drumming with the sound of woodpeckers tapping out their early Morse Code messages.
The road climbed through Langton Beck and Harwood, where snow poles appeared at the roadside and shortly after snowdrifts started to fill the space at the sides of the road. Snow dominated the landscape above 1,500ft. It was tough riding to the Cumbrian border and the road continued climbing to more than 1,900ft before dropping 900ft in seven miles to Alston.
I knew time was getting on, so I pushed on down the A689 towards Weardale. For the first time in the ride the wind was with me and the climbing that touch easier. I drained the last of my water on the approach to Nenthead and stopped in the wonderful community shop there. Coffee, banana & some flapjack with a cheeky energy gel, because I knew what was coming next.
The first part of the climb out of Nenthead is experienced by tens of thousands of cyclists each year, because it’s part of the Sustrans C2C. The climb comes in four parts. The first to the turning to Black Hill (the way the C2C goes), then three very steep climbs with shallower, but still steep sections in between. The road took me up above the snow line again to cross the county border 1.3 miles in 20 minutes, then I covered seven miles in the same time riding back down into the sunshine for a nice cup of coffee in Chatterbox Café in Chapel while I waited to be picked up.
Ride stats: 51.3 miles; 3,786 ft; 04h 15m 18s
Week total 73.1 miles; 4,836 ft; 05h 41m 56s