Up hill, down dale: crossing the UK by mountain bike
I made it! Over the first weekend of June I biked 195 miles in three days, crossing from the West Coast to the East Coast of the UK. We summited some amazing hills, saw the most incredible views and – after climbing over 19,000 feet in total – enjoyed some brilliant descents. Best of all, I managed to raise hundreds of pounds to help children suffering with cancer – you can read more about that here.
I travelled up to our starting point, Whitehaven in Cumbria, on the morning of Thursday, 1st June. The seven-hour drive wasn’t all that much fun, but I was getting excited and pretty nervous, and I just wanted to be out riding. The event registration opened at 3pm, I got my bike secured and my bags packed away, and then it was just a case of waiting for the morning. The weather report was not looking good though: continuous heavy rain was expected from Thursday night through to midday on Friday!
When Friday morning arrived (with a brutal 5am alarm), I had all my wet weather gear on. Breakfast consumed, I headed down to get my bike and get ready at the start at 7am, but by the time we were all waiting to go the rain had stopped, and I was already too hot. Before we even started I’d ended up stripping off half of my layers and shoving them in my bag to carry with me all day.
Day one was a nice mix of road to warm us up, converted train line pathways, country paths and beautiful single track (pathways about a bike’s width across). We climbed for 15 miles before finding our first “real” off road section, and it was stunning.
We could see a lake below us, and a lovely looking climb ahead with rather large hills behind that. It really could have not been more perfect! The day continued in that vein; we would have some amazing climbs and views, followed by some nice descents with some roads thrown in to link up the interesting parts.
Three hills really stood out in day one. The first was the one described above. The second took us a solid hour to climb! Some parts were either too steep or too rocky to ride, and we had to push the bikes up, while some parts just seemed to snake away upwards and carry on forever. There was an amazing view from the top, though, and we were rewarded with some nice single track and a very fast descent down to another lake, via a nicely paved road.
The third hill was not as much fun. It was impossible to ride up: some of the rocks were a good foot in height, and it was all pretty steep. We all had to either push or carry our bikes up. I strapped mine across my back and set off hiking up the hill – I’m not really sure how long it took, but eventually we all made it.
After a well-deserved rest, there was a very rocky and unpleasant descent on the other side that took its fair share of victims. I know one person came off their bike, going over the bars and falling onto the rocks. Another snapped a spoke and flatted his front wheel, while a third put a nice hole in his rear tyre. We patched up ourselves and the bikes and headed off once again.
The last eight or so miles into Shap were all on a private road and not hilly at all, but I had nothing left in my legs and it seemed to take forever to get to the finish line. The whole day’s riding took me eight hours and four minutes. Of the 224 of us who set off, 222 had finished the day.
Once in Shap I cleaned my bike, set my tent up, cleaned myself, then most importantly hit the food stalls. One of the best parts of riding for most of the day is you are “allowed” to eat more. Dinner number one went down very well, as did dinner number two. After a couple of pints in the local we all got our heads down by 9pm, ready for the 05:30 alarm clock in the morning.
Day two arrived, the sun was shining, and everyone was keen to get going. After a large breakfast, tents were packed up and handed – with overnight bags – to the crew, and we were ready to hit the road.
The day had a lot more road than the first day, which was a little disappointing – at least it was for me: while some others liked the break from the back-breaking hills, I’d loved those bits. Still, there were some nice climbs. There were some not so nice ones, too, but none that required strapping my bike to my back, thankfully.
One of the longest grinds of the day was a road section that started with a 20% gradient hill and undulated between that and 17% for a few miles. I must admit that it beat me in a few places, and I had to pause to catch my breath and push the bike for a while. It was worth it for the simply amazing views from the top, though, and the beautifully smooth and flowing road descent on the other side.
Our lunch stop was at Dales Bike Centre, and after not eating enough during day one I was very aware I needed to take a little longer and eat a good bit more. So I did, possibly a little too much, as the first hill out was a long and steep road climb. I’m pleased to report that I didn’t revisit the lunch, but it was not a nice climb. The rest of the day went pretty quickly. I met up again with a couple of riders who I’d met on day one, and we all finished in Northallerton together – we’d continue to ride together for the rest of the adventure.
I made it in to Northallerton after seven hours and four minutes, with 216 of the 221 riders who started day two also finishing the day. For me, dinner (number one) was a trip to Sainsbury’s to raid everything that they had…
…shortly followed by a couple in the pub, followed by the leftovers of dinner number one. I must say, I slept like a log that night.
We decided to start later for the final day, as when we arrived at the finish in Scarborough we’d have to wait until evening anyway for the bus to take us back to the start line. Getting going in the morning was a more relaxed affair. The sun was out again (we were so lucky with the weather: it threw it down on Thursday and really threw it down on Monday while I drove home), and we were ready to roll.
Day three did not disappoint. There was way more single track and off road sections, lots of fun, and some really fast descents. You could have not removed my smile with a sledgehammer that day.
We eventually rolled into Scarborough at 3:30pm, after seven hours and 30 minutes’ riding. In total, 209 people officially finished the event. Over the three days I rode for 22 hours, 36 minutes and five seconds, and I loved pretty much every one of them. By far day three was the most enjoyable for us. My new friends and I loved fast downhills, and would often overtake others – to then be overtaken by some of them on the next climb. Everyone was so friendly and helpful, and thankfully me and my bike held up well.
Afterwards I was not that sore, but I was so, so tired. And that’s why there weren’t any updates until now: it has taken most of a week to try and get myself back to normal! Simply put, this was the most amazing adventure I have ever had, and I got to support a wonderful charity whilst doing it. Win-win!
It’s not too late to sponsor Jon – head to his fundraising page here.