Rack Gives Back – Coast to Coast Challenge 2012, Part 4
Day three promised so much – according to our route map, it should be the easiest day with minimal climbing, and lots of much anticipated downhill riding. The weather forecast was also the most favourable, with (allegedly) less rain and winds.
We awoke to sunshine and another fantastic cooked breakfast to refuel. As soon as we mounted our bikes, after a bit of emergency maintenance on brakes and so forth, the heavens opened and the rain began. Then, leaving Stanhope we found a hill that seemed to go on forever. In reality, it was only three miles of climbing, but three miles in driving, horizontal rain and crosswinds that threatened to unseat sand pushed us across to the other side of the road. As we had our heads down, we missed the turning we should have taken across Stanhope Moor, so had a few extra miles (and a bit more uphill) added onto our overall journey. The bleakly-beautiful moor was empty apart from the occasional farmhouse, some sheep and the occasional plaintive call of a grouse in the distance, barely audible above the wind.
Once we hit the downhill section after the moor though, everyone cheered up – a good road surface with good visibility ahead meant that while I only reached 42 miles per hour, Paul, our more serious cyclist managed 49! A good increase from our 3-4 miles per hour on the uphill stretch.
We continued along the A road until we got to Consett, through many more hills than we would have had to climb if we’d managed to stay on the official route, until we picked up the main cycle path again.
The scenery changed almost instantly from the bleak moorland we’d become used to over the previous days to rolling hills, grassy meadows and lots of deciduous trees replacing the pines on the moors. The well-signed, evenly-surfaced trail to Sunderland was a pleasure to cycle on, with plenty of downhill sections that we could comfortably coast along on at a good cruising speed.
After a brief lunch break at the excellent Hilltop Inn outside Stanley (we can thoroughly recommend their pies!), which as the name suggests sits on top of a hill off the main route, we continued apace to our final destination.
With a fast downhill immediately after lunch, spirits were high, despite rattling bikes and aching joints. The sun even deigned to shine upon us at various times, which was a very welcome change from the horizontal rain we had seen so much of until then. As we approached Sunderland, the scenery changed further – bigger, industrial buildings became the norm on the outskirts, and we passed more and more cyclists on the trails. The pleasant scent of coal fires was replaced by petrol fumes from cars, but our pulses raised at the thought of finally reaching our destination. Never would Sunderland be so keenly greeted by 6 people!
Eventually, we reached the banks of the river Wear, and glimpsed the Stadium of Light, home to Sunderland Football Club. We knew that it couldn’t be too much further, and our hearts and cycling pace quickened. The thought that over 140 miles of cycling across three days might soon be over gave us all a renewed sense of purpose and strengthened our aching limbs. Turning a corner, we finally saw the distinctive red jackets of our support team and knew that our destination was at hand. Adrenaline flooded our systems and we madly raced for the finish, where we were greeted by our world-class support team, Chrissie, Martin and Asad. Hugging and high-fiving each other, we nodded in silent comradeship to fellow Coast to Coasters that we had seen at various points along our way. A huge lump was in my throat as I remembered the ups and downs of the previous days, and pride welled in me for what we had accomplished – both physically, but also in exceeding our fundraising target for Harlington Hospice, both of which had previously seemed unattainable earlier in the challenge. We had been through so much together, supporting each other when we were down, raising each others’ spirits and keeping together through the ups and downs.
Reflecting on our achievement, I realise that I will miss getting back onto my bike with my fellow cyclists for another long, hard day in the saddle. However, I have learnt a few things:
1) The word “waterproof”, when applied to clothing and cycling accessories, seems to have a multitude of meanings, including water-retentive. But not actually waterproof.
2) No matter how well prepared you may think you are, you could always have more dry clothing, more brake pads, or a better functioning, faster and lighter bike.
3) Fanatical Support is a very real thing – the kindness of strangers, the support (silent, vocal, technical, or physical in the case of Paul giving Annelie a push up a hill) of a fellow cyclist, and the assistance from a bike shop in Whinlatter Park for one of our cyclists who admitted he had left his wallet with the support team (but who was recompensed by another of our party who passed by). You don’t have to work at Rackspace to be Fanatical, but it helps!
4) You never know what you are capable of until you are faced with true adversity. What previously seemed the impossible become possible when under pressure.
Returning home, I find myself missing those moments of camaraderie and fellowship, the open road and the fresh air. One thing I don’t miss is the weather. Who would have thought that late June would have so much torrential rain and gale force winds?! I pity those cyclists who traverse the Coast to Coast route outside of what we now laughingly call British Summertime.
Thank you to everyone who supported us. Those who donated, those who sent us encouraging text messages and emails, our incredible support team – Chrissie and Martin Lackey and Asad Malik, my colleagues at the office for posting my meanderings on the official Rackspace blog, our families for putting up with our long hours of training (especially my wonderful wife, Frances), but most of all to my fellow cyclists. It has been an honour and a pleasure to share this journey with you – both physically and emotionally. I am proud to have completed this challenging route with you, and thank you all.
Thoughts now cannot help but turn to 2013, and future challenges. The Three Peaks Challenge will indeed raise its head next year – let’s hope that the weather in July 2013 is more favourable than June 2012 was.