Coast to Coast unicycle challenge day 2 – a hard slog on a noisy wheel

The second day of the Coast to Coast unicycle challenge, 24 August 2010, was a lot harder than the first for me, despite the relatively flat profile, which made me doubt my ability to complete the week’s journey to Sunderland. But despite the exhaustion and mechanical setbacks, we all made it intact to the end.
Click on any image below for the full size version.

Modified BHF cycle ride sign

This sign was too generic

The youngest members of the group got up very late today, so we didn’t get going until about quarter to eleven. Up until then, the weather had been atrocious, with heavy rain and low temperatures, so we’d all put our waterproofs on, and I was also wearing my cycling tights to keep warm. The weather improved almost as soon as we set off though, so there were a few stops in the first hour for people to divest themselves of their excessive clothing. Yesterday’s repair to Andy’s brake lever was also causing issues, and had to have plasters applied to it to prevent it from digging into his leg. The last of these stops was next to a sign warning about the official BHF C2C cycle ride at the end of July. This obviously needed a slight modification for today’s event.

Sam solves the cube while riding

That's just showing off

These travails over, we settled into a very pleasant ride in the warm bright sunshine, along mostly empty paths and roads (though one short section was a cycle path next to a busy A road). Apart from looking at the fantastic scenery, some of the group also occupied their time by riding as far as possible with their eyes closed, or solving the Rubi’s cube. After starting the climb up one of the hills, I spotted a two-wheeled cyclist about two thirds of the way up, and decided to try to beat him to the top. He was carrying an enormous heavy-looking pack, so it looked like it might be possible due to his relatively slow speed. I charged up the hill, leaving the rest of the unicyclists behind, but it was starting to look like he’d still be a few feet ahead by the time he escaped over the summit. Fortunately for me, he dismounted before reaching the top, and started pushing his bike on foot. We crested the brow at almost the same time, and as I passed him I asked whether all that stuff was weighing him down, “you know, the extra wheel, chain and handlebars?”

I was enjoying riding at my own pace for a change, so I continued on ahead of the other riders for a few more miles, until I got to a choice of C2C routes, and couldn’t remember which way we’d decided to go. I had to wait a long time for the others, as they’d stopped at a pub for a quick pitstop. It was after 1pm by this point, but we were still only half way to our planned lunch stop in Penrith, where we were also due to be filmed by ITV, so we hurried on without stopping for food.

Shortly after passing through Blencow, I suffered a completely unforseen UPD (unplanned dismount) on an apparently smooth road surface, which due to my speed at the time meant that I had to run about 20 feet down the road just to stay upright. My right ankle had been getting a bit sore, and did not really appreciate this sudden demand to stamp very hard on the ground several times. I avoided twisting or spraining it though, so I was able to continue riding, albeit in some slight discomfort. It did at least take my mind off my growing hunger.

Meanwhile, the ITV man rang to sat that he was getting restless due to our continuing non-appearance in Penrith, so we arranged to meet him on the path for a quick shoot before we stopped properly for lunch. We finally crossed paths at 3pm. Eager to press on, we pushed Andy forward to do the interview, while we waited for the tailenders to catch up for the group shots. I’m diabetic, so this seemed like a good opportunity for a blood sugar test, which came back as “LO”, rather than the normal numeric reading. That basically means “too low to measure,” which either explained my subsequent failures to mount my unicycle, or was just because I had trouble getting a big anough blood sample on my initial attempt. I should have done another test to double check, but the stragglers had caught up by then, and we set off straight away to ride past the camera. Due to the aforementioned failed mounts, and my necessary rushed consumption of carbohydrates, I was several seconds behind the main group, so I got my own almost solo scene, riding past the camera with our ever resourceful bicyclist, Pete.

We finally enetered Penrith proper a few minutes later, but didn’t manage to find our rendezvous on the path, despite accidentally also scouting out an extra side road due to misleading signposts. After climbing the big hill out of town, we rearranged to meet the support team as soon as they could catch up with us. Sadly, for whatever reason, this never happened, so we rode bravely on to Langwathby, and finally ate “lunch” at 4:15, while sitting on the swings in the park. This is where we said farewell to Paul, who has an exam tomorrow – hopefully he’ll rejoin us at some point on the final day.

Although refreshed by food and rest, the old fogeys of the group (Ade, Ben and me) were starting to seize up, and were keen to press on to the campsite, where hot showers were beckoning. My unicycle had developed a squeak during the day, which had been getting louder and more persistent as time wore on. I had initially thought that I was just exhausted, but when I realised that having to push quite hard to go downhill wasn’t just in my imagination, I knew that I was going to have to do something about the bearings, or my unicycle might not even be rideable tomorrow. This last hour of the ride was a real slog; the last couple of hills were not welcome surprises, but I did just about manage to ride all the way to the end without having to walk any of it.

Unexpected luxury

Unexpected luxury

We arrived at Renwick just after 6; pretty good time considering how late we left in the morning. Our early departure from lunch had paid off, as we were picked up by Amy at least half an hour earlier than the rest of the group. When we got to the campsite in Kirkoswald, we found we had actually been booked into brand new bunkhouses on the farm, with solid walls, real beds, and extremely welcoming and helpful owners. What unexpected luxury!

Today was Elspeth’s 18th birthday, so after a rather splendid meal at the Fetherston Arms, we returned to the bunkhouses for cake, sparkling wine, and a night time display of glow poi, fire poi and fire juggling. This was another late-ish night, but you have to celebrate, and the real beds ensured a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow will be the hardest day, starting with a huge climb, followed by lots more big ups and downs. I hope we’ll be ready for it.

Elspeth's birthday cake Birthday glow sticks Birthday poi

Celebrating Elspeth's 18th birthday

Stats Today Total
Route GPS trail
Distance 34.02 miles 70.27 miles
Ascent 2241 feet 5017 feet
Descent 2165 feet 4399 feet
Time riding 4h48 10h28
Running repairs time (approx) 1h30
Total time out 7h40 17h40

Apart from the very late lunch, today was a great day of riding, and very enjoyable. However, we’re not just doing this for fun – if we’ve inspired, entertained, or just appalled you with our ludicrous trek across the country, please sponsor me for the British Heart Foundation.

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