Coast to Coast unicycle challenge day 3 – free wheeling on the big hills

Yesterday on the Coast to Coast unicycle challenge, I’d thought that my trip might be over, due to mechanical difficulties, but it all got sorted for the third day, 25 August 2010.
Click on any image below for the full size version.

There was a lot of maintenance to take care of before we set off today. As well as changing Elspeth’s cranks back to the 170mm for the massive climb up the first hill, there was also the issue of my bearings to sort out. I think it must have been the heavy rain on Monday which was the final straw for my bearings, though they had just about held out until the end of Tuesday. However, when I tried spinning the wheel this morning, it stopped after only a couple of revolutions. After taking the wheel out of the frame, I found that while the left bearing was still spinning freely, the right would hardly turn at all, making horrific crunches and grinding noises. Fortunately, Andy had brought spare bearings and a puller to remove the old one, while Ade and Pete between them appear to have the ability to fix anything. After a quick photo call for the owners of the farm we’d been staying at, we drove back to Renwick, where we’d finished riding last night.

Top of the first climb

Top of the first climb (Ben Hyde)

We started riding at 10:55, our latest start so far, with a plan to stop for lunch after the climb to Hartside Top. This is a long winding road up a great big hill, but with my lovely new bearing, I didn’t really have any trouble with it, overtaking not just all of the other unicyclists, but several bikers as well. There’s a point near the top where a shortcut allows part of a switchback to be avoided, which I think had been discussed as an option. However, it’s steeper than the long route, naturally, and also not in nearly as good condition, with the rough surface also covered in loose pebbles. I figured that since I was so far ahead of the others, I’d continue along on the longer road. I got quite a bit of attention on reaching the café carpark, and gave out several cards. Callum arrived just in time to get in on the offer of cups of tea from our admirers. Several people told us that we had been on GMTV that morning, which must have been what the ITV man who filmed us yesterday was doing, but we didn’t get a chance to see it, and it doesn’t seem to be available online.

Sadly, Ade didn’t find the climb as easy as I did, and injured his ankle during the ascent. He had to walk quite a way from there to the top, with Pete keeping him company. On getting to the top, Pete then had to change Elspeth’s back to something shorter to better suit the descent, so we ended up spending quite a long time at Hartside Top. Despite not leaving the café until about 1pm, it was still too early in the ride for lunch, so we set off again fuelled only by a snack of sausage rolls and cake. Ade sensibly decided to give up riding for the day, as his ankle would only have got worse attempting the remaining massive climbs, so we were now down to 6 riders on unicycles, plus Pete on two wheels.

We stopped for lunch an hour later, or rather, I did. Sam and I were in the lead, and the rest of the group were quite keen to just keep going without stopping too much. My plan was basically just to stop only long enough to stuff my sandwiches down, then get back on the wheel. If the others caught up, they could stop with us or not, as the fancy took them. When Callum joined us though, he found that he had broken two spokes, so we all waited for Pete to catch up with the toolkit.

Great view while waiting for spokes

Great view while waiting for spokes

Although Pete had the tools, he wasn’t carrying any spokes, so we had to phone back to base to get someone to bring us some. While we waited, Pete started the job by removing the tyre and the broken spokes, and I finished my sandwiches. We were waiting a long time, during which Ben received a call from his mother Jenny, who was apparently coming to meet us with coffee. After several minutes, he got another call asking for directions, and it turned out that we could actually see her car across the valley; from what we could hear of Ben’s end of the conversation, Jenny was having trouble seeing us, so we all ended up jumping up and down in our brightly coloured windproof jackets. Ade and Kelly arrived with the spokes at more or less the same time as Jenny, and Pete was finally able to repair Callum’s wheel. My quick lunch stop had been extended to more than an hour, but we were ready to get going again.

I’d deliberately stopped on the brow of a hill, so we had a nice easy descent before our next big climb up Garrigill. This was a monster of a hill, not as long a road as Hartside, but much steeper, with several false crests. I was in the lead again, thanks to plenty of practice climbing the hills of Bristol, so I had a nice long rest at the top. While I was waiting for the rest of the group, the cyclist I had passed on the way up finally caught up with me, and gave me a warning about the last bit of descent into Nenthead. Like many other cyclists we met, he was quite surprised to learn that I’d managed to ride all the terrain we had covered so far on one wheel, and doubted that the upcoming steep descent would be possible. I said I’d be careful, and started to wonder just how bad it would be.

The rest of the group eventually reached the top of the hill, and after a quick breather, set off down the road ahead of me. By the time I got to the sign warning about the dangerously steep hill, they were all out of sight, using their brakes to get down the hills much more quickly than I feel safe with. I stopped to consider the precipitous drop which lay before me, and girded my loins for the descent. I felt pretty dicy at the start, and had to dismount after a couple of revolutions, due to fear of not being able to control the wheel. I walked back up and had another think, while a few cyclists sped down the hill with nary a care; I was quite envious of their brakes and freewheels, but eventually convinced myself that this hill wasn’t actually steeper than Brook Hill in Bristol, which is on my normal commute to work. I started out very gingerly, but by half way down, I’d got the measure of it, and relaxed into quite an exhilarating descent. With practice, I think I’d be able to get down it without pausing or having to go so slowly, but for now I was just glad not to have had to walk down any of it.

When I got into the village, I found the rest of the group hanging around the North Pennine Cycles shop. This was another extended maintenance stop, during which Callum’s spokes received professional attention from Dave the shopkeeper, and Ade was able to give a much more permanent repair to Andy’s brake lever with Dave’s help and tools. Unlike most bike shops, which tend to have lots of stuff on shelves with maybe a workshop hidden at the back, this marvellous place seems much more focused on the workshop, with relatively few products to see on the shelves, though more are retrievable from the storeroom. David was incredibly helpful, and it was quite hard to get him to accept any payment.

Welcome to Northumberland

Welcome to Northumberland

Elspeth, Ben and Sam set off while the repairs were underway, in order to improve their chances of finishing the day early, but sadly started out in the wrong direction, reappearing a few minutes later to begin the climb up to the highest point on today’s ride. After another 20 minutes, the repairs were all done, and we started climbing the hill after them. I caught up just as Elspeth was reaching the Northumberland border, where we all posed for photos next to the sign.

The midges were getting quite numerous, so we didn’t stop for long, though I was at the back. We thought we were only about 10 miles from the end, so I thought I’d attempt to ride to the end without dismounting, and gradually overtook everyone in the rest of the group. I was now riding across the tops of the hills through fantastic scenery, with noone else in sight for miles and miles.

The winding road ahead Sheep on the road Big sky

The winding road ahead, sometimes with sheep

My engine

My engine

After about 40 minutes, I stopped in Allenheads to ask how far I was from our destination, Rookhope. I was still planning to get there without dismounting, so ended up idling in the middle of the road for a minute or so, talking to a woman who claimed to have a unicycle in her house. She told me that I was only 5 miles away from the end, which was slightly further than I had estimated, but I still reckoned I could get there without having to dismount, so on I went.

Posing in front of the Durham border

Trying not to be eaten by midges

Within a mile, I reached a signpost pointing towards Rookhope, but it said that I was still 6 miles away. It was also pointing up quite a big looking hill, which didn’t quite fit my expectation of the day’s ride’s profile. There had been some discussion about where we would stop riding today, with one option being to go an extra couple of miles up the big hill which would otherwise have been at the beginning of tomorrow’s ride. This would mean that tomorrow was essentially all downhill, but also made me wonder whether I had somehow reached tomorrow’s hill, and was therefore going the wrong way. I resolved to climb the hill, and check my course when I reached the top. My doubt increased as I ascended, as this was quite a serious hill, and when I saw someone taking photos of the landscape in the carpark at the top, I stopped to ask directions. Before I could open my mouth, she turned towards me and said that she’d been waiting ages for me, which was rather a surprise. I dismounted, and learned that she was a reporter from the local newspaper (the Weardale Gazette?). She took a few photos of me, during which my mum turned up with Jenny. Their arrival meant that all of the unicyclists on the ride, except for Sam, were now attended by at least one parent.

Delapidated mine

Delapidated mine

The midges were getting extremely voracious now, so I quickly got back on my wheel, and chased after Ben, who had passed through during the photo shoot. There were still about 5 miles to Rookhope from that last stop, and I caught up with Ben about halfway there. We could see someone pointing a camera at us just ahead, but didn’t really want to slow down, as we just wanted to get to the end for a proper rest, shower and food. We politely refused his request to stop, so he took a couple of snaps, and raced ahead to do the same.

Shortly afterwards, at about 7:30, we arrived in Rookhope to a relatively large crowd of 10-12 people, including the photographer from above, who took more pictures of us. You’ll note that almost all of the information in the resulting articles is wrong though. Despite the massive hills on today’s ride, I actually found it much more enjoyable than yesterday, mostly because I now have a wheel which turns freely. I do like hill climbing, though. I did start to feel the pressure from the saddle in the last mile, but ninety odd miles, that’s a marked improvement over my previous experience on long rides. I’m really going to have to buy some Chamois Butt’r of my own when I get home. Sam arrived a few minutes later, complaining of stiff bearings. They weren’t as crunchy as mine had been this morning, but were still slowing him down quite a bit.

The exceptional luxury of the bunkhouse lounge

Exceptional luxury

Unlike yesterday, we were actually expecting to stay in a bunkhouse today, but nothing could have prepared us for the quite excessive luxury in which we found ourselves. The Barrington Bunkhouse‘s lounge-cum-sleeping area is fabulously plush, with a well stocked fruitbowl and kitchen. The only downside is the toilet/shower facilities, which are not really adequate for so many people.

When I got out of the shower, I learned that Pete and Elspeth had arrived, but despite Pete normally being at the back, Andy and Callum were still on the road somewhere, having apparently taken a wrong turn somewhere. Several search parties were sent out, and they were eventually found having done an extra 10 miles or so, having been fooled by the same hill which had caused my own doubts. They were finally brought in from the cold at around 10pm, after an extremely long day.

Stats Today Total
Route GPS trail
Distance 27.75 miles 98.02 miles
Ascent 3783 feet 8800 feet
Descent 3406 feet 7805 feet
Time riding 3h46 14h14
Running repairs time (approx) 2h20 3h50
Total time out 8h32 26h12

Today was very enjoyable for me, probably my best of the ride so far. This is normally where I’d be asking for sponsorship to support the British Heart Foundation and their great work, but after their extremely long day, I think that today it would be more appropriate to add to Andy or Callum‘s totals.

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