Coast to Coast unicycle challenge day 4 – high spirits on the final descent

The final day, 26 August 2010, of the Coast to Coast unicycle challenge was the longest distance ride of the week, and there were yet more mechanical difficulties. Despite that, we all made it to the end.
This is a very long post; you may need as much stamina to read it as it took us to ride across the country. Click on any image below for the full size version.

Even with our now customary maintenance break before the off (replacing Sam’s stiff bearing and putting long cranks on Elspeth’s unicycle), we made our earliest start of the week, from Rookhope at 9:50. Ade led the pack, loaded up with painkillers after yesterday’s ankle injury. As I mentioned yesterday, we were expecting a relatively modest climb in the first couple of miles, followed by 40 miles of downhill to the sea, but we were sadly mistaken. True enough, we did start out with a climb, but reached a local maximum far too quickly. I found the subsequent descent into Stanhope much more challenging than I should have, and after some momentary indecision, stopped to check my blood sugar. Despite having had about twice as much as usual for breakfast, I was starting to realise that the reading was going to be less than 3mmol/l. I was quite surprised when it showed 1.6, but that was still better than the immeasurable reading I had on Tuesday.

Scrap metal sculpture at Parkhead Station

Parkhead Station

After stuffing my face with sugar tablets, and the first of the day’s many granola bars, I felt much better, and began the long hard climb up Crawleyside. If I’d had a normal sugar reserve, and hadn’t already been riding for three days, this would still have been a tough ascent, but today it was absolutely agonising. I could see someone waiting near the brow with a camera, and stopped for a very welcome chance to get my breath back while talking to him, and to give him one of my promo cards. He drove off down the hill just as Sam rode up to join me, but from what I gather, the driver then waylaid Andy and Elspeth, who were out of sight from me some way down the road. They eventually arrived, followed by Pete, but Ade, Ben and Callum were still some way off, having stopped off in Stanhope for crucial vaseline supplies. Elspeth set off for the real summit on Parkhead while we were waiting, but we eventually got bored as well, and continued up the hill, which though not as steep as what we’d already climbed, but was still almost a mile with several false summits before the C2C route turned off the road towards the café at the top. It was a good location, but the staff were rather officious.

Riding across the moortops

Riding across the moortops

After a shortish stop for tea and cakes, and for Pete to put 117mm cranks on Elspeth’s unicycle, we set out across the moortops through yet more fabulous scenery, with nary another soul in sight. We did see a few cyclists, but for large stretches of the time we had the massive sky to ourselves. From around this point, the ride also became a lot more cohesive; Elspeth’s shorter cranks and this gentle downhill path allowed her to keep up a much faster pace than previously, and the group was a lot less strung out along the road than during the first three days.

Riding along Waskerley Way

Waskerley Way (Tommy Henderson)

Despite its gentle nature, Waskerley Way was not without incident. I somehow lost my footing on one pedal while going up the path over a bridge, which left me still pedalling with my left foot, desperately hanging on to the saddle with my right knee. Needless to say, this didn’t last long, but it was quite exciting, and I’m very glad I wear wristguards. This earned me some derision from the other riders, who’d stopped to talk to some walkers; this was the first time I’d had a UPD while climbing any sort of hill, and its spectacular nature made it even more ridiculous. Not far from there, I picked a narrow sidetrack down from a bridge, rather than risk the very loose surface of the main path with my slick road tyre. It started out easy enough, but gradually got narrower, deeper and hard to avoid pedal strikes on the grassy banks to either side. I still think it was a better choice, but I wasn’t sure I’d stay mounted until it rejoined the main rocky path. We were also stopped by the council workers maintaining the path, who wanted some pictures of us for the County Durham council magazine. This meant filling in a bunch of forms giving them permission to use our images.

Terra Novalis surrounded by unicyclists

Weird and wonderful sculpture

Just before reaching Templetown, we were met by a reporter from Radio Newcastle (or possibly Sheffield) who was keen to capture some sound effects to go with his interviews. However, one of the joys of unicycling when compared to biking is the almost complete silence; there are no gears or chain, so unless your bearings are squeaking, the only thing you can normally hear is the tyre on the road. To compromise, we settled on him calling “off you go,” while we rode past shouting “Jerry!”. This was a common refrain during moments of exasperation on the ride, as we jokingly blamed the original organiser for all our various woes since he dropped out a few weeks ago. We didn’t get very far though, as after about ten seconds we rounded the corner to see the Terra Novalis sculpture, which really does demand a few photos. While we were snapping away, Callum discovered that he’d broken another two spokes, so we ended up having an even longer stop than planned while Pete replaced them. This time he was carrying spares, so we weren’t held up for too long.

Shortly afterwards, on the way out of Leadgate, we were rejoined by Paul. We were now back to our full complement of 8 unicyclists, and his mum also joined our support team, further increasing the proportion of riders with parents in tow. We had a very interesting little section of the path immediately after that, which looks like it runs through the middle of a maze on the GPS trail. There is also a straight route through the maze, but only if you ignore the z-axis; the walls are about 8 feet high, and the straight path just goes up and down them instead of twisting round and round them like the trail we followed.

From there, we were never far from civilization, which was quite a change from the majority of the ride through the wilds of nowhere. We were either on cycle paths in the middle of urban areas, or on disused railway paths within a stone’s throw of built up areas, which were also quite often raised up on embankments, making the comparison quite easy.

We’d been out for a few hours when I started to feel like I’d had enough. My legs were incredibly tired, and I was wondering whether I was going to last another hour, let alone the three which seemed likely to be required. If I imagined myself reaching the end of the journey, I’d invariably laugh out loud, and get a temporary boost of speed, but it wouldn’t last long, and I started to lag behind the others. I thought I was hitting the wall, but after about twenty minutes of this, I suddenly managed to put it out of my mind, and rushed past the rest of the group, who were having a rest. I shouted out, “Can’t stop; I’ve broken through the wall!” but after only a couple of minutes, I had to stop. It was about time I checked my blood sugar, which was only 3.5mmol/l. I stuffed down a load of carbohydrates, which made an enormous difference – I felt almost completely revitalised, and didn’t have any problems for the rest of the ride.

We were met by the support team a couple of miles after Beamish, where Heather’s cake and encouragement was welcomed by all of the riders.

We had a quick stop in Washington for an interview on Radio Sheffield. When asked what he was going to do after the ride, Ben expressed a preference for a jacuzzi, especially if anyone would sponsor him to sit in one.

My phone battery ran out a few miles later, so I’ve had to edit the end of my GPS trail, but it’s accurate for the first 38.22 miles. At that point we thought we were only three miles from the end, but that turned out to be slightly optimistic, as there were still nearly five miles to go.

Nonetheless, we were soon riding along the side of the Wear, so we knew we must be getting close. Not far from the end, we were joined by Amy, who had been practising her unicycle riding all day. She’d progressed quite rapidly, and was able to keep up with us on a much smaller wheel, no doubt helped in part by our slow, knackered pace.

Dipping tyres (and knees) in the sea at Sunderland

We made it! (Kelly Small)

We had been hoping to finish by 6pm, and the BBC had sent an Outside Broadcast van in the hopes of covering the event live. I don’t think we’d have quite made it by then even without the various unforseen delays, and we finally reached the finish line at 7:30. Overcome with emotion (which explains the lack of posed photos at this end), we rushed to the sea to dip our tyres, though some went a bit further by jumping into the water, deliberately this time. It was such an intense feeling of relief and satisfaction to have finished this epic journey that I very nearly burst out crying. Ben obviously hasn’t been supressing his emotions for as long as I have, and happy tears could be seen running down his face. In the last few yards of the ride, I’d started to feel slight twinges from my dodgy knee, so I was very glad that a) it had lasted for the whole trip without getting painful, and b) that we elected not to do the 5-day journey to Robin Hood’s Bay, as I didn’t think it would stand another few hours of riding. Ade looked like he’d come off pretty badly though, having ridden hours on end with an injured ankle – despite his smiles of achievement, he was obviously in pain.

Unicyclists sitting under a "Wot, no Jerry?" sign

Where's that idiot who got us all to do this? (Kelly Small)

Although the OB van had left, there was still one reporter from Look North present with a camera, so there was a lot of celebrating in the background of the individual interviews she did with most of us. Despite filming for up to an hour, all I’ve seen of it was a 30 second slot on the news next morning. There may have been a longer version shown later in the day, but the news isn’t generally available on iplayer, so I haven’t been able to check.

Posing in front of the Sunderland end C2C sculpture

Posing in front of the galaxy (Kelly Small)

Back in Whitehaven, there was a pretty obvious sculpture which has “C2C” carved out in massive letters from a huge piece of metal, but the one at the Sunderland end is rather more subtle. It does soak up the heat of sun though, so it did at least keep us warm in the cold wind as we all posed for photos on it. It’s actually a representation of the zodiac rather than anything specifically to do with the C2C – the black ring is divided into 12 segments, each of which represents a constellation.

Mum and I quickly checked into our B&B to get changed before rejoining the rest of the group for a celebratory meal. However, when we came out to go to the restaurant, we realised that we’d checked into the wrong place. Fortunately, the landlady was very understanding, and even found it quite amusing, and we hurriedly checked into the right place two doors down the road, before heading off to the restaurant.

C2C keyring

More of Ade's handiwork

I’d been stuffing my face all day to keep my sugar levels up through all the riding (3 Weetabix, 7 slices of bread, 2 bananas, a bag of dried bananas, 7 or 8 apricots, 7 or 8 granola or muesli bars and a few slices of Heather’s fruitcake, plus a large handful of dextrose tablets). So while my previous test a couple of hours ago was a quite normal 7ish, it seemed that all those carbs had finally caught up with me, and I got a pretty high reading of 22mmol/l before the evening’s meal.
Personalised bunting

Handmade by Jenny

That wasn’t going to stop me from partaking of three courses from the Tavistock Italia‘s fabulous menu though.
While at the restaurant, we were all presented with a keyring fob made by Ade (though I’d been already given mine on Saturday), and our own section of the finish line bunting, as hand-decorated by Jenny. We had a great time at the restaurant, whose staff didn’t even bat an eyelid when Elspeth accidentally set light to her menu with a candle.

As well as the gifts above, we were also each given a Golden Crank accolade by Andy and Pete:

Andy Moulster: Media Whore
Although he denies any responsibility, Andy was already the most visible face of the whole event before we started. He set up the FaceBook group, and gathered lots of publicity. This meant that he was the one that the media usually wanted to talk to.
Ade Harrendence: Determination in the face of adversity, and MacGuyver
Ade probably suffered the most on this trip, injuring his ankle half way up Hartside yesterday, and having to walk up to the top. He did forgo riding for the rest of the day, but was back for the whole of today’s extra long ride. He also fixed a varied range of mechanical problems when the usual tools (or sometimes any tools) weren’t available.
Ben Hyde: Funny Guy
Always there with a joke, dance, song or strangely apposite T-shirt, Ben kept us well entertained as we slogged across the country.
Callum MacKellar: Most Underestimated
With his smaller wheel and lack of training, there had been some doubt that Callum would be able to keep up with the rest of us, or even finish the ride. However, he surprised us with both his speed and stamina, especially on the extra 10 miles he did with Andy yesterday. He did fall asleep at the table this evening, though.
Elspeth MacKellar: Sheer Determination
Like Callum, Elspeth was also under a heavy cloud of doubt, and her long cranks were a considerable disadvantage. Despite that, she refused to give up at any point, pushing through her exhaustion right up to the end.
Paul Beauchamp: Not Quite All There
Though he was planning to ride the full distance, Paul found out only a couple of weeks before the event that he had to sit an exam on Wednesday, so was forced to miss a day and a half in the middle.
Pete MacKellar: Butler
Pete was with us for the whole ride, making sure that no-one got left behind. He also carried spares, tools, maps, and snacks on his bike, as well as the skills to use them all. On top of that, he also fielded many calls from the media, and kept them out of our hair for the most part.
Peter Haworth: Mr Cool
I was very surprised to have earned this, as I’m about the least fashion concious person I know. It actually refers to my riding style and unflappability, though. I was quite often called a machine, due to my ability to climb and descend any hill presented to me, hardly ever needing to get out of the saddle. I hadn’t realised until these awards that I was the only person to have ridden the whole course – I’m very proud not to have had to walk up or down any of it.
Sam Goodburn: Biggest Showoff
As the current UK freestyle champion, Sam spent quite a lot of time this week riding backwards or one-footed. He also only decided to take part at all on the day before we started, so hadn’t done any distance training.
Support team
Amy Sanders: Relentless Positivity
I don’t think I ever saw Amy without a smile on her face, even during the foul weather of the first two days. She led us through stretching exercises in the mornings, and I’m very grateful to her for pitching our tents for us, before the riders had even got to the campsite.
Gwen Moulster: Endless Possibilities
Responsible for much of the pre-ride organisation, Gwen had plenty of suggestions for all eventualities.
Heather MacKellar: Best Cakes
As well as baking Elspeth’s lovely lemon birthday cake, Heather also carried a large tupperware container of fantastic fruitcake with her, which we never seemed to be able to empty, despite our best efforts.
Kelly Small: Mumsy
The source of porridge in the morning, sandwiches at lunch, and many cups of tea, Kelly made some of us feel like we were still living at home.
Steve Moulster: Patience
Although we were very late for our rendezvous in Penrith, Steve waited there for hours, and was even understanding when we eventually didn’t turn up at all. He also kept us safe from other motorists by driving very slowly behind us down a big hill on the first day.
Zack Moulster: Best Baby
Andy’s son was one of the happiest babies I’ve seen. I didn’t hear him cry once, and he seemed completely unfazed by being dragged across the country by his dad and grandparents.
Special mention
Jerry Stokes: Who?
Although Jerry was initially responsible for suggesting and organising the C2C unicycle challenge, he seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth a few weeks ago. Whether this was purely due to fewer riders committing than he’d been expecting, or some other external factor we weren’t privy to, it was a shame not to see him at all during the ride, or for him to see what a success it had been despite the lack of numbers.
Stats Today Total
Route GPS trail
Distance 43.09 miles 141.11 miles
Ascent 1247 feet 10047 feet
Descent 2277 feet 10082 feet
Time riding (approx) 7h00 21h14
Running repairs time (approx) 1h00 4h50
Total time out 9h40 37h52

Many thanks to everyone involved for a great week. I very much enjoyed riding with the other 8 of you on one or two wheels, and without our amazing support team, we would have been (more) lost, stranded or starving on several occasions. Although they werent honoured in the Golden Cranks, as they didn’t officially join the support team until quite late, I’d also like to thank my mum Ruth Chambers, Ben’s mum Jenny, and Paul’s mum, whose name I’m afraid I forgot. I would also like to repeat my thanks to everyone who has sponsored me for the British Heart Foundation, which is what this whole event has been in aid of.

Postscript: Just a couple of little amusements at the end. Despite having checked in the restaurant that we had the key to our room at the B&B, when we tried to get in the front door, we couldn’t find it. We checked several times around the car and in the boot, from which we’d just taken a bag. I even walked back to the restaurant to see whether we’d dropped it on the way, and the staff there let me in, and we checked that it hadn’t been dropped on the floor. Despite this very thorough search, we couldn’t find it, and had to ring up the landlady to let us in. She was even more understanding than the first one, and even offered to indemnify us against theft from our room, which would have to be left unlocked until she replaced the key at her own expense. Truly remarkable. Of course, when we started putting our bags into the boot of the car the next morning, there was the key, plain as day, right in the middle with nothing hiding it from view.

Lovell radio telescope obscured by my thumb

Get your thumb out of the way!

On the way back to Bristol, while looking for a public convenience, we noticed on the map that we were about to drive past Jodrell Bank, which neither of us had known was anywhere near where we were going. We popped in to the visitor centre just to use their toilets, after which I took a picture of the massively impressive Lovell radio telescope. Sadly, I didn’t notice that I’d left my thumb over the lens, so this picture isn’t quite what I’d hoped. It’s a lot better than not having seen it at all though, especially as it was a completely unplanned diversion.

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