My nerves were bubbling this morning. A few weeks ago I decided to turn a disappointment into a positive by planning a solo cycling adventure. Back then it felt as if July 30th was an age away but here it is!
The trip I planned was to take the train from Nottingham to Penrith and then spend the next five days cycling back! I would do this through the Lake District, North Yorkshire, Leeds and the Peak District. Finally cycling back to Nottingham on Thursday.
And I’m Off
My nerves weren’t jangling because of the cycling. It was the train journey setting me on edge. I had three trains to catch and dragging my fully laden bike from one to another was bound to be a challenge.
I needn’t have worried. Friendly folk helped me on all three trains by ensuring I could get on and off easily. People chatted and asked questions about where I was going. One lady told me she was off to Liverpool for a girls night. She and three friends had rented a rather swish apartment, with a champagne bar. I wondered whether I was really doing the right thing!
Arriving in Penrith
Disgorged from the station into Penrith, the first thing I saw was a Virgin trains employee hosing down passengers entering the station. Kendal Calling festival is taking place just down the road and his job is to clean people’s wellies before they get on the train.
The first sixteen miles of my ride are lovely. Undulating roads took me along the length of Ullswater lake. The mountains looming at my sides gave me warning of what was to come.
For some reason I had knowingly decided to take in Kirkstone Pass on my route. The signs said it all: ‘20% gradient for 1 mile’ and ‘altitude 1500ft. Winter conditions can be dangerous’. As I approached it dark clouds rolled ominously in before beginning to drop their content.
I looked at the steeply winding road and then at my heavily packed panniers. I was not going to make it to the top without putting a foot down. But I was going to give it a good go.
In no time I was down in my smallest gear. As I tried to climb the weight of the panniers fought my every turn of the pedal. A vicious head wind accompanied them in trying to reverse my decision to go upwards.
I ground and ground away; legs burning, lungs screaming. The rain cooled me. It is a narrow road and car drivers, desperate not to lose thirty seconds of their day passed closely by my elbow. I wanted to warn them that I was wobbly, that my attempts to keep forward momentum were causing me to swerve slightly at every move. One driver, clearly seeing the pain in my face, gave me a thumbs up as he headed down.
I must be nearing the top. I have been climbing for ages. Perhaps I am going to make it after all. Each twist and turn brings more upward gradient and stronger wind. If I can just keep my legs turning. And then I have stopped. I have put my foot down.
Bending over the handlebars, heaving in air, sweat, dribble and snot running down my face, I know why I am here! This is living, this is adventure.
Take Your Reward
A minute passes and I move upwards once more. Just that brief rest was all my legs needed. The top finally appears. I grudgingly cycle past the pub at the top of the pass and head down into Ambleside, via the Struggle.
Oh, that feels good. Swooping downhill with Windermere spread before me. Only ten miles to go until I reach my destination for the night, Hawkshead Youth Hostel. My legs feel ruined and I hope they forgive me before tomorrow. I decide to help them with nachos and Curious Porter.