The second of my 10 Challenges 4 Cancer: a 150 mile cycle ride from Sheffield to southern Wales in 48 hours.
I’m not a cyclist. I’ve only been on a bike a few times over the past couple of years so this challenge was a daunting prospect. It was made more daunting still by the sub-zero temperatures and the fact I’d be using a bike with only three gears.
My journey would take me from Sheffield across the Peak District to Leek, down through Shrewsbury, into Wales and finally to my mum’s house near Hay-on-Wye in Powys.
I set off from Sheffield on the Friday afternoon and immediately realised that my legs were far from prepared for this challenge – especially given the previous weekend’s ‘Everest’ stair climb. The relentless initial climb out of Sheffield to Owler Bar at an altitude of over 300m already had me feeling exhausted before I’d barely even begun. Furthermore, carrying the weight of my camping gear in panniers made it soon feel like I was dragging a house up each and every hill – of which, of course, there were many.
The picturesque scenery of the Peak District my reward for the pain of its unrelenting terrain…
As the miles ticked slowly by, I began to find a rhythm on the Peaks’ plentiful ascents and became more accustomed to the burning in my thighs. I passed through the picturesque towns of Bakewell, Monyash and Longor and soon had the distinctive craggy peaks of The Roaches, on the Peak District’s western border, in sight. I was beginning to understand the simple joys of cycle touring – the freedom to choose your own path, to see the world at your own pace and in more depth than perhaps any other form of travel.
Then finally, the sharp turn south onto the Buxton Road gave me the long descent into Leek. Suddenly all those ascents were worth it. As my heavily fatigued legs enjoyed flying effortlessly downhill, I was surrounded by some of the country’s finest scenery cast against a glorious setting sun. It was a magical moment.
It was already dark when I peddled into Leek. I’d arrived at my intended destination for the day but I wanted to get ahead of schedule so pushed on. The final straw for the days riding was yet another long ascent which led to crash number one (toppling off my bike in sheer exhaustion!). After a heartily consumed pub lunch, a field near the town of Endon was to be my home for the night. I set up the tent in the dark not knowing what else I was sharing the field with (I kept my fingers crossed that it wasn’t bulls!).
This frozen bush shows just how cold it was!
It was -5 degrees, I only had room to pack a one season sleeping bag and so I was wearing every item of clothing I had to block out the biting cold. Let it be said, and not just because I’m writing for their blog, that without the warmth provided by my new Berghaus Arisdale jacket I may really have been in trouble. Even so, I still spent most of the night shivering away too cold to sleep. It was undoubtedly one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life.
At the start of the second day I genuinely thought I may struggle to complete the challenge. Whether it was the exertion of the previous day, the lack of sleep or the general lack of training for the challenge, my legs simply had nothing to offer. The slightest incline became a painful battle of will to keep going.
But everything changed after a trip to a very helpful bike shop in Market Drayton. They gave my bike a quick once over and, crucially, used their proper pump to inflate my tyres to the correct PSI. Yes, I’d cycled over 60 miles on tyres that were not properly inflated. Talk about making things harder for myself! The next 30 miles, over pretty flat terrain, on tyres pumped to the max, flew by.
I was making great progress and, mainly to avoid another night in the tent, was tempted to push through and cycle the whole way to my mum’s that night. It would have been over 100 miles in a day. But after waiting with a motorcyclist who’d been involved in a serious road accident, my enthusiasm had unsurprisingly been quashed. I’d also lost the light and the snow had started to come down heavily.
The ‘pod’ that saved me from another night of shivering.
So after covering 65 miles over the day the cold tent beckoned. However I managed to negotiate a significant discount on a ‘pod’. This basic wooden shelter was perhaps the finest accommodation I’d ever stayed in for one reason – it had a heater! I may never again sleep so soundly.
Reinvigorated after a proper nights sleep, I eagerly took to the road on Sunday morning. I had 40 miles remaining. The weary legs struggled immensely on the hills which were once again becoming more frequent as I neared the Welsh border. But on seeing the first road sign marked ‘Kington’ (my mum’s nearest town) my heart leapt. I could almost smell my mum’s infamous lasagne!
The final approach to my mum’s house down a treacherous icy lane…
However the final 5 miles on the minor country lanes brought with it a new challenge. Ice! It became tediously slow picking my way carefully through the patches of ice. But I was almost there. And then, only 50 metres from my mum’s front door, I had crash number two. On a steep hill, the patches suddenly became a thick layer of sheet ice covering the entire road. The moment my front wheel touched it I was gone. And I fell heavily. Luckily no breaks but neuropraxia in my hand has meant I haven’t been able to feel two of my fingers since.
So I limped the final 50 metres of my journey but it didn’t matter. I’d made it! 150 miles in less than 48 hours. My first multi-day cycle tour was complete and the world’s best lasagne was waiting for an extremely hungry cyclist!
Despite the exhausting schedule, the biting cold, and the crashes, this is an experience I’ll always treasure. But next time I think I’ll wait for some warmer weather!
There is a more serious side to the challenges I’m undertaking this year. Cancer. More than one in three people in the UK will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. It is a vicious disease that touches us all in far too many ways. I’m hoping to raise more than £2000 for a cancer charity (AICR) which funds the best research projects all over the world. If you are able make a donation, or to find out more about my 10 Challenges 4 Cancer, please click here.