I woke up to morning sunlight streaming onto my closed eyes while the nagging alarm refused to let me slip back into blissful sleep in the soft sheets… I stirred and groaned as every muscle in my body complained at the rude awakening, only to groan even louder as I sat up on my tender derriere!
The fourth day in the saddle and it was beginning to show. Lathering copious amounts of sudocream on we kitted up quickly and stumbled blinking into the hotel foyer and then into bright sunshine. The Tuesday morning traffic hummed past and it felt surreal to mount the bicycle to join the commuting traffic for the final 172miles of our ride… that’s right only 172miles to go!
We took the main road out of Middlesbrough which was busier than we would have liked but at least directional and made quick progress spurred on by the promise of a hot breakfast supplied under a couple of golden arches. 15 miles down the road I was delightedly stuffing my face with as many McMuffins as I could comfortably consume (3, in case you are wondering) and some fanta and a coffee made me feel all brand new. We are not usually huge fans of Mc Donald’s but in cases like this it definitely hit the spot! We saw another rider there who looked as tired as we felt and it was certainly an easy point in the race to hit a low.
We were determined to stay focused, and set our sights on the next goal : Runswick Bay. This was only 10miles down the road but luckily this was just enough time to digest before the “best” down and up to a checkpoint yet! I had had a clue this would be a steep one from posts on social media and tried to gently give Stevie the heads up but on reaching the crest of the 30% decline he was not so amused at the organisers knowing we would be coming straight back up it! The information we needed for the brevet was right at the end of the road too so took some finding before we dropped into our lowest gear to winch the bike back out of the picturesque holiday beach scene. “Are you sure about this?” I gasped to Stevie as we crawled past bemused holiday makers strolling down the slope carrying buckets and spades. The truth is we are proud we can get the tandem up pretty much any climb in the saddle (honking is a different skill entirely) and have conquered Hardknott, Wrynose and Rosedale chimney to name a few so weren’t going to be beaten this time… also the amount of effort it takes to push a laden tandem uphill is quite remarkable and much slower!
The exertion had me miss a turn at the top but this was soon made up and we headed inland and West towards the North York Moors. More familiar territory from Coast to Coasting and we had been particularly cautious of our route in the area to avoid getting sucked into the likes of Rosedale chimney of other infamous climbs the merciless Andy Corless had inflicted on us in the Mille Pennines. It was the hottest day yet however and even the exposed moorland on the tops was baking in the heat. A brief respite for ice creams, biltong and cold drinks in Castleton keep us going for a bit but soon Stevie was craving a chip shop. We were defeated on numerous occasions with red herrings of signs for chippies that were then closed and settled for more pasta salads and cold drinks in Helmsley which was packed full of tourists. I was feeling distinctly hot, bothered and a bit dizzy when a biker noticed our ride and said to Stevie, “Goodness, you look knackered! Must be because she’s not doing any work on the back!”
Luckily he was just about far enough out or range for me to summon the effort to launch myself at him so I quickly stormed off with a temper as hot as the midday heat. “She’s got her feet up on the back” is all part of tandem stoking, but this was not the time or the place to accuse me of taking it easy!!
All too soon out of the town we were climbing again up to our 8th control point Reivaulx Abbey. Somewhere I had never heard of before and a beautiful, yet isolated place of course involving a down then up to get to the phone box which marked the control.
After Runswick Bay the climb seemed mild and we were quickly pushing on through the moors and out towards Malton where we cracked again and screeched to a half in front of Costa for iced coffees and toasties. We tried not to linger long and we still had the last checkpoint to go and the clock was still ticking. More rolling roads out to Beverley made for tough riding and we were pushing hard, the sun started to dip in the horizon and I was desperate to make the control before sunset, partly to feel like we still had some control over this ride and partly because I really wanted as little night riding as possible. It was not to be however and the descent to Beverley weaving through a tunnelled canopy of trees meant the lights had to go on and another frustrating stop be made. Stevie was still after his fish and chips as we felt confident we would find some quickly in this large town. We found the “North Bar” easily, one of the old city gates, and quickly scouted the illuminated signs around: pizza, Chinese, Lebanese but no good old trad fish and chips! We road a few metres down the road and still nothing but passed a fellow cyclist having a pint after his ride. He gave us directions to the nearest chippy which not only didn’t prove as near as we had hoped but was also shut! What a waste of time!
The kind hearted cyclist then asked where we were staying and we then had to explain the whole scenario of the event but he still didn’t seem convinced and pedalled off still offering us a bed for the night… I suppose ultra distance doesn’t make sense to many people!
We resigned ourselves to more pizza and I made a split second decision from the menu before nipping to the pub across the road to buy a half pint of diet coke so I could use their loo. I was struggling a bit to make conversation with the friendly bar lady, but desperate not to recount our whole story again so managed to turn the conversation to weather in the nick of time. As I crossed the road I came back to a very upset Stevie as we had managed to get the most generously topped pizza in the North that was going to take time to eat, we’d lost a lot of time already and he was convinced we wouldn’t be back before 4:30am at the earliest and then an equally flustered Anisa road up with a broken Garmin and also well behind where she expected!
Similar to my meltdown the night before I think the tiredness and strain was just catching up with Stevie, and arguably he has a harder mental challenge captaining the tandem for so long. I convinced him to eat some pizza, we packaged up the rest and headed into the night and the final significant climb leaving Anisa to sort herself out- this would have felt harsh in other events, but she seemed spurred on by seeing us and the self supported nature is acknowledged by all participants. It was 8:30pm by the time we reached this last control so the finishers meal would already have been well underway and we had 65miles left…
The climb I had been fearing was much less of an issue after everything else we had been through and we soon started to pick up speed again. Finally the tandem got to stretch her legs on the flat and I started to get excited about picking up speed and it actually looking we might finish this ride! We had already completed the 10 points, now just to ride home!!
Essentially, it was a choice between being excited or being sleepy so I tried to stick with the former. We seemed to have picked a strange route which took us along peaceful back roads and alongside numerous waterways which I suspect would have been quiet scenic in the light. It wasn’t the most stimulating of environments though and the speaker soon came on and the caffeine chewing gum came out for Stevie. I tried to stick to sour chewy sweets for as long as I could and when the music started to fail inflicted my manic chatting on Stevie to try and keep him awake. His digestion was suffering though and we made frequent stops to try food, Rennies, paracetamol or just a bum rest, while I tried not to get frustrated by the loss of speed. Eventually we came across a petrol station and Stevie was whacked and needed a cat nap, I flicked through social media and paced up and down as quietly as I could to try and not slip into sleepiness too, focusing on the relatively short distance we had left. 10minutes of resting his eyes and a strong coffee certainly helped but the next challenge was our routing in….
We had chosen to follow a National Cycle Route which would have been perfect to avoid busy main roads in the daylight if we were on it 5-6pm as planned, but at midnight a dark rutted track with overhanging branches was the last thing we needed. Emergency rerouting by me resulted in us pushing the tandem up some steps and back onto the main road to essentially follow signs for Sheffield. Stevie still exhausted seemed unable to process the distance left and as we dropped from 40 to 30 to 25miles left it still seemed as if he didn’t believe we were reaching our arrivee. But as we know from audaxes, it can all still go wrong in the last 15miles and given our routing misdemeanour earlier I was paranoid about the route I had planned and its suitability. Furiously I panned in and out of the GPS trying to figure out the most direct way to our destination. On entering the city it felt like every decision I made, be it whether to follow the GPS track or divert off it was wrong and we seemed to zigzag towards our destination and certainly took in one extra unnecessary climb before finally the chequered flag of the finish appears on the screen- I had barely dared to look up at the sleeping city around. As we neared the flag my cloudy and confused mind had a panic- the finisher meal was at the Heeley Institute but when was the control moving back to a Different Gear? Was it tonight or tomorrow? I just couldn’t remember and the extra mile suddenly felt too much. I was disorientated on the approach and fearing that we would waste more time figuring out where to go when suddenly there were a couple of people on the corner and hushed cheers- we had made it!!
Having been self sufficient for so long suddenly we could not have been looked after better, Tori and another helper got the tandem inside, noted our arrival time, brought beer and curry and generally couldn’t do enough for us whilst putting up with our almost incoherent attempts at conversation (although they did note our slight unconventional route in). We had made it! And typically I just felt tired and anti-climactical, all the emotion having been drained out of me by the enormity of the ride. But there was a sense of relief, the pain could end, the rest could come and we knew in the days to come the immense sense of achievement would build as we truly began to process what we had done.
Round up: Anisa rolled in at about 9:30am having rested overnight but we were delighted to see she got round safely. Of 80 entrants, 68 road and there were 5 pairs. 45 riders finished, with a 30 second gap between the two first (epic dot watching!) and 3 pairs, including us, the only tandem finishing in 79 hours 34 minutes.
We are massively grateful to Ang, Tori and everyone that put on such an epic event- the amount of work that went in was astounding and made it a very special experience.
After this, going around the World should be easy…. right?!
- Number of pizza consumed around the event: 9
- Best food: The curry from Bhaji Shop at the end
- Worst food: The rubbish wrap that was designed to be warmed up, eaten cold at Malham Tarn
- Best stretch of road: The descent down from Upper Coquetdale at dusk
- Worst stretch of road: The yet another climb just before Durham in the icy mist
- Biggest success: Relying our plan/processes, even though it took longer than expected without the plan I feel we would have lost the plot before the end!
- Biggest lesson: Attention to detail with the route… especially at the end and have a back up plan if you arrive at a different time than you expect!
- Best food: Breakfast at the A66 cafe
- Worst food: The wrap. Again. It was awful.
- Best stretch of road: 50mph descent
- Worst stretch of road: A66 before the A66 cafe, too much traffic!
- Biggest success: Climbing everything in the saddle (to protect the tandem back wheel), including Honister and out of Runswick Bay.
- Biggest lesson: Remembering that plans and schedules are fluid and not everything pans out as it does on paper. You need to be reactive to what is happening right now in front of you.
Watch the footage from the “backseat” on YouTube on our SteLa Tandem channel: here!
We are also delighted to feature in Episode 171 of the Cycling Podcast and interviewed by pro-cyclist Lizzy Banks!
See the other ride reports from All Points North 2021 here!