Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Lone Cyclist

Daniel is away over the weekend on a stag do, but this wasn't enough to deter me from getting out on my bike this weekend; we have our first biking event on Saturday 14th - a 64-mile sponsored bike ride from Wetherby to Scarborough - and as I've only been out on my bike once over the past few weeks, it seemed silly to give cycling a miss this weekend.

As it turns out, I had a very important job to do. Next week's ride requires us to be in Wetherby by 6:30am on the Saturday morning, but as Wetherby has no train station and we have no car, this is not going to be feasible (ok so we could cycle there...). Instead, we've agreed to meet the other riders somewhere along the way: somewhere that is as far from York as it is from Wetherby! Cue lots of map-studying! It seemed like a good opportunity for me to use this weekend to do a bit of route-planning, followed by a cycle out to see if my calculations were correct.

I identified a destination: Tollerton, 18 miles into the Wetherby-Scarborough ride, and a decent distance North West of York. It's also a nice, cycleable route over Sustrans route 65, and follows the path of the Ouse before passing through Beninborough Hall.

So, I woke up early, packed a few healthy essential supplies and off I went!

A few weeks ago I did a lone day ride to Pickering, so this wasn't the first time I'd been out on my own. I really enjoyed it the first time - it was a real adventure, to say the least, but it is a bit odd being out there with no one to share it with. It does mean that you can go completely at your own pace, but this also means that there's no one there to help you along when energies are dwindling!

Early on Saturday mornings York is quite a strange place. Once I got onto the bike paths I met only dog walkers and runners (and combinations of the two!) for miles and miles. The Ouse was busy with early-morning rowers, too, and the water glistened impressively in the morning sun. The forecast had said it'd be quite hot but cloudy, with rain later, but I set out under pale skies and I was optimistic that I'd get a few dry hours at least.

It was pleasant riding up to Beninborough Hall, a site we have already visited on two wheels once before. I got a bit carried away and did stray from the Sustrans signs for a while, but this gave me an opportunity to coo over lots of gorgeous cows and their calves (I love cows!!), as well as viewing the Hall itself, before giving in and turning back to the actual route.

Once past Beninborough there's a rather lengthy off-road section, which was incredibly dusty due to the lack of rain recently. This made it quite hard to ride over, and I was slipping around everywhere for a while! I just about managed to stay on my bike, but cleaning off the dust won't be too much fun!

I made it to Tollerton quite easily, and lo and behold! it is almost exactly 18 miles from York - perfect! I stopped on a convenient bench to munch some Marmite on toast, and decided where I wanted to head next. I must say, I was very tempted to stick to Route 65 all the way to Bylands Abby, but with the obviously impending rainfall and no will to get stuck out there on my own, I decided to take a route from West to East over the Vale of York, meeting up with Route 66 on the way back into York. These roads are already quite familiar, so it seemed like a rather sensible option - not always my first choice, I must admit!

I headed North to Easingwold and then left Route 65 to head towards Sheriff Hutton. I was skirting the top of the Vale of York here, just below the Howardian Hills, and though it was relatively flat, the winds were stronger here and the roads provided more of a challenge. It was slow-going, and I was struggling quite a bit - I was quite glad I chosen the 'light option' after all!

It wasn't long before fat drops of rain started to fall, first quite sporadically with gusts of wind, and then more regularly. After about 30 miles of riding, just past Sheriff Hutton, it started to really come down, and very quickly I was pretty soaked! I started to feel quite disorientated and was worried about getting too cold and too hungry, so I stopped on a bench in Thornton-le-Clay to put on a waterproof and have some food. I must have looked quite a site sitting next to the road, soaking wet and nibbling on a soggy peanut butter sandwich. Luckily there wasn't a soul in sight (not even a single car) to see me!

Note the dry patch left by me!
I hurried my sandwich and then set off again towards Sand Hutton. There was one major road crossing to do on the route, but that would put me back on the most familiar roads for some plain-sailing home. Despite the rain it was really muggy, and I was aware that I hadn't eaten enough at all. When the weather isn't good, stopping off for food is just not very appealing (especially when there's a danger of getting too cold to get going again), and this is something that I'm really going to have to improve. Still, I'd packed a whole litre of sugary squash (approporiately called 'high juice'), which helped to provide an extra push when I needed it.

Once over the A64, the ride from Sand Hutton to Stamford Bridge was an absolute joy. The roads are long, flat and quiet, surrounded by thick woodland which provides a canopy from the rain and a barrier from the wind. By the time I arrived in Stamford Bridge the sun was out again - it was getting a bit too hot for my long-sleeved cycling top! A bit dazed and eager to get home, I very nearly crashed straight off the bike at a junction in the town centre; this was one of the worst parts of the whole route, as the quiet country road suddenly meets a busy main road. Still, I managed to save myself from landing on the floor, though my pride was slighly battered!

Finally I was on Route 66 back to York, a lovely route passing through the village of Dunnington. The sun was shining, I was almost home, and I'd managed to get a whole day's cycling in without going completely out of my comfort zone. I'm amazed at how much cycling there is to do around York - without covering any scary hills or huge busy roads, you can have a whole day of safe, enjoyable riding, with plenty to see and plenty of suitable picnic spots (when the rain stops!).

I got home and made myself a mug of tomato soup, then managed a few stretches before crashing entirely. I covered 60 miles, which I was really pleased with, but there were no huge hills or even undulating roads - 60 miles on flat roads proved a real challenge. Whether I'm prepared for next week or not I do not know, I guess it all boils down to the day itself in the end. The weather might be bad, I might be tired, my knee might start hurting 30 miles in, but I think the real difference will come from some company and plenty of food. Sugar and some moral support goes a very long way on a long-distance ride, and both of these things were lacking on this trip!

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