Sunday, 24 July 2011

York to Whitby; the Last Training Challenge

This weekend was the last weekend of training before we have to start tapering (reducing our weekly mileage in preparation for the big race). Since we didn't manage to get to Whitby last weekend, the bright skies that greeted us early on Saturday morning were very welcome indeed. The planned route was to head to Whitby via Pickering, then take the 'Cinder Track' cycle path (the route of the Whitby-Scarborough railway line) all the way to Scarborough station, where we could catch a train back to York.

The route promised to be incredibly challenging; it wasn't only the 80-mile distance that we had to endure, but also miles and miles of climbs over the North York Moors to the coast. On top of this already daunting ride, the winds that morning were relatively strong - not a good omen for crossing the wind-swept moorlands of the National Park.

Overlooking the Castle Howard estate

We reached Malton in good time then hit some farm tracks that helped us along to Pickering. By the time we reached Pickering and its beautifully restored watermills the winds were getting uncomfortably strong, blasting in our ears and distracting our concentration. The road from Pickering was long and steep and, on top of that, cars and coaches were thundering by relentlessly. This is the only real route through a remote area to the coast from Pickering, and the traffic and conditions made us feel quite uneasy on our bikes.

There's only one road, and we're taking it...

We reached the Hole of Horcum, where we stopped to admire the views and eat a quick sandwich (Daniel was tempted by the burger van in the lay-by, but managed to resist), before heading on to the toughest part of the route. We have driven over this road many times in a car, and I have considered how hard it would be to take a bike up and over the moors. No idle dreaming in a car could have prepared us for the winding, steep and relentless ascents, and nerve-racking descents into hairpin bends and over streams - all with traffic roaring past and winds bellowing us around the side of the road. We climbed and climbed, and it took more than I thought I had in me to get up to the brow of the hill, and then up to the next hill, and the next. There was a point when I just couldn't keep going any longer, but instead of getting off and trying to gather myself, as I have done in the past, I held the point of this challenge in my thoughts: raising money for an amazing charity, and honouring the memory of my Uncle by doing so. I held that thought there solidly until the very top, and breathed a sigh of relief when the warning signs for the up-coming 20% descent down Blue Bank (complete with sand-padded escape lane) into Whitby appeared before me. Behind the red triangle the sea stretched out forever, with Whitby Abbey forming a recognizable silhouette on the headland.

At the Hole of Horcum

Whitby was heaving with visitors; not an ideal welcome after six hours of tiring cycling. We stopped at a special spot for a power snack (Daniel and I had our first holiday together in Whitby), then located the Cinder Track (also on Sustrans Route 1) for our path back to Scarborough. This gave is 23 miles of peaceful cycling - being off-road meant that there was no trouble with cars, but similarly, the uneven and often challenging terrain slowed us down considerably, and proved to be a rather tiring way to get to Scarborough. We'd been cycling for over 8 hours, and had covered over 70 miles, and despite having eaten and drunk much more than we would normally, with 15 miles to go we started getting incredibly tired. We kept having to stop for more food and fuel, but still I was losing concentration and had a few scary incidents - two of which left me off the bike and fearing for the future of my limbs!

Big tides  off the coast of Whitby

Finally the landscape turned from rambling countryside to urban structuredness; the sights and sounds of Scarborough promised the end of the long day's cycling. Just outside Scarborough station we hit the 80 mile mark - 10 hours and 35 minutes after heading out of the house that morning.

This wasn't just a test of distance. It was also a ride that, albeit unexpectedly, also tested our ability to keep going for a long, long time. It was hard, but we can still say that we did it, and I'm sure we could do it again if we had to. We hope to finish the actual race in under 10 hours, but who knows what challenges we might be faced with on the big day alongside the 100 miles: given wind, rain, rough terrain and anything else, we're as prepared now as we can ever be. I don't know if that comforts or terrifies me!

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