"Take lights, take as long as you like, and come back exhausted." These were my instructions as I headed out for a ride today. I like to give 100% to everything that I do, but recently I've been pulled in so many directions, and trying to please so many people, that I've not really achieved that. Family, work, friends and church have been pulling my attention in all directions - and work usually wins because that is what I'm paid to do. Well, today was a Sunday morning and I had no church responsibilities, so I was taking the day to myself to give cycling 100% of my attention and try to find out how exhausted I could get. I was looking for the bottom of my energy bucket.
My breakfast preparation had been two scrambled eggs and half a grilled tomato, if I was going to run out of energy it was best not to have too much to start with. 10am (ish) I rolled out of the street.
Leaving Ingleby Barwick southbound I caught sight of a peloton in the distance and immediately set about chasing it. I didn't count accurately, but there must have been 20 riders in the group. Based on the time of day and the route it was probably the "Skirting the Hills" group-ride which sets off from Stockton at 9:30am. Brilliant to see so many new cyclists out in the sunshine, and these Stockton Wheelers events are perfect for building their confidence. The group was topped and tailed by club riders in their nice new kit. I wasn't skirting the hills though, I was heading out into the hills and beyond and I didn't care how tired I got. I wanted to be drained completely. And if I stayed out until night-time who cared, I had lights.
This early chase warmed my legs up nicely and I kept it fairly brisk over Seamer and down into Stokesley, so far I hadn't really made my mind up where I was going, but from Stokesley I decided to keep to the main roads and head south, so climbed Clay Bank and pushed on down Bilsdale to Helmsley. The sky looked overcast, and the roads were damp with recent rain - although the spray onto my lower legs was refreshing.
As this was a Sunday in the summer, I was expecting a lot of tourist traffic, and was pleased I'd put on a highly visible gilet. This is the B1257 and might as well be renamed "Death Valley" given the sombre warnings about the number of motorcyclists killed each year. Having said all this, there weren't that many motorists of any sort out today, maybe the early drizzle had put people off. The wind was blowing the clouds away though and the sun popped it's head out, which coincided nicely with some brave overtaking maneuvers; it is heart-stopping to see a motorcyclist overtake a car which is overtaking me - but I guess the rider knew what he was doing.
The climb of Newgate Bank is much easier than Clay Bank because it is stepped, although it looks much more intimidating from a distance, especially as you can make out cars and trucks on the valley side. This then gives you a very fast descent into Helmsley which is a lot of fun, but requires that you scrub speed rapidly or risk doing 40mph into the 30mph zone. Decision time had arrived - where was I going? I toyed with keeping on for York, or even better, heading for Hull. I think riding to Hull from Stockton would be interesting, and perhaps I could catch a train home, but as this is Sunday I couldn't be sure of train times and then had second thoughts about a ride which involved using the train. Instead I wanted to just ride my bicycle... while trying to decide I rode straight across at a small roundabout and was on the A170 eastbound. My legs had made up my mind for me - Whitby.
Riding along the A170 is not something I would typically do, the levels of traffic being so much higher than on country lanes. Today though I was feeling very strong, like nothing could stop me. I was keeping a fairly high speed and, with the mindset that if I worked hard enough I might "find the bottom of the bucket". When I'm moving fast the cars coming past don't bother me much, except maybe the ones that pass very close to my elbow. I think they pass by closely because they haven't noticed me rather than because they want to buzz me deliberately, although I don't know which is more concerning.
Through Kirkbymoorside and on to Pickering. As I approached the outskirts I saw that I'd covered 60km in about 2 hours, which was a nice feeling. I slowed down to take a photograph of the time and distance and then took back roads into Pickering. I had not planned anything properly, but seem to remember from a ride last year that there was a road to Whitby here. First however, it was time for a coffee so at about 12:15pm I pulled over at the "Cafe Frog".
We'd been here before on a church camping trip to the North Yorkshire Moors and I remembered that the coffee was very good - it didn't disappoint. There was a young couple with a toddler at the table next to me, asking his parents whether I was a motorbike. I felt strong enough to be a motorcyclist this morning.
A brief stop, good coffee, and off I set again, turning left at the next roundabout onto the A169 Whitby Road. This climbs steadily away from Pickering up towards Dalby Forest where I've been mountain biking with my son before. There were loads of cars around with mountain bikes strapped to the back. Climb, climb, climb... with the moors before me and I passed the Fox and Rabbit Inn on my right. Lunchtime... food... beer... I simply wasn't hungry or thirsty enough yet and continued straight past. Whitby Road has been plastered to the countryside without a care for gradient, and I had to double back and take a photograph of this signpost. When someone say's, "It's all downhill from here" I doubt they've seen a sign like this: 20% for 16 miles?!? Seriously - is this "Journey to the Center of the Earth"?
Of course it isn't, this was a warning about "Blue Bank", the seriously hairy descent to Sleights just outside Whitby. Instead the road ahead was to undulate in a giant's rollercoaster for the next 16 miles.
I was starting to slow down, my average speed dropping with each very long climb, but I didn't feel tired or weak yet. My knees were not hurting at all, I had no cramping sensations, I still felt fantastic and continued to enjoy working hard. Eventually I reached the "Hole of Horcum" which had featured in a BBC documentary about bringing your old car to North Yorkshire and driving around a lot. My single water bottle was now empty, so I stopped and refilled it with bottled water from an ice cream van in the car park, which also gave me the opportunity to photograph the countryside.
Hole of Horcum
As I continued there was a short twisty drop, and round the corner a car had stalled on the hillside with a rather long queue behind it. There was no way anyone could pass the stationary car, and I didn't understand how they were going to get moving again - I hope the rescue services came long soon. To my right I could clearly see the buildings of RAF Fylingdales, this was a very exposed part of the moors, I'd been climbing for ages and the wind buffeted me from the side. Soon though the North Sea came into view.
I became quite proficient at taking pictures of empty roads, patience is all that is required. Ahead was Whitby, but between Whitby and I was "Blue Bank", a one mile stretch of steep road heading down to Sleights. Of course I was overtaken by drivers who then realised they needed to brake. Down we hurtled, me just off the right hand bumper of the car in front ready to pass him if he slowed any more, then through the bottom of the valley and immediately into a very long climb. Momentum lost. Gearing low. I unzipped my gilet and worked to keep a high cadence in a low gear and climb comfortably to the top again. I arrived on the West Cliff of Whitby.
Time for a "Goth Flavour" ice cream, but first I needed some cash, so I rolled downhill slowly through the traffic to reach the harbour and find a cash machine. Whitby was very busy today - as I believe it is most days in the summer. The queue outside the world famous "Magpie" fish and chip shop was down the steps as usual.
A group of "Walney to Whitby" riders were finishing their coast to coast adventure and I said a brief hello, before slowly (very very slowly) making my way among the crowded streets to the bottom of West Cliff and the short climb to the top. This is a very easy climb, nothing like the gradient of Saltburn's hairpins.
Now I could enjoy my reward; Trillo's Ice Cream with the specially made "Goth Flavour". I'd covered 100km and was thinking where to go next. Meanwhile I was entertained by Morris Dancers. No wait a second, let me rephrase that; there were Morris Dancers at the cliff top. I averted my gaze.
I realised that my next route would be to head back into the moors and work my way over the climbs I found between Whitby and Teesside. It was windy and I concluded that hitting the hills would be the most fun, rather than picking a slog into a headwind. I followed the roads I'd ridden earlier in the summer with my friends on the "Whitby and back" ride. Now I was completely alone and it was beautiful.
Instead of dropping down into Lealholm, I followed the ridge road high up on the side of the valley. I met a German couple doing the North Sea Cycle Route, they had the full "Ortlieb"; front and rear panniers, bar bags - very heavily laden with super low gearing - full camping kit on the racks too. The wind was blowing full in our face and I spent five minutes riding with them chatting about their experience, they were loving the North Yorkshire Moors but wondered if it was always this windy. Next came the drop of Park Bank to Danby Lodge where I accidently slipped my chain and had to stop and sort it out. Onwards now to Danby and into Castleton. In Castleton I refused to use the inner ring and put some effort into a higher gear, aiming for the pub by Castleton Tearooms. I was pleased to see it was open, because it was time to refill my water bottle and reward myself with some food.
The Downe Arms really looks after the beer well, so I ordered one of my favourite West Country brews and a packet of salted peanuts. There was cheese, black pudding and pickled onions on the bar so I helped myself to a couple of small pieces. Sitting outside in the sunshine I relaxed and recuperated; the moors can take a lot out of you and all I'd had to eat was scrambled eggs for breakfast, a goth ice-cream and now a packet of peanuts. The beer was excellent as always.
Leaving Castleton I climbed up the high street to Dibble Bridge Bank and followed this until I had a choice of Commnodale or Hob Hole. The Hob Hole route climbs to a greater height, but the Commondale route has more "climbing" because it undulates slightly more. So obviously I took the Commondale turn for some last bits of hard work before I left the moors. Two climbs remaining for the day, out of Commondale and out of Garden Bank, and before me was the Tees Valley.
I put the extra effort required to keep a high speed down through Kildale and out of the moors. There was only 145km showing on the cycle computer and I set my mind now on passing 200km, so wondered where to go next. I took the left to Battersby and knew that Ingleby Bank was calling. After so much climbing, only a fool would deliberately head back into the moors, but the idea was teasing me, and I still had far too much energy. The "Ralph Cross" 200km audax heads back up Ingleby Bank after a long day out in the saddle, so the least I could do was ride it out of respect. It does loom before you though as you approach, with the car windows glinting in the sunshine high above at the "Viewing Point".
Straight up, and straight down; down Clay Bank at speed and into Great Broughton, before turning left again and heading for Carlton. With exactly 160km covered I reached the Blackwell Ox and it would be rude not to stop for a drink to celebrate passing the 100 mile mark.
The sun was blazingly warm on my arms and shoulders, I hadn't put any suncream on as I'd expected an overcast day - by the time I arrived home I would have deepened my comedy cycling tan. So, just another 40km to pass 200km for the day and it was still bright daytime. I had lights, I had energy, I could go anywhere. As I reached Swainby I looked up at Scarth Nick and thought, that's a silly climb to do, turned left again and headed up into the Cleveland Hills once more.
I love the steep section of Scarth Nick, with the slightly damp road surface. Stand up and the rear wheel spins, sit down and the front wheel lifts, accidently ride over a damp section and the wheel will slip while you're sat down... oops... it did, but I held control and after a couple of heart stopping seconds where the rear slipped, I regained traction and carried on. This is the opening hill for the Ralph Cross 200km Audax - I hope the riders enjoy it as much as I do.
Up past the reservoir, down into Osmotherley and down further still into the flat lands west of the Hambleton Hills. Now I felt that I could pull my average speed up a bit. It had dropped to about 23kph and I wanted to pick it back above 24kph (which is about 15mph). The long slow climbs in the moors would take some effort to overcome.
Through East Rounton, and racing over the Trenholme Bridge I continued back through Hutton Rudby and on to Hilton and back towards Ingleby Barwick. At the Fox Covert I had 194km showing, so there was nothing for it but to turn left again and ride Leven Bank and Yarm High Street. Round Preston Farm and over the Jubilee Bridge back into Ingleby Barwick; home with 208km showing on the clock and it was still daylight.
I had worked really hard, but I still hadn't run out of energy. I was encouraged by this because I don't want to run out of energy on a 200km ride, or I'd have no confidence in completing a 600km ride. However I had ridden much harder than I would normally for this distance. I could have stayed out and cycled further, but somehow I felt like I'd achieved enough, I'd certainly given 100% today, and I'd had a fantastic time mixing cycling with pub stops. I hadn't eaten much all day, just an ice-cream, a packet of peanuts and an "Elevenses" bar. Two beers and one coffee. It felt like time to come home for dinner.
In terms of ride statistics, I hurtled through the first 60km in two hours and was at Whitby (100km) in 3hrs 30mins before some faffing time around the town. The moors slowed me down a bit, but I picked up my overall average to 24.8kph (15.4mph) by the end. 2271m ascent, burning 10,195 calories and for the total distance, including stops, an average of 21.4kph - well within audax limits for a Brevet Randonnee.
I didn't find the bottom of the bucket though; I was not exhausted. But I did give 100% and I had an amazing day out without worrying about anything else. I did find one limit though... the limit for the Bontrager affinity RL saddle. Ouch.