I'm preparing for a rematch with the "Easter Arrow".  Last year's DNF (Did Not Finish) was, I felt, justified due it being 2am with the temperature at -5oC and the snow settling.  This year's route is slightly different: we're heading further north.  D'Oh.

To bring everyone up to speed, the "Easter Arrow to York" is a team event which must be at least 360km long eventually ending up in York and taking no longer than 24 hours.  Teams are made up of enough riders for 3 to 5 machines (where a tandem takes 2 riders).

Our Easter Arrow team is called "Ambling Arrows", has five riders and a plan is to ride from York to Marske-by-the-Sea, then up to Amble and back to York - timed to hit exactly 24 hours.  Estimated at 420km (~260 miles), so that will mean a total pace of 17.5kph (~11mph), including stops.  As I'm the person closest to Middlesbrough, I want to check the route we'll use.  I set out today to ride down from the North Yorkshire Moors and as far as Newport Bridge.

I got up just before dawn and put shorts and a short sleeved shirt on, expecting balmy weather.  I had loaded the handlebar-device with a gps route and set an overall pace of 22.5kph for my virtual training partner.  Outside it was raining, but I didn't want to wake the family up, so headed out grabbing a lightweight jacket as protection from the elements.

Shortly into the hills south of me I realised the indexing was out, but it felt more like I needed to adjust the (H)igh and (L)ow screws.  I will have to look at that another time, for today it meant I had to be a bit more careful with which gear I was in.  I didn't want the chain slipping and jumping while I climbed the Moors around Commondale so I settled for keeping low gears and high cadence.  During one of my fettling stops I noticed the lambs were out.  Spring 'as sprung, the grass is ris'.

The rain had made the road slippery and this combination with smooth tyres had the rear wheel spinning whenever I stood out of the saddle.  So I twiddled my way up to the Shawn_the_Sheep bus stop outside Commondale, which has been featured as one of the loneliest bus stops in the UK.

But Shawn seems to make this shelter quite welcoming.  I don't think you get a true feeling of the loneliness until you turn around and look the other way and feel the wind and rain whip across your bare legs...

At this point I checked my little handlebar-device and found that I was only 3 minutes / 400m behind my virtual training partner.  I put the power down to chase him and by the time I reached the Lockwood Beck Reservoir turning I thought I could see him just ahead on the junction with Stanghow Road.  With a bit more effort I caught and dropped him - yeah!

My route now turned left in Lingdale down to Boosbeck, which is a lovely little village but features a tough little climb to get over Boos Beck and climb to Skelton-in-Cleveland.  I got lost slightly at the traffic lights in Skelton but thanks to the beeps of the little device I was soon corrected and dropping down to cross Skelton Beck.  This climb was a bit harder and the traffic was slightly more insistent.  Reaching the crossroad and lights I now just had a fast descent to Marske-by-the-Sea.

Next week we should be here at lunchtime and I think that the Yorkshire Coffee House might be a nice place to warm up and eat.

The next section was a flat ride past Redcar, Wilton and Eston to the Marton turning north for James Cook Hospital.  Before I left the cycle paths by Wilton I noticed these Almshouses which are in immaculate condition.  Behind me was an Owl Centre... it is amazing the things you miss if you don't take the time to look around.

The wind was directly into my face all the way to the James Cook turning, and the road surface was potholed and rough.  This was then combined with drizzle and pushy motorists.  An ugly section of the route but over quickly enough.

Turning west at Albert Park I was able to ride along next to "Park Runners", the groups who meet at parks all over the country to test themselves against the clock.

I was reaching the end of my route checking, and just needed to cross the Newport bridge before leaving the Arrow route and following the Teesdale Way back to Stockton-on-Tees.

Here I met a slight snag; the path was full of joggers, and as my ride was not a race I slowed right down and made plenty of space for walkers, joggers, doggies and people in hi-visibility yellow vests.

As I crossed the Infinity Bridge I noticed that I was neck-and-neck with my virtual training partner.  Talk about the tortoise and the hare; I had been cycling fast but stopping to take photos and give way to pedestrians - the machine of my partner had just ploughed on at 22.5kph up hill, down hill, and not once stopping for traffic lights.  But he managed to get ahead of me by taking the bicycle path from Thornaby Station whereas I followed the road.  When this was combined with traffic lights he managed to get 570m ahead of me - the chase was on.  As we entered Ingleby Barwick I was only 300m behind him but it was taking a lot of hard work to bring the distance down, and all the time we were getting near to home.  We were within sight of my house as the distance read 100m - and as I pulled onto the drive the little-device tootled "You Win"!  Phew!  I beat an imaginary cyclist in a photo-finish.  Woo Yay!

The slightly worrying thing is that this 80km route has left me exhausted.  I fell asleep on the sofa this afternoon.  How on earth am I going to complete 400km?

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