Although it was going to be a fairly flat and fast ride, we felt an early start was a good idea. The first section of the ride would be a head-down intense effort south along the A167/8 from Durham to Thirsk, so to avoid Thursday morning rush hour traffic we set off at 6am. The sky was clear and it was cold! I had vest, shirt, arm-warmers, gilet, full finger gloves and long leg coverings to try and keep warm until sunrise: whose idea was this again?
Rob and I shot out of Durham southbound at a high pace, keeping heat in our legs and making a decent start to get as far down the road as possible before the traffic would become heavy. The orange smudge to our east kept growing as we rode past Ferryhill, and the sky was lightening as we passed Newton Aycliffe. Within an hour we were into Darlington and the night was over. Mist lay in the fields and valleys as we kept riding hard down to Northallerton on the A167 before changing to the A168 for the last 40 minutes to Thirsk. We'd made the run from Durham to Thirsk in 2hrs 28mins and felt that we'd earned coffee and breakfast.
The Wetherspoons in Thirsk did Rob a missive veggie breakfast for £2.99, and I felt a bit swizzed that my sad looking little bacon roll was £2.49. I think Rob was surprised by just how much food they'd given him. We took our time over breakfast and it was a full 30 minutes later before we headed back out again.
Once over a shallow and greasy Ford, the track headed into a field and became boggy, so instead of a 1km ride from Ashton House Farm to Ellerbeck, we had a 10km diversion through Brompton! My route was already going to be about 15km over distance, now it was looking like 25km over distance (for a 200km event).
Despite the much longer route, we didn't feel the need to ride any harder, our pace was a comfortable ~28kph and we just chatted about audaxing and bicycles: no navigation needed as I was riding roads I know in my sleep. Eventually we turned left into the driveway of Roots Cafe.
So much has changed since it opened a few years ago, they have clearly discovered the cyclist market and have now put lots of cycle racks in. Shame they are the front wheel bending type. They've added a 'Coffee Shed', which is a quick way of grabbing an espresso without queuing up inside the main cafe/farmshop building.
We met Peter and his rather cool recumbent trike - with sail! The sail stood a good 3m from the floor. I asked Peter if this solved the problem of being "invisible" on a recumbent trike. He said, "You'd think so, but recently someone pulled out of a side junction in front of me - their excuse? Sorry mate, I didn't see you." (What!?! - on this huge vehicle!). Peter said that it was very hard to ride uphill on, due to its weight. There is a 30-degree window where wind coming from the front makes life hard - but ideal conditions are for a 10-20kph wind from the side or behind. There are lots of questions raised by this trike. It has no battery or engine, so is human powered... but the sail is not human powered... but many people try to get an aerodyanmic advantage with clothing and some recumbents have full fairings... but this doesn't just cheat the wind, it harnesses the wind... I don't know whether this trike could be used on an audax - but it was a totally amazing piece of engineering.
Leaving Roots Cafe we crossed the A19 at Trenholme Bridge and followed roads familiar to anyone who has ridden the "Wiggy 300
". The next control stop would be Saltburn-by-the-Sea, and I had Chocolini's
in mind. We rode through Stokesley and Great Ayton, underneath the shadow of Roseberry Topping and through Guisborough. One small climb to Upleatham and it was downhill past the Saltburn golf course to the seaside. After an ice-cream each from Chocolinis we headed for some iconic photographs at the cliff top.
The skies were totally clear from cloud, it was very warm and we had just eaten ice-cream at the seaside: It doesn't get much easier than this! Behind me was the funicular cliffside railway and the pier stretching out across the Saltburn sands. Up the coast we could see the British Steel / Corus / SSI blast furnace at Redcar... the one which is being closed down. It is/was the second largest blast furnace in Europe and the steel made there was used to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Tyne Bridge and the Auckland Harbour Bridge - among much more. Out to sea is a massive wind farm, which looks like it was built on the Redcar Rocks - maybe this will cut down on the number of shipwrecks from novice captains cutting the corner as they leave the Tees. Further up the coast we could see Seaton Carew, our next destination.
I knew that our next section would be urban-busy and we'd need to keep our wits about us. Firstly we took the A174 (as fast as possible) to Redcar and then switched to cycle paths through Kirkleatham and past Wilton to Eston. We just had Middlesbrough to cope with and apart from me making the route up on the fly, we eventually cycled past the front of the Riverside Stadium to the southbank of the Tees and the base of the Transporter Bridge.
We'd timed the arrival to perfection! We cycled on, the gates were closed, and off we set for the northern bank.
This audax was taking in a bit of everything today, we'd had a fast main road blast and country lane pootle. We'd had arable countryside, seaside and urban environment. We'd crossed a river using a flying ferry, and now we were about to cycle through a bizarre combination of nature reserve and industrial wasteland. The north Tees industrial complexes between Port Clarence, Seal Sands and Seaton Carew are built on saltwater marshes. These flatland/floodland sea-defences play host to thousands of migratory birds and diverse saltwater flowers and plants. While we rode through this landscape, we were able to see the spires of the petrochemical industry and the duplo-block of concrete that is Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station. This was a strange combination of a bleak industrially damaged geography and thriving wildlife. There were so many birds preparing to migrate.
North we rode, through Seaton Carew and into Hartlepool. School traffic was building up and queues of cars were filling the roads we'd been enjoying to ourselves. We decided to just stick with the flow and not do anything silly like filter either side of the queuing cars, which slowed us down a bit. We also stayed with the A1086 through Blackhall Colliery and Horden, skirting Easington Colliery to join the B1432 north. This had been an ugly bit of busy riding, so we were pleased to reach Dalton-le-Dale and turn down into the pretty little Dawdon Dean road, alongside the small river and past the remains of Dalden Tower.
200km ridden and we arrived in Seaham mid-afternoon. We struggled to turn right along the seafront, due to the traffic levels. I'd not eaten a proper meal all day, so we stopped at Downey's Fish n Chip emporium. The food was delicious and we had a sit down meal - although now I think back I only had chips... perhaps the climbing between Seaham and Durham was on my mind.
So we'd ridden our 200km DIY event, but I already knew it was going to be over-distance, sure enough we had a 30km ride back to Durham. I took Rob along my favourite little roads back to Durham and we were arriving at evening rush-hour so I switched us to a traffic free route from Sherburn Road/Front Street - the A181.
This route takes a lovely approach to Durham with a stunning view of the Cathedral through tree-covered hills.
So we arrived back in Durham with 8 1/2 hrs cycling, 11 hours after we set off. Covered 231km (140miles). A fastish flatish ride in glorious sunshine and with every bit of scenery Teesside and Durham had to offer. On top of this, we both have 2 points on the first day of the 2015/16 Audax Season. Brilliant!