Updated: Sep 7, 2020
Photo courtesy of Northumberlense.
Let's start with the numbers;
Distance ridden: 800.5km!
Meters climbed: 11,172
So somewhere we lost 20km but gained 2,172m from what I originally thought we would do.
Average hours riding: 6 1/2 hours over 9 hours elapsed.
Best views: Northumberland
Worst Views: Burnley
Hardest climb: the 20% out of Settle or the 23% of White Moss
Favourite moment: hard to pick just one that stood out. So many of the climbs felt like huge achievements, but the final hour of the Tissington Trail felt very special.
Route planning: I found the original route in a Komoot collection. That included the GPX files of the route. This was important because although NCN 68 is mostly well signposted, the 2% of signs missing were both frustrating and potentially could have caused us to do a lot of extra kilometres. I also should have checked the GPX files more closely to see where the person who originally posted them went off course. There were quite a few turnings missed and U-turns to take. When you are tired this makes a difference.
Take a battery pack: you do not want your Garmin or phone to go dead.
Gear: Obviously pack light. As light as you can. This is my third long trip so I think I have narrowed this down pretty well for the type of journeys I do using B&B’s. If you were camping then this would need to change obviously. I can supply the kit list to anyone really interested.
Accommodation: the value of a good night's sleep and a decent shower can not be overemphasised in terms of daily recovery. That doesn't mean expensive, it just means choose carefully and don't leave it until three days before you leave. To be accurate, we did book all of our accommodation in advance but had a last minute change of heart when we rightly figured out we couldn’t do a 140km in the middle of the trip through Yorkshire and instead made the last day longer.
Bike: I bought a new Meteor Works Aesir for this trip. Well, actually it was bought with the original long ride home in mind, but that will have to wait until next year now. The bike deserves a blog post all of its own which I will do next week when I will have owned it for a whole month. You don't need to buy a new bike of course but it needs to be appropriate for the surfaces you are riding over. For that, you should use Komoot, which has an option for surface type. I paid less attention to this than I should because otherwise, I would have seen the warnings about the rougher stuff. We bought Rachel's Boardman CX Team for £500 off eBay and then spent another £200 changing the saddle, bars and stem to fit her.
Stretch; at the end of every day and before every ride. You will be grateful you did.
NCN 68 - the Pennine Cycle Way: It is a fantastic, but very challenging route. I don’t think there is any way you could do this on a standard road bike no matter what internet bullshitters will tell you. Yes, we went off course a few times and made it tougher, but there are some trail sections that would be very hard on anything less than 30mm tyres. With a few notable exceptions, the route has mostly low/no traffic. There are a lot of hills but they lead to rewarding views.
Ride solo or with a partner?: I've done both and they are similar but different. A shared adventure has so many plus sides to it, but if I'm honest it is less of a challenge. Riding alone is much tougher but that doesn't make it better. Sharing your passion with your best friend is very hard to beat. Not just the company, but the shared sense of achievement and the encouragement you can give each other are priceless. Apart from a couple of hours on the final day riding between Nuneaton and Coventry, I was not bored for one minute because I had Rachel by my side. Two years ago I remember hours of boredom riding straight lines through France. It also means that you end up with better photos and probably better moments where you can turn to your partner and say 'look at that view' or just 'bloody hell that was hard'.
Finally from me, a word or two on Rachel. Bloody hell the woman is amazing. She has always been fit, but she did no special preparation for this trip and yet was by my side the whole way. There were plenty of times when she really struggled up climbs but always made it up or when she asked me to back off the pace. For once in her life, she took the sensible option of sitting on my wheel to preserve her energy. She was sensible enough to keep thinking about lasting the whole day and frequently shouted out to me to ride the hill my own way because she was "playing the long game". There is no way in hell I could have done this without preparation. I could have done it alone I think, but the blog would just have been like Jack Nicholson's writer character in The Shining, just one single sentence repeated over and over again, 'Fuck me this is hard'. Apart from being impressed by her physical performance, I just enjoy her company. Even with the constant hedge and garden commentary. She has been my best mate for 30 years. It seems appropriate then that the final words on the trip should go to Rachel.
This feels like I am being asked to write an essay on what I did in my school holidays. I didn’t really have time to think about this ride beforehand because I was too busy, plus I didn’t even have the right type of bike until five days before we were due to set off from Edinburgh!
Why did I do it? Because I wanted to spend my summer holiday with Paul, because I wanted a challenge and because I had never done anything like it before.
Thanks to Lee at Velo Atelier and a bit of mad panic buying ( which included buying the bike - off eBay) we set off on a fresh and sunny Saturday morning and we were flying across the city towards Berwick on Tweed. This is going to be a piece of piss, I thought. 70km in and I realised I was tired and hungry. Sensations which became perpetual throughout the next week, along with the need for a 'chamois stop’. Not only was my bike new, but my shoes were less than 24 hours old, with MTB cleats and pedals for the first time and the saddle was BRAND new. A recipe for disaster you might say, but I think I have got away with it.
I loved Northumberland. I loved the freedom to roll through our beautiful countryside. I didn’t like having to wash my kit out in a sink at the end of a tiring day.
My first very cycle touring holiday is over but would I change anything then? Not a lot. Would I do it again? [checks BBC weather App] …who’s free next week then?!
So if I winged it and I loved it, what next? Where next? Well, anywhere actually. That’s the magic of cycling. This country is full of quiet country roads, bike trails and woodlands I’ve yet to see and I can totally see myself regularly taking weekends away to explore.
Seriously though, what would I change? What have I learnt?
Get a bike fit!
Pack light - so on your worst day you are wearing everything you are carrying
Focus on hours in the saddle NOT mileage in a day, to know your limits
Try your saddle before you ride 800km on it
Share the journey - that way there is someone to listen to you banging on about the experience
Buy good kit - I know, I know ….Rapha, Rapha…. but seriously, don’t be a schmuck!
Don’t hurry - Stop often and take it all in.