Updated: Sep 6
The last time I rode up Hartside Summit was 8 years ago completing the Coast to Coast route over four days with my then 12 year old son, Michael. It was a wet and windy day and he did amazingly well to get up the steep side from Melmerby without stopping. This morning we started from the opposite side at Alston which is 'only' a 4% average for 9km. We were both expecting it to be tough especially when it started so abruptly with the first section at 7%. OK not alpine, but try it on tired cold legs. After that first section it was a breeze though. It was a beautiful sunny morning and we chatted away and reached the top easily much to our surprise. We were waiting to see the cafe at the top, but apparently it has been knocked down. The views from the top across to The Lakes were stunning as was the twisting ride back down the other side.
Cumbria did it's best to rival Northumberland for beautiful views and the kilometers clicked by as we went from hillside hamlet to village along single track roads framed with dry stone walls. If nothing else it stopped the running commentary on hedges which had reached levels that Monty Don off Gardeners World might have found testing. In any case Hedge Chat had been replaced by a slightly annoying creak coming from Rachel's bike. But we decided it wasn’t worth stopping for. 'I bet that was a mistake' you are saying to yourself. Well it will only take you a few more paragraphs to be right, so read on.
The rest of the morning was an absolute joy and we reached our lunch stop in Appleby in Westmorland in very good spirits. Sitting on the steps of a monument eating a sandwich, we were approached by a man who asked us what the town should do to encourage cyclists to visit. We gave him some ideas and he then declared he was the town mayor. I was wondering if he was just some town nut job but people kept walking past saying 'good morning mayor'. So either he is or everyone humours him.
What we did observe over lunch and over the past four days, is that it appears that Covid doesn’t exist in the north given the lack of social distancing and facemask wearing everywhere. In the same way that vegetarianism hasn't yet reached the north. I may actually gain weight on this trip by being forced eat food I abandoned years ago like full cooked breakfasts. I think a health conscious vegan would be dead inside a fortnight anywhere north of Penrith.
After lunch we rode 2km out if the town to a bike shop to buy some chamois cream because someone had mislaid ours. Our route for the afternoon took us back through the town, where that same someone realised that they had left the cream in the bike shop and so that someone had to go back and get it. I'm not saying who it was as that would be unfair.
8km outside of Appleby the creak in Rachel's bottom bracket had become a constant noise. Either we could continue to ignore it or deal with it. Rachel suggested we ride on but she could stay 20m behind me so I couldn't hear it. "But then we couldn't talk to each other love" I said. But you can see my dilemma. We called the bike shop we had already been to and headed back there. I wondered if Rachel would get a loyalty discount, what with it being her third visit of the day (I just can't resist it). The guys at The Bike Inn were amazing actually, they had the bike in the workshop in minutes, found the bearings were worn and replaced them while we sat with a cup of tea. 20 minutes later they were done and we started the afternoon ride for the third time.
The 50km from Appleby to Sedbergh were tough with a lot more climbing, so much so that we topped out at 1700m for the day. It included a nasty 14% climb towards the end that was particularly leg sapping. The downside of riding on such quiwt roads and lanes in NCN68 is that you can struggle to find places to get food and drink. We went through Orton on the stroke of 6pm and found the village post office as they were locking up. They opened up let us buy drinks and chocolate because otherwise that final hour would have been very tough. I'm actually feeling pretty good on the bike because I've got day four legs: in previous years day four has been the point my body has shifted from 'Ow fuck what are you doing?' to 'Oh it's this again, OK'. That's not quite feeling great, just that my body isn't rejecting the idea of going again.
At the end of today's ride we reached our accommodation which was a couple of kilometres outside of Sedbergh. It a beautiful place but a mix up over dinner instructions meant we were faced with a ride back into town to get takeaway pizza. When you are tired and it's dark that short distance can feel very unwelcome. Thankfully the only other couple staying here took one look at us and out sympathy drove me into town to collect the food. It's those little things that make your day so thanks Ian and Sara!
We are at the half way in distance with more than 5,400m of climbing and many, many hours in the saddle. Rachel deserves a rest so tomorrow we will ride just 50km to Settle.