Updated: Aug 24, 2021
For each of my previous Long Way Home rides the first hour or so has been super stressful, making my way out of Milan, Hamburg and Edinburgh respectively. This morning was a piece of cake thanks to the local knowledge of my first guest rider of the week, John. He redirected us away from the route Komoot had chosen and in no time at all we were on the Derwent Way heading south out of Gateshead towards Consett. John had already won me over by turning up with a bag of jelly babies as a gift, thereby proving he not only watches my YouTube channel, but pays attention to the details. Sadly he had to leave us early, but it was great to meet my first random stranger of the week. The Derwent Way is yet another disused railway line, which for us, merged into the Lanchester Valley path and then another trail to Bishop Auckland. The result was 60km of easy, almost totally off-road riding. A lovely gentle start to the ride. Although a large amount of it was uphill. Only 2 or 3%, but enough that we noticed it our legs later. The form for the morning was set in the first few minutes with my friend Trevor riding 10 to 20 metres ahead of me occasionally checking over his shoulder to make sure he hadn't dropped me. The pathway is easy to ride and only broken up by regular bike gates which Trevor sailed through without a change of pace, but I went through like a child on a balance bike.
The off road trails took us all the way to Durham where I had planned to stop for lunch. I think we had both completely switched off but were woken up as we came off the bike path. As we went around a blind corner an idiot was speeding the other way, actually driving in the bike lane. A mixture of fast reflexes and bike handling skills meant Trevor avoided him. If I had been leading I would have been over the bonnet. The fucker didn’t even brake, he just carried on. Durham was heaving and Trevor took the executive decision that we weren't stopping and rode straight through. He could tell I was grumpy, even more so when he located a cafe on the outskirts of town in the middle of a housing estate. To add to my joy it was a dog friendly cafe called Bone Appetite. It actually turned out to serve pretty good food.
From Durham we pretty much rode on in silence to Barnard Castle. Not because we were grumpy with each other, more that we had fallen into a groove of him leading and me following. Plus, we're mates and don't need to talk constantly on a ride. I was pretty tired by the time we reached Barnard Castle. It was exactly 100km in and if had any sense I would have planned that as my first stop, but oh no, I thought I could easily do more. Committed readers of this blog will know that every Long Way Home ride has contained at least one journey planning fuck up and there are also a few of you who enjoy the blog most when I'm miserable. Both of these groups can now read on with a smile on their faces as I managed to both mess up the route and ended up dying on my arse on day one. The final 40km today contained another 800m of climbing. Why the hell I back-end loaded the day with that much climbing is beyond me. Well not strictly true. Billy Big Bollocks here thought it would be easy. Three of the reasons I was wrong; - I weigh 6kg more than I planned to - I have ridden fewer kilometres than I should in training - I have avoided hill training completely All of which should have made it blindingly obvious I would struggle. This was all brought into sharp focus on the first of 5 big hills that rose to 17%. I had to get off and walk. There's no way to sugar coat it. It is what it is. And I had to get off another half dozen times before the day was done. In my own head I justified it by saying it was the sensible option with another 12 days to go. But you all know what's really going on, my head went and my legs followed. I struggled with every climb over 12%. But worse was to come. I've used the Komoot gravel route option for this whole ride, but this turned out to be a monumentally stupid decision 30km from today's finish in Hawes. We followed the route to a hamlet called Crackpot - I mean come on, the clue was in the name - and then hit the bottom of a steep rock strewn pathway that could only possibly be suitable for goats. Should we press on or turn back facing a 30km diversion? We decided to go for it, but stopped pedalling after three seconds and then spent 40 minutes pushing the bikes up double figure climbs for 2km. How the hell Komoot thinks this is rideable is beyond me. I could have asked Trevor, but he was 100m ahead of me - I can't even keep up pushing my bike. Komoot should put a disclaimer next to this route saying, the following people could consider riding this: Danny MacAskill or Matteiu Van Der Pol. Everyone else avoid it. Pushing a fully laden bike is no fun at the best of times. I got cramp in my shins and behind my right knee. How is that even possible? Eventually we reached tarmac but still had another 300m to get to the top of the climb. There was still 22km left. By now it wasn’t just that I was riding on fumes, I was riding on memory. My legs were moving, but I wasn’t sure how. I was desperate to get off. Time and time again Trevor slowed down so I could get on his wheel. When we eventually got to Hawes the hotel owner made us wait outside for 10 minutes in the rain while he finished his dinner as a punishment for being two hours late. To be fair to him, he apologised later on but was still passive aggressive about why we hadn't called ahead. It was a bloody hard day. Made worse by the route selection. In my defence Komoot said today would be 1600m of climbing but it turned out to be 2170m. Even if I walked some of it, that's a big day out and probably not a wise choice on day one of thirteen. Still, as is the way of these things, post dinner and beers we were celebrating finishing. Without Trevor's support I would still be half way up a rocky pathway right now cuddling a goat and hoping a farmer would find me in the morning.