Cambridge to York

Friday, June 23rd. The alarm rang at 3:05am. I was awake instantly. I took a shower, put on bike clothes, grabbed my bottles of evergy drink from the fridge, and hopped on the bike. Location: Cambridge. Destination: York, an estimated 160 miles away, the host city of the annual CTC York Cycle Rally.

I turned on my front dynamo light and rear LED light and started pedalling. I discovered that the beam of the front light was well aimed. This was slightly surprising since I'd installed it just before I went to sleep and hadn't been able to do a road test: it was still light at 9pm when I went to bed.

I rode out of town in the dark gray pre-dawn. I wondered what the few drivers that passed me thought of this cyclist riding along. Gradually the sky brightened and grew pink in the east, and then at 4:40am the sun edged over the horizon. Shortly after the sun rose I turned out my lights.

The morning was cool, and I was glad of the tights over my shorts and the jacket over long sleeve cycling jersey. My fingers felt a bit chilly so I rode with my hands on the top of the handlebars: behind the handlebar bag they were somewhat protected from the breeze. The wind was from the west, and my route was north and a bit west. Whenever I turned into the wind I had to drop a gear or two, but I made steady progress.

Often when I'm riding songs run through my head. As I rode across the Fens towards Peterborough, it was the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" which I'd listened to the previous day. It seemed appropriate.

The ride to Peterborough was uneventful as I'd scoped it out a couple of weekends ago. I hadn't however, ridden the bit from Peterborough to Castor before. Castor is a little village west of Peterborough, and the start of the CTC's Double Century (metric version - 200 km) ride. (The non-metric 200 mile version was starting from London.)

The obvious way to get from Peterborough to Castor is to go along some very big roads with lots of cars and high speeds, but a local had suggested riding to a little park (Ferry Meadows) and taking bike paths from there. I found the park without too much trouble (it was quite pretty in the weakly sunny, slightly misty morning), found the bike path between the lakes, and went to Castor.

I arrived at the start point at 10 minutes to 7. I signed in, collected my official double century challenge bike jersey, and was decidedly unimpressed. Getting it on was a struggle since the fabric didn't stretch, and the pockets (four narrow ones!) were hard to use because they were too high up the back. I was disappointed that there wasn't any food or drink at the start point; I had to fill up my bottles from the sink in the loo. Oh, well.

I strapped the long sleeve jersey I had been wearing to my rack and got back on the bike. 43 miles down. I reset my trip distance to 0 so it would match the mileage cues on the route sheet. This provided some entertainment for the rest of the ride, since I would then have to add 43 to whatever my bike computer said to determine how far I had ridden during the day. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but my brain wasn't working to full capacity during parts of the ride, and I'd spend quite a bit of time picturing columns of digits, trying to work out the sum.

I rode out. Almost immediately I came across a small group that had gotten lost. They somehow believed that the directions had directed them around in a loop. I applied a bit of commonsense to the directions and rode on. They followed me for a bit, but soon passed me. I'm not very fast, and I was determined to go at my own pace for this ride to make sure I made it to the end.

I was looking forward to the first feed station, about 15 miles from Peterborough (when I'd been going 58 miles). I passed the layby where it should have been and found it empty. What?? I looked at the route sheet more carefully. Oh, it wasn't supposed to open until 9:30, long after all the Peterborough people had passed by. Not clever.

The directions were good, and I followed them without many problems. There were supposed to be fluorescent signs pointing the way, but most were non-existent. Before getting to Lincoln I missed a turn because the directions said "Foxholm" while the road sign said "Roxholm". I got where I should have been going anyway, just took a slight detour. The roads on the route were pretty good, except for some long stretches along the A15, which were thoroughly unpleasant.

Coming into Lincoln, we were on the same B road (B1188) for 15 miles. This stretch was pretty tedious. I passed several people who had stopped to look at the directions, thinking that they had gotten off the route. Since I had my route sheet in front of me at all times (on the top of my handlebar bag) I was certain I was in the right place.

Coming into Lincoln I was beginning to hurt. I hadn't had a real rest since I started out at 3:30, and aches were growing in my bum (I found it impossible to find a comfy position on the saddle), legs, lower back, and shoulders. I looked longingly at each bench I passed, but pressed on. I promised myself a good long rest when I was in Lincoln.

I got into Lincoln, 52 miles from Peterborough (95 miles since I started) shortly before 11am. The instructions for Lincoln were that we'd come in on the A15, then take the 2nd left onto B1273. I passed the second left, and no sign of the B road. I saw a cyclist pull off the road onto the pavement a short distance in front of me. I joined him, asking if he, like me, was wondering where the turn was. No, he said, he was waiting for his mate, as they were planning on stopping in a nearby cafe. I asked if they would mind company. Of course they didn't, and that sorted it: my break was going to be in a cafe.

We ended up in a little, brightly colored place with a cheery name like Sunrise Cafe. Shortly after the three of us entered, three other cyclists came in and joined our table. We all ordered tea. After that was served the lady asked if we'd like something to eat. There was a choice of Traditional Breakfast, Large Traditional Breakfast, Veggie Breakfast, and Large Veggie Breakfast. The two guys that I'd come in with declined, but the three others and I opted for food. So I ordered the Veggie, and the three others the Traditional. I wasn't all that hungry, but I knew I would certainly use up the calories, and I needed a good rest anyway. The two non-eaters finished their tea, and the rest of us chatted. They had thick Yorkshire accents (they'd come down to Peterborough to start the ride) and I had to listen closely to them to understand.

Eventually our food arrived and filled a big-sized plate. We were glad we hadn't gotten the large breakfasts. We ate our way through the egg, bread, baked beans and veggie patties (me) and bacon and sausages (them). We noticed a sign saying they sold various sizes of bottled water, so before we left we asked for one to refill our bottles. The lady brought out two sizes: .5 liter and 1.5 liter. We said no, we wanted the *big* bottle, the 5 liter one. She duly brought it out, and we emptied most of it, leaving the rest "for the next bunch of bikers".

I had never been to Lincoln before, so I had no idea of how to get to the B1273. The guys I'd been eating with seemed to have an idea, so I went with them. They rode pretty fast, but, refreshed from the food and rest, I was able to keep up with them. Eventually we found ourselves on the A57, and after awhile of this we stopped to try to figure where we should be. I pulled out a map, and we saw how to get back on track. We took a small road that lead to the B1273. Eventually they pulled away from me, my natural slowness reasserting itself. I told them not to worry about me, since I now knew where I was. They stood up and powered up a hill, and I was alone again. But I was cheerful: more than 90 miles down, less than 70 miles to go.

Oh, wait... A closer look at the route sheet revealed that 125 miles was the total length of the ride from Peterborough to York, not 120 as I was expecting. So, maybe a bit more than 70 miles to go, but I was still significantly more than halfway there.

Although it was a bit cool, I had taken off my tights at the cafe, hoping that this would make my bum feel better. Indeed it did help, and my bum gave me little trouble for the rest of the ride, although I still had to stand up for a few seconds occasionally to ease the pressure on the sit bones.

The B1273 was enjoyable to ride along. We were up on a little ridge, with good views off to the left of green fields. There was sunshine and clouds, making bright and dark patches on the land below. We were heading almost directly north, so the winds were coming from the side and weren't too annoying.

I began to notice one rider in particular: a guy in a pinky-red cycle shirt and blue jacket. He'd overtake me, stop for some reason (to put on or take off his jacket, stop at a cafe, etc) and then I'd pass him.

After leaving the B1273 the route turned west into the headwinds. I got down on the drops, shifted down, and kept pedalling. The route turned to parallel the River Trent and lead to the second feed station, 83 miles from Peterborough (126 miles from Cambridge, only 42 miles from the end!). This one was open and well stocked. I got off, stretched, ate and drank. The guy in the pink shirt pulled up and said hello.

I headed off, stopping briefly to chat to a group of loaded bicycle tourists who had stopped just beyond the feed station. Yes, they were heading to York for the rally. They had started from King's Lynn (40 miles north of Cambridge) the previous day, and were reasonably impressed that I'd started from Cambridge that morning.

After leaving the River Trent, the route followed some tiny roads over extremely flat farmland next to the river. During one of the sections heading west (and so directly into the wind) the tourists passed me, inviting me to pull in behind them. I did, and was very surprised to find the guy in the pink shirt amonst them! We traded hellos, and finally names. He was Les. I rode with the group for about 5 miles, until my directions said to turn off towards Goole, and they continued straight on. As I left them I was surprised to note that the guy in the pink shirt wasn't around. He had been right behind me in the little pace line we'd formed, but he must have dropped off at some point.

Coming into Goole I stopped at a garage to use the toilet, and then entered the only really ugly bit of the journey. The route that we took through Goole showed only biggish roads, ugly industrial buildings and machinery, and bridges. I passed Les (who must have gone by when I was in the loo) as he'd stopped to check his route sheet. He soon caught up to me and drafted me for a bit. As we passed a cafe about 17 miles from the end, he suggested a stop for tea, and I agreed. I was at a very achy state again. I had gone only a bit over 20 miles since the break at the feed station, but I had been riding over 150 miles and I was nearing my limits. We drank tea and ate snacks and chatted. When we were ready to leave I found my rear tire had a puncture, so I replaced the tube. Eventually we were under way again.

We rode together until we were about 6 miles from York. Les stopped for a pee behind a hedge and told me to go ahead. I felt guilty for not waiting for him because he'd been such good company for the last 10 miles, but I went on ahead anyway.

The route lead along a tiny road (between Escrick and Naburn, for those who know York), and there I saw a couple of tall, thin guys on road bikes who'd stopped to look at their route sheets. They asked if there were on the right route. I told them yes, certainly. (I was amazed how many people I passed who doubted they were in the right place, although they were following the route sheet perfectly.) We headed on together, and it turned out that they were doing the full double century ride, starting from London. I was impressed... They soon passed me, but they would get uncertain about whether they had taken a wrong turn. They would pause and look back to see where I went, and this allowed me to catch up to them. I found it strange that they were relying on me, although I probably didn't know York any better than they did and was just following the route sheet. But then they'd ridden quite a bit further than I did, so maybe they were too weary to trust what they read.

We came into the York Racecourse, where the rally was held, and made our way to the final sign-in. It was 8:20pm, nearly 17 hours after I started, when I signed my name saying I'd completed the ride. I had done 170 miles (43 miles to Peterborough, the 125 miles of the route, and 3 extra miles from getting off the route in a couple of places). No speed demon there! Les soon arrived, and his wife met him. I had dinner with them in the rally cafe (a large tent next to the sign-in tent).

My boyfriend Simon (who had driven up) and I were staying at the house of a friend who lives in York. It was good to sleep in a real bed: most of the people who had come to the rally from a distance were camping. The next day I felt a bit achy, especially in the legs, but overall felt pretty good. Today (Monday) the only lasting effect is a slight tingle in a few fingers of my left hand. I hope this goes away, as it's very annoying.

Update: in fact the tingling in my left hand took several weeks to go away. Evidently the long ride had done some minor (thankfully temporary) damage to my nerves. It scared me a bit, though. I'd never had that happen to me before. I wonder if I need to aim for an even more upright position on the bike to prevent a reoccurrence on really long rides. Or just get a recumbent...

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