I must warn you: this blog entry could be gibberish from start to finish. I’m shattered, the cold has turned nasty and I can hardly string a sentence together. So I’m going to keep it short and sweet. Today’s numbers: 137 miles at 15.2mph average, 6000 feet climbed. We started in Kendal and finished in Edinburgh and thankfully didn’t have much urban riding to contend with like we did yesterday.
Our day was very much a ride of two halves. The morning was glorious and the afternoon was a relentless grind. Unfortunately, the afternoon also counted for nearly two thirds of the distance.
We started the day with the four-mile climb up Shap Pass, one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding through. We were joined by Paul, a local cyclist who’s related to Ray, one of the support team. Paul’s a delightful bloke and we chatted about life and cycling (not necessarily in that order) as we made our way up the steady ascent. I had one eye on our beautiful surroundings as we chatted, and the other on fellow TRAT rider Darren, who’d taken off up the hill like a crazy man, obviously determined to take my hard-earned polka dot jersey from me.
I was feeling pretty rum after a bad night’s sleep so I wasn’t sure whether I had it in me to chase him down and teach him a lesson in respect. I shared this thought with Paul, who glanced up the hill and said confidently, “We can catch him if we start now.”
”You’ll have to lead me up that hill”, I said, claiming a slightly worse cold than I actually have as an excuse not to be able to do it alone. He smiled and nodded, then set off like a whippet, with me clinging desperately to his back wheel. He’d turn and say something to me every now and then – chatting as though we were sitting side by side in a quiet country pub – and I’d try to answer as nonchalantly as possible, without betraying the fact that I was permanently on the point of collapse. I don’t think I fooled him for a second.
Darren saw us coming and redoubled his efforts. I could feel Paul straining at the leash as he watched the disappearing Darren and goodness knows I tried as hard as I could to respond but I just didn’t have it in me. Darren romped home in style – and then promptly ruined it by raising both arms aloft, Armstrong-style, as he passed Don and his camera at the top. Vulgar displays of victory notwithstanding, he was a worthy winner and is now the official TRAT king of the mountains (at least until I’ve beaten him on the next one…)
The view from the top was spectacular – made all the more so by the freshly barbecued sausage sandwiches that Allan had prepared for us. Despite the pain (or perhaps because of it?) I loved that ascent but the descent down the other side was, if anything, even better. We swooped down that endless hill at 40mph-plus, grinning from ear to ear as our bemused bodies tried to recover from all that excitement before 7am.
I’m flagging fast again so I’ll cut to the quick for the rest of the day. We reached Gretna at noon, just in time for an early lunch and a curious encounter with the man who looks after the place where everyone goes to get married (but that’ll have to wait for another day). Then it was back on the road and an 80-mile grind to a place near Edinburgh – the name of which I’ve completely forgotten but I’ll look it up and update this when I’m not so exhausted.
The road surfaces were shockingly bad, with potholes and roughed up tarmac everywhere. Our beleaguered backsides shrieked with horror with each passing bump – and believe me when I tell you there thousands of bumps. We were making poor progress and morale was sinking quicker than it doubtless did in the England camp when Germany scored all those goals we didn’t see the other day because we were riding. Then someone suggested doubling up for a chain gang and for the following 20 or so miles we simply flew down that road, rotating positions far more smoothly than you’d expect from a group that only started riding together a few days ago. It was a joy to be a part of – a genuinely special moment in this most special of weeks.
But then the roads got busier, the chain gang broke up and I started flagging badly. The combination of this pesky cold, the after effects of all those exertions in the morning, and eating rather too much of the wrong kind of food (I went for the Mars bars, doughnuts and pork pie options at lunch, more fool me) really knocked me out. For a few miles I was struggling badly for the first time on this trip, but thanks to a caffeinated energy gel and a couple of Ibuprofen I soon rallied enough to get to the end.
But now I must sleep. You wouldn’t believe how much I need to sleep…