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All Points North #2

Ride #2: Monday 7th September

Total hours: 17.26, ride time: 13.55, distance: 283km, elevation: 4083m

Check points: Coquetdale Mon 10:12 | Grassholme Mon 18:15

I woke and marvelled at the body’s capacity to recover. My aching muscles and sore bum had subsided, and my body was game to do it all again. The nausea remained, but I forced down the porridge I’d bought the night before, followed by an electrolyte tab that seemed to sort me out, and a strict reminder to self to be better at taking them today. As I left town I saw a lit up newsagent open at 4am! I nearly hugged the lady who sold me some more provisions to stuff into my pockets.

The overnight rain had ended but the roads were soaking and rather than worrying about the wet, I enjoyed the reflections of the lights in the puddles. Again I kept to the A roads and made fast progress out of Carlisle, and up towards the border.

After the turning off to Gretna the roads got quieter, and as the sun slowly rose (no sunrise, just more light) I was again up on the moors. This time damp, hazy, pine-lined ones. Horses in the fields thundered alongside me, galloping around in circles, I don’t think they had a checkpoint to get to. Every now and then I’d pass a logging operation, the clanking sounds muffled in the mists, but the eyes of the vehicles staring out at me across the valley.

Again I found myself nodding off whilst riding, but my nap on a bench tactic wouldn’t work now, everything was soaking, it was light and there were people round. Instead I parked up in a field, got the emergency foil blanket out of my bag, lay it down as a water proof sheet, put on my puffer coat, set the alarm and was straight off to sleep.

After a restorative doze I reached the turning off to the ranges. You could see why they’d chosen this checkpoint. It was like roads you get in Europe, stretching far off into the distance, just me and the sheep to enjoy it. I wanted to ask the sheep how many bikes they’d seen come past, but they weren’t up for sharing. I recognised the checkpoint from Street View. How long had I spent staring at this point, wondering how I was going to avoid the firing ranges! Anyway, another one down! Back down the lovely roads. And then the long slog onto Grassholme.

This was a day of three thirds. The first the novelty of being in Scotland, and not being shot, with fresh legs. The final third, on beautiful roads through the North Pennines. The middle third was less fun. I was back on to main roads, not too busy, but still not too fun. And then the click began. It started as a slight squeak of rubber, like the sound of new tyres. Then it became more of a metal rasping noise. I couldn’t reproduce the noise off the bike, whatever I did, and couldn’t even tell if it was coming from the front or back of the bike. I checked my front brakes, usually the source of most of my issues. Despite being fine before I set off they were pretty worn down. I cursed myself for not bringing spare brake pads, looked up bike shops on route, and carried on. After a wild goose chase to hunt down some pads (a café which used to be a bike shop, a village shop which apparently hired e bikes and might have some spare kit, but which didn’t even seem to be a village shop) a lovely shop in Darlington agreed to tape some (paid for!) pads to the outside of a Biffa bin for me to pick up when I passed through that night.

The rasping got worse, from an occasional clicking to a constant grating grind, and then was I imagining a slight wobble in my bike in time with the noise? By now I was pretty sure it wasn’t the brakes. I tried to ignore it and tell myself the wobble was just in my over-tired head, but as well as being really annoying to listen to, and worrying about damaging my bike, I felt as if half the power of every pedal stroke was being eaten up in whatever was rubbing. It was certainly eating up my motivation.

I thought things had got worse when I saw yet another Road Closed sign. At the first I’d encountered today they’d waved me through so I’d had a closed road just for me and some diggers. This time the road was completely barricaded with no way through, but I lifted my bike over and off I went. Another road, this time a little one up over the moors, just for me and my bike. It was beautiful, I was happy, and if I stood up in the pedals the noise even stopped. I sailed down the other side, dodging the bees feasting on the heather, ignoring the increasing and definite wobble, and enjoying life again.

More little roads over the moors, into a town for a quick pit stop, realised I’d saved an old version of my route that took me through a ford using stepping stones (not the easiest with a fully laden bike, but great fun, and I was glad of my error) and then onto Grassholme where I bumped into Emily, a friend also doing the race. It was so nice to stop and talk and hear how she was doing.

Then I bumped into someone else who said he was going to scratch that night. The idea of just getting the train home from Darlington that evening sounded so tempting, but I banished the thought, booked a hotel in Middlesbrough (whilst having a pee in a field, multi-tasking at a new level!) and pressed on. There was a stunning sunset on the way into Darlington, and if I ignored the noise and the wobble, things were good.

Some grovelling around the back of bins in Darlington to find the brake pads, boring big roads to Middlesbrough, and at last the hotel. But rather than food, shower, bed, I had the brake pads to replace first. Which is easier said than done in a small hotel room surrounded by white bed sheets, and someone trying to sleep in the not very soundproof room next door. After some more faffing and cursing of disk brakes, I got them sorted, and off to sleep.

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