Monday 30 May 2016

The Durham Dynamo and A Ride Down Memory Lane (C#16)
Saturday 28 May, 100 Miles

All of my century rides so far have been in East Anglia where I live now. I am keen to ride in other parts of the country too, especially in places where I have lived and worked in the past. A couple of months ago while surfing the Interweb I spotted a new sportive which was routed around south Durham. Between I987 and 1992 I lived in Wolsingham in Weardale on the edge of the North Pennines. This seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, especially as the route almost went past the front door of the house I used to live in. So I decided to make a long weekend of it, get some riding in and visit a few friends as well.

I headed up the A1 on Friday afternoon with my satnav telling me that the 200-mile journey to Darlington should take around three hours – it actually took closer to 5 with a lengthy delay in South Yorkshire. Consequently, I arrived at the Travelodge I had booked feeling rather less relaxed than I had intended. No matter I was soon checked in and the bike was safely stored in my room. Now a Travelodge may be fairly basic places to stay, but one great advantage is there is no problem with storing the dearly beloved bike in the bedroom. In fact the person who checked me in was very keen to help by holding doors open and operating the lift to my room on the third floor.

I was up early on Saturday morning and wolfed down my breakfast of fruit juice, muesli and tea before riding over to the start at Darlington Rugby Cub just over a mile away. This sportive, the Durham Dynamo, is part of the Super Series organised by UK Cycling Events and sponsored by Wiggle, a big Interweb based cycling equipment supplier. Unlike last Sunday’s Boudicca, the UKCE events have a rather more business-like feel to them. But that doesn’t mean they are any less fun. I was quickly through the signing-on process and was soon at the start line ready to set off with the first wave of riders.

A quick safety briefing and we were away. Initially, the route headed north west from Darlington towards the Pennines. With a very gentle tailwind I was making excellent progress at an average speed close to 20mph. Gradually I could see the ground rising with more and more uphill stretches. But nothing steep mind you. We then turned north and were soon at the first feed station. With a quick drink and a couple of pieces of banana inside me I was ready to get going again. From the route map I was very conscious that the next 35-mile leg was going to be the tough one. With a couple of short but very sharp (c20%) climbs my legs were soon singing. My approach here is to get in a low gear early on and spin my way upwards for as long as possible before getting out of the saddle and forcing myself over the top of the climb. One of the riders I was following had a different strategy and rode in a very high gear until he was virtually unable to turn the pedals any more. At this point he opted to change to his lowest gear with disastrous results. A sickening crunch and an agonizing shout were the fanfare for a broken chain and a cyclist lying on the roadside. I bet he doesn’t do that again!

Once over the initial climb the full splendour of the North Pennines should have opened up. Unfortunately low cloud rather limited the view to only a few miles. For the next ten or so miles we went up and down before a very steep twisting descent into Wolsingham where a couple of friends were waiting to cheer me through. Then it was along Weardale for a few miles to Frosterley to reach the foot of the day’s big ascent. The climb rises about 1,100 feet over a distance of around 5 miles. Apart from a short stretch near the start the climb isn’t particularly steep, just long and made harder by a very heavy road surface which almost felt like trying to ride through treacle. Well that’s how the guy I was riding alongside at this point described it, so I was glad it wasn’t just me. By this time the cloud had lifted and despite an overcast sky the views were stunning.

The North Pennines have been described as England’s last wilderness. They are a land of mountains and moors with secret valleys and fragments of ancient woodland. The character of the moors is largely defined by sheep grazing with the heather managed for grouse shooting. The immense scale of the landscape is breath-taking. Reassuringly, very little has changed since I was last here about 25 years ago. I noticed was a lot more birds of prey, including hearing the cries from a couple of buzzards. That’s one of the great benefits of riding; you notice so much more than in a car. I would have loved to have been able to stop to see and hear more but unfortunately the clock was ticking.

The descent into Teesdale was great. With a wide road and little traffic I was able to pick up speed considerably – the rough surface tempered this somewhat though. In a few short minutes all the height I had spent nearly half an hour winning had been wiped away as I approached Middleton-in-Teesdale. From then on it was back to flatter and more pastoral countryside as we headed back towards Darlington.

I was watching my Garmin closely as we approached the finish as I reckoned it would be a close run thing to top the 100-mile threshold. 99.9 miles doesn’t count as a century ride! But I needn’t have worried as the organisers had looped the approach to the finish around the car park. I stopped my Garmin as I crossed the finish line with 100.2 miles on the clock. And my riding time on the clock was 5hrs 58 mins which I was pleased with. In the final reckoning I achieved a gold standard award.

I really enjoyed the day and I was reminded how much I miss the hills living in the relative prairies of East Anglia. The North Pennines have a character all of their own, which I struggle to describe but deeply enjoy absorbing – if you get my drift. So much so that I returned for a further ‘fix’ the next day. But that’s another story ……..

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