Hitchin2Hitchin - Keith Yexleys Journey
27th September 2011
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The Journey

200 mile Hitchin2Hitchin Bike ride across the lake district.

The Route.

Starts in Hitchin Market Square, then off on cycle route 12 all the way (with a few deviations) to Milton Keynes.

Train to Whitehaven with changes at Crewe and Carlisle

Out of Whitehaven on Cycle route 71 through Penrith, Allenheads and then on to Newcastle

The Crew

Stewart (Dad) Peart, Laurie (talcum powder) Hill, John (chicken Legs) Staveley Tim (aka Jim) Tate, Fred (Doffer) McBreen and yours truly.

Day 1 Hitchin – Milton Keynes via Routes 12 and 52, then train to Whitehaven

Woke up at 3.00 am, 3.45, 4.30 and then waited for the alarm to go off at 5am. Slightly nervous – you bet. Took the 6.21 train to Hitchin and off to Freds for Bacon butties and last minute adjustments. Quick photo opportunity and then off at (slow) pace on route 12 to MK. ‘We need to Stick together’ ordered Stewart, we all agreed, then promptly lost two members BEFORE we got out of Hitchin. Trying to fit a Gallon sized man through a pint sized gap just doesn’t work and so we pick up our first injury. Yes, we had reached Letchworth. Only 50 miles to go and a deadline to hit. It was going to be tight.

 Due to the multitude of wee stops and Fred doffing his cap to all and sundry we were now late for the train. We were also overtaken by a teenage girl on a Ralegh Shopper complete with basket, something had to give. We decided to send an advance scouting party and Laurie and Tim arrived at the station in the nick of time only to find that the tickets were wrong and Mrs Miserable was sat at the desk. Using his boyish charm (and Stewarts credit card) the boys were on their way and we followed on soon after, arriving not too late in Whitehaven. 59 miles completed.

 Day Two – Whitehaven to Penrith

My ‘roomy’ that night was John, who had insisted the night before that he didn’t snore, which is why I picked him– yeah right! I was already feeling nervous of the day ahead, similar mileage but with some steep climbs. Hearing a strange noise outside I pulled back the curtains to find lashing rain and gusty wind. This was going to be a long day. It was OK, though, by the time we had breakfasted, minced around at Morrisons and had fun with a banana the rain had stopped.

 In between Freds puncture and Tims broken chain that took an age to fix and then promptly broke again we arrived at Keswick, the home of the pencil, but not before we passed a mankini-wearing man on a child’s bike. Off to the repair shop to buy a new chain, quick lunch and a hearty slice of Mrs Miggins Victoria Sponge and we were off again. By this time Laurie had developed a peculiar fascination with Talcum powder and took every available opportunity to apply liberally around his nether regions.

 After a long slog and hill after hill we finally arrived at Penrith, I for one, was totally knackered and really grateful for a nice hot shower and a pint of guiness before dinner. It was like a scene from the film 300 as we strode into town chests out, warriors all, until a shout of “LET’S GET READY TO RAMBLE....!” went up from across the street. Bugger.

 Still, we had a cracking steak meal followed by more Guiness and then bed. I also seem to recall a Jaegermeister episode, which although was eye wateringly hilarious at the time, unfortunately won’t survive a second telling.

 Day Three – Penrith to Allenheads

I was pretty nervous about today, Stewart had shown us pictures of the climbs ahead, two really big ones. Fred covered his eyes and ears in denial. My time spent in the gym spinning had put me in good stead up until now and so I was hoping that my lungs and legs would hold out for what lay ahead. Laurie’s thing with talcum powder had become almost an obsession along with him trying to wee up every single tree and post en route. He had also now taped both knees in preparation for the days toil, these hills weren’t going to beat him. Fair play. Johns waif-like legs had also drawn much attention, attracting comments like “ the last time I saw legs like that they were standing on a perch” (great line Laurie).

 I seem to recall a steep climb followed by an absolute monster climb up a spiralling road to Hartside Peak. The look of disbelief on our faces was a picture, the cafe at the summit was just a dot in the distance. Fred just grinned and said nothing. Just then a young girl rode past on a three speed shopping cycle and shook us out of our trance. Game on. Off we went, Laurie, John and I formed a breakaway group, intent of catching said ‘girl on a cycle’ (I can’t actually remember if we did). Laurie and John appeared to be having a private battle on the long heave up, with Laurie developing a bad case of tourettes, all of the insults aimed at himself. Takes all sorts. There were two Geordie lads in the distance, now walking, so I broke away, intent on catching them before they got to the top. As I passed them they turned and clapped. It felt great. They probably made a different sign once I’d gone past but I didn’t care. It was windy and bleak, the wind occasionally broken by Laurie swearing at himself.

The last bit involved an off road climb that was so steep I almost bottled it, but I’d come too far, this was to be my personal triumph. Up I went, followed by Laurie and John. I would have made it without stopping if the path that I followed hadn’t ended with a ditch. The bike slipped and I bailed out. Not to be beaten I got back on and heaved to the top, legs screaming and lungs fit to burst. Get in there!

Lunch in the cafe was followed by a very long, windy and scary downhill followed by more hills, but not before Laurie had talc’d himself again. We knew it was him due to the trail of Imperial Leathers finest fragrance that led from the gents cubicle. The huge helping of plumb crumble I’d had for lunch was beginning to take its toll as we started the next climb and then disaster struck and my chain broke. After the quickest of roadside repairs courtesy of Stewarts foresight in buying a spare chain link we were off again.

We had one more huge climb that was not as long as the previous one but, boy was it steep. We were quite familiar with Johns bowel movements by now so we knew we needed to stop before making the ascent. We stopped on a lovely village green (can’t recall the name) and john disappeared into the pub. We waited. The climb itself was not so much long, as hellishly steep and I would not have made it up without traversing the road (zig-zagging from left to right) but make it we did. A pot of tea and repairs to mine and Fred’s bikes from the local bike shop man and we were off again making it in good time to Allenheads. The best day by far for yours truly.

 Day 4 – Allenheads to Newcastle

Steep off road climb out of Allenheads, arguably the hardest climb of all and then (mostly) downhill to Newcastle and civilisation. A super off road section where I really wished that I had front suspension but it was great fun all the same. A lovely long descent followed with more photo opportunities, Lunch in the sunshine, over the Tyne and then off to the train station. Laurie and Tim were on a later train and so broke off so that they could actually reach the sea. We arrived in Stevenage and then completed the journey as we had started, on cycle route 12, arriving just as the sun set over Rose Hill, just 10 minutes behind Laurie and Tim. Poetic finish to a great adventure.

A quick beer and photo opportunity and then home. A hugely rewarding experience and I feel that I went away with a bunch of business colleagues and came back with a bunch of friends. Next Challenge?

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