Where I left off
It had been an eventful previous evening, including a fall at high speed and an impromptu lesson in bike repair I didn’t know I needed. I’d been left with minor injuries, but also sadly, an unridable bike due to a split tyre.
I went to sleep that evening in a state of despair and confusion over what to do next. I had resolved to wake up early and find either a bike shop where I could purchase a new tyre, or at least a train station so I could get to a bike shop somewhere. The main problem was I didn’t know where either of these things were; plus I’d need to be on foot…
I didn’t wake up massively early as intended. It had been utterly freezing in the early hours of the morning and a bivvi doesn’t provide as much protection from the cold as a 1-man tent does. When the sun did finally come up and provide a bit of warmth, I judged that an extra hour of sleep would be of use here.
Amazing what a difference a bit of hindsight makes. If I’d known the conditions would be quite this tough; even the difference of having a tent over a bivvi, or a 2-season over a 1-season sleeping bag would have made a HUGE difference. Full body waterproofs wouldn’t have been a bad shout either. The problem is all these things add a fair amount of weight, and more significantly ‘baulk’ in a 25litre backpack that wouldn’t take any more kit.
In the end, it would seem that ‘optimism’ would be my downfall in my packing tactics. I knew it would be cold in Scotland, but I had half an idea to either adjust my sleep to when it was warmer i.e. early evening and set off at 4am each morning… or just ‘man-up’ and stop complaining. Unfortunately, I had not factored in the impact and control the weather would have on my scheduling. I had roughly calculated that in all the time I had been awake so far, it had been raining for about 50% of it. This did not help.
I probably only got about two hours of quality sleep that night. The hours from 12-4am in particular were pretty horrible. I don’t know what the exact temperature was; all I know is that my subconscious brain deemed it too cold to let me fall asleep; it’s like it worries that you might not wake up again or something. You feel it in your back mostly for some reason; like an internal nervous shivering that doesn’t go away when you move around. Plus I couldn’t lie on my right side any more from the bruising on my hip. So essentially, all night I was lying awake, uncomfortably on one side, shivering internally and my heart rate going at twice the usual speed.
When I got up, the sun had come out and I gathered my bearings a bit. I’d covered a fair distance on foot already last night and I found I was near a place called ‘Greenhillstairs’. No idea where that was; it sounds a bit like level one of Sonic the Hedgehog, but I suspected my progress would be much slower than his. I worked out the next town on my route was a place called ‘Beattock’ a further 10 miles or so down the road, so I decided to set off running in that direction and hope there would either be a train station or bike shop nearby.
I’d forgotten how hard/slow progress running was in comparison to cycling, and when you have a non-functional bike alongside you, this can be doubly frustrating. The bruise on my hip was jolting every time I landed on my right foot and it would appear that the blood on my arm had effectively glued my compression top to my skin. I was also tired, hungry and more than a little dehydrated. All these things in combination are not conducive to quick miles.
Progress was very slow, but at least I had running in my armoury. I had covered about 20 miles on foot by this point when I saw a garage. I thought I’d check on the off-chance that they had bike tyres in stock. They didn’t, but the good news was I was told where the nearest bike shop was, in a touristy town called ‘Moffat’, only about two miles out of my way. This was the best news I’d heard in ages and instantly put me in a better mood. Then hilariously when I got within half a mile of Moffat, a van driver who saw me limping along the road asked if I needed a lift anywhere, as there was plenty of room for a bike if I needed it. A generous offer that would have been brilliant 20 miles ago!
I made it in on foot and was directed to the bike shop by one of the locals. I was feeling good again by this point as the end of the ordeal was in sight, but I think the exhaustion from the heat/lack of sleep/hunger/dehydration and injuries hit me here like a tonne of bricks.
The cycle shop was called ‘Annandale Cycles’ where I met the owner Gordon who is a top bloke and did a brilliant job getting my bike back to a rideable state.
Now I’ve no idea why, but I decided that at this point, while all this was going on, it would be a good idea to try and peel off my compression top from the dried blood that had set overnight. This resulted in two things: 1) I think a little more than just dried blood came up with the material. Woops, maybe it was a deeper cut than I gave it credit for? And 2) The sensation of the blood starting to flow out of my arm once more, coupled with (I’m assuming) dangerously low blood sugar resulted in me feeling a bit faint.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the next thing I remember I was lying on the concrete floor and no real knowledge of how I got there.
I’m not sure this is something that Gordon was expecting to have to deal with when I first rocked up in pretty good spirits. Never-the-less, it’s lucky he was there, as walking was proving quite problematic for me at this stage before rehydrating and sugar intake. I was asked if this had “ever happened before?” And “was I diabetic?” All the correct questions; the truth is I think I’m just getting more squeamish in my old age.
That was actually the second time I’d passed out in the year so far, and both times, talk/thoughts of blood were involved in the build-up. “No, I’m not diabetic, but I’m clearly working on it” I thought to myself the amount of times I fuel myself with cake, but ultimately, I think I’m just a massive wuss!
Say what you like about passing out; I’m sure it’s probably not good for you for some reason, but you don’t half feel great afterwards. That 10 seconds of being ‘out cold’ felt like five hours of sleep when I came back around again. I think it’s like your brain panics and decides the best course of action is to switch itself off and on again like you would a computer. I now just felt hungry; it didn’t feel like chronic exhaustion anymore.
It had been suggested, and I agreed, to take the rest of the morning off in spite of feeling a lot better. So I got myself fully fed and rested up before I got cycling that day. Time to reassess my targets for Cornwall, but let’s be honest, who cares? As long as I made it in 9 days or less, I could get back in time for work. It wasn’t worth risking my health over doing it marginally quicker.
The rest of the day went quickly and without drama. I made a quick stop in Gretna, which is on the border of Scotland/England where I made a couple of cheap, but necessary purchases: a pair of cycling shorts, because I wanted to see if the extra padding made any difference to how the cycling feels, but more importantly, I purchased a cheap cotton sleeping bag liner, which should take the edge from the cold at night. I don’t really know why I didn’t buy one of these to set off with if I’m honest.
I think it’s fairly safe to say, I’d had it tough so far on this challenge. Nothing had come easy and the less I say about the weather, the better! This makes the next thing I’m about to say a very positive thing…
… I don’t really remember that much from here to the end of the day. I think I just rode my bike.
I stuck to the main road from Penrith; skirting the edge of the Lakes as far as Kendal, but this still included a big ‘up and over’! I remember making it to the top and seeing a group of teenagers there having a bit of a party/campfire or something, which looked like fun. Some of them let on as I cycled past in a shattered post-hill state, so I did my best to let on back… Then I remember a few miles later seeing a police van with flashing lights going past me and I thought… just possibly, they were having more fun than the law recommends… I might be wrong, but I honestly hadn’t seen anything else going on in hours. Oh well.
Then there was the best part of 10 miles into Kendal which was steep downhill. This was great fun, but I was freezing from the lack of physical effort and the ever-present cold headwind at the bottom.
I actually felt like I could cycle all night by this point as it started to go dark. If it wasn’t for the rain kicking in at around 11pm, I’d have probably carried on a while longer. As it was, I felt it was wise to stop at just the other side of Milnthorpe to camp out by the river before I got soaked through.
A perfect afternoon of cycling and exactly what I signed up for! Why couldn’t the first three days have been more like this one? Oh well, surely this is what it’s going to be like from here on in…