After a deep 4 hour sleep we were eating breakfast in Edinburgh at 4am looking like Albert Steptoe’s less glamorous brothers. In complete contrast, there was an Italian girl and a Greek girl who both looked like they’d just stepped off the pages of a cycling magazine kit advert. Where we were stumbling about trying to put damp bits of smelly kit back on, they were adjusting their lipstick.
The route back south took a detour out of Edinburgh and we were on the road at 5am. I had dosed up on Nurofen, and had applied some freezing ibuprofen gel that Paula had supplied. My knee was still painful so I was pedalling one-legged – only pushing power through on my left leg. As I am naturally a “rightie” my left leg is a lot weaker and it was already starting to ache with the additional effort I was loading onto it.
There was a beautiful climb out of Edinburgh and then a descent through a lovely valley into the control at Traquair. The skies were clear and the sun was coming up but the air was cold. We didn’t feel it on the climb but the descent through the valley was really cold. Our fingers and toes were freezing as we rode down the valley – the Garmin was indicating 7˚C. It’s easy to understand how people in the bad storms of 2009 were coming down with hypothermia. My bike was playing up again, which meant I had to turn the pedals on the descent. That meant I was able to rest my knee and just added to my sense of foreboding. In addition, my saddle sores were now really painful, meaning I couldn’t sit in the same position for very long at all. In fact I was fidgeting constantly trying to ease the discomfort. This in turn meant I was slightly twisting my knees, everything simply compounding the problems. I tried to focus on the company and the scenery to lift my spirits. A snaking river through the valley was punctuated by views of the pine forests to come. We really do live in a beautiful country but I was in no mood to mess about in my saddlebag and get the camera out, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
We arrived at the control at Traquair shivering! The small village hall housed a small team of cheery volunteers and we went inside where I had the best porridge I have ever tasted. I also had a fabulous piece of cake that was apparently made by the guy who made Madonna’s wedding cake!
The ride from Traquair to Eskdalemuir took us through the pine forests and up and down some brilliant roads. However I was distracted by my dark thoughts and I was desperately trying t o shake myself out of it. Dosed up on Nurofen my knee hurt less but I didn’t dare push power through it. I was thinking only of the next control now, trying to break the ride down into “short” jumps between controls. My speed had dropped dramatically, and as such my HR had similarly dropped. In my head I had the psychological goal of the B&B we’d booked at Thirsk as my target. That would be 1000km, a shower and good nights sleep, and hopefully an improvement in my knee. I was a bit nervous about having to get back over Yad Moss though. Chris was constantly on the front nursing me through it, with Steve doing odd turns as well. Adding to my downbeat mood was the thought I wasn’t pulling my weight and slowing them down.
As we passed the Buddhist temple I knew we were close to Eskdalemuir. I hoped to see Peter Bond there as he was volunteering, so I could tell him how right he was about being stupid on the first day, but his shift hadn’t started.
The route rejoined the northern route somewhere near Longtown and we headed south down the roads we’d travelled north on a lifetime earlier. We saw a couple of riders still coming north but not as many as I imagined. My knee was seriously painful now and I couldn’t keep up with the guys and starting to drop behind. They slowed to help me to the next control at Brampton. We kept seeing the same riders over and over. A group of four Swedes always arrived at the controls around 5 minutes behind us, the Italian and Greek girls, some lads from the UK, and we’d seen Mike Tattershall too. At Brampton, Paula arrived with a support for my knee, which I put on after having a short massage to see if that helped. The chap doing the massages was blind and I chatted to him about his guide dog, who was sat patiently at the side of the table. Apparently she was very similar to Barney (food thief!) until she got her harness on when she became a model guide dog.
We then set off towards Yad Moss. I was dosed up, knee gel and brace on and it was getting worse. It hadn’t hurt off the bike at all, and didn’t hurt to the touch. But as I prodded it through the support a shooting pain shot through my leg causing me to wince. At the bottom of Yad Moss is a fairly steep cobbled section through a village. I set about it in 34-28 gear one-legged. Dispiritingly my Garmin, set to auto-stop at 3.2mph, kept auto-stopping as I was moving that slowly. A huge logging HGV ground up the cobbles next to me forcing me into the worst bits at the edge of the road. For the first time I was angry – what the hell was that doing on a road like this? The cobbles gave way to road and shallower gradient and I tried to settle into a rhythm. My saddle sores made that almost impossible and each time my right knee went through the pedal stroke a bolt of pain shot through me. I had over 300 miles to go. Thoughts running through my head were of the people who had dug deep to sponsor me. Hundreds of people had given to the cause, KidsCan, that I was trying to support. My family had supported me through months of training. I’d spent hundreds of hours in all sorts of weather. I felt like I was letting each of them down individually, as well as myself because I don’t give up, but as the tears welled up I realised I couldn’t deal with this amount of pain for 300 more miles. Each turn was like a knife being stabbed into my knee, and I was grinding slower and slower. My mind was whizzing along about how I could face people, how I could get home. I don’t know what it was that made me prod my knee once more and realise that the pain was on the joint, and not inside the knee. I ripped the support off, concluding that if it was the joint compressing it together would only make it worse. The relief was immediate – albeit still painful but at a level that I knew I could deal with. I also thought I knew what had caused the joint problem. I had a Topeak Fueltank bag on my crossbar, and it sagged ever so slightly to the right hand side. Over the course of the ride it had imperceptibly caused me to splay my right leg slightly outwards on each pedal stroke, which I assumed had caused the problem. I’d had the same issue a couple of years earlier with a wider crossbar bag, and assumed this one wouldn’t because it was narrower. My spirits lifted and I continued on up the relentless climb, still fidgeting away in the saddle to try to ease the other pain I was feeling in my backside. I passed a guy on a recumbent struggling up, and Chris caught me near the top and launched himself down the other side, with me trailing in his wake. Near the bottom I saw a bike propped against a tree, with an audaxer asleep in the field behind it. I was incredibly relieved to get into Barnard Castle control because I now knew I could keep the pain under control and complete the ride, albeit very slowly.
In Barnard Castle Paula was waiting looking very concerned about Steve. He’d been riding behind us with Mike Tattershall, and had phoned her to say he didn’t know where he was and was in a field. We said he’d been fine and only minutes behind us so were very perplexed. And so it was – he turned up not long after. Apparently the phone call had been about Mike – who needed a brief rest/kip to get himself back on an even keel, and Steve was fine. Chris phoned the B&B in Thirsk and advised we’d arrive about 10-30pm.
There was to be no blast through the dark into Thirsk this day – although it was mainly downhill we covered the 41 miles at about 14.5mph, joined by a nice chap from Ireland who did take his turn on the front, unlike many others! It started to get cold again, with the odd spot of rain. At Thirsk the Irishman continued on to Pocklington where we walked across the road to the B&B we’d booked – The Meadowcroft. Both Chris and I looked an absolute state, in the same clothes we’d been in for 2 days, but Sue and Simon welcomed us in with open arms. I hope we didn’t come across as rude because we were both exhausted and just wanted a shower and bed.