Best day of the ride for several reasons. Principally an early morning revelation that seemed to put everything about the trip into a new perspective for me, and to offer up the prospect of switching off the washing machine and enjoying the remaining days.
Tom’s friend Andy was waiting for us as we finished our breakfast in The Dalesman. Andy is, at least to a puny city type like me, a big lad and a great bike rider. Climbing the first little hill in town to pick up Rob and beginning to weigh up the prospect of dropping behind both Tom and Andy throughout the day, I was struck, as if from nowhere, by the liberating realisation that Tom is, or has the full makings of, a really great cyclist. Looking back at all the people who have joined us so far on the ride, I can’t think of a single one who Tom hasn’t kept pace with at the front of the group, despite his extra 5kg of luggage and the hundreds of additional miles he’s got in his legs by now. He’s a stone lighter than me, strong and wiry from a lifetime of climbing cliffs and has a cyclists attitude, pushing every pedal-stroke hard and riding every trip flat out whether it’s 7 miles or 70.
What a relief. I’m none of those things, so why bother with the churning anxieties about keeping up? I could feel the weight lifting from my shoulders and, for the first time since Day One, I rode the distance with what felt like a smile on my face.
We climbed imposing Cumbrian hills, hammered memorably down the sides of river valleys, dodged cows, spotted ostriches and had Indonesian pasties in the Ravenhouse Stores, Kirkoswald. Andy is a generous and funny rider, helping to fix minor mechanical problems and, I suspect, never really stretching his legs out more than he needed to.
Along with my new and highly satisfactory settlement regarding my place in the riding pack came the realisation that, despite my current undertaking, I’m probably not cut out to be a cyclist. I recall Bill from the Bike Shed in Exeter telling me that during his Lands’ End to John O’Groats ride he, “felt himself changing into a cyclist”. It’s one of the things i’ve been looking forward to experiencing myself. I realised today that it’s not going to happen. Instead of getting stronger and better, I’m pushing on as best I can and hoping to make it to the end. I’m pretty disappointed about that, but at least i’ve learned something.
I have burning lactic acid pain in my legs now after only the shortest of stops and it’s taking longer and longer to clear. I have also to report a worrying deterioration down the back of the cycling shorts. Not sure quite how i’m going to get back into the saddle in the morning.
I think I’m on the way to concluding that this trip is about it for me as far as cycling goes. I’ll carry on, and hopefully stay strong, but I sense i’ve gone about as far as I can take it now. No jokes about taking it further by riding into the sea of Scotland and making for Orkney.
Stunning scenery. Huge valleys carved by ice. The famous Vale of Eden Drumlins. Deep, dark forests stretching over the horizon. And when we arrived, a fine B&B complete with a talkative Vietnamese Pot-bellied Pig. Then I fell for a joke about a cleaner who couldn’t hoover.
Like I said, a good day.
585 official miles down. Think we’re well over 600 though.