The Reason Why...

Trip Start May 22, 2009
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Trip End Feb 16, 2010


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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Saturday, August 15, 2009

…You never hear about people cycle-touring in England is because it supremely sucks!

The last few days have reminded me of the first few days of touring through the Peak District.  I was struggling and pushing all the time.  However, now I’m a bit more adapt at this after 2 months on the road.  And I’ve lost about 20lbs of fat and gained 10 of muscle.  I know I can’t be that bad anymore.  What is it about this country?  Is there no grade controls on roads?  Why do they always go straight up???

And it’s not just the hills.  The weather is so depressing.  Grey and drizzle all day yesterday.  Freezing cold at the campsite all night.  Rain all through the night.  And now this morning?  You guessed right!  More rain!  We chose June, July, and August to tour the UK since it’s summer.  But we’ve had NO summer yet this year.  Almost every day we’re cold and wearing jackets at some point!  I think the only reason I'm not suffering from hypothermia is because I'm cycling.

Moving from the area of Hadrian’s Wall down into the Pennine Hills today.  It was an uphill battle - literally.  We were almost consistently climbing up hill.  I’ve never spent so much time in first gear before.  About 85% was up, 10% was what you might call reasonably flat, and maybe 5% was declines.  I can remember 3, and none were significant or long…..

What’s better than facing unending hills in a head wind?  Doing it in the rain, of course!  This was not the drizzle we’ve grown to love, nor the short bursts that we encountered in Scotland.  It was a rain that grew more steady as time went on.  For awhile, I forgot what I was doing.  I wasn’t sure if I was cycling, or swimming.  Streams of water poured down by face so I couldn’t see.  Drops of water formed on the end of my rose and blew off with the wind.  Pedaling upstream through rivers of water that had formed on the road and were flowing DOWN in the opposite direction.  I tell you, Ireland has nothing on this!  I only had 1 dry spot left on my body - that which was directly in contact with the seat of my bike.  And that was what we cycled for the first 2 1/2 hours of the day.

Supposedly the Pennine Hills are an AONB:  an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  I wouldn’t know.  It was so completely sacked in, all I could see was grey.  I think it’s an AONB: an Area of Obnoxious and Never-ending Brutality.

But that was the good of my day.  ‘Cause after that, my last dry spot got wet…

Brian hollered that he had to stop - something was wrong with his bike.  What could go wrong now?  I swear he’s already replaced everything!  Stopping and standing caused all the water that had accumulated in the creased bits to rush down and completely soak my body.  Shivering now that I was unactive, I stood and listened to Brian curse.  Something was wrong with his back tire and it was wobbling about.  All gear came off, bike was flipped over, and his back wheel wouldn’t even spin on it’s own.  On closer inspection, he found that one of his spokes was broken.  Boy Scout Brian didn't have a spare one of these unfortunately.  He worked to true up the wheel and it looked like it might hold. 

We tried to negotiate our maps, but they were soaked through and resembled limp lettuce leaves more than paper.  Here we were in the middle of the Pennines, hours and hours away from anything resembling a town of significant enough size to have a bike shop. 

Trying to decrease the stress on the wheel, I offered to take the extra weight in gear.  So the bags were switched and the water logged tent was strapped onto my bike. 

Feeling completely depressed, we stopped into the next little hamlet that had a place to eat.  The last thing we wanted to do was stand out in the rain and eat soggy sandwiches.  At least this place gave a little shelter and a moderate amount of warmth.  We’d run into several people already today who were remarking at the weather, but reassured us that the forecast was calling for it to clear in the afternoon.  The sun teased us a little while we ate, but was long gone by the time we were ready to leave. 

Setting out, we were faced with more hills.  Unfortunately, now with the added weight, I was not quite as adept at cycling as before.  Now I had to push my bike and the extra gear up the hills, making our progress even slower.  The last several days we’ve only been traveling around 50km.  At least if we were making headway I could be looking forward to France.  At this point, it looks like we’ll be stuck here until October!

Finally reaching the top, we embarked on the first significant downward section of the day.  The wind was so strong that it kept pushing us back and forth across the pavement as the road twisted and turned.  Thank goodness there was no traffic to content with!  But this was not a wind that dried out our clothes.  This was a sting-you-in-the-eyeball type of rain - wonderful at accelerated speeds!  In the next little town we stopped for a little break and the rain kept coming.  But this time it was straight down rain - what a nice change!  This must have been the pleasant weather everyone was speaking about!

Brian kept reminding me that this was just a part of the experience...Take the good with the bad...Everyday can’t be sunny...What doesn't kill you makes you stronger...And other similar cra!.  I remembered what Uncle Reg said about building strength of character.  Well, feel the muscle burn…Lip bitten, pedals turning, I continued. 

The first campsite was full.  The second was non-existent,  The next few refused tents.  Any others were another 15km or so through some more hills.  Off we went.  The map we were following showed a steep incline leaving Stanhope.  So far the hills we experienced today did NOT warrant a marking on the map.  So I wondered what we were in for…

A s could be expected:  a VERY steep hill.  I could barely push the bike without it tipping over backwards let alone pedal it!  Signs upon the descent warned of a 17%  grade!  We saw almost zero cars going up, and the ones going down were shaking their heads and laughing at us - great!  It was another unending hill.  Every time you thought you were reaching the top, it crested some more.  I had to keep telling myself:  at least it’s not raining, at least it’s not raining.  The farther and farther we rose, the stronger and stronger the wind became.  Approaching 5:30pm, I wasn’t sure how much more I could do!

Looking up, I saw Brian cycling towards me and I knew that it couldn’t be good.  He occasionally cycles ahead and may wait for me to catch up, but never comes back.  He said we’d finally crested the hill, but it just dipped into a valley to climb another hill like the last.  After that who knows.  Could be the town we’re looking for, or it could be more hills.  Getting late and both out of steam I wasn’t sure what to do. 

Brian wanted to turn back to the last town (at the bottom of the hill) and look for a B&B.  There was NO WAY I was going down that hill just to go up again tomorrow!  He eventually talked me into it with promises of a different route in the morning.  So down we sped into Stanhope only to learn that there were no B&B’s or campgrounds.  But there were a couple of pubs with rooms to let. 

Not my first choice of accommodation, but anything is better than wet. I went in to inquire and found a table full of friendly owners all enjoying a drink together.  Only one room remained.  When I came out, Brian was deep in conversation with an old man who claimed to be Santa Claus.  Looking into his sparkling blue intelligent eyes, I could almost believe it to be true.  He recommended this pub as a place to say. 

An interesting old building with velvet wallpaper, a basement full of tunnels, and live entertainment blasting would be our home for the evening.  Basking in the ability to shower and not clean up all my belongings before I leave, I got ready for supper.  The friendly staff made arrangements to feed us after hours. 

So we sat and watched the whole town pile in for the Saturday night entertainment - including Santa Claus!  He sat a the table across from us and pulled out a ream of paper and a calligraphy pen and started to compose.  After filling an entire page, he got up and handed it to me.  This is what it said: 

Cycles
    On the fifteenth day, in the month of August, in
    the year two thousand and nine,     Anno Domini,
    two tired Canadians by the names of Brian and Sharilyn,
    cycled into Stanhope, in the Country of Durham. 
    They sought shelter and sustenance.  God is good to
    strangers, for they found room at the Inn of the Bonny Moorhen. 


But we were interrupted from more conversation with this fascinating old man, by the 'village idiot'.  A drunkard that frequented this bar (and every other) found fresh meat to prey upon (since no one else would talk to him).  Very entertaining (if not a little annoying) he told us stories of how he shook hands with the lead singer of AC DC between frequent swear words.  In between bathroom breaks, we made our escape back to the room above the band to fall asleep to the thudding bass booms. 


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Where I stayed
Bonny Moor Hen Inn

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