DIY audax: Hartlepool 200km

Six weeks have passed since completing LEL. Not much riding done in this time. Giving my hands and fingers a chance to recover. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It’s a slow old business. Fed up with waiting for them to get better led to a decision to just get back on the bike anyway.

Up to Hartlepool for work last Tuesday. Stayed an extra day to get in a 200km DIY (Do It Yourself) audax. It was touch and go whether I’d even set off. Storm Aileen swept in Tuesday night. Weather warnings of westerly winds and heavy rain. Thankfully it mostly passed during the night leaving me no excuses not to get out there in the morning.

Eastington District Cycleway

Eastington District Cycleway

The first 35km to Durham mostly followed off-road cycle lanes. Heavy rain the night before flooded one or two sections resulting in a total shoe immersion and damp feet for the rest of the day. Didn’t bother me really as it was not cold and they stayed warm. I did feel a bit nervous riding through six inches of muddy water clipped in and not knowing what obstacles and potholes lay beneath the murk. Luckily I did not come a cropper and made it through without taking a tumble.

Turned out that six weeks with next to no riding was long enough to make the next stretch much more of a struggle than I would have imagined, that’s if I’d given it much thought before hand. The climbing was insidious. Nothing especially dramatic but I found it a lot harder than the apparent contours of the land suggested. Intermittent muscle twitches in my thighs and calf muscles told me I was likely going to be in for it later.

The invested effort did offer some returns. It was a very scenic route especially the few miles through Hamsterley Forest. Given the chance I’d happily do it again. I was knackered though which bothered me a bit given the half way point at Barnard Castle was still some way to go. There was some solace in knowing that it was mostly downhill from there with a good chance of a tailwind to push me along. Still I was finding it tough going and had to get off to push the bike up a short steep hill out the forest.

Once out the forest it was another draggy climb up the B6282 heading towards the south-eastern edges of the North Pennines. It was here that the cramps really took a hold and at one point I had to stop for a while to save me from the agonising muscle spasms which risked me coming off the bike in an uncontrolled hurry.

The B6282 along the south eastern edge of the North Pennines Way

The B6282 along the south eastern edge of the North Pennines Way.

Once again it was triphasic breathing (which is basically two quick breaths in and out then deep breath in followed by a long and deep exhalation out to expel as much CO2 as possible) that made a difference. Seems to help with all sorts of things and something I recommend to anyone struggling on their bike. Trust me it’s worth learning the technique and using it when the going gets tough. 

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

Anyhow it was at this point when it dawned on me that I must have put in a lot more climbing than my eyes had suggested. This helped lift my spirits but sadly not my fitness level. I was really flagging now and just wanted to get to Barnard Castle to have a break. Luckily the climbing was all but done and it was pretty much down hill all the way to my planned stop. Filled up on tea, coke, omelette and chips. I succumb at this point and checked out where I could get a train back to Hartlepool. Not quite throwing in the towel but as good as for anyone who knows the signs. Once the thought of packing in is embraced it colours the thinking from that point on especially on a solo ride.

Whorlton Suspension Bridge

Whorlton Suspension Bridge a few miles south of Barnard Castle. I was actually heading the other way but the light was better from this side.

I set off again on route as planned with the knowledge that it took me very close to Darlington and a train ride home if things did not improve. They didn’t. Despite all the tea and food consumed the cramps came back just a short time after starting out again. I was feeling a bit down about this. It meant that I was going to have a slow and uncomfortable ride back or I was going to pull a DNF (did not finish). Either of the two was in my mind rubbish. It took a little while of rationalising and reflection to find some peace with this. This was after all just a bike ride. A 200km DIY audax. Something to enjoy not endure. That thinking took me closer and closer to the decision to pack it in for the day. The cramps continued. It started chucking down with rain.

As if summoned up by my experience a sign appeared; Darlington four miles. Right that’s it. I head off course and make my way to the station. 127km done by the time I got there. I was back in Hartlepool by 6.30 pm. Got changed, got in the car and drove home to Kent. Defeated. Not a great feeling but pleased I had a go. As for the hands and fingers. No better or worse than they had been before setting off. If anything they felt better all the time I was riding. I’ll choose numbness over burning pins and needles any day. 

Darlington Train Station. Salvation in damnation.

Darlington Train Station. Salvation in damnation.

DNF

DNF