“You better stop dreaming of the quiet life, it’s the one you’ll never know” (The Jam)
It feels appropriate to remind people of what we’re planning and why.
Over 6 days this Summer, Rod and I will ride a Tandem bike from Røros in Norway 500 miles north to the Arctic Circle Centre.
Apart from being a UNESCO World Heritage Site it’s also the location for the first reported cases of a condition called Batten Disease. A variant known as Juvenile Batten Disease affected 4 siblings in the town.
Why is that important?
Another variant, Late Infantile, affects my own children, Ellie Mae & Caleb.
There are approximately 100-150 children in the UK suffering from the various forms which cause blindness; epilepsy, jerks of limbs, loss of speech and swallowing skills, loss of mobility. Death is inevitable and may occur anywhere between early childhood and young adulthood.
Why a Tandem? Ask Rod.
Why the Arctic Circle? Ask Rod.
So July will see us set off to the Bear Stronghold of Europe to raise awareness and funds for the BDFA, who support children & families affected by the disease
To demonstrate stupid ideas and poor planning aren’t particular to this trip I thought I’d share the blog from another ride Rod planned.
We planned a 100 mile trek through the Lake District to Bassenfell Christian Manor. A 70 mile first day, stopping in Kendal, followed by a 40+ mile second day to Bassenthwaite.
With any huge undertaking it’s important to be fanatical in the planning, allowing no possibility for error! Rod has bought 3 volumes of waterproof maps, spent hours tinkering with his bike and undertaken a number of practise rides to reduce the chances of lactic acid build up.
I read the Lance Armstrong autobiography so we’re both ready in our own way!
I take responsibility for accommodation having previously, but never again, stayed in a B&B of Rod’s choosing.
It’s foolish to spend a fortune on a hotel if you’re only in the room a matter of hours but it’s sensible to arrange for comfort after a long day in the saddle.
So we look forward to a night at Stonecross Manor! We will arrive at about 4pm and relax in the indoor pool, before a pre-dinner drink, a 5-star restaurant for dinner and a night-cap in the Lounge before retiring.
Rod’s kids have previously mentioned our blossoming bromance so I don’t mentione one of the available extras is twin tubs, enabling us to stare into one another’s eyes whilst soaking in a bubble-bath.
Rod takes charge of navigation and plots the route on his wife’s A-Z in pink highlighter. How he intends to hold the A-Z across the handlebars of his bike isn’t clear but he proudly presents the map as showing a route which will test us and allow us to enjoy some Lakes scenery.
Whilst Rod prepares the route I begin the search for waterproof trousers. I’ve got two pairs and want to take both in case the first get wet. Understandably I can only find one pair and begin a three hour search. Ellie Mae offers the word “Panda” when asked if she knows where daddy’s trousers are. Whether a result of watching “Kung Fu Panda” last night or a serious attempt to communicate is never understood.
I also have to attach my new bike-bag. It fits perfectly if I remove the saddle but that can’t be right? It can be squashed down and wedged under the saddle but this seems to defeat the point of buying a big bag. In desperation I tie it to the back of the bike to drag along the ground like tin-cans on a Wedding car. Rod can ride behind and pick up anything that falls out. He’s used to picking up bits which fall of my bike.
I’ve decided two pairs of waterproof trousers is overdoing it and just take one.
Rod wants to stop at Ilkley sorting office for a parcel. He hopes it’s the Hi-Tech underpants he ordered but he’s not sure. The consequences seem dire if it’s a new wheel, pair of shoes or dog bowl. Not only will he have to carry the parcel with him for the ride but he’ll only have the pants he’s wearing! Pulling up outside the Sorting office wearing all-weather gear, rucksack and panniers a workman asks how far they’ve come. About a mile and a half.
They head for Bolton Abbey and after a quick snack ride into the “Valley Of Desolation”.
Breakfast is proposed for Grassington, a bone of some contention. On a previous ride Rod told the group “just drive through the town, the cafe will be on your right.” He didn’t realise a Big City boy like me, when looking for a town, expects more than one bench and a fallen down tree. Racing ahead of the group I was through Grassington and halfway to Carlisle before they phoned and directed me back.
We stop to in Buckden before the climb into Hawes. I resort to my secret weapon. Instead of the caffeine-filled Jelly balls I usually rely on I’ve brought an energy drink. A small sachet added to water promises to revitalise and prepare you for the most arduous of trials. I’m confident it will see me through the next stage.
As I prepare to drink I mention it doesn’t look quite right. Rods suggests it looks like curdled milk. Having tried it, I agree!
Who would design an energy drink to refresh you on a ride and give it the consistency of curdled milk? Why would anyone think that would help?
But designers know best and if they think curdled milk will help then I’ll drink it. I discover later it’s meant to be a night-time milky drink which revitalises you after a long day, not during. It’s also to be drunk within ten minutes of making it, not allowed to heat up and curdle on the bike for a couple of hours. Still I drinks most of it and only throw up a couple of times.
As we prepare to leave a mangy looking dog approaches and, in a moment of perfect synchronicity between man and beast, goes to the toilet on my bike.
The next section is horrendous but compared to what’s to come it’s a pleasant jaunt in the country! We leave Buckden and climb, climb, climb up Oughtershaw Road which goes nowhere and serves no real purpose other than to test your lower gears. Rod ploughs ahead with grit and maniacal determination not wanting to be embarrassed in front of the sheep who have gathered by the road-side to stop and stare, I don’t quite make it!! This is where I begin to ask “Are we there yet?” at regular intervals. I stop on the worst of the climb twice.
We roll into Hawes and stop at the biker cafe. Since our last visit the cafe seems to have outsourced their waitress service as we are served by a man in Parcel Force uniform. Whether PF know their staff are moonlighting at lunchtimes or whether it’s another way the company are seeking to improve profits is not fully clear but he does deliver the levels of service you expect from Parcel Force. The food takes nearly a full day to arrive.
Leaving the cafe I head off in search of a toilet to bring up the last of the curdled milk. On returning I find Rod surrounded by ladies, questioning him about the Lands End-John O Groats ride he completed some years ago.
Cycling Groupies are a huge chore and Rod complains that they wouldn’t stop pestering him about his epic ride. How they found out is anyone’s guess.
The road from Hawes to Dent is everything we expected. A wind-tunnel where pedalling at full power only achieves 1-2 mph.
Rod takes the front of the peleton, I drag behind stopping every ten foot for a power bar. This takes up a lot of time so I devise an ingenious plan. Pouring a whole bag of Haribo Starmix into my hand, I squash them into a ball. I then ride one handed holding the ball in the other and licking it every few feet.
The next test should be the hardest, the road to Dent! On their last visit 5 of the group rebelled and instead cycled on to Ribblehead, one brave soul took the Dent road! Meeting at their final destination he talked late into the night about the hazards he faced and how fortunate it was the group had taken the easier road. There was talk of the climb, miles and miles of climb, a near vertical ascent upon icy roads which only the most foolhardy rider would undertake.
All of which goes to show you cannot trust a word cyclists say! Taking the turn now the road instantly drops and rolls into the valley. It’s as if we’ve left Mordor and immediately arrived in Hobbiton! Gone is the wind and fog, the up and down, the barrelling tunnel of gale force winds hammering you whichever way you turn, replaced with a babbling brook trickling beside them for miles. Never believe a cyclist when he tells you about an epic ride.
In Dent a Teashop owner helpfully tells us the road to Kendal is a real grind, and he’s right, it goes on and on throwing up hills whenever it feels like it. We wearily arrive at the hotel.
As Rod deals with the bikes I reassure him. “I’ll get us booked in and we’ll go straight to the pool for a relaxing dip”
The receptionist is very helpful but when I query the pool times she says, “Well, until 8 o’ clock”. Fantastic news, with our initial plan to arrive at “around 4” there’s time to relax and refresh before tomorrows ride.
“And what time is it now?” I asks.
“A quarter to eight” she says.
We’re up to watch the sunrise over Kendal and prepare for another day. We don’t actually see the sunrise as the floodlights illuminating the hotel’s sign are angled to shine directly into the room. We can’t understand why the hotel needs to illuminate the sign inside the rooms, after all we’re already here!
They prepare for the day with a full English, toast, coffee, cereal , yoghurt and fruit. I eat a slice of grapefruit, doubling my fruit intake for the year and Rod steals some small pots of jam which he plans to take home as presents for the kids.
Not wanting to waste time getting out of Kendal, I ask the receptionist for the route through town. She goes on to describe the hazards and pitfalls of this option and pleads with us to take the longer, harder route around Kendal which features “a bit of a climb” but is certainly preferable to the shorter option. She’s obviously completely insane. We choose the shorter route.
We push off and arrive at the Windermere ferry in good time, stopping for a coffee before boarding.
Rod takes a call from another Police Officer who warns about the hill facing us across the lake. This is concerning as neither of us fancy a treacherous climb early in the day. We have 40 miles today and don’t want to be ruined before lunch. Not having learnt from the Hotel Receptionist incident Rod decides the best thing to do is ask a local so as we board he strikes up a conversation with a husband and wife cycling team.
The wife looks horrified as Rod approaches whilst the husband lights up, realising here are two travellers who haven’t heard his routine. He launches into a vaudeville run of gags and anecdotes whilst his wife weeps silently in the corner.
“Listen lads” he says “This ferry costs a pound each, now I’ll ask the Ticket-collector if it’s buy one get one free today!!!! And he’ll say “No, but you can have 2 for £2 if you’re paying cash!!” Hilarious! I’ve done it every day this week!”
Rod realises what he’s set in motion and as the Ticket collector approaches the man does ask him if he can have two for the price of one. The Ticket collector very politely plays his part in the drama whilst looking as if he’d like to pitch the man over the side. You can’t help feeling sorry for him if he’s put up with this every day.
We’re none the wiser about what awaits on the other side so Rod mentions the hill.
We’re told it’s a killer but the lunatic begs us to do it, such is the wonder of its history. We’re pummelled with stories of Beatrix Potter, who used to live somewhere around here, and the Second World War, which apparently took place not too far from here.
When he finally stops to draw breath I suggest that although it sounds lovely we don’t want to tire ourselves out so early in the day by riding up a big hill.
“Ride!” he says “You don’t ride it, you get off and push. I’ve done it every day this week and I haven’t ridden it once!”
Feeling this defeats the purpose of riding we choose the Lake-side route and enjoy a decent run into Ambleside, leaving the Ferry just a bit too quickly to exchange phone numbers.
With 16 miles to Keswick and 8 more to Bassenfell the only problem we face is how to know when we’re there. We’ve been told the Manor is in Bassenfell not Bassenthwaite. We’ve also been told putting the postcode into your Sat Nav doesn’t work. We’ve checked the website which repeats all these things without really being clear about how exactly to get there. The only definite is that if you hit Carlisle you’ve gone too far.
We needn’t have worried. I wonder why the website doesn’t just tell you to look for the huge sign saying “Bassenfell Christian Manor”, unless it’s because the staff have only just taken down the “Bassenfell Hassidic Jews Manor” sign as there are a large group of them getting on a coach outside as we arrive.
They hit the final climb up a ridiculously steep driveway into the welcoming arms of their friends, who greet them by shouting “Don’t come in here, we’re not ready for you. You’ll have to sit in the drive, we’re a bit busy at the moment!”
Thanks for reading and for the ongoing support.
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