When winter approaches events become few and far between. As a sponsored rider, exposure for the companies that give you love should never be restricted to just the racing season so you are always on the lookout for a challenge or ride a little bit out of the ordinary to tackle.
The 84km Bivvy Challenge was something I found on the net and was instantly attracted to it. Dan, its creator was inspired by a bivvi event he had done so created the site and threw down the challenge. It can be tackled on foot or bike and has a normal distance and an Ultra distance… the Ultra bike distance being 260miles (somewhat more than the 84km the name of the site suggests) and stipulates a minimum or 48 hours spent out and about – 84kmbivvychallenge.co.uk.
Unfortunately when faced with choices you always gotta tick the biggest/furthest/highest/hardest/stupidest option available to you otherwise you are just cheating yourself so we opted for the Ultra bike distance and to do it in exactly 48 hours.
We being myself and fellow Genesis Bikes rider James Leavsley. We banded around a few route suggestions and settled on riding 2 popular national cycleways – the Reivers route out to Cockermouth then pick up the C2C route for the return leg home.
With bikes packed and weather looking almost okay we set off at 9.45 on Sunday morning. I opted for my Genesis Vapour with traditional rack and panniers whilst James went with his Genesis Altitude with fancy rackless luggage.
The ride started pretty easily.. close to the coast and heading inland the going was pretty much standard cycleway fair.. flat and good cycleways… good chance to get used to lugging the weight of panniers before the real stuff started.
Weather was pretty changeable… shower.. sun.. shower.. sun… temperatures weren’t the lows we were expecting…
At about mile 40 I noticed I had a slow puncture… with rain beating down I was keen not to stop so I pumped it up and kept on… I was already suffering pangs of hunger and at every stop for a gate would eat more of Grace’s lovely banana and fruit cake. With Bellingham approaching a Cafe stop was in order. I used to ride to Bellingham all the time on local road clubs runs but it has been a good 15 years since i was there last and the cafe was now a Chinese takeaway but luckily a new one had opened.
After consuming some hot food and drink i had to change the innertube and by the time i had done that i was very cold and it felt as though the temperature had dropped ten degrees as we set off again.
It wasn’t long till we had to use lights… Light and Motion Stellas all round… at this point we were up near Kielder water and i had already noticed that I wasn’t able to stay with James on any of the climbs and he would gradually pull away from me with no response from myself. I wasn’t having fun and was feeling hungry again… Kielder water and the Scottish borders can be pretty bleak, especially at night in winter when it’s raining and into a headwind. I was already planning an early escape at Carlisle back via the train convinced I couldn’t make the distance.
We soldiered on through the night. I remember getting to Newcastleton with the hope that they may have a Spa shop or petrol station I could refuel in only to be bitterly disappointed… as we hit 97 miles ridden we reached Longtown near Carlisle and just as I had told James I would happily swap my reproductive organs for a shop we rounded a corner to see a beautiful Spa shop.. the salvation of every distance cyclist… £20 spent I was already feeling good… James had spotted a picnic area sign, good as anywhere for a urban ish bivvy.
As we got to the picnic spot it was actually an adventure playground… even better… we rigged the Alpkit tarp up over a walkway and climbed in underneath.
In our Alpkit Bivvi bags and Sleeping bags seperated from the ground by Alpkit Wee Airics we were super comfy and warm, congratulating ourselves on both the shop find and the bivvy spot… the local policeman was somewhat more confused by the whole thing.. “you are planning on sleeping here all night?” … luckily he had no problem with our kind of idiocy and just left us with a warning to be wary of local kids and our gear.
We woke in the morning to the sound of water on tarp. As we lay there it wasn’t subsiding so James made a move to scare the locals in the nearby public toilet leaving me to get ready in our under walkway home.. both ready we went to move the tarp to discover a massive pond of water had gathered in in directly above us.. if that had let go onto us it would have been a very rude awakening!
The ride towards Carlisle was pretty easy going.. nice and flat.. Carlisle during rush hour was interesting squeezing between cars and negotiating wet roundabouts on heavily laden bikes.. beyond Carlisle the headwind continued to batter us, the rain was unrelenting and the hills started to come as we got closer and closer to the Lake District.
Descending a country lane i rounded a corner to find an elderly citizen driving towards me and as she seemed to be taking some kind of racing line that placed her onto my side of the road I had to ride straight into a pothole to avoid her. As I cursed her I also noticed I was a pannier bag lighter and turned to see it following me down the hill! The mounting bracket still attached to my rack ripped clean off the back of the pannier. We were left with bungee and cable tie’ing it to the rack but it wasn’t the most secure of items.
As we approached Cockermouth the scenes of devastation from the recent flooding were all around us and we had to ‘freestyle’ it over a bridge that had been closed due to structural concerns… as we got to the A66 Cockermouth was right and Keswick our next destination was left.. we decided rather than ride to Cockermouth a few miles down road then have to ride back to Keswick we would instead ride quarter of a mile straight ahead to the Pheasant Inn and have some food.
After eating and James stripping off to dry all his wet goods on a decrepid heater we made for the C2C route via the A66.. not a pleasant experience getting buzzed by big lorries every few minutes until we could turn off onto the official route. I had it in my head that Penrith was a lot closer than it was but then as with all signed cycleways they are never the most direct route but the quietest so we wound our way round country roads as it got dark again. I was flailing eventhough I now had a tailwind… James wanted to see another 50 miles past Penrith and I knew the climbs of Hartside, Garrigill, Nenthead and Allenheads would have to be ridden that day on top of the 8 hours we had already done.
The climbs got harder for me. James was still dissappearing up the road, no fault of his own I just felt slow and bad… felt like I had been chasing him for the entire trip. Those that meet him may be fooled by his mild mannered polite nature, don’t be fooled, he can ride the legs of all comers.
As the rain started heavier again we reached Penrith and i was done… knowing what lay ahead I knew I couldn’t do it in the timescale we had set and as fate would have it we entered Penrith right next to the train station… 171 miles done.
Game over for me.. we exchanged some goods to make the rest of his trip easier then he was gone, I will always have the utmost respect for this guys attitude to being on the bike.. unstoppable and loving every minute one of the most mentally strong people I have ever met.
That just left me with a dejected train ride home…
All I know is I met James this morning and we finished his ride together… exactly 48 hours out and about and covered 264ish miles… I will leave him to add his thoughts on the Genesis Bikes Blog (genesisbikes.co.uk).