***ADDENDUM added 27.07.21: so far the challenge has raised over £1,000 for Mossburn Community Farm! If you’d like to spare a few quid to a truly transformative cause and alleviate suffering for neglected animals and bring joy to local humans (!!) then you can donate here.
Dreamed up over coffee while looking out of the living room window at the darkening sky early on a winter’s afternoon. Hubs was pining for summer and he wanted to do something BIG when it came.
We were just into June and that day had arrived. A stone’s throw from the summer solstice, we snook out pre-dawn to get to the start line. The weak early morning light cast a purple-grey filter over the rolling green hills as we headed south, the furthest south you can go in Scotland, nudging cautiously past cows in the road feeding their calves, the mothers grumpily trotting into the grass verge while the young trot hungrily after them with milk round their muzzles; up the steep bank towards the gull-ridden cliffs upon which nests the Mull of Galloway lighthouse.
The mission for the day was a 200-mile coast-to-coast, lighthouse-to-lighthouse cycle tour between the Mull of Galloway and Whitley Bay in Newcastle. Its’ purpose? To raise as much money as possible for the Mossburn Community Farm, an animal rescue centre local to us in Dumfries.
A bracing wind accompanied him on his first ten miles heading north along the peninsula with the sun glowing fiercely at his shoulder over a calm sea. This was a time of day unaccustomed to human activity; a time where fawns expect safety while curled up on grassy roadside embankments and squads of sparrows bombard the quiet highways. It was 5:15am and the challenge was afoot.
I have to confess that I went back to bed for a while after dropping Hubs off at the start. By the time I’d got up and had breakfast, he was already 80 miles down and back at our house for a quick coffee and toast stop and feeling decidedly fresh. He puts me to shame, that boy. His route had taken in Glenluce, Newton Stewart, New Galloway and Corsock.
A short detour via the G&G Cycle Centre on Dumfries for a quick mechanical fix and caffeine boost courtesy of affable local cycling buff John, and Josh left Dumfries behind to meet me, already over 100 miles in, in Gretna. My train arrived half an hour ahead of Hubs so I waited at a pub which would be easy to find and ordered him an espresso for the road. The bartender was having difficulties with the bean-to-cup machine and kept having to press buttons to get my drink to pour to completion. “Technology will never take over the world at this rate, will it?” we joked after the fourth jab at the buttons. Then I was served the coffee and it became clear that he he’d given me a quadruple-double espresso, assuming that I was expecting a full cup.
Our story with Mossburn Community Farm started during our first winter in Dumfries. Discovering one evening on my way home from work that one of the young kids of the goats that had given us so much joy over the autumn months had not survived a viciously cold week in January, we were looking for something to take that edge off our sorrow. One animal adoption later – a nanny goat called Clone which has shown us nothing but indifference ever since – and this animal oasis has fast become our sanctuary. The centre is largely ran by volunteers and takes in neglected, abused and unwanted animals from all over the country in addition to providing animal assisted therapy for people with autism and dementia, and opportunities to learn from and care for the animals for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Try to hold on to your troubles while scratching mud off a pig’s back while it rolls on it’s side up against you and grunts with delight or, even better, falls asleep against your leg. I think you’ll find it difficult.
The sun was high and searing at our backs as we took a country lane following the M6 south then crossed the motorway and found ourselves on quiet roads lined with trees and brick cottages. In Brampton Josh received a hero’s welcome from some friends of ours who delivered support in the form of cold drinks, pooch cuddles, baby gurgles and NOMO chocolate bars. The support was much needed; the next 30 miles were to be the hilliest yet, during the hottest part of the day, and already 130 miles in. He was going to have to dig deep into the suitcase of courage…
Did this mean he rode at an easy pace for me to keep up with across the North Pennines over to Corbridge? Did it heck. Averaging 15mph over arduous terrain encompassing sweeping ravines, savage switchbacks and wide, rolling summits into upland vistas that expand out forever and make you feel that you might be teetering on the very spine of the British mainland, Hubs was unstoppable. I laboured behind him, bike swaying maniacally up yet another 18% gradient, heart pounding in my ears. Along the Clattering Causeway, a deliciously undulating, gloriously quiet ribbon of road reaching west to east and decorated with speckles of old mining history, we stopped for a snack and observed baby curlews taking their first tentative steps in the grass while lapwings and oystercatchers giggled overhead.
I left Hubs at Corbridge and boarded a train to Newcastle but he still beat me there, outrunning every ETA I’d set for fans waiting along the route to cheer him on.
An old friend intercepted Hubs just in time to accompany him the last few miles through the country lanes around North Tyneside and out to the coast. The sun was setting fast, a blazing stain of pink tempered by thin clouds. The temperature had cooled and the sea breeze was stiff and glorious. Rolling over the finish line at St. Mary’s lighthouse in the half light, with 200 miles in just over 16 hours in his legs, he still looked as fresh as ever!
~ Q&A ~
What was the most difficult segment of the ride and why? The last 20 miles was the toughest not just because it was towards the end, but because by then I’d left the most beautiful roads behind and once you hit the city centre, the riding is very stop-start. I just wanted to get the last miles over with by then!
Which part of the journey was your favourite? I had two favourite memories: the first was of being incredibly nervous at the start of the day but being calmed by the beautiful wildlife first thing in the morning. The second has got to be riding with the curlews and lapwings at the edge of the North Pennines. Cycling is such a great way to get in touch with nature.
Tell us how you trained for this challenge. With lots of bike rides and distances of up to 90 miles. During training I was focussing on riding at a fixed and sustainable pace, never going too fast, making sure to eat and drink plenty on the day.
At what point in the ride did you start to believe that you would complete it? When I was approaching Hexham and onto roads that I know well.
How did you fuel your day? A big bowl of porridge to start, Veloforte and Naked snack bars at regular intervals plus a couple of bananas and the biggest pack of oatcakes you’ve ever seen and a few coffee stops. The aim was to eat something every hour, which I find difficult because usually I don’t eat much during the ride and then I can’t stop eating all evening afterwards!
What food were you craving at the end of the ride? My mum’s homemade Welsh cakes and a vegan spaghetti bolognese. (His mum didn’t disappoint!)
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing a similar challenge? Get comfortable riding 90 mile rides and learn to ride at a comfortable pace that you can sustain for a long time. And don’t feel disappointed on those days that you don’t feel great on the bike. That’s all part of the training.
Saturday 5 June, 2021