In Training: Cycling the Lakes

So far the blog has been very Gastro and not so Velo, so here’s a little helping of me struggling up some hills 🙂

Cumbria

White puffs of sheep dot the hillside as misty rain drifts past them in sheets. We’re at the bottom of another valley having just come over the steep climb from Oxenholme Station in the Lake District. My gloves have soaked through and my newly bought padded trousers haven’t saved my backside from the bike seat. And we’re only one mile into our cycle to Grayrigg on the W2W route.

Mark is my trainer. He cycles at least 8 miles every weekday and often 40 over the weekend. He’s spent so much time on cycling websites that little adverts of ‘cycling singles in your area’ pop up every time I open the internet browser, like a threat to get me on my bike. I haven’t been on a proper cycle since I was 12 and I can feel this fact pulsing through my bottom and rasping through my lungs.

‘DING DING DING’ goes Mark’s bell. He’s far ahead and wants me to keep up. I mutter profanities under my breath I ascend a hill seven times bigger than the last.
“I reckon this’ll be the peak of the journey!” Mark cries cheerfully, his words almost lost in the wind.
Thank God. Perhaps I can just skip this one then. Mark looks disappointed at the ‘click click click’ of my back wheel as I reach the peak of the hill on two legs rather than two wheels.
“You’ll need to get better if we’re going to cycle the Dalmatian Coast,” he says instead of asking if I’m ok. I don’t have enough breath to swear at him. He’s flying down the hill before I’ve even wrestled my water bottle out of its holder. ‘DING DING DING’, I hear as he crouches over his road bike handles like he’s in the bloody Tour de France.

It’s a relief to soar down the hill. I could’t appreciated the views of rolling hills, green fields, the rocky ruins of overgrown farm buildings and the twinkle of Lake Windermere in the distance when I was struggling to see through the sweat in my eyes. But with the wind whipping past me and my legs and lungs resting I can see that it’s a beautiful part of the world. Cycling down the tiny weaving roads almost feels worth the climb, smelling the damp grass and waving at curious little lambs poking their heads over stone walls.

‘DING DING DING.’ “Keep up!” Mark’s bell says. I would rip it off and throw it into the nearest sheep turd if I could actually keep up. As I round the corner I see Mark ascending a hill twice the size of the last, pointing at his back wheel. I try to pedal through the hot pain in my legs, but half way up the hill I get off my bike again and huff and heave my way to meet a disappointed Mark at the top. My spirits sink. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for the climbs and crags of the Adriatic coast in Croatia.
“I know, I know, I have to get better,” I say.
“Are you actually going to cycle up the next one?” he asks.

After approximately 6 billion more climbs, each one steeper and longer than the last, the slate tower of Grayrigg’s old church juts through the folds of the hills. I force my legs to keep pedalling despite the steep incline. Each inch forward feels like a small victory. Mark stands outside the church.
“Bloody hell, some of those hills were proper lung burners, weren’t they?” he says. “Even I struggled with those last ones.”
“Uhuh,” is all I managed, slumping onto the pavement, ignoring the stares of people wandering through the town centre. My cheeks feel like they’re on fire. Both sets.
“The way back should be easier,” Mark says, patting me on my sweaty head.

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About suzycatpope

Qualified fiction and travel writer, unqualified librarian . As well as riding some of the world’s longest and rockiest railways, I enjoy sampling questionable street foods and wonky cycling through vineyards. My fiction has been published in local zines, and my travel writing has won the Pure Travel, Just Back (Telegraph) and National Geographic competitions.
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