If you’re a regular follower of my blog, you’ll know that I recently cycled the C2C for the first time, and was very nervous about it beforehand (for no other reason than it’s my nature to worry about such things). You’ll be glad to know not just that I did it and survived, but also that I cycled up every single hill, except one where I stopped to help scrape a cyclist off the tarmac after being hit by a car which was overtaking me (not one of our group, and not the car’s fault). Yes, I even managed the dreaded Hartside! After that, I feel invincible. I can’t fault the company who organised my trip, Saddle Skedaddle. And the other people on the trip were pretty great too.
So in case you’re thinking of doing the trip, here are my top tips.
10. Be prepared. If you’re used to cycling on flat roads, try to get some practice on real hills (or in the worst case, if you live in Denmark, do some spin classes with high resistance – not the same thing at all, but it’ll at least prepare your thighs a little bit). When I voiced my worries to my mum about not being fit enough, she told me that it was entirely my own fault and to get out in the hills and practise more. We don’t mince words in my family! Those who weren’t used to hill cycling really stood out, although they were all more than happy to walk up the hills. I had clearly underestimated just how steep hills in Sheffield and the Peak District are, being so used to them, so my training stood me in great stead! One person walked up every single hill, as he liked walking and didn’t like cycling up hills (why he came on a hilly cycling trip is beyond me, but each to their own!). But there’s such a great sense of achievement in managing to cycle all the way up a steep hill like Hartside and make it your conquest, I highly recommend giving it a go!
9. Prepare for all weathers, even in the height of summer. I hadn’t appreciated that the altitude at the top of a couple of climbs, combined with some grey damp weather and a lot of sitting around waiting for the rest of the group to catch up, repeatedly through the day, would mean I needed far warmer clothes than I’d prepared for. Normally I cycle on my own and barely stop except occasionally to eat something, or I do cycling holidays in hot countries where there’s more risk of heatstroke than hypothermia, so I never normally get cold sitting around. Make sure you have both a warm extra layer and something both wind and waterproof with you at all times, and put it on before it’s too late. I was inches away from hypothermia on day 3 when we arrived at our destination, and it took the combined efforts of hot tea, a bicycle blanket from the van, body warmth from my roommate, and several hours before I could stop shivering and shaking. Being “locked out of” our unlocked B&B because we’d arrived before 4pm was another story. Anyway, I should have known better from all my experiences of cold (and hypothermia) walking up mountains. Lesson learnt. But don’t forget the sun cream too – you may not realise how strong the sun can be when you’re cycling in the wind all day!
8. Pack your kitbag, then remove half of it. Standard advice, but you really don’t need much. You can wear the same set of clothes every evening, though you might want at least one change of shirt and shorts for cycling in if you don’t want your companions to stay well clear of you. On the other hand, do make sure you have a good book or something to occupy you in the evenings. There’s not much to do in the middle of nowhere. Especially if you have a group like mine where almost everyone decided at 9.30pm promptly to head for bed. And if you’re fast cycling, you’ll have time to kill before dinner too.
7. If you’re the sort of person who gets frustrated or bored easily, consider taking a small MP3 player with some music so that if you need some inspiration during some dark moments (there will be some, probably when it’s pouring with rain and you have another 20 miles to go), or if group tension or niggles get to you or you just want to tune out for a while, you can recharge yourself a little. Do make sure that you don’t listen to headphones while cycling on anything but the quietest offroad parts though, for your own safety, and only on a quiet setting (so you can still hear sheep and other people approaching) I occasionally needed a little time out from the outside world at lunchtimes or while waiting around for others, and 5 minutes of inspirational relaxing music did the job perfectly.
6. Don’t rely on having phone reception or wifi anywhere. This gets particularly interesting if you have a support vehicle you need to contact, or if you lose members of your group. I got separated from our group on the second day after accidentally missing a turning. After a while I realised my mistake when the others didn’t catch me up, and after looking at my map I was able to backtrack and rejoin them an hour or so later when I finally caught them up. But by then they were worried as to where I was and couldn’t contact me. Nothing they could do except hope I’d turn up eventually! Make sure you have a plan for what to do if one of you gets lost / separated from the group, and that you all have maps.
5. Pack a couple of your favourite energy gels or snacks for when the going gets tough. Or just to celebrate getting to the top of a monster hill. But test them first to be sure they suit you. Not everyone gets on with energy gels, and the middle of the C2C is not a good time to find out.
4. Consider having some means of making your camera/phone easily accessible so that you can take pictures quickly without having to get off your bike (do stop before taking pictures though!). Or even better, a helmet cam. I used a small tribag (pictured just below) which attaches to the top tube and is just big enough for a camera and a few jelly beans (see point 5). Perfect for a quick stop and whipping out the camera as the others whizz past you. Although the first time I tried this, I fell in a hedge as the others whizzed past me, since I hadn’t realised quite how much the ground sloped away when I went to put my foot down!
3. Try not to fall off into hedges. But if you do, at least try to do it elegantly in case someone has a helmet cam. And if you’re going to fall off, better in a hedge than on the road.
2. Make sure you have basic road safety awareness. The quiet roads are actually the most dangerous as cars may come round the corner in the middle of the road, and before you know it, you’ll be scraping yourself off the car bonnet or tarmac (as happened to the gentleman mentioned earlier, who was descending the hill too fast and had lost control, swerving all over the road just as a car came up it. Neither of them stood a chance, and as an innocent bystander (bycyclist? bybicyclist?) I nearly got squished in the process too.
- Don’t think about it, just book the trip and do it. I guarantee you’ll love it. And you’ll find a way around any difficulties.