Jonathan Bradley
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Carlisle to Newcastle cycle to defeat the Enemy in the Blood

Jonathan Bradley
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21 May 2013

We did it! Ex-Olympic cycling champion Yvonne McGregor and I got from Carlisle to Newcastle! We raised over £800, including through our JustGiving page as part of my Enemy in the Blood fundraising.

So - here's a blow-by-blow account of how we did it...


First things first - it's relevant to reveal what the machinery was that we were riding on. Yvonne rides on an absolutely gorgeous black and orange Orbea carbon fibre frame and I was riding on a Greenspeed GTO recumbent with a Yak trailer following me. The Yak contained various essential things like tools and a change of clothes including a spare set of cycling togs.

First problem was to get the bike, trike and trailer to Newcastle so I hired a van specially for the purpose. All was loaded up, Claire and Jenna wished us good luck and we sauntered off down the A69. We made pretty good time and the weather was absolutely fantastic. We dropped the van off, unloaded everything. GPS on, good satellite lock, ground track good...we were off!

Now - I was quite proud. I only took one wrong turn in Carlisle which was OK I thought. Our (un)official start point was outside the jewelers J K Harris. The sun was nice, traffic was reasonable so we rode down Botchergate, the GPS quietly sensing our way from our astral friends above us.

The GTO is quite different from riding a bike and one would be forgiven to think that it's "easier". Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Trikes, especially inverted or "tadpole" trikes (two wheels at the front and one at the back", have to be ridden with respect. They punish you over potholes, are unforgiving on mistimed gear changes and steering...yes steering. Trikes like the GTO are steered not unlike a car with steering pivots, only it's very easy to over-steer. At speed, over-steerage can be disastrous...worse, lethal! Cranking the bars round too much at speed will result in a tip-over...with you at the bottom!

Fortunately, Rob (from West Country Recumbents) lent me "Perdita" (as she was affectionately christened) a few weeks before, so I had the chance to get used to her handling, power and braking characteristics. Reassuringly - Perdita was equipped with two sizeable Hope hydraulic disc brakes that were my safety net from certain hill doom.

It became very clear, past Cumwhinton however, that my efforts were laughably weaker than Yvonne's, who merely span the pedals. Kudos to her, she never said a word, though she had to ride off a few times to generate some heat to keep her hands warm. Armathwaite was the next call point for a deserved cuppa and a local sausage butty, having been buzzed by a low flying C-130 and getting licked copiously by a friendly local dog! With the added mass, Perdita could only climb in low gears and certainly after Armthawaite, that's what seemed to do for pretty much the rest of the day...go up! And the only thing I could do was crawl up inclines with a 100lb mass in tow!

Approaching Renwick, it started to hail and then the rain came. It tipped down and the temperature started to go down. vain we searched for some useful coffee outlet where we could warm up but, alas, no such luck - so we turned out and started to head for Hartside Pass. Yvonne went on ahead a bit, scoping in front and I saw her stop at an ominous looking red sign...'Hartside very, very, very careful in Winter etc"

"'ere Jon, you seen this?" - momentary lapse of concentration by your's truly, spinning the cranks too fast....CRUNCH! I came to slow, slithering halt. I issued forth various unprintable chain had hopelessly jammed itself between the no. 1 and no. 2 chainwheel. Massive transmission failure. More expletives! Worse, one of the chain links looked as though it had suffered damage. Though Yvonne's bike was naturally OK, my only hope was to free the crumpled mass of metal between the transmission rings and hope that the damage was only slight. Eventually, after some 30 minutes of heaving, pulling, gesticulating, swearing, the chain popped free with another crunch. I winced...replacing a damaged section of chain is very do-able but costly on time. With poor light and spitting rain, we both looked at the link. Fortunately, with it being free, it seemed relatively unscathed. So I screwed everything back down, packed everything back hope - trailers and panniers on - go! And believe it or not - I never had one ounce of bother with the chain for the rest of the ride. Fair trade I guess.

Hartside pass was long, steep...long...did I mention steep? Though Yvonne desperately tried to stay with me, my crawl speed was less than her running stalling speed and the poor lass was starting to freeze so she was forced to go on ahead. She made Hartside Pass look like a molehill. It was absolutely amazing to see an ex-pro rider storm up such a formidable incline.

I made it to the summit where I welcomed the opening arms of the Hartside Café. A sandwich and couple of steaming mugs of tea prepared us for the descent to Alston.

Hartside to Alston is a cyclist's dream. 5 miles of downhill coast and it was easy to hit a speed of over 45 without trying. My trailer had a strict never exceed limit on it so I was mindful to keep an eye on the GPS cue. Then the hail came...scattering needles right into my face. I shudder as I write this. Yvonne did her best and kept her head down but I had to just take it...sat in the middle of three wheels, daring not to take a hand off the controls at that speed...I simply had to wince and get pelted with ice. We pulled over in Alston to catch our breath and to click on the rear strobe as the mist was starting to come down a bit.

Yvonne's sister and brother-in-law, Elaine and Richard, lived on the border of Northumberland some three miles up the road. We made it. Day 1 down.


A reasonably early start saw us pedal toward Allendale. A further descent proved to be too much for the GPS mount - it snapped clean off and I managed just to catch it in time before it hurtled under the rear wheel of the trike.

Sheep, it would seem, are curious animals. They have a particular way of scrutinising you and was undergoing exceptional scrutiny in some quarters. Horses too - but then I figured they don't often see a recumbent either.

Allendale came up with a welcome cuppa and a cheese scone. When I got off the trike, the knees gave a bit of click...they were tender. In an unusual place as well. I thought nothing of it and started to make our way up to Hexham. Meandering countryside - beautiful sunshine. I didn't really mind going a bit slower - a glance either left or right and you can simply drink the scenery in. Glorious!

We got to the Hexham limits and proceeded on through the town, stopping at the hospital for a quick drink. We stopped to briefly chat to a lady who wished us well in the closing stages of our ride. I was going to need it. Knees were aching badly now. I thought quickly...we could plough onto the RVI but there was now the real risk of injuring myself - we might not be able to get back, so could a friend give me lift back? It looked promising! So we indeed ploughed on. The pain was increasing all the time now but I just ignored it...if we could get past the city limits of Newcastle and onward, a lift waited for us to bring us back.

An incline past Corbridge marked our descent into Bywell and eventually my own home village of Ovingham. Here, we had to wait for confirmation from my friend. And there was confirmation! Great! But with a twist! He only had a limited time...if we weren't there by a certain hour, he would have to go! I hobbled out, disconnected the heavy trailer, wheeled the trike out and just went for it. Two major inclines back up to the Military Road utterly smashed my knees to an oblivion! Yvonne was starting to get worried about me - it was obvious the trike's engines were beginning to fail.

It was becoming increasingly clear that I wouldn't be able to make it in time so I winced on to the city limit on the Callerton Road. I had to turn round at this point to stand some chance of making it back. Make it back we did - but only just...and I mean, only just. Yvonne gently pointed out that the total mileage she tripped on her computer would have meant had we continued we would've got to the RVI.

So we did it - Carlisle to Newcastle to defeat the Enemy in the Blood.

Now - where next?