Memories of Summer: The Collective Coast to Coast Challenge, July 2011

Back in July, the bravest and strongest of Collective London, along with Daniel Hall, set out to tackle the infamous coast to coast challenge, riding across the country (albeit at it’s narrowest point) from Whitehaven to Sunderland. Planning the trip was a doddle, enlisting Cookie as safety car driver and sorting out a train up to one end, a hotel in the middle, and a train back from the other. Simple? Not so. I think my favourite realisation and indicative of our underestimation of the task we had entered into was upon checking the C2C siteon the Thursday before we set off, we read the line ‘suitable for families’. OK, shouldn’t be too hard. Then the line ‘choose your route: three days, or four days’. That was more of a blow. No option for two days then. Well, not even two days technically, more like 36 hours, as our train back from Sunderland to London was pre-booked en masse for 6pm. One or two of us started to shit ourselves a bit. Dan still thought it would be easy.

So on Friday we started getting drunk at lunchtime in the traditional fashion, before remembering we had to take a superlong train-taxi-out in the sticks with the tractors trip to the Premier Inn at Whitehaven before nightfall. No problem in the end – turns out drinking and taking public transport came as second nature to most, even with bicycles in tow. That was probably the easiest part of the weekend. Rising at 7, I nailed 4 lucozades before we breakfasted and set off on our challenge.

It was a well sunny day, and the morning’s ride went well. There was some shirtlessness and even some relaxing in the sun before we realised we were massively behind schedule. The lunchtime pub break was necessarily cut short and after Steve’s tyre self-exploded scaring the living daylights out of our group and some nearby families we nailed the afternoon session on fuel of ale and pub food.However it quickly became apparent that this was going to be less about stopping at every pub we found and more about having to properly work our asses off and see if we could actually complete the challenge and make our train on time. As a team of really only casual cyclists (although our in-house triathlete and serial ‘take things seriously’ offender Sarah might disagree) we really were up against the elements.

But it was the evening session that got really tricky. Everyone slowed to a walking pace as the mist rain and wind descended, enshrouding us in a cloak of dispondency, unable to see the top of the hill we must climb to reach our resting place. Bleak times, buoyed by Cookie in the support car and the occasional professional athletes break at the foot of steeper inclines for a mars bar and a cigarette. Finally, we made it, and were rewarded pleasantly with a pint and some food at the end of a gruelling 12 hours riding. Day one: done. 75 miles, an awful lot of hills, and only one man down: Dan Hall (he made it about 20% of the way through the day after being pushed up a couple of hills by our gigantic Kiwi MD, Greg).

Day 2 saw PJ Jones cycle of on his own and getting completely lost and broken due to the fact his foot was falling off, and a true race for the finish as two of our party literally cut it down to the wire following a puncture – riding into Sunderland train station at 17.55 just in time for our 18.00 departure. Close call! But everyone survived the 70 mile haul on day two, pleased to see less hills, and it was truly a wonderful, bonding, challenging and rewarding experience. I’ve never been so happy to dip anything in anything as to dip my wheel in the North-East Sea with an hour to spare for an ice cream and trip to the offy for the train home.

Bring on C2C 2012…anyone else want to get involved? (We might even do it in three days next year…)

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