A day I’ll remember

On Saturday there was a trip out organised, heading to Alston and I decided to tag along. I decided to ride to the first meeting point and set off into the fog at about 8am. Despite the visor being useless and my glasses becoming covered in water all too quickly, I made it there. Descripbing it as freezing fog was accurate as these photos of my gloves and jacket show:

Recently I’ve noticed that the front wheel on the bike was twisted and sat about 3″ to the left of the centreline of the back wheel. I’ve spent an age trying to find the source of this and found interesting things like tiny metal fatigue cracks in the headstock. They were not serious though, just a sign of the bikes age and the fact it will not last forever. The alignment problem turned out to be one fork leg 1″ longer than the other. This seems to have been due to an upsidedown spacer inside the forks and a service and fresh oil resulted in two forks of the same length. The only problem left is that my brain is now wired to ride a bike with its wheels out of line, not a straight one.

So I met up with three others and we continued on to the second meeting point via some lanes. On one of the lanes I managed to drop it, possibly due to the different handling. The GPS fell off but I noticed and collected it and there was no damage done. The green lanes weren’t too bad but you had to be careful the watch for the patches of ice. There was then some tarmac sections as we climbed the hillside and rose above the fog. This meant sheet ice on the untreated roads. The others were waiting for me to catch up having nearly slid on a nasty corner and someome was saying “I bet he manages to fall off on that” just as I came into view, lost my footing and put the bike on its side.

The mist returned causing visibility problems but the ice remained. Along a section of road I realised too late there was 2″ thick ice ahead and when I tried to avoid it, I picked the wrong patch to aim for hitting the edge of the block of ice instead of what I thought was tarmac. Apparently the mini tsumami I caused as I slid though the puddle next to the ice was impressive. I picked the bike up, got to the edge of the road and the bike promptly slid from vertical on the sheet ice again. Slippy? Just a little. No real damage apart from the now shredded waterproof trousers and the fact I was now soaked down one side. I put on the spare pair of gloves.

The others all disappeared, not daring to look back as at least one of them had nearly fallen off doing that. I eventually got the bike started and followed. A short while later I came around a bend to a steep give way junction totally covered in sheet ice. I wasn’t going quickly but there was no way I’d stop on that much ice so falling off again seemed like the safest option and I did stop short of the junction, albeit with the bike on its side. Again. On the plus side I was having trouble getting the bike going and was given a tip which really did help after it had been on its side.

The journey to the second meeting point continued, slowly and carefully and I made it there without any further incident. We suggested to the rest of the group that they might want to be careful although it was obvious they didn’t quite understand what we were talking about.

From this point on it turned out the worst of the ice was behind us as the sun was starting to make its mark. The way some of the rest of the group were riding, it can only have been a good thing. Personally, I was riding extremely slowly, determined not to come around bends to find sheet ice at an inappropriate speed, or follow anyone else too closely. The destination was Alston, the highest market town in England, a place known for its snow, ice, mist and general weather (as well as its nice tarmac roads for road bikes and its green ones which were the days objective).

The next few lanes were fine and eventually we were at the bottom of the trail up to Long Cross. This is an ascent I’ve mentioned before, steep, rocky and today, covered in snow and ice. I did make it about two thirds of the way up on the rocky route itself but after having the bike slip and slide a lot and with total sheet ice ahead, I joined the others and rode up the grass bank which was much easier. We found a gate buried in a deep snow drift next but this wasn’t much of a problem as you could just ride over it. After Long Cross we crossed the A686 the bike stalled and wouldn’t start. I bumped it down the rocky ice covered trail with little success. At the bottom I realised it was out of fuel so switched onto reserve at which point it started much to my relief. It was then into Alston for lunch. The usual Cafe was shut so we tried somewhere new and it seemed appropriate to have cumberland sausage :).

Looking back at the top of the ascent, little ice/snow here – Click to zoom the picture – lovely view of the mist and sky!

After lunch, Tynehead. Steve was grinning at the thought. There are ski slopes just above that trail. Its a really tricky route, requiring crossing several streams with the odd waterfall and several steep drops and whilst it was slow tricky work, we managed to get a fair way along past several obstacles. There is a section which consists of a path with a drop off the edge into the South Tyne and the lead up to this bit is a stream crossing followed by a steep climb up a hill where I remember stalling the bike before causing myself a few problems. Today it was 2ft deep in “old” solid snow and the rest of the path along the “cliff” was equally covered. A couple of people did try and get bikes up it but it was hard work and it was unlikely the whole group would make it. In the end, we admitted defeat and got to the main road a different way. This was probably wise given what I know of the route further on from that point.

An example stream crossing. Note the steep drop and waterfall below the crossing and the snow just where you don’t want it. Sadly the photos of the hill we couldn’t make it up haven’t come out.

The ski slopes!

Crossing a snow drift to head to Coldberry End.

Riding along the A689, there was 3ft snow at the sides of the road. Coldberry end was next to cross from the Tees valley into Ireshopeburn in Weardale. The southern face of this was covered in deep snow and it took a bit of ploughing through but eventually we all made it up to the top where the going was easier. Watching where others struggle helps a lot. There was a gate which people were having problems getting through. I took a run at it, kept moderate power on and made it through with sheer will power and a little help from conservation of momentum.

There was much less snow down the other side and I was riding on the snow filling one of the ditches at the side of the main track since the track itself was covered in patchy ice. I slowed and was making a move to get off the ditch as the main track was clear when the front end of the bike fell into the snow stopping the bike dead. I did not stop and flew over the bars headfirst. Something from school PE lessons obviously kicked in as I turned it into a forward roll and flipped myself back onto my feet, standing in front of the bike. From a distance, Steve had just seen my legs in the air and had come back, worried.

Where’s the front wheel? (Fuzzy, not much light, sorry)

After this there was an interesting lane with deep ruts filled with snow or covered in thick ice with odd snow drifts thrown in. I did slow and steady apart from the bits where I saw people having problems where moderate momentum was once again order of the day. The problem now was the fact that it was late and getting dark rapidly. We planned tarmac back from here but my fears about ice returned. This is the first time I’ve used the bike in true darkness and the bikes headlight is useless and effectively lights up the mudguard. What followed was a slow trip back to civilization as the fog returned. I was pleased I went slowly as I found one sharp bend with ice on it, and a section of road covered in 2″ thick solid ice. I was at the back but caught the group up in blanchland. I was slow at setting off and they left me behind though meaning I didn’t know which way to turn at the next junction. I took a best guess but eventually it became obvious I’d lost them. I didn’t have a phone signal so continued on and joined the A68. Heading along there I found the group again as whilst we’d taken different routes, we’d ended up in the same place. The group split up with me leading a couple of others back into Swalwell, Newcastle and home.

Some really enjoyed the day, I did in some ways but had a few too many incidents to be entirely happy. Its certainly a day out I will remember for a long time to come and as always, it was a learning experience. Today, I ache all over and can barely move but it beats going to the gym! 🙂