After the success of last year's Chase the Last Long Days coast to coast ride, this year we set up a three day ride along the Lakes and Dales Loop with Zero Lemon and the Steezy Collective. We asked our friend Iain Robinson if he'd write up the experience of being in the Zero Lemon "faster" group for the three day Tour. (Photos are provided by the very excellent Seun Alaba and the chaps from ZeroFuxx Media.)
October 2021 and I was in London watching, through my Instagram stories, the progress of the riders participating in Chase the Last Long Days. I was jealous; so when Chris Hall uploaded a poll asking if people would be interesting in doing a thing (which was not a thing) the following year I firmly voted YES.
Roll on a couple of months and I was, once again, trawling through my Instagram stories, but this time it was whilst sat in The Cumberland Infirmary, after being admitted following a syncopal episode at work, and more information about the thing (which was not a thing) had been released. I didn't think much more about it at the time: I had more pressing things to focus on.
Following my discharge from hospital I was signed off work indefinitely. In this period I had to negotiate a complex Occupational Health system imposed by my employer, and at times it felt like I would never be allowed to return to work, which was a worry; I am the sole earner in our household. However, after seeking out a private electrophysiologist and cardiologist, and undergoing countless tests, I eventually satisfied my employer’s Occupational Health department that I was fit to return to work after four months. During these four months my mental health suffered. I self diagnosed myself with a Social Media Addiction and Imposter Syndrome, but, after seeking out help at my GP practice, I was advised to make several lifestyle changes to try and improve my mental health and reduce my anxiety over the situation I had found myself in.
Luckily, I didn’t need to reduce my cycling (if anything this helped to improve my mental health), but i was advised to adopt a high salt diet to help manage the causes of the original syncopal episode: low blood pressure and physiological bradycardia. I cut caffeine and alcohol out of my diet, reduced my social media use and tried to limit the time I spent keeping up to date with the country’s current affairs to better manage my anxiety.
It worked. I felt much better within myself and during this period I passed the time by making use of the excellent collection of Adventure Travel books held by the libraries of Cumbria. Alastair Humphreys' Microadventure book and Phoebe Smith’s Extreme Sleeps were game changers, and they reminded me of the thing (which was not a thing) that was being organised by Zero Lemon, Cold Dark North and the Steezy Collective. I dipped my toe back into the world of social media and immediately signed up for my first multi-day bike packing (micro)adventure. The fact that it was raising money for two charities, where one of them specifically focuses on men’s mental health, was a bonus.
During the summer I had a test run of my bike packing rig by cycling into the Lakes to join my family on a camping trip in the Langdale Valley and then I had a 5-9 microadventure (check out Alastair Humphreys book) at Mosedale, a low-key member of the Cold Dark North's infamous #deadendclub, to further test my bike packing and bivvy systems. I was ready for not a "thing" and I couldn't wait for the 16th September.
DAY 1 (70MILES, 4752FEET OF ASCENT. OPTIONAL CLIMB UP HARDKNOTT PASS)
I rolled out of my front door with a heavily loaded bike, worrying if i would be able to keep up with the Zero Lemon group, which had been dubbed the fast group. I met Will Jones, Cycling News Gear Reviewer (who was going to be joining the Steezy Collective for the weekend) just outside of Carlisle, and covered the 18miles to the start line in Penrith chatting about bikes and this was how the majority of the three days panned out.
It turned out that i didn't need to worry about being dropped in the first few miles; the pace was leisurely, the weekend wasn't aimed at sprinting for roadsigns or taking KOMs on Strava, it was about the journey, enjoying the simple pleasure of riding a bike with good company in a beautiful part of our country. I felt especially lucky that the majority of the Lakes and Dales Loop is on my local roads and I was pleased that the weather gods had allowed for such excellent conditions so that those who had travelled from afar, could see the Cold Dark North at its best.
The first day looped out from Penrith around the top of the Northern Fells, before heading west towards the Cumbrian coast. We stopped in Caldbeck for dinner and then stopped again not long after to take in the Windswept Woman of Caldbeck, which I wrongly told everyone had won Tree of the Year. It hadn’t; it had only been nominated for the accolade in 2018! We rolled on through Cockermouth before turning south, eventually joining some of the roads used each year in the Fred Whitton Challenge.
For the majority of the day we were blessed with traffic free roads, thus allowing us to roll along happily enjoying the views, rekindling old friendships and making new ones. However, the route had to use a short portion of the A595 to get from the bottom of Cold Fell and around into the Eskdale Valley. I was off the front with four others and as we dropped into Gosforth one of my flip-flops decided to part company with my saddle bag. I quickly backtracked, secured it back on the pack, and then waited for the group to regroup for the last few miles. My Wahoo beeped with a notification of a WhatsApp message in the Things about Not a Thing group (which had been exceptionally busy over the previous week) saying that part of the Zero Lemon group had just witnessed a head on collision between a motorbike and pickup truck a mile back up the road.
We turned around and went to see what assistance we could offer. Adam had already helped get the occupants of the now upturned pickup truck out and Donald ensured the motorcyclist’s neck was immobilised until the paramedics arrived. The air ambulance was soon on the scene, and after statements had been given we were allowed to continue into Eskdale. The cycling mojo had now been slightly knocked, and the group broke up as people headed to their respective airBnB’s, Youth Hostels and campsites for the night, but a few of us put the previous hour to the back of our mind and headed for the optional bonus summit of Hardknott. The climb was brutal, but it was worth it for the view of the sun setting over the coast from the top, and it was nice to end the day on such a high, both physically and mentally.
DAY 2 (62MILES, 4800FEET OF ASCENT. OPTIONAL CLIMB UP BULLPOT)
For those of us camping we had a rude awakening on the second day; the clear overnight skies, which had given such fantastic views of the stars from my bivvy bag, also meant we had a slight grass frost to contend with.
The three groups met up outside the King George IV in Eskdale Green before heading for the climb up and over Birker Fell (given an 8/10 by Simon Warren, 100 Climbs aficionado), which was a brutal way to start the day. The Zero Lemon group were joined by Josh and Khory and were the last to roll out. It was certainly a stabby start to the day, however it was more than enjoyable, not just because of the views over the Lakeland Fells, but because of the company. At times during the day we caught the other groups on the road and it was nice to have a breather and a chat with them and share stories from the road and review the previous cafe stops.
Dinner was taken, sat on Grange-over-Sands promenade, with views of Morecambe Bay and the rolling fields of Lancashire in the distance, and before long we were closing in on Kirkby Lonsdale. Again the group split up as people headed for their respective overnight accommodation and, once again, a handful of us took in the day’s optional climb of Bullpot, one of the founding members of the #deadendclub.
I was greeted by a cacophony of cowbells as I rolled into the campsite at the Rugby Club as Tobes from Cold Dark North, even though he was out of action, had made the short journey to see us all and wish us well for the final day of the Lakes and Dales Loop.
DAY 3 (64MILES, 4025FEET OF ASCENT. OPTIONAL CLIMB UP GREAT DUNN FELL)
Breakfast was taken on the pavement outside Lunesdale Bakery and our loaded bikes garnered some attention from the local’s who were purchasing the croissants fresh out of the oven. Having explained how it wasn't a thing, but we were riding the Lakes and Dales Loop over three days to one gentleman, and feeling like a bit of an adventurer he shot me down with the repost that he had just got back from rowing across the Atlantic!
I headed off to Devils Bridge, contemplating a second breakfast at the infamous snack van, and marvelling at the power of the bicycle in not only being a super efficient means of transport, but at the way in which conversations can be struck up because of it and interesting stories shared whilst sat on it. It was a small Zero Lemon group that rolled out from Devils Bridge; the other members had overnighted at the YHA in Ingleton and were therefore going to meet us just outside Dent. This meant they unfortunately missed out on the wonderful Bardondale, but did experience the delights of the long climb up Kingsdale and the super steep gated descent of White Shaw Moss.
Once the group had reassembled we rolled into Sedbergh with the Steezy Collective, leaving them behind as they searched for cakes, we headed for the fantastic back road through the Lune Gorge. A quick stop at Scout Green to satisfy the closet train spotter as the 1013 Edinburgh to Manchester Airport service ceremoniously sounded its horn as it passed us on its journey south. We were then cafe blocked by the Cold Dark North group at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Orton Scar cafe. The long wait for food wasn’t an issue; the sun had eventually made an appearance and i had to remove arm, knee and toe warmers whilst waiting outside for my burger and chips whilst talking to some local motorcyclists that were also enjoying the Cumbrian roads, albeit at a different speed.
We were then on the final home straight, with the Eden Valley laid out ahead of us. As a resident of Carlisle there is a strong connection with this valley, the river that runs through it has caused untold misery on the city after bursting its banks in spectacular fashion in 2005 and 2010, but despite this, bad feelings towards the valley, and its river, are hard to harbour; this is perfect cycling country. I can’t think of a better way in which a multi-day cycle route could be finished.
Seun and I made a cheeky ascent of the daddy of #deadendclub, Great Dun Fell, whilst the remaining members of the Zero Lemon group raced back to Penrith in the hope of avoiding the incoming rain, which we watched roll in from the west from the NATS radar station at the end of Britain’s highest paved road. I made it into Penrith, not long after them, with the Steezy Collective, having completed my first multi-day bike packing (micro)adventure, and i just about managed to avoid the rain as i cycled the remaining 18miles back to Carlisle.
It has now been several days since I pushed my heavily loaded bike back through my front door, and still, thinking of the three days i spent on the road with, what were complete strangers to begin with, makes me smile. In the past few days I’ve also found myself looking at the websites of All Points North and the Racing Collective and am now considering whether signing up for a self-supported, ultra-distance, endurance cycling event would satisfy the (micro)adventurist within me. It might just become a thing!