Oh my god. What a day. Let’s start with the stats …
Itinerary: Manchester – Stockport – somewhere in the Peak District – Penistone – Doncaster
Distance covered: 100km (not counting our tour to downtown Manchester before the trip and the km the cycle computer did not count because the little device was soaked from the pouring rain)
Average speed: 5 km/h when pushing the bikes uphill, 40+ km/h when going downhill and sometimes something in between
That might give you a faint idea of the ordeal we went through today. It all started out pretty nicely, with a little sightseeing tour through Manchester. After a successful trip to the bike store and the purchase of The Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner, we felt safe and prepared. We discovered that our trip through Britain runs along the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) so we decided to stick to that trail instead of sniffing car exhaust for miles on end. Little did we know about the horrors that awaited us.
Lost in Stockport
We started at around 2 pm with a loud and jolly cheer. Our first destination was Stockport, where the TPT was to be found, according to the scarce information on the official web page of the Trail, which also promised abundant signage. The latter proved to be an overly optimistic description, and at some point the signs in Stockport led us in circles. Luckily enough, we ran into a very talkative elderly gentleman on a bike who was able to give us directions. He also warned us that the way through the Pennines would be “severe”, making a gesture with his hand that made me think of the steepest passes in the Alps. We smiled, thinking that he was exaggerating. Unfortunately for us, he wasn’t too far off.
Thirty kilometres of Cyclocross
In the beginning, the TPT was as friendly as we had dared imagine it, a well-cared for gravel road with the occasional slope. But then we learned the hard way that the Trans Pennine Trail actually went through the Pennines so we realised we would have to deal with them somehow. And boy, why didn’t anybody tell us somebody put a portion of the bloody Swiss Alps right in the middle of England? While the first few climbs sparked a pleasant sense of challenge, soon four words started to materialise themselves in our minds: Worst Bike Choice Ever. While the Nishiki is reasonably light, the transmission is way too hard for the kind of climbs we were facing. And, my bike being a fixie, the downhill part was just as bad as the climb. As if matters had not been severe enough, the path became poorer by the kilometer. And to top things off, every time the TPT crosses a road, someone put up a wooden fence with a number of obstacles, making it necessary to get off the bike and carry it. Four hours after leaving Manchester, we were pushing our bikes up a hillside amidst sheep that began to seek shelter from the beginning rain. We decided to abandon the wretched path in favour of the national road. That proved to be the best idea of the whole day.
Now it is 11 pm and we have finally arrived at our hotel room in Doncaster and all I can say is that it feels like we barely made it. At some point the rain started to get serious and most of us was drenched to the bone. Even though our dinner consisted in a free cookie and a cup of black tea, there is no force in the universe that could make us go out and get food.
Tomorrow we will continue towards the coast so there is hope the terrain ahead will be a lot flatter than it has been so far. And after that? On to the Netherlands, blessed land at or below sea level.
Our heartfelt thanks go to: The staff at the Jet gas station of Penistone – the pizza guy at Best Pizza in Doncaster who provided us with much-needed calories at a reduced price when we had to fix a flat in the rain.