Unprepared, overwhelmed but having a blast!
Now, i seem to have this talent for overestimating my own abilities, as I did the weekend I joined Pannier for their Lakeland Pass-stormer tour.
Having recently cycled my way across 3 countries over the course of 3 weeks, I felt I’d easily be able to spend 3 days cycling in the Lake District without issue, totally ignoring the fact I’d spent the best part of 8 weeks off the bike in what can only be described as “100% recovery”.
Pannier.cc for those who don’t know is run by Stef and Dave, 2 people who have a knack for finding some of the best and most beautiful roads, gravel, and, in this case, hiking known to man. Their skill at putting together a well-thought out and organised trip that includes amazing scenery, road-side coffee and food to die for is exceptional.
I met them both back in March on the Route Beer Ramble, and followed that up with the Desert of Wales in May so I thought I knew what I was in for. Boy was I wrong!
Based on my previous experience I decided that as well as doing the Lakeland Pass-stormer I’d also tack on a few days riding home via the Yorkshire Dales, I had accommodation booked, I had plans with friends all sorted and so with this in mind I packed a weeks worth of stuff and fitted semi-slick tyres to my bike. First mistake.
This was the easiest day on paper – Make my way from home, to Coniston Coppermines YHA where I’d meet the people I’d be spending the next 2 days with.
Cycle to Manchester, get train to Oxenholme, 22 miles to the YHA. That was the plan anyway.
After multiple delayed trains and changes I finally got up to Oxenholme and started the journey proper. The first 11 miles from Oxenholme to the Bowness ferry was a joy. Reacquainting myself with a loaded bike and to exercise left me sweating like a pig but wholeheartedly enjoying every second. The hill after the ferry however really kicked my ass and by the time I was at the top my lungs were burning and my legs were dead.
A few snacks later and some time spent taking photos and I set off again, but this is where Komoot and I really fell out.
I was sure I’d set my routing to road-only, however Komoot decided to take me through Grizedale forest and up a barely walkable pass. The looks of sympathy and astonishment I got from the dog-walkers and hikers as I passed hauling a nearly 25KG bike was almost enough to make me give up. However, persevere I did and for my efforts I was rewarded with falling in to a bog!
After finally finding my way out of Grizedale I decided to throw Komoot in the bog and headed for the nearest road and navigated by road signs to Coniston. Who needs technology?
Just outside Coniston is the Coppermines YHA set up a hill in a beautiful location with stunning views. Compared to other places I’ve stayed with Pannier.cc this youth hostel is luxurious with hot running water, proper showers, staff onsite who cook meals for you (with prior notice) and heating. Even with all this it had nothing on our second set of accommodation.
Our first proper day of riding as a group started off fast and bumpy with a quick descent from the YHA in to Coniston during which I lost my apple! (I’m still in mourning) Followed by one of the steepest climbs I think I’ve ever encountered, so steep in fact I couldn’t keep any weight over the front wheel and ended up having to walk the whole thing.
This lead us up to Walna Scar where our cycling ended and the hiking began. What followed was many hours of clambering up mountains, enjoying the scenery and trying to ignoring the mounting pain in my back and feet which I knew was eventually going to end very badly.
The descent via Dunnerdale forest all the way down to the bottom of Hardknott Pass had me walking as the tyres I had selected (WTB Byways) were affording me little grip on the wet grass and slick rocks and it was here that I started to realise how out of my depth I really was.
Not long later we stopped at a lovely little pub for lunch where I was able to refuel with a lemon and garlic chicken shwarma.
We set off to do the last section of cycling I’d be doing for the day, we headed through Eskdale Green, Santon Bridge and skirted Wast Water before going up and over Black Sail pass towards our accommodation for the night.
Black Sail Pass
Black Sail Pass is where every bad decision I’d made about this trip came to bear. The tyres I’d chosen, the extra kit I was carrying, the shoes I was wearing with custom arch supports which were digging in to my soul (get it?). Even down to the frame bag I’d chosen which meant I struggled to shoulder the bike and the lack of core training I’d done in the past 8 weeks so that by the time we were nearly half way up my back decided to give up.
Luckily for me, Stef was at the back making sure every single person made it safely. For a while Stef was pushing both his own bike and mine to take the load off my back, but in the end due to the slow progress we were making the decision was made to abandon one of the bikes and I went on without any bike or kit while Stef transferred the kit he needed for the night to my bike. There were sections of the pass that I struggled to get over even without a bike, there is no way I’d have made it with it.
What followed was many hours of me walking and scrambling over one of the most amazing and beautiful places I’d ever been to. I only wish I’d have been in less pain so I could have taken it in more. At the very top of the pass we came in sight of our accommodation for the night. Black Sail YHA, the most remote YHA in the country.
A scramble down the mountain later and we were greeted by the staff of the hostel with smiles, food and hot drinks. Bliss.
Day 2 started with us gathering round outside the YHA for Stef to tell us about the day’s route.
“95% rideable tarmac”
Famous last words.
We started with a brilliant 11KM gravel descent following River Liza towards Ennerdale Water.
We then skirted the mountains taking the roads towards Loweswater and Buttermere before taking on Honnister Pass.
Now, there’s a masochistic part of me that absolutely adores climbing. One of my favourite days on the bike was climbing Col de Banjoles on the way out of Spain, and Honnister Pass has always been on my cycling bucket list. To be able to say I’ve done it is amazing, but to know that I can come back on a road bike with skinny tyres and no extra weight and PB it? Heaven.
Unfortunately I wasn’t 100% recovered from the previous day, and while I was perfectly fine while on the bike, off the bike was a different matter and we still had 2 passes to take on before we headed back to Coniston..
One of the great things about doing a Pannier Tour is the type of people it attracts. Everyone has a similar mindset and attitude. There’s none of the competitiveness you might get on your typical roadie club ride, just a feeling of camaraderie and all being in it together.
To that end I have to give a massive shout out to Stef, Dave, James, Graham, David and Bruno who all helped relay my bike over the toughest sections where I just couldn’t lift it. Thanks to them we made pretty decent time over the pass from Borrowdale towards Watendlath.
We then scrambled up another mountain and over a 2 mile trail towards Thirlmere. Despite having been recce’d a few days previous rain in the meantime had left the tops pretty boggy and we all had a great laugh trying to ride through it. My semi-slick tyres sent me sliding all over the place before eventually becoming so bogged down I’d end up walking.
A very steep descent later (we all walked) left us in a car park near an A road which we used to head back to Coniston, with a short stop in Grasmere to pick up some short bread and a short section of very flowy gravel that had us all grinning like Cheshire cats.
3 days of the Lake District had left me battered, bruised and broken, so I ended up heading straight home rather than finishing the rest of my planned trip.
I was underprepared, out of my depth and yet as usual Pannier have left me reflecting on a trip I’ll never forget. One which I’ll look back on with very fond memories and may even sign up for again.
Although next time I’m bringing a mountain bike and just 1 change of clothes.