It was only 60 miles back to Penrith. The train was booked for 6 that evening so leaving Kielder mid morning would be more than enough time we thought. The 50mph headwind was hardly ideal, but we weren’t going to let that deter us. Although strewn with fallen debris from the past few days of hurricane-like weather, the first few miles of quiet and rolling lanes allowed swift progress through the striking Northumberland countryside.
That progress came to an abrupt halt at Wark Forest, where tarmac turned to gravel, and gravel turned to cement-like slush. Oh and the wind. If being completely blown off our bikes wasn’t enough, I then received a light shower of urine from a unnamed riding partner who had somehow failed to account for the wind when relieving himself. Thanks Jordan.
The depths of the forest provided a brief respite from the wind but the gravel track worsened and a sign reading “not suitable for motor vehicles” couldn’t have stated anything more obvious. As we rode from one lake-sized puddle to another, it was no surprise that a bemused farmer on a quad bike stopped for a chat. That 5-mile stretch through Wark Forest took over an hour to ride and we all agreed it was one of the toughest bits of riding we’d ever done. God knows how Tom Donhou and George Marshall rode across Iceland in much worse conditions the month before.
I’ll skip to the end. We made the train, but there may have been a short minibus ride somewhere in between. That’s the reality of cycle touring on a deadline, if you’ve got to get back to work the next day then you don’t have much choice. It’s not all tailwinds and Tuscan landscapes, but none of us will forget that ride for a while.