C2C (Sea to Sea) from Whitehaven to Newcastle in 17 hours

Thursday 2 September 2010 Filed in: General

Yesterday, me and my dad completed the entire coast to coast cycle route from Whitehaven to Newcastle in just one day, or to be more precise, in about 17 hours. Here is a full description of the day's events.

The C2C is a 140 mile bike route that starts in Whitehaven (West Coast of England) and weaves its way along old railway lines, country lanes and bike tracks to Newcastle and ultimately Tynemouth (East Coast of England). For more info on the C2C, check out

The C2C Guide.
I have previously completed the C2C twice, once with my family and once with just my Dad. The former took us 4 days and the latter took us 3. Generally, most fit people complete a C2C in three days (comfortably) or two days (pushing it). I am not exactly sure where the idea came from to attempt the C2C in one day alone – although inspiration could be attributed to my uncle who completed this feat in one day on his road bike a few years ago. Our own attempt was to be completed on a Dawes tandem which in fact was not ours; it was a “courtesy” tandem which was on loan to us whilst our tandem was getting resprayed.

4:15 AM
If you want to complete a C2C in a day, you have to take things seriously. The biggest restriction of all, regardless of fitness, is time. Whilst in the summer, it would be possible to set off quite late and still arrive in daylight, this is certainly not recommended in Easter. Even having left Whitehaven at 7:00 am, we did a good four hours or so of cycling in the dark at the Newcastle end which is NOT advised even if you do have some rather funky headlights. In any case, we were up at 4:15 am and shortly left the house to drive to Whitehaven, looking very dreary and rather apprehensive about those large grey clouds and drizzle on the windscreen.

7:00 AM
We left Whitehaven at 7:00 which was a bit later than had been hoped. Ideally, we should have got there half an hour or so earlier as that was when first light arrived. The tandem rode smoothly and we had no problems whatsoever crusing along the lovely old converted railway lines. We were plagued by light drizzle but this did not affect us greatly. The real problem was the strong headwind which brought down our average speed to about 12mph rather than the 14 we were anticipating. We eventually made it up to the top of the Whinlatter pass where we stopped for some yummy Date Slice (courtesy of myself).

9:50 AM
After flying down Whinlatter, we made it into Keswick where we telephoned our roadie (Mum) to join us in Penrith for lunch. We reckoned it would take about 45 minutes for us to get to Penrith from here. However, this is when we began to realise that our brakes weren’t giving much output – we’d burnt them off on Whinlatter pass! For those of you not familiar with tandems, this is a big big problem. Whilst on a normal bike, having weak brakes is manageable, trying to slow down two fully grown guys with a couple of worn breaks is almost impossible on a tandem. Many tandems (including our own – currently in the USA) even have a third emergency break to deal with this problem. The brakes on the Dawes were two Avid cable disk brakes with which we totally unfamiliar. Even on quite gentle slopes, we were unable to come to a complete halt without dragging our feet on the floor! This was potentially quite dangerous and so we had to take all the descents painfully slowly. We eventually made it into penrith.

12:30 PM
The morning had already gone and we had only done just over a third of the total distance of the day. Things were looking grim and it was uncertain whether we would make it or not. We found a nice cafe in Penrith where we joined my mum and sister for lunch. Taking advantage of the occasion, I ordered a full english breakfast and a strong coffee to fill a gap! We took the tandem to a bike shop but they had no spare disk brake pads so were unable to help us. With no choice but to carry on, we set off from penrith.

After a close encounter with some crossroads – we were completely unable to stop, even with full braking power, and shot across them, narrowly missing a 4×4 – we decided that this whole brake thing was a bit like russian roulette… sooner or later there would have to be an accident. We were going to have to either give up due to technical reasons or figure something out. We inverted the tandem and stripped the disk brakes. We roughed up the pads and placed them back in… still no luck. This was when it occurred to me that these being cable brakes, the pads would not self-adjust like on my Hope disk brakes and hence when they wear, breaking strength decreases. Optimists, we tightened up the pad adjuster and hey presto! We had power again. Having lost a good hour and a bit messing around, time was pressing. We were nonetheless determined to finish and continued our journey.

This climb was a nightmare. Hartside is the biggest hill you have to pass on the C2C and is over 700m in altitude. With the added headwind it was a real struggle but we made it to the top for a coffee, coke, and mars bar cake from the cafe on top. We topped it all off with another lump of date slice before setting off. Desite going downhill, we were obliged to pedal, such was the force of the headwind.

Inevitably, something else had to go wrong. We noticed that the front wheel was slowly losing pressure so yet again, we had to stop! We fixed the puncture in about 10 minutes but time was becomingly increasingly scarce. We continued down to Rookhope from where we had to climb up onto the moors on some offroad tracks.

The climb up to the moors was pretty much impossible on a tandem so we walked and jogged it up the path. However, along the moor tops, there was some lovely singletrack which was really tricky on a tandem (a foot wide rut is not easy to stay in with two people trying to balance). We were aware of the setting sun and were keen to get off the open hills before darkness fell. We cycled some of the lower bike paths in twilight, squinting to see whether there were ruts or obstacles. Thankfully, we made it down to the road in one piece.

Lights on
Now came the next problem… lights. We had a set of Lumicycle headlights which are excellent – but would only give us a maximum of 3 hours of cycling in the dark. We needed to conserve all the power we had. We put some flashing red lights on the back of the tandem to get us seen by motorists and set off on some really gloomy back lanes, illuminated only by our halogen beam. A highly spooking experience – especially when we crossed a huge bridge with a hundred or so metre drop below – in pitch blackness. It was pretty much downhill all the way to Gateshead but it was nevertheless about a 30 mile trip. Finally, houses and street lights started popping up and we were able to switch off our headlights. We knew we were almost there when we saw the river Tyne and crossed the familiar millenium bridge.

Final leg
Probably the most depressing of all, the final section of the C2C was really tough. By now, we had been on the bike for 15.5 hours. Our legs were exhausted, we had “saddle sore” and we were plagued with fatigue. We were on the edge and just wanted to finish. We continued on like zombies, doing our best to stay awake and ploughed on down to the sea to be met by an equally tired looking mum and sister at midnight – our thanks go out to them for putting up with us! Relieved to be finished, we put the bike on the roof, found a 24 hour Asda, bought some grub, ate and then crashed in the car on the way home.

Looking back on the experience, I am very proud to have completed something that probably very few people have done. 140 miles in a day is no small feat. Realistically, we could quite easily have completed the route in 13 hours or so had the headwind not been so strong and had we not been plagued with technical failure. We would also have gained time if we had set off earlier as we were not able to cycle as fast in the dark around Newcastle and Tynemouth. Nevertheless, we completed the our first and last sub 24 C2C. My main regret is that I was not able to get half as many pictures as I had intended – time simply does not allow for it. Also, I didn’t get many pictures with the bike or us in which is a shame. I would say “next time” but to be honest, this is something you only want to do once!


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