North West Passage


In which I DNF.

Unusually I got up early enough to have some porridge before I left the house.  The early Saturday morning trains contained the dregs of Friday night, although mine was quiet.  It wasn’t far from Rochdale station to the start (a pub), which was very busy and I just had time to pick up my brevet card and use the lav.  I waited until most of the pack had gone before leaving as they’d only pass me (often too closely for my liking).

This route is almost all on A roads which is unlike most audaxes I have done, but going around Pendle Hill and then the Forest of Bowland they are not the busy sort.  It also meant several long stretches with no turns, and as I often find concentrating on the route keeps me occupied (and stops me noticing if the kms are dragging past too slowly) I wondered how I’d find this.  We left Rochdale and initially headed the way I had come on the train, to Todmorden.  I don’t know this area very well so it was interesting to ride through and see the steep sided valleys.  We passed JJ’s Diner which was a control on Mellow Fruitfulness, then through Burnley and Nelson up to the Highest point of the ride.  There was a bit of sun at this point although visibility wasn’t that good, Pendle Hill could just about seen through the haze.

I hadn’t been feeling too good from the start, but this is often the case and I usually settle in to it.  The first leg was 70 km, the longest I’ve ridden in one go, and I’d planned to eat a couple of times while moving.  I stopped briefly once to take a layer off as it was a mild day, and again to take a photo.

Near Pendle Hill
Near Pendle Hill

Then down to Gisburn and on to Settle, where the Old Naked Man served as a control, a place I’d already enjoyed on the Way of the Roses.  Although it had been a struggle I was on my schedule, arriving around 11.20 am.  I had a fried egg roll and a large coffee, but as I was feeling like I needed more a went for a tiffin-type thing too.  I think this may have been a mistake; I soon started to feel nauseous once I got going again and had visions of heading back to Settle and a train home.

The Old Naked Man in Settle.
Back at the Old Naked Man in Settle.

The next section along the A65 to Devil’s Bridge in Kirby Lonsdale was probably one of the shortest I have ridden, at 26 km.  I could see more places I’d been through on the WotR and was glad to be on this flatter route here.  Devil’s Bridge was busy with bikers and cyclists, and after having had my card stamped by the controllers (operating out of a small van) I got a mug to tea from the mobile cafe, it being all I could stomach, and spent a few minutes watching the River Lune passing under the bridges.  Surprisingly the tea perked me up and I set off still on my rough schedule.  I exchanged a few words with some other riders here; a VC167 rider who rode slightly more slowly than me but stopped for less time so we were constantly passing each other, and a couple going slightly faster who I saw quite a few times (actually I don’t think they were a ‘couple’ because one didn’t know if the other took sugar in his tea).

The River Lune at Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale
The River Lune at Devil’s Bridge, Kirkby LonsdaleThe River Lune at Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale

Next was a fairly flat section, following the Lune to Lancaster.  Through the city I followed signs more than the route sheet but seemed to come out the right way.  I was feeling better during this section and tried to eat a little bit on the go.  Then down the A6, past Lancaster University and parallel to the M6.

The final control at 136 km was The Barn, a cafe and shop, in Scorton.  Some bits of it looked new, including a shelter bike storage area (including locks) which was rather good.  I felt hungry so had a brie baguette and a large coffee, which came to a slightly steep £9-something.

Bike racks at The Barn cafe
Bike racks at The Barn cafe

The final stage was another 70 km and I planned to stop a couple of times, approximately each 25 km, to make it manageable.  I had realised earlier that my fettling after the last ride had solved the difficulty I had been having of moving up from the middle to the top chain ring, but at the expense of the smallest ring which was now unaccessible.  I tried changing the cable tension but it wasn’t enough, and so I did more honking up hills than I usually do.  I’ve been on plenty of rides where this wouldn’t have been possible, so although this wasn’t flat I’m glad it didn’t have any stupidly steep hills.

After climbing up to Longridge on a section of unclassified roads there was a nice descent into Ribchester, a crossing of the Ribble and then the inevitable climb up the other side.  I’d been along here in the opposite direction on the way to John o’Groats.  I was feeling ok at this point, passed my VC167 rider again, and then stopped briefly on the edge of Blackburn for a bite to eat.   We went through places called Salisbury and Wilpshire, and I started to wonder if they’d run out of place names in these parts. Soon I caught up with another three who’d been in the last control at the same time, and had stopped briefly at the side of the road here.  They went on ahead and took a right turn earlier than the route sheet suggested; a wise move as I then had to negotiate a multi-lane roundabout by junction 6 of the M65.

The next section was horrendous, crossing Oswaldtwistle Moor.  It was fully dark by now and had started to rain a little.  I was really struggling, all I could see ahead was the road going up with no shelter or even a place to stop.  I knew I had to keep going as stopping just at the side of the road wouldn’t be safe.  Eventually a track or small road appeared on the left and I pulled in.  Although going up hill I was getting cold because I was going so slowly, but first I had to take all my top clothes off to take a leak (cursing bib shorts).  Then I swapped the wind shirt for my waterproof, and made myself eat more even though I didn’t feel like it, especially anything sweet which was all I had.  Mr VC167 passed me at this point, he seemed to just be able to keep on going for ever.

Feeling slightly better and conscious that this was no place to get cold I started off again, and although I couldn’t see it I had done most of the climbing over the moor.  I’d thought that what I needed was a coke from a petrol station or shop but the sugar seemed to have kicked in so when I passed several places in Haslingden I stupidly didn’t stop.  It wasn’t long before I was feeling rough again, now my brain wasn’t working and I didn’t feel safe riding so I stopped and walked for a bit.  A couple of other riders passed me (including Pompino guy who I think was on one of the last two rides I did), they asked if I was ok and I said I just needed a breather.  I managed to start riding again just before Edenfield, where I hoped to find a pub I could stop in for a coke and to find the nearest train station.  This was at 192 km which sounds so near the finish, but it seemed so far at the time.

Edenfield, however, had other plans and everything seemed closed, so I somehow kept going, up the final climb over the moors to Rochdale.  I passed Ashworth Moor Reservoir, shining with the reflected lights of the surrounding towns, and as bad as I felt the lights spread out in the valley below looked rather beautiful from up here.  This also marked the 200 km point, and I knew that at least I’d get back to Rochdale.  Finishing seemed possible.  Once in the city I missed a turning (not sure if that was routesheet or my error) and had to stop to look at the map on my phone.  I worked out where I was and headed to the train station, having ridden from there to the start earlier I knew the way.  I still didn’t know if I’d finish.  The arrivée closed at 9.30 pm.  It was about 8.45 pm when I got to the station, and that was enough for me.  A train was due just then and happily was running a bit late, so I made it and called in as a DNF once it got underway.  The person I spoke to said there was still one person unaccounted for.

I could have finished, but I’m not regretting choosing not to.  I was still feeling sick at this point, it would have to have been a quick trip there and back so as not to miss the next (possibly last) train back to Leeds, but mostly I just had nothing left.  I’d actually left Rochdale station at 7.30 am that morning, so technically had done a 200 km within time, albeit not a validate-able one.

The train was quite full with a lively crowd.  What looked like a class full of A level students got on later, one of them voicing concerns that traces of powder were visible around her nose, as she’d snorted an Ecstasy tablet because she didn’t like the taste.  Happily they’d all got off by Mytholmroyd and I was able to put the bike in a more sensible place and get a seat.  On arrival in Leeds I got a bottle of Lucozade and had half of it before walking though the city centre, partly because that was all I felt like and also to avoid more merrymakers.  I cycled a bit where it was flat or downhill but walked most of the way, getting back after 11 pm, too tired even for a shower.

I’m not sure it was just an off-day, or perhaps I was still suffering a little bit from the hideous cold/flu that had kept me off work for the best part of a week a couple of weeks previously, or maybe I made bad food choices.  I still did 200 km and tried out a couple of new Appkit purchases which will be needed for longer rides.  I had a Gamma head torch attached to my helmet with some elastic chord, which did a great job for reading the route sheet just using its little white LED; the bigger one would be useful if road signs etc needed to be seen but as most of the junctions on this ride were in lit places it wasn’t needed.  The Fuelpod was great for accessing food while moving in thick gloves and didn’t interfere when riding.  My knees touched it when honking but it didn’t bother me, I’m glad I got the medium rather than the large though.

Nature notes: lots of snowdrops and the first daffodils.  The highlight was a flock of Lapwing performing aerobatics over a field at dusk.

North West Passage map North West Passage elevation

207 km, 12 hrs 50 mins

76 kg

A Mere Century


An overnight stop at my sister’s just a few miles from the start at Cheadle village hall meant I didn’t have to get up too early.  I decided to go with carbs, so had pasta the evening before and porridge before I set off.  The forecast was decent if cold, so I was surprised by the number of still-unclaimed brevet cards when I arrived about 8.15 am.  Time for coffee, then the usual understated ‘right, off you go’ start.

First we passed Gatley station, which I made a mental note of in case I needed to get a train back afterwards.  There are quite a few train stations on or near the route so plenty of bail-out options. After going through a bit of Wythenshawe (nothing I recognised) and around Manchester airport we were soon in the Cheshire lanes, passing a number of large houses.  Footballer-land indeed.  A few flakes of snow but nothing to be concerned by.

Around Tatton Park, and I think I recognised a bit from my John o’ Groats trip.  The first control was at Delamere Station Cafe, nice and doing a good job of accommodating as it’s not a big place.  I went for beans on toast, they warned that there would be a half hour wait for food which I decided to risk, it was more like 10 mins in the end.  It started to rain/sleet while we were here so I put my waterproof on as I left.  Of course it didn’t last long so I stopped to swap back to my windproof after a while.

Delamere station cafe
Delamere station cafe

Initially we’d been told there was a detour just after the control, and I had altered my route sheet to account for it.  Then at the start we were told the original instructions were fine, but since I had obliterated them I had to stick to the detour.  Unfortunately I didn’t go quite far enough for the turning, but thought I’d missed it and retraced, then spent a little while guessing before coming back on route.  Thereafter I was mentally adding about 1.4 km to all the route sheet distances.

There was an info control on this section which asked for the phone number of what could have been a business or a cafe.  There was no sign of the place named on the brevet card, so I took a photo of a cafe that was full of (other) cyclists and its phone number.

Cheshire lanes
Cheshire lanes

The control in Audlem was a cafe or receipt from the Co-op, there was space in the cafe so I opted for that.  There was a group of 4 at the next table, and one of them, Chris, said he might need to tag along with me as the others were too fast…I thought he was joking but as we were all leaving about the same time he asked again, saying he had the route sheet in his pocket but no holder, and no sat nav, so could he follow me. I was a bit apprehensive as I usually ride alone and find having other people close by a bit of a distraction, not to mention having to make conversation.  However it turned out that we were going about the same speed, and chatted on and off quite happily.  The route was fairly flat here and I felt quite comfortable.  At one point I could feel myself starting to struggle, but managed to eat a flapjack on the move and was fine afterwards.

It started to get gloomy, and I had to strain to read the route sheet.  I had forgotten to bring my head torch, bollocks.  Chris and I stopped at the third info control at Henbury for a break, and a few others joined us.  I wolfed down my jelly beans without noticing the flavours.  The question had us all stumped; ‘what sort of flowers does Flora sell?’  Well it seemed to be a garden centre, so presumably all sorts of flowers, and a coffee shop, alas closed.  We wrote down a selection of information (e.g. ‘no idea but she’s been selling then since 1954’).  Apparently the answer was silk.  Neither this nor the previous mystery info seemed to be a problem for the organisers, I guessed they hadn’t checked them recently.

Now I couldn’t see my route sheet at all, but Chris knew where we were and so it was his turn to lead the way.  Another missed turning had us nearly heading to Prestbury, but thankfully one of the others on the road near us noticed.  Once we got back into built-up areas I was able to see the route sheet again by the street lights, but I had no idea if we were still on the intended route, fortunately Chris was confident and we started seeing signs to Cheadle.

Tomato soup and rolls at the finish was just what I needed. I wasn’t too bad but decided I didn’t want to ride all the way back into Manchester centre so thought I could take a train.  By this point my sister was in a pub in Didsbury, so I rode there (only a few kms) and rehydrated before getting a train into Piccadilly, and then home.  Unlike last time I had enough energy to ride the mostly uphill journey without issue.

Mere century route

155 km, 9 hrs 55 mins

76 kg