I’d left myself some things to keep me occupied the evening before the ride (or you could consider that I’d left somethings until the last minute), so it was that I was laminating the route sheets. The first one got stuck inside. I could have gone back in to work, printed it out again and used the work laminator but the thought of going back there again, especially on a Friday evening, was too much. Fortunately I had (a) a spare paper copy (although half the size so reading it might be challenging) and (b) a bar bag with waterproof map case. When it had cooled down I took the bloody thing apart and retrieved the unusably-crumpled sheet, but I didn’t want to risk the others through it at this point. So all was well apart from the fact that I’d have extra, unattractive, luggage, and the final stage which would be ridden in the dark would rely on rather small font. I took maps as a back-up anyway but marked on this final stage in case.
I rode this last year and this time Dean had asked if I would stamp cards at the Markington checkpoint, so this was ridden as a helper’s ride; effectively a perm in the fortnight before the event. To aid logistics I opted to start and finish at Ilkley, which is the closet point to Leeds. My aim was to get back in time for the last train home (I did NOT want to be tackling the Cow and Calf/Otley Chevin/Pool Bank in the dark with 300 km in my legs to get home). Some planning based on 20 kph riding and realistic but not too generous stops meant that I’d have to leave home at 4 am. I re-wrote the route sheets to make home – Ilkley part of the ride, and re-set the distance to zero at the start of each stage, which I’d found beneficial on LEL.
I slept badly and was only dozing when the alarm went off at 3.30 am. My clothes were ready but I still needed to make the final decisions on outer wear, and after feeling the temperature outside opted for winter gloves and shoes. The last couple of days had been a ‘heatwave’ (for April) but with the clear sky the night had been cold. A first outing for the LEL jersey (an attempt to humble/ridicule myself into continuing when the going gets tough) and I was happy to see that it fits better than it did when I got it before the end of last year. Jumper and short-sleeve high vis/windproof gilet on top and leg warmers I though I’d be fine, with enough bits to take off to be flexible. The forecast was for warm sun with thunder and rain by the evening. So a waterproof and rain gloves went in too. In fact I took four pairs of gloves with me (this is what happens when you take excessive luggage – more than LEL or BGB) – you fill it up. In the event the only pair I didn’t use were the wet ones.
It was chilly heading down to Ilkley, as it’s mostly downhill so not much opportunity to warm up. Being audax-o’clock I took the A roads which were fairly deserted. There were a few cars and I did see one other cyclist. The petrol station control in Ilkley isn’t 24 hours and its external cash machine wasn’t working, so I continued on the town centre for a cash machine and receipt. I was impressed that it read 5.01 am which made me look very organised. I had done a good check on the map of the centre and how to get back on route because getting lost so early on would make me excessively grumpy.
There was already a dull green glow in the east, and soon I didn’t need my head torch to read the routesheet, which was a good job as the batteries were struggling. After some lanes out of Ilkley (featuring suicidal bunnies) the route follows the Wharfe up the valley past Bolton Abbey. This is a nice overalll climb but not much silly steepness. Despite climbing I was colder now, and there were a few patches of frost on the roadside leaves in the hollows.
The sun was catching the hills to my left, and eventually it came down to meet the road and I bathed in its warmth. Not exactly; at this hour it was a psychological heating rather than anything else. I could have put my waterproof on for extra warmth but I was nearly warm enough and knew it would improve soon. The valley was gorgeous, with the dawn light and dewy fields. At the other side of the river I saw the campsite and pub at Craven Arms which we passed recently while Springing into the Dales, and eventually joined that route at Burnsall Bridge.
Then it’s in the general direction of Grassington, then Kettlewell, which aren’t quite visited (Beyond the Dales You Know, see), branching off for Arncliff and Littondale. The first control is the Queens in Litton, definitely not open at 7 am, so photos taken for proof of passage.
This side of the valley was in the shade so I kept going a bit further, to the turnoff at Halton Gill, before I stopped for my breakfast of supermarket sandwich brought with me. The extra luggage was actually quite useful throughout the day as essentially a larder, doing the ride from an alternative start buggered up some of the carefully selected controls as far as food went. This well-prepared audaxer returned home with more food that he took…
I’d remembered the climb out of here as being a bastard, and it does have some steep sections (featuring an up-hill cattlegrid which is tough, they are much easier to speedily freewheel over), but the steep sections are short and the descent to Stainforth is long. Pen-y-Ghent Gill carves a lovely deep gorge down to the left, as the pass travels between Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent.
Then it’s the main road up through Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Ribblehead, again it looked like there was a three peaks event on, with lots of cars and a gazebo in the field in Horton. I wasn’t expecting the burger van at the Ribblehead junction to be open at my target time of 9 am and was pondering my stop strategy, but it was there so I pulled in. However although it was there, the side open and the radio on, the proprietor was absent; according to a couple having their own brew in the car/van parked next door she had taken her dog for a quick walk before opening (it was about 8.50 am). Although I’d really fancied a coffee I didn’t want to hang around so just had one of my flapjacks and got going. It was beautifully sunny and clear, I’d already stopped to take my jumper off (and remove a fly from my eye, multitasking stops are always good) and I was feeling like I was going well.
After a gentle climb the cars became sparse again and the turnoff for Dentdale appeared. This is a great descent which provides views from above the viaduct and later below, the former would have been a nice picture but it’s not an easy place to stop.
I remembered that I’d been particularly miserable here last time and was feeling quite the opposite. You barely have to pedal for a long time. It was on the approach to Dent that I suddenly remembered it has cobbles, and changed down several gears and braced myself. My bike and wheels are quite chunky, and I wonder how slimmer models manage over this. Dean had helpfully noted that there are toilets and an outside tap here, the latter especially useful as I’d had no options for refills until now.
On through Sedburgh, one of the bigger towns visited, but feeling no need to stop I began the climb up Howgill Lane. This was less painful than I remembered too, I don’t know if this is because last time was further through the ride, or I was more cheery this time, or just that I’d done it before so I could do it again. A couple of more speedy riders came passed me along here, I was quite happy to be overtaken and probably still retaining some smugness that I’d got all the way here from Leeds and it was only 10 am.
“Everywhere that air of conspiracy which generates amongst people who have been up since dawn – of superiority almost, derived from the common experience of having seen the night disappear and the morning come” The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John le Carré.
The descent alongside the Howgills was even more enjoyable than last time in the crisp sun. I almost waved at a train speeding south along the west coast main line such was my delight (but apparently I gave up waving at trains when entering adulthood).
I feel sorry for Tebay, I suppose its position is not unlike Moffat in that a motorway has removed much of its passing trade, but Moffat retains the A701 route and has gone upmarket since I was young, but Tebay just looks tired. I was pleased to see some non-lorry traffic at the services, including a hen party. I had a decent length stop here, it was warm now so arm and leg warmers off and sun cream on, and a reapplication of Conotrane while I had suitable facilities.
I’d remembered the first bit of the next section, where the route heads up and through unfenced moorland. There was a particularly magic moment when I crossed a cattle grid and as soon as the noise of it ceased so did the roadside trees and fences and it was suddenly open and quiet. Stopping to take one of many photos along here I was caught by another cyclist who stopped to ask where I was going. He had heard of Audax and had a suspiciously tatty Carradice.
Through Great Musgrave, recalled after the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Musgrave Ritual’; I checked last time and in the story they are in Surrey, never mind. After Brough came the climb to Middleton-in-Teesdale which I hadn’t remembered until I saw the junction. It’s lovely, but manages to combine a steep up-up-up climb with an up-down-up descent, so there is not much time to relax. Middleton soon arrived and I’d already planned a visit to the Co-op, remembering that I would need sustinence for the next control(s) too. Here was my mistake. I thought I’d learned my lesson on overeating, but it turns out that a Mars Bar ice cream AND a hot cheese and onion pasty (in that order naturally) still counts as too much. To Staindrop was ok, just feeling a little stuffed. I stopped to take a photo of the church as time evidence, but also noted that although I didn’t know the info control question here I knew its location and took an educated guess that it would be ‘name of fish and chip shop’ [Chip in Dale; it was]. Either way I’m sure my passage through would be suitably evidenced.
The route was flatter now but I started to feel sick and had a headwind which did nothing for comfort or morale. The nausea was fairly convincing and I pondered my best options to pack – not far to Northallerton and still plenty of time to get a train back to Leeds. But I really wanted to finish this; remember you are wearing your LEL jersey, keep going and see how it goes.
I felt rather sorry for Dean around here because the roads and signs must be changing almost constantly and keeping the routesheet up to date must have been a nightmare. I got through without any wrong turnings so he must have done a good job. I had also studied the route quite carefully beforehand, because I got lost near the end last time and didn’t want to repeat the exercise. So I had a pretty good idea that I was going in the right general direction all the time. The A6055 follows the A(M)1, and may be able to become the new B7076 in terms of ubiquitousness and boredom, but it has a damn-site better (new) road surface. I stopped on one of the bridges over the motorway and had my carton of chocolate ‘milk’ (soya) which I know my stomach likes, and a little feeling-sorry-for-myself break. Heading off again I felt a little better and thought I’d make a decision on packing when I got to the road which could lead to Northallerton. I don’t think that I ever actually made a decision, but ended up turning off anyway at Ainderby Steeple for Newby Wiske (they do like their double-barrels around here). Shortly after I met some people at the roadside wrestling with a bike and with a jauntily-parked car; my initial though was ‘accident’ but when I asked if all was ok one of them said they had a problem with the chain, so I stopped to investigate. It was a lad with his bike and his parents or friends who had come out to rescue him in their car. The chain was not only off the big ring but also over the crank and pedal and one of the assistants was trying to puzzle out how it went back on. I managed to sort it and the rider seemed keen to cycle home, so we suggested he do so in a middleing gear and not try changing it to be on the safe side. It didn’t take long and was a sufficient distraction (probably because I had successfully managed to help) that it gave my brain a bit of a kick and so while my stomach didn’t feel right for the rest of the ride my head at least did.
The control at Newby Wiske was a bit weird because even though I knew it wasn’t the end of MY ride I knew it was the end of THE ride. I stopped for another selfie by the village sign and had half a sandwich, which went down ok.
It was flat and not far to Boroughbridge, where I thought the traditional remedy of coke and salt and vinegar crisps might be a good idea. They were, although the Spar receipt was useless not having a location on it. The cash machine just over the bridge earlier would be a better option. I took yet another selfie when I turned off on the distinctive road ‘St Helena’ which I thought would suffice. Arm warmers, gilet and lights went on here.
It it was only 15 km to Markington, where I would be stamping cards next weekend. I actually had no recollection of this on last years ride, and still didn’t recognise it when I got there. I took another photo, noted the location of the campsite where I plan to stay on Friday night, switched on my headtorch (having put the new batteries in I need at Tebay) and pressed on.
On leaving I was half an hour ahead of my schedule and had that ‘I’m actually going to do it’ moment. I had two things in mind, completing within time (definitely possible as the minimum speed is low) and getting my train home, which was more debatable but held considerable mental weight. I kept telling myself that validation was the more important thing and that it was hardly the end of the world if I had to get a taxi home from Ilkley, or worse, summon the courage to ride.
I’d forgotten in my time calculations the slowing which happens in the dark; I find descents challenging and never make it to the big ring. I do think my light could go a few degrees upwards which would help. But still, this last bit had some hills and I couldn’t make up any time on the descents. I was also now using my tiny-font routesheet with map back-up, and although the routesheet was ok I did have to stop to read it at each instruction, the road vibrations being too much for clarity. The very straight but horribly-surfaced road by Fewston barracks was at least not too bad at this time of day as it was quiet, and I was able to ride in the middle of the road to avoid the worst of the potholes. The steep hill after this, climbing after the reservoirs, I hadn’t remembered and could have done without. Although Ilkley isn’t a bad start, Newby is better because you get a flat start and a flat finish.
I could see the lights of various towns in the valley below but was getting worried about my slowness and getting back for the train so was distracted and not able to enjoy the views. I blame this on my bike computer; I had been looking at the distance which had been 17.1 km and seemed very slow to get to 17.2, etc; I thought this was me looking at it too often but after a while realised it had changed itself to read average speed rather than distance. So that meant my average speed for this leg was 17 kph….not good for getting back in time. I didn’t let myself look at my watch because there was nothing I could do about it.
Slowly the route asymptotically approached the lit A road to Ilkley and eventually met the bridge over to the control petrol station. In the interests of knowing where I was and not faffing I decided to return to the town centre for a receipt and the station; risking a look at my watch it was 10:45 pm, so I bombed it along the road (amazed that I still had the energy and legs) and got back to my starting cash machine. Just under 18 hours and I was very happy, although thought that ‘contingency’ should be a future consideration. The last train to Leeds was everything I dreamed of, full of drunk people, although to be fair they left me along. A large group of under-20s blokes with a few women, they were very noisy. The toilet, which unfortunately I was next to, was marked ‘out of order’ but several of them were clearly desperate. After attempts to pee out of the train doors at a station or on the platform (foiled because it didn’t stop for long enough) they forced the door open, at which point it was visited by about 10 of them followed by one for vomiting purposes. I can only hope the defect wasn’t the flush.
The forecast thunder kept its distance, it started to rain as the train pulled out of Ilkley and had apparently just stopped when I got back to Leeds. Couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.
The final ride ride home was the usually dodging of revellers through the town centre, uncomfortable in backside (mostly) and legs. But Carr Manor Road seemed tame in comparison to some of today’s hills. I got back and had a shower to remove the sun cream-adhered dirt that I didn’t really want in my bed, and had a cup of tea to try and rehydrate, even did a few back stretches, so wasn’t in bed until 2 am. 22.5 hours, and only on checking the following day have I realised I did 200 miles, which is rather satisfying. I’m very glad that I got through the rough patch. At the time of writing (the next day) I feel like I’ve been through the mill, arm and chest muscles hurt as well as knees and thighs. It’s real step up from 200 km.
333 km (207 miles), 17 hrs 45 mins, 3,725 m climbed
The ride itself…cycled up to Markington in the rain, which stopped on arrival. Tent up and finally in the pub (The Yorkshire Hussar) by 9 pm, in my wet clothes to just about dry off. Busy and a bit posh but there was a little back room with a chap watching football and another sitting at the bar, so I joined them and we ignored each other for a couple of hours. Very nice Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker accompanied the reading of John Buchan’s Huntingtower on my phone, as I had disappointingly failed to fit a book in my panniers.
Next morning after coffee and porridge I was in position at around 7 am for the first rider at 7.20 am. All in good spirits if a little cold, which it certainly was. The wisdom of a situation next to the defibrillator was noted. The final rider came through just after 8 am, all still close together as only 42 km into the ride. It was good to put names to some now-familiar faces from other events.
After a second breakfast I packed up, failed to warm up, and started off along the route in reverse to Newby Wiske. It took a long time before I had warmed up enough to take a layer off.
Arrived at HQ around 12 pm to an alien invasion, and to find the hosts having the slight problem of no electricity to the building. They soon fixed it and I went off in search of beer supplies for later. Then it was a case of waiting for riders returning, ringing cow bells at them and drinking beer. Dean’s photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30024450@N04/sets/72157666457595807
100 km or so over the weekend