A new event appeared for 2019, finally someone was brave enough and had found a way to have an endurance race in England, not only that but it was based in finest Yorkshire. All Points North set out a selection of checkpoints , which you take timestamped photographs to prove you had been there. You choose the order and the route. In a way like a giant Orienteering race, yes race! This was legal and insured and everything, and even eventually changed to having trackers for those that could not face this without the world watching.
I quickly planned a route on return from Holland and forgot about it until the week before. The only thought I gave it was that I’d like to clear those A roads around the busy East coast before dawn, so lets go anti clockwise then.
That was a crazy freaking idea, since when did I let an algorithm control me.
An 8pm start makes it tricky with my preference to ride to events so I decided to do the 100 mile ride up the area the day before. Again I was going for a completion on a budget approach and the Tripster was loaded up with a ton of food. It was a great ride in the sun with plenty of gravel tile grabbing exploring options.
On approaching Worksop I do some off road through Sherwood Forest when I’m stopped by a guy who asks if I’ve seen a car on fire! Its just been stolen. Once into town, that and the initial impression of how run down this place looks makes me think I wont be letting my bike out of my site here, no wonder the Travelodge was dirt cheap. It’s great to be oop North again though, Gravy on your chips of course.
I try for a long nights sleep and fail, and try to compensate by just staying off my feet watching TV until the last possible moment before a short ride to Sheffield. Signing on in the afternoon is a very relaxed affair and it’s soon apparent that the organisers have put a lot into this. Both Ash and Stephen are here, so we start off with a RATN debrief over endless cups of tea and great cakes. There is a nice garden setting and it’s a nice relaxing social with plenty of familiar Ultra event racing friends from other races. Inevitably the talk turns to riders planned routes and we shock Philipa a bit when hers seems to have way less climbing involved than the rest of us. Had she missed a checkpoint, no it seemed she was just a clever route planning guru. The free route system used for APN is to help people learn about planning their own route choices for events like the TCR and the random checkpoint order led to many different approaches.
If I was serious about this I would have gone and pre-rode my start route out of Sheffield, it would be well worth it. As it was I just checked it on a map and decided to change it; Adding a few bike paths to try and cut out endless traffic light stops. The start was pretty relaxed as the entry was restricted to less than 50 riders but within a minute riders were turning off everywhere. the start location means there is no real direct route to choose out of, or through the city and riders seemed to be split 50-50 on whether they were heading North or East to start. It was comical to stop and wait at a several traffic light cross roads to have other riders pass in front of you or turn and join you.
Eventually it feels like I’m leaving the metropolis of Sheffield, anyone heading East was on the A6178 towards Rotherham and judging by the number of riders who came past me, my route out was pretty slick. One of those, Jenny Tough, stopped to say hi, and we rode together for a while. It was great to hear about all her adventures and plans for the future, she hadn’t done much biking since I met her smashing the TransAtlanticWay race last year and although super fit, was worried about bike contact issues. Jenny eventually powered on, I kept to a steady pace and as usual never passed or caught anyone on the bike, they always passed me.
Night fell and the quiet A roads and tail wind made for good progress. The A614 takes you all the way to Bridlington, but my route took me off the main roads around 11pm. For speed I would have changed it, but decided to embrace the adventure which led to lots of filthy small roads and walks over two gated level crossings, much more interesting. I’d highlighted a 24 Hr McDonalds at Bridlington just off route as an early stop and it was great to see other riders there at 1am. Although not cold it was great to warm up and rest whilst sharing the experience with team riders Michal and Ian. We then headed for a misty Flamborough head lighthouse, The event brevet had questions on for proof of passage which frankly I could do without, Timestamped picture taken proof enough.
The next section past Scarborough and up to Whitby to the CP at the Abbey calls into question the Freeroute option for me. There is no way anyone would want to ride these roads in the daytime, but in the interest of speed many will do. The conflict of taking the safe option goes out of the window once the choice of a faster route is given, the same goes for the approaches to Sheffield no doubt. I was glad I was here in the small hours, a priority in my plan. At some point I passed a rider rousing from his bivy in a bus shelter, it was Stephen who had blasted the ride here and had grabbed a few hours kip just before dawn. He soon caught me up and we met up at the wonderful Whitby Abbey checkpoint for a chat before he sped off.
From this point on, again the racer would stick to the dubious fast A roads into Teeside, I took the slow but picturesque minor roads route over the Yorkshire moors. Tiredness and the steep inclines were now taking their toll and another planned stop at an early opening Co-op in Castleton could not come soon enough. Hot coffee and food sat on the village bench, I’d done 150 miles already and it was only 8 am, the prospect of a full days lumpy riding ahead at that point was daunting to be honest. The forecast was for very heavy rain, I phoned a campsite in Kielder forest to give myself a solid target for a hot shower and somewhere to hide later. To my surprise Stephen turned up, I still cant remember how or why he ended up behind me, or did I dream it, he soon shot off.
The rest of that day was a blur of small back lanes through the Dales and onto the North Pennines. It was very warm at times adding to the fatigue and I once again seriously questioned why I was doing this. The rains and strong wind came approaching Kielder, despite being 6 miles out of my way I stuck to my camp site target. After 21.5 hrs and 240 miles on the road this drowned rat was very glad of a hot shower and a early evening sleep under a flapping tarp. The small site toilets had a family sized bathroom, if it was later I would have washed there and then just slept in the bath under cover instead.
According to Strava I started to ride just before midnight, I would know this area in my sleep having ridden and raced here a ton, so I wasn’t missing the views. As it was the rain was now set for the night as I bagged the next checkpoint at Kielder castle. I checked out the big toilet block nearby just to see if it was open, surprisingly it was so that would be a good late night hiding place for future events, hand dryers too. The timestamp photo shows it took 3 hours to get here, a tough headwind and feeling miserable stopped me having any idea about taking the off road shortcut from here, so road to Newcastleton and a visit to Scotland it was.
At Newcastleton and my eyes are folding, damn not enough sleep and I decide to have a quick kip on covered bench in town to fool the brain. Strava again tells me this was 4.30am for 20 mins but it seemed to do the trick.
Heading South the rain gets proper hard, everything is soaking and cold now and the first rider I see going the other way is Ede Harrison. She looks a lot more cheerful that I do and not half as wet. Eventually I can’t take anymore and stop in bus shelter before Brampton. I’m now exploring get out options, I’m tired and soaked through, this is grim and not fun. Cut over to Carlisle, get a room and sleep, train South to join the finishers for a beer tomorrow, so close to a plan. This is one instance where my lack of funds kept me in the race, it was just cheaper to go on.
Going again, I saw a few other riders heading North and consoled myself that I was the lucky one going South. Climbing up Hartside pass from Castle Carrock was a long drag and the wind was becoming more of an issue. I was heading for the Dun Fell checkpoint and got confused along with the ever present rain issue of the Garmin 1000 being impossible to use with a saoking wet screen. I wrongly went to the summit and then headed down the other side heading North, the joy of a tailwind blinded me to the bloody obvious, well I was tired. I was going the wrong way. By the time my frazzled brain called a halt the speed meant I had travelled almost 4 miles the wrong way. Turning round only compouded my gloom when faced with the mother of all head winds. I was struggling to keep the bike upright and moving and it took almost an hour to retrace the cockup. Pedalling downhill I was praying that the next place Melmerby, had some form of cafe, I’d been on the road in 10 hours of wind and rain!
Oh joy, a sign for the village bakery up a side street, what day was it, would it be open, some familiar bikes parked outside soon answered that, relief. Michal and Ian were there with another rider just finishing up. I joined them in shivering and dripping all over the floor. Talk turned to Dun Fell and what was ahead, apparently it will clear up later.
I had no idea, what the Dun Fell climb was, approaching it on a flat plain it loomed ahead shrouded in cloud, this was going to be big, over 2000 ft of climbing. It’s a private road to a radio mast with some super steep bits. Near the top was a barrier and a tent set up for what turned out to be a running event. Here you turn onto a ridge to the top, straight into the teeth of a gale. no views, can’t ride the bike, in fact I can barely wheel it, its doing a great impression of a sail with that framebag on. I meet riders coming down who report it’s borderline dangerous up here, this is stupid, and just to confirm that I’m off the track down a ditch with the bike on top of me. Resisting the urge to leave the bike there I finally reach the summit and get my picture of proof.
Coming back down I’m walking again, I can’t ever remember walking a bike downhill, even off road in the craziest places, but the wind is mental. After the gate it’s possible to ride and I’m amazed at how many riders are coming up, perhaps I’m not doing too bad after all, especially if they are heading North. Next up is Tan Hill, I set off through Appleby in Westmoreland where there seems to be a huge police presence, tannoys are blaring. I stop at a shop for supplies and ask. “It’s the fair and if you have any sense I wouldn’t leave your bike” Of course the Appleby fair, the town the gypsies take over ; the annual Gypsy races and piss up up to end all piss ups. I get moving quickly.
I’m doing this as an out and back from Kirkby Stephen and start climbing up onto the wonderful moors, with for once a slight help from the wind, its feeling warmer and I’m looking forward to a pint sat in the sun. It’s another slog and just as I arrive it starts to piss down again. there are riders here and I join them for a beer, but they have just stopped serving food, it’s 4 pm.
Around this point I spotted a graphic put out from base showing the starting routes out of Sheffield of those with trackers. What a variation which I think shows the organisers got the checkpoint spread just right.
Leaving Tan Hill it was back into the gale, and pedalling downhill to a chip shop I’d clocked in Kirkby Stephen. Waving at other riders passing as I sat outside eating didn’t bother me, I was cooked and intended to start looking for a quiet spot to sleep. Moving on to Sedburgh I was on familiar roads from the Mille Pennines ride, and it was noticeable how every layby and potential gypsy camp area was obstructed with huge concrete blocks, the chances of spotting an empty covered shelter seemed slim. In the end I saw a riverside off road track and rode down to bivy in a small copse, sleep came easy.
This second stint was for 170 miles in 20 hours elapsed, that’s a seriously slow average, even the moving speed was only 10mph average.
Strava again reminds me that I was back on the road just before 1am. It’s a strange feeling on arriving at Arnside seafront to bag the next checkpoint. It would have been great to see the views of the bay and what the place looked like, as it was it’s like a secret night raid. With only snacks to fuel on I’m quickly onward and soon the climbing over the Forest of Bowland tests my resolve again.
I like to rest my back after about 4 hours riding with a good sit down, a brew up in a bus shelter with my simple solid fuel stove setup had to do at this hour. I eat the last of my snacks, It was going to be pure luck from here If I found some decent food.
Onwards to Slaidburn pretty soon after and its too early for any life here as I grab the next checkpoint. Just two left to get now and it’s about here I start to think it would have been a smart move to have gotten the one over at the Nidderdale area from the East coast as part of the route North.
Heading East looking for any hope of a warm rest and food I weaken at the sight of a large bus stop with benches on three sides, and when it rains it seals it. Again I lie down for 30 mins for brain rest, this is crap: I like the routine of regular sleep but the 8pm start of this has screwed me right up. If I did this again I think I’d do better by stopped for a four hour sleep at Flamborough Head on night one. I would have done less night riding and seen more of the countryside too.
Somehow I then catch some riders, two ladies and we all seem incapable of conversation, then at last it’s a cafe sign and a local chap outside confirms its open. I park up and expect some company but with a grab of a coke they are off, I think it was Charlotte and Karen and they seem desperate to keep going and look pretty tired.
The Farm Shop Cafe just outside Cracoe is brilliant, I’m the only one in here and the breakfast is just so good. A much needed wash and sort out and I feel refreshed. Will this be the tonic to see me to the finish in time.
Pately Bridge is next and Ash had mentioned that my route was bad if I ended up climbing back up from there. As I hurtle down into town on a never ending 40mph high I see the reasoning behind that, this is one brute of a climb. There is no way I’m sticking to my route and coming back up here. The sun was out the town was packed I was glad of a belly full of fuel as stopping here would be hell. Climbing up to the next checkpoint of Brimham rocks it was clear this was another honey pot as I passed all the stationary cars on the small lanes queuing to get in.
This place is nuts and I’m quite surprised, I expected a few stones not this alien size game of rock Jenga, it’s brilliant and looked magnificent in the welcome sun. time for an ice cream celebration. I see the ladies and a few riders leave while I strip off, sunbathe and plot a new route.
It’s a risk just sticking a marker on Bolton Abbey and heading for it, joining the A59 was a big risk that I got away with, hugging the roads grass edge as traffic thundered by it could not end quick enough.
Haworth and the final checkpoint and time to take stock of what’s left. It’s 50 miles to the finish and the cutoff target is 8pm. With a further food stop this is going to be close with the peaks and navigating in Sheffield itself. The drop down to Huddersfield helps progress but every traffic light seems to be against me. I try to stop myself thinking it’s a race, but that focus is good for this tired body at this point. I message Stephen and Ash who are chilling at the finish after having a sleep, they are that fast, and tell them to get the beer ready. The long drag back up to the tops of the peak district was tough and I was looking forward to seeing the familiar sight of an often visited Langset reservoir.
There was no way I was smashing it down the busy A roads into Sheffield from here, deadline or not. The roads through the lakes to the Strines are just too good to miss, and the safer option. I love this area. On the long fast drop down from Bradfield I’m hammering it, it’s looking good, but I’d forgotten just how lumpy Sheffield is and I still had 6 miles to the South of the city.
I still can’t believe how much effort I put into that final race through the city, the black sky could hold it back no more and it started chucking it down. It was manic pedaling, full gas jumping tram lines and a few dodgy moves. The finish is not the easiest place to find and then I can’t just dump the bike outside as I need to rescue stuff from this deluge; staggering in dripping wet the moment is caught on camera. Blimy, there’s applause and a beer is offered, quickly followed by a plate of curry this is great. 72 Hrs and 4 mins, I’d missed the target by 4 minutes, but who cares! The place was jumping and the craic with the other riders was great.
Today was another 161 miles of tough climbing, 15,000 ft, and I can see how going the other way and doing this while fresher could have been better. On hearing the other riders stories, they had super weather for their rides up Dun Fell, and views. My total ride was about 570 miles and 43,000 ft of climbing; an Everest and then some.
Top dude Pawel Pulawski finished first in the staggering time of 45 hrs 28 mins, non stop madness. Philippa did indeed smash it and put in a cracking ride in 56 hrs 52 mins. I was 18th and there was a high rate of drop outs. It was tough and I’m just getting too slow for these races. It was great voyage of discovery and a brilliantly organised and executed event.