It’s been a while since my last blog and I’ve had a fair few ups and downs over the last six months, and so I’ve decided to mix things up this year by doing various different types of events to keep things interesting. This event really inspired me to write something based on a sense of adventure.
The racing collective have come up with a very basic concept for the Trans-England trials which is really refreshing and is based on the same structure as the really epic rides like the Transcontinental race which covers over 2000miles.
My journey started with a car trip to Morecombe bay, which maybe is a bit of a cop out really as the main ethos of this type of challenge is being self-supported. Nevertheless, due to time restrictions and the total nightmare of trying to book a bike on a train, I went for the easy option and enlisted my partner Donna to drive me to the start line.
Donna dropped me in Morecombe bay at 10pm and after a quick flask of tea, I said my goodbyes. “See you tomorrow in Scarborough!”
I had a little leg loosener after the car journey by just riding steadily up and down the promenade, and I began to realise how heavy the bike was with all the additional luggage attached (approx. 10kg).
Self-sufficient means exactly that: no support from anyone, no arranging to meet a friend, no food stashing, just you on your own sorting things on the fly. That is one reason my bike now weighed about 20kg in total, as I didn’t want to be caught out by the weather or lack of food. I’d analysed the route to some degree and realised that the first 100 miles would be a matter of eating and drinking what I could carry from the start. There aren’t any convenience stores open in the Yorkshire Dales at 3am! So maybe I’d taken more than I needed but the lack of experience in this sort of event and the fact my main goal was just to finish made me think I’d made the right decisions.
There were 25 riders taking part in the event and
we all lined up outside the Art Deco Hotel on the pier at Morecombe chatting away until everyone came together at the last minute to begin the challenge from the end of the pier. Morecombe is a very quiet seaside resort (not at all like Blackpool) and for once, the weather seemed perfect. We got some strange looks from the few evening passers-by who were unsure what we were all doing starting a ride at night, and even stranger looks when they asked “what are you doing” and we responded”riding to Scarborough!”
A quick rundown on my kit list:
• Scott CR1 (trusty road bike) with 28mm 4 season tyres and rear mudguard
• Large saddle bag (approx. 12litre capacity)
• 2 x small top tube bags for food on the go and pacing notes
• 2 x 500ml bottles ,2 x Garmin devices
• mobile phone ,emergency sleeping bag , pen knife, multi tool, 2x inner tubes,
• tyre levers, co2 inflator , Exposure Toro and exposure joystick (mounted on helmet)
• Gore-Tex jacket , lightweight puffer jacket , neoprene gloves, battery pack and leads,
• rear lights x 2
• selection of gels and Chia charge
As 11pm approached, we all pulled out our phones to take a photo and tweet ourtime stamp as proof of starting. This was a procedure that needed to be repeated at five other points on route: Ribblehead Viaduct, the Tan Hill pub, a chapel in the middle of nowhere, Robin Hoods Bay beach and the finish point of the ‘Diving Belle’at Scarborough.
The route is left totally up to the individual riders and I’d plotted a route between the checkpoints that I believed to be do-able on the road bike. It came in at 170miles and 16,000ft of climbing.
We all set off and straight away there was confusion on how to get on to a cycle path that went straight through the centre of Morecombe and out towards Lancaster! I managed to regroup with three other guys on the main road towards Lancaster for approx. 5 miles, and then peeled off up a short climb into a small village on my own.10 miles down the road I met up with the same guys and we continued together for 3 or 4miles then again my route headed off up a hill (should have programmed for least elevation!) I was now riding on small winding roads through the Dales towards Clapham often covered in cow slurry. I then looked down to my Garmin and noticed I was on 20miles travelled and glanced at my pace notes, which stated checkpoint 1 at Ribblehead, was at 27miles.
As the road began to climb, I caught up with a few more riders who had gotten off to a better start than I had, and as I passed, we spoke about the favourable conditions.
On reaching Ribblehead the sky was totally pitch black with no moon in sight so even a huge structure like the viaduct was easily missed (some riders did!). I rode down the gravel track towards Whernside and took a quick picture showing nothing other than my Garmin data and some gravel track, as it was impossible to get a decent viaduct photo.
I moved off thinking “that’s one down and only another 150miles to go”. The slight breeze that crossed the road towards Hawes was pleasant and with a temperature of 12 degrees, it felt very nice for the time of year at 1am!
As I passed through Hawes, I noticed a sign which showing ‘via Buttertubs’! As I’d never ridden this climb I didn’t know what to expect but the compact crankset was used to full force as it ramped up multiple times before a fast and twisty decent with suicidal rabbits. I did slow down slightly as the thought of hitting a rabbit at 35 mph didn’t fill me with joy… remember this ride is self-supported and avoiding risks is part of self-preservation.
Shortly after the descent the single track road became the climb up to the Tan Hill pub and checkpoint 2 which again was a slog and a steep gradient. It was another poor photo here which just about showed the pub sign but a tweet was impossible as there was no reception in the area. Again I got quickly back on the bike and headed towards Reeth and Grinton, I managed to tag on with a guy from Durham and we chatted as we made our way along the wild roads.
On reaching Grinton we had different route choices and again mine seemed to be the hilly option with it pointing up Cote de Grinton (another Tour de France climb over open moorland). At this point I had 60miles on the clock and another 40 to cover before my planned food stop. This was the first point I questioned my decision to do the ride. I felt totally isolated and alone. Luckily, over the next 10 miles this feeling disappeared and I began to realise the beauty of being alone just listening to the rhythm of the tyres on the tarmac and enjoying the lack of vehicles on the roads.
The next section of the route flattened out and I headed towards Ripon and across the A1 motorway which I knew wasn’t far from my planned coffee stop! This was a real driving force to push on to 97miles and Thirsk. At 5.20am I reached my destination but realised my first major mistake was that the garage did not open until 6am and I had no option but to wait as I was almost totally out of water. The thought of pushing on not knowing where I would find a suitable stop point didn’t fill me with joy, so I waited for a coffee at 6am and a bottle top up. To be honest it was a good shout as on returning to the route it began drifting on to isolated roads heading towards a brutal climb at Boltby Bank which I believe to be the hardest on route with an unrelenting 20 percent gradient, again the compact group set was at full stretch.
Now that dawn had arrived my whole outlook on the event had improved with a dash of sunshine and a nice bit of bird song. I bypassed Helmsley and headed out into an area of the moors I only vaguely remember from a gravel race I did a few years back. Talking of gravel, I took a moment to double check my Garmin as it showed a route heading up a fire road into a wooded area. As I analysed this, it proved to be a viable short cut and not that rough on the road bike so I managed to maintain a reasonable pace.
120miles was the next check point and an amazingly stunning location. It was a very small and beautiful chapel in an extremely isolated area. It was open and provided a welcome rest point with hot drinks and a toilet. It was so nice here it became a real struggle to make a move and again I had caught up with the guy from Durham. After 20 minutes and two cups of tea I managed to get the legs moving again and the relentless climbing began. As I approached a steep climb known as Blakey Bank I could see another rider ahead and this gave me a focal point. Again it pitched up to around 20 percent and I was on the last of my climbing legs capability, but I did catch Ed (who I know) as the climb topped out. We chatted which became a real motivator as we both knew the end was in sight on the approach to Whitby. It was at this point that my Garmin sent me a different way again and then totally stopped working!
I was stuck in a village in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors with no navigation. I knew that Whitby was just over the next hill in the distance, so I decided to use google maps on my iphone to get me to Robin Hoods Bay. Then it was a direct route back into Scarborough. The major problem was that I had no mount for the phone so it was a matter of taking note of the next turning showing on the phone and guesstimating the next turning! This was a real pain and involved a lot of stop-start. Eventually I approached the main road heading into Whitby and a sense of relief passed over me and also a feeling of total fatigue. I decided that now I was on my own again I would stop at the next garage on route and get a well-earned coffee and cake. Five miles down the road I was on the outskirts of Whitby and a garage appeared on the left so I stopped and stumbled off the bike to get the supplies I was craving. I was standing there staring into the distance with slightly blurred vision when I noticed Ed Wolstenholme pass the garage.
I felt a lot better knowing I’d not dropped further behind so I quickly packed my gear up and pursued Ed towards Robin Hoods Bay. The road wound towards the coast line and eventually approached a very steep (30 percent) descent into the bay. The road terminated as it hit the ramp onto the beach, and I had caught up with Ed again so we discussed how tiring the route was and took the last checkpoint photos of each other.
I decided to continue the chat and follow Ed along the coastal bridleway trail passing Boggle Hole YHA and the stunning area around Ravenscar. Here the trail got rougher and was fairly challenging on a bike designed for smooth tarmac but it was a very engaging route and enjoyable, I just prayed I didn’t have a puncture so close to the end!
As we got to the outskirts of Scarborough the trail changed to tarmac and the last part of the ride was to wind through the town centre on the approach towards the harbour area to reach the final stop of the Diving Belle positioned at the end.
Once we approached the Belle I made the final checkpoint stamp and then my next thought was fish and chips! I quickly rang my partner Donna who had been waiting patiently nearby for a few hours and we stumbled towards the nearest chip shop… it was over and I was going to enjoy my seaside reward with salt and vinegar!
This event gave me a real sense of achievement and the more I think about it the more I realise how much I enjoyed it. I encourage people to do this type of riding only if you are a totally able to support yourself and like being on your own. It’s a real adventure and you don’t have to spend loads of money to do these events very much like the audax groups. There is a great sense of camaraderie between riders and stories of their travels are passed across the coffee shop tables later on in the day.
The whole experience was amazing and I intend to do more Racing Collective adventures when I can fit them in.