The inaugural edition of All Points North was brilliant, made so by the amount of work organisers Ange and Tori had put in to make it a success. The volunteer support at the start and end was second to none with food and drink aplenty. Before the start nothing was too much trouble while the rest of us got down to kit fathing, carb topping, and having discreet conversations about our planned route. Although, perhaps not so discreet once we were lining up to set off and it was too late to make changes once the countdown commenced. All Points North was the most enjoyable and best organised ultra ride I have done and I felt there was a real spirit behind the race which helped me to push through when the going got tough.
So before I dive into accounting my own experience of the race, I’d like to give a massive thanks to all the volunteers along with Ange and Tori at APN HQ, a feat of endurance in itself to keep track of everyone’s timestamping admin and the WhatsApp chit chat. There is already rumours of APN 2020 and a different set of controls apart from one. I have a feeling it’s not going to be one of the easy ones! There is also talk of gravel and water crossings, although I guess this comes down to route planning; if it’s not already hard enough we can throw in a ford crossing or extra mountain here and there for added interest as it seems some people did this year.
On with the ride itself which I finished in 64 hours and 34 minutes, placing 16th overall and 3rd woman. The concept was simple: plan your own route to visit ten checkpoints throughout the north of England. Of course these were chosen strategically to mix things up and avoid joining the dots to create a circular route. These were the controls in our brevet card and the finished result, quite a piece of art we drew across the country…
I find it quite amazing how many variations of route choice there was; we all had a unique approach and a unique adventure. I think the majority of riders chose a clockwise route, perhaps to get the main hills done earlier on and finish on flatter lands with Flamborough Head as the last control. Personally I planned an anticlockwise route, heading over to Flamborough Head first and Haworth last. The reason for this was to benefit from a tailwind and cross tailwind at the start and finish (in theory) and not have a long headwind slog to finish with. I also knew that the hills toward the end would keep me alert and awake when most tired as I know that long flat roads can send me to sleep in any case. This worked well, my final overnight leg between Slaidburn, Brimham Rocks and Haworth took in plenty of hills and winding lanes which kept my mind engaged. The first time I found myself dropping of was on the last stretch to Sheffield which was soon fixed by my good friends chocolate and caffine.
Lining up at the start line with the other 69 riders, all of a sudden there was a countdown and we were soon rolling down into central Sheffield. I headed east through Rotherham, Conisborough and Doncaster. Arriving into Doncaster I noticed some roadside fans parked up and waving further down the road.. my parents!! They had intended to see the group depart but arrived a few minutes too late, so took chase following my dot. Apparently I had cycled right past them twice already, clearly in the zone. A quick hug and refusal of extra food, then I was on my way again. A little further it was a nice surprise to see my tutor from Sheffield Uni waiting for me to pass by St George’s Church. Colin had told me not to stop, so on I went with a ‘GO NICKY’ echoing from the roadside. These two encounters gave me a great buzz and commitment to endure the night ahead.
A little after leaving Sheffield I started to experience stomach pain. I put it down to indigestion combined with adrenaline, and so trusted that it would subside shortly. However, the discomfort got worse and by midnight it was clear that my stomach had disagreed with my pre race eats from the falafel place in Sheffield. Thankfully the ride to Flamborough was an easy one but during the early hours I was toying with the idea of pulling over to bring it up but I couldn’t decide whether this would do more harm than good. My legs felt weak and I started to curse the bad start, a strange paradox against the peace of the night. The roads were smooth but this wasn’t the smooth start I had planned. The only clear option was to continue and hope that things improved.
Seeing the blinking head of Flamborough Lighthouse was truly mesmerising, guiding my way for a good 10 minutes before finally reaching the lighthouse itself. I hadn’t stopped since that brief encounter in Doncaster, so after doing my checkpoint admin I lay down for 5 minutes, transfixed by the revolving beacon ahead, surrounded by the crashing waves. Meditative.
Soon enough a fellow APN rider pulled up, it was Cap 29, Ken! I would continue to bump into Ken another few times as we were doing a similar route and it was always good to see a friendly face on these occasions. I kept Ken’s taillight in view for some time as we headed north towards Whitby, eventually it faded into the distance as my pace was a tad slower. My stomach continued to feel delicate in the early hours, although the slight respite at Flamborough did ease the pain a little. I was averting my focus from the source of pain and on the task at hand: heading north towards Scarborough then Whitby Abbey.
The morning dawn after a night ride brings always brings a sense of relief and renewed energy. The first rays of sun are incredibly welcome after the monotonous night, where forward progress is the only sense of being. On this morning it was particularly beautiful. All alone under a clear sky emerging from the night, the sun making it’s appearance on the horizon of the North Sea as I rolled along the A171 at the edge of the North York Moors.
Riding along the final stretch to Whitby Abbey I exchanged a wave with Ken who had just checked in at CP 2. I had another brief rest here, taking in the peace of the abbey and trying to imagine how times might have been in 1555 when the Cholmley brought the site! No time to dwell for too long.. a quick check of the tracker and something to eat and I was on my way. Next stop, Kielder Castle.
I had to pass through Whitby, so for fun I had routed down the cobbled donkey track which parallels the more famous 199 steps down into the town. It’s a shame there was no one around to see this comedy act, although probably a good thing in hindsight. The track gets progressively steeper until eventually topping out at near 1:1 at the bottom, no joke. I made it 2/3 of the way down but the fear of hitting a cobble and tipping over the bars was enough to make me clamber down the rest. I rolled down the high street of a deserted Whitby to rejoin the coastal road, passing by west cliff beach before hitting the steep climbs out of the bay.
At 11 hours 30 mins into the ride I had my first proper stop and refuel at a service station in Middlesborough. As far as service stations go this was supreme, with real fresh food and a subway inside. I felt quite spoilt with the place to myself at 7am and enjoyed a good breakfast whilst stocking up on food and water. By this time I realised that my stomach pain had greatly subsided, which was a relief to say the least. I noticed on the tracker that the guys ahead of me were heading north west, through Durham. To reduce the climbing around Durham I had planned to ride due north, through Newcastle and then west alongside Adrian’s Wall. This didn’t go exactly to plan and perhaps I would have been better off riding via Durham, but this would have denied my pilgrimage to the Angel of the North! Getting out of Middlesborough was a nightmare, not to mention having to skirt around the A19. After a bit of unprecedented re-routing I gave the angel a wave and dropped down cross the Tyne and through Newcastle.
The next section to Keilder was quite hellish. Having ridden this way many times before I knew it was going to be a headwind slog with rough roads. With weary legs after 330km on the go it was a real slog. The A68 heading NW is a rollercoaster without the fun. In fact, a little more fun and energy is sapped out of you every time the road plunges down just to rise back up again, time and time again. Sometimes it seems that roads like this can go on for an eternity. The rain was approaching; keeping the momentum I eventually turned left onto the more tranquil lanes to reach Bellingham, where I had a refuel and started to think about my plans for the night ahead. It was cold and wet, I had no bivvy kit and no accommodation booked. I’m typically optimistic and had faith that I would find somewhere down the road. My first priority was to reach CP 3.
I arrived at Kielder a drowned rat along with rider 07 – Philippa who was fresh off Great Dun Fell. I was thankful to see a friendly face to brighten my mood amidst the grim weather. Aside from the pub, Kielder was a ghost town quite untouched by tourism aside from those visiting the castle. I considered it a fitting town for Kielder Water which was like an abandoned film set, pristine and complete with with vacant boats to set the scene. Leaving the refuge of the castle I headed back out into the rain, still happy and still going north. Right at the border into Scotland I bumped into rider 01 – Mark, at the exact place we had stopped for a photo during the Mille Pennines Audax last year. Given how soaked and cold we both were it wasn’t exactly a photo op so instead we had a catch up and mused about scratching from the race. Of course scratching was out of the question but it crosses your mind when the going gets tough and you’re soaked to the skin. I left Mark to find Kielder Castle while I continued south.
Next on the menu was Great Dun Fell, the highest paved road in the UK. To be able to tackle the beast I needed to get some rest and hot food. I found this a little further down the road in the wee town of Newcastleton, 430km and 18 hours into the race. The Liddesdale hotel was a real gem of a place, a social hub crammed full with locals asking if I had ‘come far’?.. I gave a modest answer and focused on the priority of a warm bed, shower and meal which the manager-cum-chef sorted without a fuss.
Well fed, showered and four hours sleep later, my alarm went. I wanted to make an early start.. before the day had even begun! Although, this was helped by the fact that I had to save Carl from the locked store before the bar shut and the manager went to bed. I had managed to miss the evening rain, it had now reduced to a drizzle which was manageable even with wet socks which hadn’t had time to dry. Leaving at midnight left just another 4 hours of darkness and I could be at the top of Dun Fell by early morning…