As I was getting ready to leave the warm glow of the Liddesdale Arms I couldn’t help but attract some attention from some local lads outside the pub, having a smoke. Contrary to my initial assumption they were actually really friendly, simply curious to know why a female cyclist would be setting off into the rain at midnight. Good question.
Guy: ‘Abit late for a bike ride, eh?’
Me: ‘Yes, I couldn’t sleep and I have to get cracking on Great Dun Fell…’
More questions followed, so I had to come clean with the bigger picture as to what I was actually doing. I don’t engage with ‘civilians’ much on long rides to save loosing unnecessary time, but was nice to share the tale briefly with someone outside the bubble of the race. They wished me the best and I was on my way. On with the race, next stop Great Dun Hell.
Having never climbed G.D.F I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, except that it is noted as the UK’s answer to Mt. Ventoux. So, having climbed Ventoux in the dead of night last year I felt semi prepared. There is one word I would use to describe Ventoux: relentless. G.D.F is slightly kinder in that it is smaller for starters (Ave. 9% for 7.2km compared with ave. 7.6% for 21km). Also, despite it’s steeper average gradient there are moments of respite in the way it snakes upwards, with steep ramps to make up for the inconsistent gradient. I had felt a little sleepy on my way to the foothills which was soon put right by an espresso-caffine shot which had been hanging in the wings for a moment like this. I felt good on the climb but another gear would have really helped. A compact chainring and 11-32 cassette wasn’t quite sufficient. In hindsight I should have had a 11-34 cassette and this will certainly be going on for the upcoming Trans Alba in July.
I was the only cyclist on the climb, but there were hoards of walkers all traipsing down the hill in dribs and drabs. It was some sort of night walk, they were all looking very damp and weary and I couldn’t imagine it be much fun at all. Although, most of them probably thought the same about me.. at least they had the easy task of going down while I was on my way up. As it became more exposed towards the top, the wind and rain started to whip up a frenzy. When the golf ball came into sight, the following images give an idea of expectation vs. reality.
By this time, the rain was really coming down in sheets so I quickly took this dreary shot for proof of arrival before heading back down again. I knew they’d be nothing up there (not even a view), and I was kind of disappointed to find that there wasn’t even any shelter, thanks to the roundness of the thing! So, getting wetter and colder by the second it wasn’t worth spending a second longer than necessary. I did enjoy the climb, and shall have to pay another visit when the weather gods are on my side.
The descent off G.D.F was into a headwind with driving rain; negotiating the walkers, cattle grids and gates was more a mental battle than physical. We made it down into the valley and better weather where I was happy to be able to pedal again and generate some warmth. I did need to find somewhere to refuel; taking a slight diversion off my route I headed to Appleby, well aware that it was 7 am on a Sunday morning and that only a miracle would find me a hearty breakfast with DIY pancakes…
Appleby, you delivered in fine style!
I would probably go back to the Tufton Arms just for their breakfast buffet and hospitality. It was an ornate hotel with an old sweeping staircase in the entrance, lofty ceilings and grecian statues. I didn’t notice these details at the time, I was too busy attending to the cast iron radiator in the entrance hall. They were happy for me to leave Carl by the radiator and took me though to the grand breakfast room to join the early bird hotel guests. In the warmth I was now relaxing, which also meant I was shaking uncontrollably as my body tried to warm up. I took many trips past the revolving toaster en route to the buffet, drying out a little each time. The forecast was looking wet for the next couple of hours, so I made the decision to spend a couple of hours there to refuel, dry out and press reset on race mode.
By this time, a lot of people had already scratched due to the bad weather but generally I was in good spirits and feeling good mentally. When the going gets tough a strong mental game will carry you though, and I was able to practice this during All Points North. Of course, being prepared with the right kit for the conditions is a given which will provide comfort and survival in extreme cases. In hindsight I was only 75% prepared for the bad weather, a lesson in itself to plan for all eventualities in the future.
According to the map, Tan Hill was just a hop and a skip away – about 45km from the summit of G.D.F to the summit of Tan Hill; from the highest paved road to the highest inn in the UK. With glimpses of blue sky above, I was content to be making good progress and despite the gale force winds the climb to Tan Hill was a stunner. There were no other APN riders in sight but plenty of other cyclists; a gaggle of supported C2C riders and others just out for the day. No time for a cheeky tipple – I only made it as far as the threshold in order to scrutinise the engraved flagstone in order to answer the question on my brevet card.
Next stop: Point 6 – Arnside. The map below shows my planned route between Tan Hill and Arnside. It was great to touch on the Yorkshire Dales, my home from home. Given that there was a strong SW wind, progress was helped by the loss of elevation to sea level. After a brief stop for espresso and snacks in Kirby Stephen I eased back a bit, aware that the final leg through the night lay ahead which I planned to ride through if I still felt strong upon reaching the following checkpoint at Slaidburn. Toward the coast there were a few short hills with killer gradients which took me by surprise.
Arriving early evening into Arnside, I took some time to check my lights and check out how everyone else was getting on, while enjoying a pub meal overlooking the bay. Feeling like a tourist, my race face was waning at this point! As I was leaving it was great to bump into Ken again who I had last seen leaving Whitby Abbey. I had barely seen anyone since Kielder; we were all scattered in various locations across the country.
I felt like I was making good progress now, with the remaining points located much closer together and the finishing straight in sight. The next stretch to point 7 at Slaidburn was 48km with 850m of climbing. With the headwinds over for the most part, this section was pure bliss: rolling hills SE towards Hornby followed by a spectacular sunset ride through the Forest of Bowland. Approaching evening it was still daylight ahead. After some climbing through Bowland I took a glance backwards and was greeted with this fantastic scene of serenity just before making the long decent towards Slaidburn.
Hello beautiful Slaidburn!
If I had needed to stop for a rest here, I would have been checking out the YHA hostel in the village. I found that I couldn’t justify a good enough reason to stop, on a roll and preferring to arrive back in Sheffield sooner rather than later. I popped some caffeine and headed on into the night, this time due east towards Brimham Rocks. Upon leaving Slaidburn I spotted some rather enticing public toilets – it turns out a lot of riders had stopped here as they had been left open. An ultra ride wouldn’t be complete without a public toilet power nap and 2 minutes by the warm hand dryer.
At the point of leaving the toilets I realised that it was just over two days ago that I left Sheffield, in which time I’d covered 680km and 12,750m vertical ascent. With just 180km and 2,870m climbing left to go I was ready to put another night shift in, expecting to finish sometime the following morning.
The next 62km to Brimham Rocks is one I won’t forget. Heading east back into the Yorkshire Dales, on a winding single track road through Hellifield, Winterburn and Grassington. Because it was Sunday night the roads were deserted; away from the main roads and streetlights I was cocooned in the moment with the Dales to myself. My route took me down Greenhow Hill into Pateley Bridge – a 2.5 mile decent with ave. gradient of 7%. Travelling up to 50kph when I could only see the road illuminated by my front light was unnerving not for the fear of speed, but for the fear of animals jumping out in front of me. At night the animal world comes alive; I consider them a hazard and beautiful in equal measures. On through Pateley Bridge and Glasshouses I didn’t see a single soul save for a few small mammals. Brimham Rocks wasn’t far down the road.. just a few killer gradients to negotiate past Glasshouses and I was there. Here I am ‘awake’ and ‘asleep’ by the entrance sign.
I took a ride into the depths of the park, searching for the answer on the brevet card. With no luck in the pitch black night, the silhouettes of the ice-age rock formations towering above me were kind of creepy. Apparently this is how they look in daytime, amazing…
I rejoined the main road, feeling great to be heading due south for the first time and down a bloody great big hill to Summerbridge. All was well until the heavens opened again, just as I found the A59 and a two mile straight decent down Beamsley Hill. Driving wind and rain.. akin to G.D.F! Freewheeling downhill is brilliantly efficient when you’re tired, but not ideal when you’re also wet and cold. I had to jamb the breaks on in order to provide resistance to pedal and keep myself moving to save loosing too much body heat. At 6.30am I found a 24H McDonalds in Keighley and enjoyed a breakfast of multiple hash browns and espressos amongst the night owls and early birds of Keighley, with myself who was both.
Once my shaking had receded I pressed on with an easy 3 miles to the 9th point – Harworth, where the McD’s kicked in and I hammered up the cobbled climb. A quick stop, photo and food then I was really on the home straight, heading straight for Sheffield.
I was also heading straight into Monday morning rush hour traffic. Through Brighouse and Penistone it was incredibly busy, or maybe it was just the contrast from the previous few days of peace and adaptation back into civilisation.
I arrived back at Sheffield late morning, quite emotional and thankful for the experience. I think I said to Ange that the ride was ridiculous, but in a good way! This means, it was ridiculously good and I can’t wait to see what the points are for 2020 in order to plan an equally ridiculous ride. Since so many of us have voiced what a great event All Points North was, I look forward to seeing lots of familiar faces in Heeley for APN 2020.
With a time of 64 hours and 34 minutes I placed 16th overall out of the 70 starters. In total my route covered 875km and 10,000m elevation, allowing a discovery of my home lands in a whole new light. Big congrats to Pawel and Phillipa – first male and female home – along with everyone who endured the conditions to the end. Fingers crossed that the sun makes more of a appearance in 2020, then I can concentrate more on the race rather than trying to keep warm.