All Points North

The route

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The tracking lines of our routes. Pic from allpointsnorth.cc

Most chat at the start tended towards “clockwise or anti-clockwise?”. Actually, we got the impression that everyone was going anti clockwise (like us) but that wasn’t the case, it was a really interesting mix. We opted for anti clockwise:

Sheffield – Flamborough – Whitby – Brimham – Tan Hill – Great Dun Fell – Kielder – Arnside – Slaidburn – Haworth – Sheffield

This was mostly because both of us hate riding on the flat so we wanted to get that over and done with first. You might ask why but I reckon a lot of ultra riders will agree. Flat is never ending pedalling, minimal change in position on the bike which is hard on the bum, hands, body. You can also see the view coming for miles which can be demoralising if, like me, you get excited about what might be round the corner.

The other discussion at the start was whether to ride through the night. Since this event is kind of training for TCR No 7, which doesn’t involve a night start, we decided this wasn’t necessary. If you start riding at 8pm and ride through, it’s a long time until the next night, unless you mess with your body clock and sleep in the day. In the UK Travelodge and Premier Inn make great stops because they’re normally 24 reception and don’t care about bikes. We even rang ahead at beverley and asked for a ground floor room.

The other choice we made was to head west after Whitby to Brimham, over Tan Hill and up to GDF and Kielder and then back by about the same route instead of continuing up the east side of the Pennines, to hit Kielder first, as several others did to make a more aesthetically pleasing loop. This was possibly a poor choice with the wind conditions and accommodation options but it came up flattest. We didn’t have time to replan in advance and it’s a bit risky replanning that much of the route on the fly.

The ride

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The inaugural All Points North started in Sheffield at 8pm on 25th May. The format is a bit like TCR without the parcours. There’re 9 controls, which can be done in any order then back to the finish making about 900km of riding depending on the route. The controls aren’t manned, so it’s a case of self-validating with a time-stamped photo sent back to HQ, normally via WhatsApp.

Right from the start the feel of the event was well organised and very very welcoming. Cups of tea and home made cakes were order of the day and a lot of chatter. Quite a few TCR, TAW and other long distance vets reminiscing and discussing future plans along with people for whom this was their first ride over 200km. A general buzz of nervous excitement. It’s probably the friendliest event we’ve ever done I think partly because of the size, there’re only about 70 entrants, but also because Ang and Tori have done a great job of organising and getting chat going. The website is great with rider profiles and photos and there’s been a Whatsapp group going for a while with build up banter.

We’re nervously excited but mostly because Jim has been ill all week with a bad cold and it’s not gone yet. He doesn’t want to bail now so we’re going to start and see how it goes. We’re already aware that our planned camp on night two probably isn’t going to be a good idea but we’ve not had time to replan the route to somewhere with accommodation options, which is difficult because it’s a bank holiday weekend and the reason we opted to camp in the first place.

Registration comes with a goody bag, a bit like a kids party with treats from various sponsors. I’m all over the monkey see high vis and Polaris strap to triply secure the tent poles to the underside of my top tube, probably defeating the point of buying a lightweight tent!! The caps go on, and stay on for the next 3 days, the fruitcake gets pocketed for later.

All of a sudden we’re off. Leaving Sheffield is funny, riders disappearing and popping up left right and centre as we take slightly different roads and then coincide again. As is always the case we’re fairly soon alone cruising along the flat on the way to Beverly and Premier Inn for the night. We’ve made better time than hoped and banked ourselves an extra half hour in bed, winner!

Four hours later and we’re on the road to Flamborough and our CP 1. We’ve been making great time but that’s all about to change. Partly as part of training for off road bits in TCR we opted for the Cinder trail along the coast to Whitby. While it’s flatter than the road route on average it’s also a lot slower, particularly when Jim gets a puncture. It’s not a puncture that’s really caused by the off road, it’s another shard of glass that’s got trapped in the knobbles and worked it’s way in. We wonder if the regular pattern of the knobbles on the gravelkings causes this or if it’s just bad luck. It’s one of those annoying holes that’s too big to just reseal but small enough to make it difficult to get an anchovy in. 20 mins of faff and swearing later and we’re off again. Fed up with losing time we sack off the trail and get back on the road rounding the headland to the Abbey, CP 2. “Do you want to take a short cut?…it’s steep…” Jim points down a cobbled death slide and sets off bouncing down it before I can answer. I bimble down the top bit before it drops away even more so I take the steps, even that’s difficult but I’m obviously a pro at speed steps because it gets me a QOM on Strava, ha ha ha.

A quick danish stop at Coop and we head inland. And into the wind, which as we arrive in Ripon is joined by rain, happy happy joy joy. We sit in Cafe Nero, breaking the short stop rule and sulking at the wettness. Jim is starting to feel worse and we’re both starting to run over contingency plans in our minds, camping isn’t going to be a good idea.

To say it was grim all the way to Brimham and CP 3 is an understatement. We don’t want to stop for long but by now we’re decided that camping is off the agenda if we’re going to stand any chance of Jim not getting worse. We stand in the ladies loo consulting booking.com. We know from searching before the event that there’s nothing available in Kirkby Stephen or Appleby except BnBs and they’re not normally good for early starts. We’re also already cold and wet so Tan Hill doesn’t look like a good idea. We then have about the only bit of luck on this trip: the Golden Lion in Leyburn has a twin room! The pub landlord seems confused as to why it’s available but happy to fill it. “We’ve got bikes and we would like to leave early, is that ok?” is met with “Whatever makes you happy”. Yes! Virtual phone hug to that man!

We’ve ridden round here before so it’s nice and familiar and I feel a bit more relaxed now we have a bed for the night. In Coop in Leyburn we stand swaying in the doorway and have to eat an emergency premier inn gingernut biscuit before we can face shopping. The subminiature Decathlon rucksack we’ve got for TCR supermarket hits is awesome. We’ve happily stuffed it full of milk, two big tubs of yogurt, bananas and instant porridge pots ready for breakfast.

“Come on Rachel, my dinner’s ready!” The eminently huggable landlord greats us. The possibility of a real meal has already been discussed and we’re delighted to discover we’ve arrived with 5 minutes to spare. Scampi/burger and chips, recovery milk, a wonderful bath each and we’re zedding.

We can see from the forecast that it’s going to be rubbish on Sunday and it doesn’t disappoint. By the time we’re over Tan Hill, CP 4, into Kirkby Stephen we’re soaked. It’s not actually that cold it’s just the wettness and the wind. On Tan Hill itself we finally meet some more APNers. I always love meeting other event riders, it gives me a mini buzz every time. But you couldn’t stop for long it was so bleak. We hide in the lee of the building and take the obligatory selfies. Spar at the petrol station in Kirkby Stephen is an ultra cyclists perfect stop. There’s a bar in the window with seats and 3 prong or usb plugs, there’s nice fresh coffee and croissants, theres a deli, there’s bacon baps and if you stand close to the bap cabinet it gives off warm air(!), there’s a clean loo with a powerful hand dryer and there’s a good variety of fresh food and bars. We buy coffee and food and sit and charge things and look at the forecast. Knowing Great Dun Fell is up next we’re looking for a gap in the rain. It’s coming, but about half hour off. We decide to get more coffee and some foot protection “Two cappuccinos and two carrier bags please”. Jim has a brainwave. He heads off to the deli “What can I get you?” “Two pairs of latex gloves please”, she passes over two lots of blue lovelies. The rain tails off, with bags round our feet and smurf hands we set off for GDF.

Well the conditions on the ascent and descent of GDF are like nothing we’ve ever ridden in before. It starts off ok but we can see the cloud line above. Jim points out that the climb averages 8% from Knock but since we’ve been trundling along at about 2% for quite a while that doesn’t bode well for the gradients ahead. Yes, thanks for pointing that out. Unfortunately, he’s not wrong. It gives and it gives again and then it just keeps giving. In some ways the fog is a saving grace, you can’t see ahead so you just sit and trundle along. Then we round a corner and all hell breaks loose. There’s a hefty gust and I immediately dismount. Garmin says there’s about 500 m to go, I can walk that. Jim pushes on but after a couple of hundred metres I can see him pushing in the mist. The wind is phenomenal. Even in my mountaineering days I’d have run away from this. When we get home after the event Jim looks it up and confirms it was bad – gusting 50-60 mph! At the top there’s no hiding from it. It’s like when I went up Ventoux years ago but without the 30 degree heat and beer and chips on the cafe balcony on the way down! We run about getting the pics to confirm CP 5 and then leg it as fast as the wind allows, pushing down on the saddle to keep the bike from blowing sideways! On the way down there’s a steady stream of APNers heading up, walking, backs bent, faces grimacing against the wind. Once we’re round that same corner it drops into the shelter enough and we remount and roll back into the vis and dry.

The next stop CP 6 is kielder, the most northerly one. It’s taken us far too long in the conditions to get to this point and we discuss options as we ride through lovely rolling lanes to Penrith and on to Carlisle. We’d like to make it up and back down to Kendal, leaving a long but manageable final day but we’re not sure we’ve got it in us. The last bit of the stretch from Longtown to Kielder is a joy. It’s a beautiful  valley with a lazy river, green and lush and full of lambs and birds and some rare golden sunlight. We’re buoyed by the sunshine and motor along. Unfortunately, it’s not to last and after a quick pic and a pee stop in Kielder it’s back into an unexpected, miserable cross-headwind. Jim has a mysterious sore toe and is starting to suffer with his cold, my gears are skipping and tiredness is making me angry at them. We push on for Longtown, needing to get there before 10.30 when Spar shuts. We make it and have a picnic in the doorway while semi-drunk locals argue with the staff about the poor range of alcohol available! We’d already decided Kendal wasn’t going to happen and back tracked to Penrith but that’s still 50 km away. I think both of us had already decided that wasn’t going to happen and with Carlisle between us and there as a third option it became a no-brainer. We booked a Premier Inn, filled the mini rucksack with recovery and breakfast products and rolled out of Longtown to Carlisle.

The alarm went off at 4.15 and it was immediately obvious that Jim wasn’t in a fit state to ride. Clammy and cold he was coughing and sniffing. He could hardly stay awake to discuss what we should do. Finally, after checking train times, we went for the sensible option and messaged HQ and scratched. A quick call to amused reception staff to confirm how late we could check out and we were out for the count again.

Wow sleep helps! But Jim’s still feeling terrible and the back of my throat is starting to itch with the first signs of it. We roll into Carlisle station, book us and the bikes on the train to Sheffield and hole up in Costa to wait for our departure. The rest of the trip goes to plan and we make it back to Sheffield on time, ha.

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Back at HQ and the place is buzzing. Lots of people have scratched and several have finished but it’s a great mix of both, no judgement, just great chatter and great stories. It’s been one of those events where the conditions have meant that trying and scratching is almost as exciting as finishing! And everyone is excited for a future event and where will the checkpoints be? We’re assuming all change but Ang confirms that one of them will be staying….

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