The sweat poured off me as I pushed my bike up the narrow lane to Fremington Edge. I heard a vehicle approaching quickly as I reached a gate across the road. I held it open as an old chap in a 4×4 roared through. Just 20 yards beyond the gate he screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust. He jumped out and without any introduction said
Would you like a cup of tea?
I was in Yorkshire. I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a cup of tea by a complete stranger while in the middle of nowhere, but if it was going to happen anywhere, you might suppose it would be Yorkshire.
The tea incident was a momentary distraction from a Maths Problem. If it took me 7 hours to ride the first 100 km of a 300 km route, how long will it take me in get to the end? The opening third of the Yorkshire Dales 300 had gone pretty quickly, and not as hard as I expected. The opening section out of Skipton was on road, and as usual I found the lure of the front group impossible to resist, which, after the first 30 km I was starting to regret. I let the lead pair of Stuart Cowperthwaite and Phil Addyman drop off in the distance while I took a picture of classic Dales terrain
Once I was on my own I found my own rhythm more easily. This allowed me to concentrate on other things like how hot and sunny it was and, for balance, other things like it’s really chuffing windy. The long climb up Apedale seemed to reinforce the wind issue as it did everything it possibly could to blow me back down the valley as I heaved on the pedals in the opposite direction. It all ended in a stiff push out of the end, and to a downhill. The wind not content with the progress I was making blew harder to the extent I had to pedal down the other side. When I eventually turned side on, I discovered it’s the sort of wind that tries to suck the air out of your lungs before you’re ready for it, via your nose. Eventually I turned my back to the wind and enjoyed the fast and swooping bridleway into Reeth, which marked one third distance. I pulled in to the shade of a tree by Dales Bike Centre and had 10 minutes sorting myself out with some food and tend to various bits of kit on me and the bike.
While pushing up Fremington Edge, I saw two riders behind me. It wasn’t until Great Pinseat that Stuart and Phil – who I’d unknowingly passed at Dales Bike Centre – caught me up. We rode the section to Gunnerside, getting in a nice technical descent into Gunnerside Gill. Since Fremington, the last 30 km had taken 3 hours, and which started to make my brain ache as I adjusted the answer to my Maths Problem.
In Gunnerside, Stuart and Phil seemed to take a stop, so I tried to capitalise and rode on. I got as far as Muker before feeling the need for some proper food. The Farmers Arms served a nice chilli and rice, which was chased down with a pint of coke. The logic was to eat earlier in the evening to avoid the chance of wanting to fall asleep if eating closer to darkness. I got back on the bike feeling pretty good and with thoughts towards maybe pushing through the night.
The edges were peeling on that idea by the time I got to the top of the Buttertubs climb, which took the best part of half and hour into a full on head wind. Without having much knowledge of the area, and with the route being so long I hadn’t really committed any of it to memory, so just figured I’d take it as it comes.
The possibility of me being able to ride through the night was looking very doubtful after the Roman Road after Bainbridge. A long loose climb that my 100 mile legs could not assail with the wind as it was. I resigned to a mix of pushing, riding short sections, looking back the way I’d come, looking forward to where I had to go, cursing the Romans, before resigning to more pushing and trying ride where I could.
I got to the top of Artengill Beck just before 11pm, which was 175 km into the route. A sub 24 hour finish was now well out of reach, as the last 75 km had taken 9 hours. A tough 75 km it was too. The last of the light had faded, as had my legs and my resolve to switch on the light and push (literally or figuratively) into the night. I picked a spot by a wall where the wind would blow up the valley and keep the midges away. Finally I’d put the wind to some use!
At 3:00 am the first of forecast rain woke me up, so I quickly gathered together my gear and within 20 minutes I was on my way down the valley. This was to be a ride of two distinct halves. My arms and legs tingled slightly from exposure to the sun on Saturday, but there was little doubt that today would be easy as Wind was back but this time with his old friend Rain. On the climb up the side of Whernside I spotted a rider in the distance which spurred me on to catch them up. Mick Collins was one of the riders who had come by me while I bivvied earlier, but he had taken less sleep than I. We rode together down to Ribblehead, before I pulled out a lead and eventually put myself out of sight.
The section from Horton in Ribblesdale, Stainforth and eventually to Malham was ridden in appalling conditions. I was soaked, battered by wind and rain and feeling very low. I stopped in Kirkby Malham to change some kit and discovered that I lacked the strength and coordination to do simple tasks like unbuckle a clip on my seat harness. I rode into Malham and straight into the first cafe I could find. An hour later I came out feeling suitably refreshed.
Once I’d left the cafe, I started on the climb out of Gordale and saw Mick in the distance. By the top of Mastiles Lane, we were riding together again. The rain had eased now and it was looking like it would brighten up, but the wind still persisted. The with not much more than 50 km left to the finish, the route is intricate to say the least. Weaving back and forth to catch all the good trails of the area. All things considered, body and bike were working well. No significant aches or pains, and the legs seemed to be able to turn the pedals up most grades despite the GPS showing more than 7,000 metres of ascent. After Malham Moor, the route finally turned south east and towards Skipton. Across the valley Mick spotted a track up the side of Rylstone Fell, and said
I bet you any money that the route goes up that!
And he was right. At a distance it had a perspective that made it look unfeasibly steep. On closer acquaintance it wasn’t so bad, but too much for me. Mick rode out of sight while I pushed. Once on the top, the trail opened up to a lovely piece of moorland singletrack that was just perfect for my gear. Carving turns, pumping little compressions and generally having a hoot made the previous 290 km melt away in my mind. I caught Mick up as we started the descent off Brown Bank to Halton Moor. The end felt close now and the pace picked up, hammering the road together back into Skipton, with the excitement of nearing the end. We stopped the clock at 15:52 on Sunday to give a total ride time of 31 hours 52 minutes. Joint third place honours, behind first place Stuart Cowperthwaite and second Phil Addyman.
It’s fair to say the Yorkshire Dales 300 would be a hard route on a good day. The wind, and later the rain, made it a proper test of endurance and staying power. The balance of really fun trails, linking sections of road and those bits you just have to do to link the good bits together can be tricky to get right over such a distance, but Stuart Rider has pulled it off.
The Yorkshire Dales 300 can sit quite comfortably and proudly amongst the array of other ITTs in the country, waiting patiently for its next challenger.
Bike & Luggage
Shand Cycles Bahookie: rigid singlespeed (32:19)
Wildcat Gear: Handlebar setup – Mountain Lion, Lioness, Tom Cat; Tiger seat harness; Cheetah top tube bag (prototype)
Total weight with food (excl. water): 33 lbs.
Mountain Lion contained:
PHD Ultra Minim sleeping bag
PHD Ultra Minim down vest
Black Rock down hat
Klymit X-lite sleeping pad
Toothbrush/ paste/ loo roll
[Packed into a S size Exped dry bag]
Polaris Bikewear Apex Gillet
Exposure Lights Joystick
Tom Cat contained:
Tiger (size: small) contained:
Midge headnet and repellent
Terra Nova Discovery Lite Goretex bivvy
Polaris Bikewear Core Bamboo base layer
Gore Bikewear Alp-X Waterproof
X-bionic thermal arm warmers
First aid kit
[Packed into a XS size Exped dry bag]
Everything was used except for first aid kit, midge repellent and tools.