Bikepacking

Bikepacking, Races

Yorkshire Dales 300


2 Comments

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

Somewhere bear Appletreewick
Somewhere near Appletreewick

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.

Top of Fremington Edge
Top of Fremington Edge

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.

What did the Roman's ever do for us?
What did the Roman’s ever do for us?

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.

Ribblehead Viaduct in the morning gloom
Ribblehead Viaduct in the morning gloom

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.

Breakfast in Malham
Breakfast in Malham

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.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/335149135

Shand Bahookie with Wildcat Gear luggage
Shand Bahookie with Wildcat Gear luggage

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.

Kit

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]

Lioness contained:

Polaris Bikewear Apex Gillet
Food
Exposure Lights Joystick

Tom Cat contained:

More food
Hydration tabs

Cheetah contained:

Tools

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]

Clothing (worn)

Polaris Bikewear AM 500 Repel Trail Short
Polaris Bikewear Venom arm warmers
Assos bib shorts
Shand Cycles jersey
Synthetic vest base layer

Everything was used except for first aid kit, midge repellent and tools.

Bikepacking, Fat Bikes, Video

66 Degrees North


No Comments

Two days after the Rovaniemi 150 Arctic Winter Race, I headed back out into the wilderness with two fellow racers: Antti Sintonen & Evan Simula. Legs still tired from the race, we headed north-west out of Rovaniemi on some of the lesser-travelled snow mobile tracks, our ultimate aim to get to a laa-vu (traditional wooden Finnish shelter) beside the frozen lake at Sinettäjärvi.

It was a fantastic ride in an amazing environment, made all the more enjoyable with the company of Antti & Evan – cheers guys!

Music by The Gloaming – “The Old Bush”

(more…)

Bikepacking, Fat Bikes, Poems

In Celebration of Fords


No Comments

It was but the first month of the year
As I gathered together my bikepacking gear.
Wales in January; it would probably be raining,
But no matter, for this was really for training.
In preparation for Finland I go,
To a land bleak and white and covered in snow.

The Bear Bones Ford Fiesta is that which beckoned;
No finer celebration of fords could be reckoned.
Out from the start, my route headed west,
Riding into the wind was really a test.
Onto Glyndwr’s Way, where new trails await;
Progress would be easier if the wind would abate.

P1010480

(more…)

Bikepacking, Fat Bikes, Trails

The Black Mountain


No Comments

There are dozens of excellent tracks all over the Beacons & eastwards to the Black Mountains (note: plural). It’s an area I know like the back of my hand – I can ride over 100 miles of trails without even needing to check the map. However, if you head westwards just a little way there is one area where I had never ridden: The Black Mountain. Back in August, I decided I needed to put that right. And I definitely needed to take a map. (more…)

Bikepacking, Races

Bear Bones 200 – 2014


2 Comments

Ingredients:

  • Pick a few points on a map, a variable distance apart, say 20-40km.
  • Highlight any good rideable off road trails you know between these points. You’ll need about three fifths of these.
  • Highlight any of the unrideable trails you know between these points. Don’t use any more than one fifth of these, or your route will have a slightly sour taste.
  • At this stage, you may notice that not all your trails join up. Link as many of these sections as you can with bits of road, yellow ones if you have them, or any that have those small black arrows on.
  • You might still have a few loose ends, but don’t worry, these can be linked up using arbitrary rights of way over the top of bleak mountain tops. Again, don’t over do these, as it will affect the bitterness afterwards.
  • Once prepared, keep your route in a dark place for a couple of months to mature and don’t tell anyone where it is.

While your route is maturing, you will need to source approximately 70 mountain bike riders (bikepacking variety) who will ride your route. They don’t need to know where it goes at this stage, they just need to think they want to do it. (more…)

Bikepacking, Trails

The Shindig


No Comments

This post continues from my previous entry for the Lakeland 200.

I woke up at 9:35 AM. For only two hours sleep, I didn’t feel too bad. I finished the rest of my olives and got dressed into some normal clothes. Rummaging around the van, I found some more food and began the process of replacing the thousands of calories consumed over the last 27 hours of riding.

The other objective for the weekend was to ride The Shindig, a social bikepacking event organised by by Bryan Dawson for Shand Cycles. The grand depart was from Milngavie (pronounced mull-guy), north of Glasgow at 2:00 PM. There was a strong likelihood I wasn’t going to make it in time, but I wasn’t coming this far north and giving up on it entirely. (more…)

Bikepacking, Reviews, Video

Highland Trail – Video Kit Breakdown – Part 1


1 Comment

Following the Highland Trail video posted last week, I thought I’d provide some insight into how I approached the filming, what kit I took, what settings I used and so on.

A few people asked me before the race:

Why would you want to waste time filming when you should be racing?

While the Highland Trail appealed to my competitive instincts, I felt I wasn’t quite on the same form as last year, and the challenge of creating a short film appealed to me. The event had proven popular for non-riders too, and this was a chance to show everyone not racing what the Highland Trail was really like. Besides that, it was a suitable distraction from the sharp and committing end of the race. That said, I deliberately didn’t want to spend ages setting up off-bike sequences. I recognised the benefit of including some in the film, but I still wanted to get in a good distance each day, take a short sleep strategy and portray the impact that has on the rider.

The Camera

Up until last month, all my films have been shot using a Contour +2 HD video camera; either helmet  or bar mounted, or off-bike on a tripod. When I first acquired a video camera last year, it was a toss up between the Contour and the GoPro Hero3. Comparisons between footage of both cameras seemed to show next to no difference in quality and on finding the Contour at a good price (bearing in mind the Hero3 was still quite new and suffering from some early firmware glitches), that’s what I went for. Whilst I’ve enjoyed using it – and there are some areas where the Contour is better than the GoPro in my opinion – it does have one limitation in that you can’t chest-mount it like you can with a GoPro. Unless I do my helmet strap up so tight I can’t open my mouth, I’ve never managed to get consistently good POV footage from the Contour due to excessive shake off the helmet.

For the Highland Trail, I knew that for speed of gathering footage the vast majority of filming needed to be made on the bike. I think is where the main win for the GoPro is – the chest-mount. It so happened, that the Hero3 recently got a refresh to the Hero3+  with a new lens, new waterproof case, longer battery life, better low light performance and crisper image quality.  (more…)

Bikepacking, Races

Highland Trail Race 550


5 Comments

After last year’s Highland Trail Race, one of my overriding feelings after completing it was that once was enough – I was not going to go through all that again. It was by far the hardest thing I’d ever done on a bike, and it pushed my physical and mental limits far beyond those I’d encountered in a “normal” 24 hr solo race.

Time is a good healer, it seems. My mind had shuffled all the gruelling bits to the back, and memories of good trails and heroic efforts combined to form a comparatively enjoyable experience, albeit one that didn’t involve a lot of sleep. The addition of another 120 miles for the route this year in the form of a northern loop around the Assynt placed it well and truly into the realms of Epic (a much overused words, but in this context it most definitely deserves the capitalisation), and this tantalisingly difficult section on top of what I already knew to be a tough route made it difficult to resist.

My final preparation was less than perfect, and nearly didn’t happen at all if it weren’t for the support of Shand Cycles. High drama even continued up to the day before the race when my bike came loose on the bike rack while driving to the train station, ruining a Jones H-Bar in the process. I boarded the train anyway, and set about trying to source a replacement while en route. Keep Pedalling in Manchester came up trumps with a  new bar, even going as far as meeting me at the train station to hand it over so I could continue my journey north to Scotland with as little disruption as possible.

Approaching Devil's Staircase
Approaching Devil’s Staircase

Race day dawned cloudy with a cool breeze from the North-east. It looked like a good day for getting the miles down, and with the 1 hour earlier start this year we would have a little less pressure to get to Fort Augustus before everything shut. I settled into a rhythm reasonably well on the opening section, but clearly not able to match the pace of some of the front runners. This was a long race, and I wasn’t about to blow up on the first day. (more…)