“You’re a cruel man” I said to Andy on the second night. “I’ve been called worse” he replied.
After the third day I was calling Andy every name under the 30 degree sun. It really took me by surprise.
It was a day of two halves. The first 100kms flew by as we rode as a group that included Magnus, John and the three Bristol riders (all five had ridden together the whole way). We picked up a few others as we trundled along through the relatively flat section past Castle Bolton towards Richmond, probably the prettiest town on the route.
After a panini, a coffee and a chat with Alex about his prep for the Transcontinental Race we pressed on to Yarm. There I peeled off from the group as I had already earmarked a Co-op at which I could restock, and 100kms in a group was enough for me. Sitting out the front on the floor an inquisitive Labrador came over to investigate, but then spotted its owner in the shop and began barking very loudly directly at my face. I shot up and with heart pumping was back on the bike and off again.
After Yarm the landscape began to change once more, and I had that interesting feeling of riding straight towards a wall of hills in the distance, knowing (with slight dread) that soon I would be right up against them, toiling upwards. Never mind, riding up hills is why I came here.
A strange thing happened at this point, and it’s happened before on these sorts of rides. Just as I get to wondering what’s become of someone I was riding with, who I may not have seen for hours or in this case days, I turn a corner and they come into view. Such it was with the, now very familiar, sight of Phil’s yellow jersey.
It turned out that Phil had been hallucinating with sleep deprivation on the second night as he rode towards Sedbergh. He thought he had seen me riding down the M6. Perhaps I should have done, given how hard those last 20kms were. It’s quite a weird feeling being the subject of someone’s hallucination.
Phil has done a lot of touring in the North York Moors and so knew the area well which helped as he’d keep my attention off the brutally sharp climbs by telling me about how he pulled a trailer of kitchen equipment behind him for a week.
The earlier group caught us up and we rode up onto the Moors together, enjoying an ice cream stop outside a Co-op (I had flapjacks). Magnus’ front derailleur had fallen off on the road there, so it was a little or big ring dilemma for him for the rest of the ride, although I wouldn’t see much of him until the finish.
We strung out a bit for one reason or another, and at this point Phil pointed out a noise coming from my bike that I was aware of but up until now had ignored. I still don’t know what it was, but my best guess was the wheels/frame were flexing under stress at the gradients causing my rear derailleurto rattle on my spokes. Stuff like that always gets in my head and leaves me worrying for the rest of the ride, I didn’t fancy another snapped rear mech scenario (like on 300km: The Three Hundreds), not this far from home.
A busy road that skirted around Whitby had one of the strangest descents of the weekend for me. It was so straight and long that once you’d gathered enough speed there was nothing else to do, no corners or pedalling involved, so my mind wandered and I had a similar feeling to when you suddenly become conscious of your legs walking and it feels weird, something like the world was moving around me and I was stationary. All at 70km/h which is not a good time to be letting your mind wander like that…
We dropped down into Robin Hood’s Bay, towards the bottom of the town. I was in the market for ‘chip shop chips’ but the sign with a 30% gradient warning meant we didn’t go down any further as I did not fancy adding anything extra in. Instead we stopped at the hotel and I had a pile of cheese sandwiches, chips, crisps etc. Phil opted for fish and chips and we both pigged out. Before we set off I had a nice chat with a couple that started with the usual “come/going far…?” And the customary sigh and thousand-yard stare before launching into a full and detailed explanation.
The weekend was a lesson in how to deal with and try and ignore pain. I’ve compiled a short list of all the bits that hurt over the weekend:
- Back/neck: leading up to the ride but seemed to settle down once I was riding.
- Calves: the ones that cramped up massively and felt bruised all weekend.
- Toes: in particular, the ends of my toes, which have been numb ever since.
- Hands: after the second day my palms were red raw from my gloves, and it was very sore holding the bars. Fingertips went numb afterwards.
- Arse: A given really, every time you get back on the bike it’s agony.
- Ankle: to the right of my Achilles, got worse until I was one legged pedalling by the end.
- Mouth: as Phil said, it felt like someone has taken a power sander to the inside of your mouth. Chewing hurt, oats-based food was the worst.
- Knee: got trashed on the last day with all the stupidly steep gradients.
It was the stupidly steep gradient coming out of Robin Hood’s Bay that caused my knee to start hurting. 25% all the way up. Looking back on the town nestled down in the bay looking out to the sea was worth it. And onwards, into the hardest section of the whole weekend for me.
The sun had been unrelenting all day, but it stayed warm well into the evening which made it all the more difficult. As we dropped into the heart of the North York Moors, towards Grosmont, we would climb for a while and then all of a sudden drop again, losing more height than we’d just climbed. This section looked innocuous on the profile, dwarfed by the longer climbs of the previous two days, but after 750km, in the heat and hurting all over, it became a real battle. Every gradient was bonkers as well and I didn’t even attempt to ride up one long 30% climb. I also ran out of water and was praying we’d find something as we were right in heart of the moors, with little around. We came across a pub and stopped for lemonade, water bottle refill and to compose ourselves. Here I had the mother of all panic attacks whilst eating a bag of crisps, the weekend was finally catching up with me. I’m surprised I’d been alright for so long. Once calm we set off to do further battle with the up and down craziness.
I was praying for it to open out, to get back up onto the top of the moor so you can see where you’re headed rather than only seeing the next windy bend not knowing what’s on the other side (usually another hill). Finally it did; we got up onto the heathery top and I felt relieved. All that’s left is Rosedale Chimney (never heard of it until this weekend) and we’re in the clear, the hills are behind us and it’s flat all the way to Blackpool. Of course that wasn’t the case, but lying to myself helped.
The last of the four standout moments came as we dropped down towards Rosedale Abbey. The evening sun made everything glow, and a smaller hill with a clump of trees that looked like the sole survivors on an island was set against a great wall of a hill behind. That was Rosedale Chimney, that’s what we were headed for.
It was climbing Rosedale Chimney that made me think I’m not cut out for 30% gradients. My knee was hurting and I didn’t want to do it any real damage, but on reflection it was my tactical approach that let me down. I’m sure all the riders that managed to get up the 30% climbs employed a zig-zagging method, flattening out the gradient and working their way to the top. Mine was very much ‘smash it head on and see how far you get’. It turns out I got as far as Phil used to get when he rode fixed – hats off Phil.
(Pinched from Phil, thanks for the pic!)
Once up we had a nice swooping descent and time to reflect on a mental afternoon that had me feeling like I was trapped in those hills for a long time. It took us four hours to ride 50km, when normally that takes me two.
We found a Co-op in Kirbymoorside (I think) and I had some totally unpalatable sandwiches, until I hit the egg mayo and it’s softness was just what my mouth needed. We also joined up with a few riders and we set off in a group, riding two abreast into the evening. I struggled with the group riding here. At the start of the day it was nice to tick off the miles and save a bit of energy but now I didn’t feel like I was doing any less work, and was struggling to concentrate on the wheel in front of me. Rather than get caught up in a silly accident I decided to let them go, and Phil and I carried on as a pair, as we had all day.
We were still a long way from home. Every town was tempting us with Sunday evening pub grub, but we pushed on to Ripon and the control. Yet again at a control the elastic comes back together, and Magnus, John, Alex and the now very familiar group of riders all hit the control at the same time. So we held an impromptu get together in a petrol station forecourt, had a coffee and more flapjack even though it hurt like hell, and pressed on.
Into the final night, a long slow night. It was as uneventful as it was memorable. I couldn’t hold anyone else’s pace except Phil’s (always strange to have someone exactly the same speed as you) and we just kept plodding along into the night.
We had a sit down in a village at 1am, I wasn’t sleepy by this point just needed a rest. An older chap rolled past us and then stopped for a chat. Turns out he hadn’t slept at all since we started on Friday, and he’d just been getting by with “micro-sleeps on the bike”…! One glance at Steve, who had also joined us for a sit down, and I was cracking up. I needed a good laugh, and that kept me going all night.
Throughout the day I had been trying to map out what time we would be back at Sedbergh, and how much sleep we’d get there. As it turns out, none. By 3am we were still a good 15 miles from the control and once my lights ran out of battery and Phil’s spare didn’t work, we decided to take a nap in a bus shelter and wait for the light to come up. My first experience of an ‘audax hotel’, and it was everything I thought it would be: uncomfortable, cold as hell, and thoroughly unpleasant. I loved it.
Getting back on the bike in the rain was tough, especially as it was straight into a descent.
We rode through the cold, through the rain, on the now very familiar road between Hawes and Sedbergh, which we had taken three times in total. Relief at hitting the control, trepidation at knowing we didn’t have long before we had to set off for Blackpool. Some food, a sit down, an hours rest (no sleep) and we were back off towards the end with 70-odd kms to go.
(The photos dried up at this point, too wet and I was too tired to get my phone out. You’ll just have to visualise the misery)
It was raining solidly by the time Phil and I set off. It was around 7am and we knew we had to finish before 1pm. The thought of missing the cut off time and thus technically failing the ride was unbearable. We therefore decided to smash it all the way, no stopping. I’d craftily made a couple of jam and chocolate spread sandwiches (separate of course – I’m not a maniac) and they kept me just about topped up as we ploughed on towards Lancaster.
I use the phrase ‘smashing it’ more to describe how it felt, rather than what it looked like. No one has ever ‘smashed it’ at 20km/h but when only one leg works and you’ve had an hours sleep in a bus shelter, it feels like you’re time trialling your way to glory. We passed people grabbing food from an oddly open burger van (it was 9am) and we decided that we should just get back, no stopping in Lancaster.
It was pretty grim all the way back, uninteresting roads, constant rain, headwind and then a very busy road on the way into Bispham. It felt like an age but we eventually rolled through the industrial estate and arrived at the community centre.
We’d done it. Magnus had already finished, John and Alex arrived very soon after. The chap who hadn’t slept at all was there (he still hadn’t slept). I grabbed my normal clothes out of the car, a wonderful relief to be out of lycra. I had thought there would be food at the finish, however there wasn’t anything available and no shops particularly close. I was dreaming of a greasy takeaway pizza but nothing would be open at that time. I had to make do with some salted cashews which was torture for my very sore mouth, before I fell into a deep, very content sleep on a very comfy sofa.
I had finished in 72.5 hours, 2.5 hours before the cut-off time.
In the days that followed I demolished a mountain of food, slept a lot and generally felt pretty wretched the whole time. And yet I was in a great mood, having done what I genuinely wasn’t sure I could do, and had the best time doing it.
What I learnt:
- Andy Coreless is a cruel man.
- I can do this sort of riding.
- I can get by with very little sleep, ride 300+ kms a day, and not totally shut down.
- I can also get by with very little in terms of possessions and creature comforts which was a nice feeling and something that will stay with me.
- Saying that, its worth investing in a decent waterproof.
- The North of England is incredibly beautiful.
- The North of England is an incredibly hard place to ride a bike around.
- Salted cashews are a lifesaver, oats hurt after a while.
- Bus stops really do make good hotels.
- Everyone who entered this is mad, everyone who finished deserves a medal (or a beer).