Monday, 13 June 2016

Yorkshire Dales 200, 2015 Edition

"If we hear they've found a body of a mountain biker we'll know who it is."

The barman's words were muffled in the mist, I was crossing Foul Moss on the Occupation Road and it did not look good.

The Yorkshire Dales 200 is billed as the little brother of the YD300. I had done the latter as my first ITT last year taking part in the group start. Just ten riders finished. The first running of the YD200 took place in October last year and the route will change each year. As a preparation ride for this year's YD300 it seemed like a good objective.

As ever rides of this nature are useful for learning and I was keen to try out some changes and strategies in several areas:

  1. Ride speed: rather than try and push it all the time I was looking at a steadier pace with fewer and shorter stops. 
  2. Food: this follows on from the first strategy in spend as little time refuelling, don't carry loads. 
  3. Kit: with it being summer I was looking at an ultra-light setup. More later.

5am and being the north of England it's already light, some breakfast then ride down to town to start. The first of the market traders are already setting up their stalls. The route heads through suburbia and the first surprise of the day - a deer trots out from one of the wooded gardens, it's a while before it realises I'm there and heads off up the road in front of me until it finds a way off to safety.

Steady away up the first off-road climb up Sharp Haw then a comedy descent (think 1kmh OTBs) through the heather to regain the main track. The following descent is technical for so early in the morning. Back on familiar tracks from testing out different tyres I become damp from spray from the morning dew. Soon I'm at the foot of the climb up Mastiles Lane. Plug away until I feel that it's more effort to ride than push then on over Malham Moor to Stockdale Lane. Every time I ride down this it seems to change, rough skittery sections over limestone bedrock are no longer where I remember them. It's over all too soon as is the next short section of bridleway and I drop in to Settle. No need to reprovision here, head on over the hill to Stainforth.

Feizor tea rooms.

I roll down the concrete road in to Feizor and the tea rooms. I'd spent an hour here on the YD300 - a full english took half an hour or so but then others on the event rolled in and as I'd not seen anyone for many hours ... Today things were to be much quicker, coffee and a butty, get the water bottles refilled and I'm on my way in just twenty minutes. Points #1 & #2 covered but probably should have asked for the bottles to be filled whilst eating. I'd worked out several schedules with a limited number of stops, the only one that I didn't make was at Horton on the return but that was due to the large number of less salubrious looking visitors and I didn't fancy leaving my bike outside the pub.

It's warm and humid now, oppressive even. Quiet old style bridleways through the valley floor then head up on to Sulber Nick and across the limestone plateau following the Pennine Bridleway back down into the valley and over the river. A pair of Oystercatchers sit on the high point of each parapet of the bridge only rising when my wheels rumble across the bridge's deck. On up past Ling Gill, I rarely ride this track in this direction and it surprises me with its steepness. Then it's down the logging road and along to Ribblehead.

Another stop: a cup of tea and a piece of cake along with a chat with the woman running the tea van. This is the most number of people I'll see all day. An easy section now along tracks to Chapel le Dale then road to Twistleton Scar End and another gaggle of people at the ice cream van, I think of stopping but it's too busy.

Viewpoint above Ingleton, but no time to sit down.

A quick repair to my home made bar extension before climbing out of Kingsdale and round to Ireby via the Turberry Road. It is here that the rain starts. At first it is chilling as I'm heading in to the wind and also downhill but once I turn off the A65 towards Barbon it is much more manageable with it on my back.

This is another track I've only ever ridden in the opposite direction. That was in winter, now in summer it is nearly completely overgrown and it's jarring work dodging both snagging vegetation at the sides and slippery rocks under wheels. Eventually it debouches on to the road and I spin along towards Barbon and the whine of motors.

It's the annual Barbon Hill Climb event where drivers race their cars up the driveway of Barbon Manor. I drop down to the village and in to the pub, it will be my last chance of food or drink until Horton. The barman informs me that the bridleway that I should be taking is shut because of the event so I'll have to head round by the road instead.

The Occupation Road connects the heads of Barbondale and Kingsdale and dates from the 1850s and was likely in good repair until misuse by 4x4 drivers led the authorities to ban motorised traffic across it. Too late the damage was done. The western half is still reasonably surfaced and is in similar condition to many other Dales' tracks: mostly pitched stone with some sections flooded or washed out. It is once you head east past the head of Flintergill that things turn nasty.

You just have to cross Flow Moss and Foul Moss to get there.

At first it doesn't seem too bad, a little rougher than what's gone before but also more pools and wheel ruts meaning you have to pick a line. There's even long sections of grass to aid progress. What's the fuss about? Then you get to the junction: just turn left and head downhill in to the dale, all will be well. No, no, no, no, that's not where I'm going. To the right is a section rejected as being too rough for a World Cup DH course, except you are going up it, it leads to a gate. All that is missing is a sign: "Abandon all hope ..."

What looks as if it would be a good line shuts down after a few metres and you have to cross the track hoping to find a way there. The ruts are deeper now and only avoided by riding over skull sized rocks, which only serve to push you ever closer towards the pools. Pools, mirky pools with an oily scum, under their surface myriad dark forms flit around, they might be tadpoles but I'm not sure.

Sometimes it's not possible to avoid to ride through them, I feel the back wheel struggling to break free, more effort and the wheel moves forward leaving a rasping sound. Every time you think you can make good progress a slot, rock or hole put paid to that idea.

All the time over your left shoulder across Dentdale is the next climb up and over Great Wold, impossibly far below is a sliver of tarmac connecting what you hope is the end of this track and the start of that one.

By now even the bike is groaning, protesting at the effort but the end is in sight. A few bad line choices requiring a dismount and finally I'm on the renovated last mile. Time to fly!

The Occupation Road does this to a man!

Freewheeling down the road from White Moss I look up at the dark hillside, a black line that cuts across it frowns back.

The climb over Great Wold is a long push today at least until the angle starts to ease. The recent rains haven't reinstated the puddles and bogs here so quick progress is made across the shoulder of Whernside until the start of the descent. This has been washed out many years ago and is basically redundant water bars with rocks randomly strewn around the path. At the point where the Three Peaks path joins a surprise: the path has been refurbished and it's suddenly much easier going. The becks leading off Blea Moor are nearly dry and it's a matter of picking a line and going for it. I get to Ribblehead and the remnants of today's walkers and realise that I've not seen anyone since leaving the pub in Barbon three and a half hours earlier. Three and a half hours for 30Km, 10Km of which was tarmac.

Push on down the road towards Horton, legs working fine, good power, good cadence. At Horton, crowds of "Engerrlaand!" supporters call for a rethink about a quick bite in the pub and I refill my bottles at the tap outside the public toilets before a midge attack forces me on. I'm not that hungry and have enough food with me to see me to the end which is probably about five hours away now. More road then it's the next to last big climb.

Again I decide that wasting energy on trying to clean the steeper sections covered in storm detritus isn't worth it and walk a couple of hundred metres until the track levels out. I continue like this to the top of the hill, walk the steeper bits and ride when it gets easier. It's starting to darken now with approaching night and rain bearing clouds as I drop down to the road disturbing sheep settling down for the night on the track. A bit of road then the next bridleway down to the valley taking care as the light rain is making the limestone slippy. At the bottom I stop to turn on my lights for the long road section down the valley.

Legs still feeling strong I push on, the miles coming easily. I get to Rylstone and the start of the last big climb. A group of fed up looking cows are at the fell gate and need "encouragement" to let me through. At the start of the first steepening it's off and walk again and as I climb my head begins to drop, it's the first time I've really felt weary all day, not sure if it's a blood sugar drop after eating a handful of Jelly Babies a while back or the cumulutive effect of the day's efforts. All light from the day has gone.

When looking at doing the route I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to "ride through" so had packed a lightweight bivy kit consisting of bivy bag; inflatable sleeping mat; down vest; thermal top and midge net. Again this was partly an experiment, use training rides to learn. The down vest is a very old one which weighs more than my sleeping bag! I've a new one on order along with a smaller tapered dry bag. Total weight for the new setup is under 1Kg. Now that I'm so close to the end I decide to press on.

The top of the moor is in the cloud and it's hard to see some of the track so again it's a mixture of riding and pushing, no prizes for pranging at this juncture, eventually I get to a point where I know it's all rideable. The final drag to the summit takes forever, each bend in the track that I think is the last turns out not to be. At some point the pedalling becomes easier then a bigger gear is needed. The nightlife is out including a hedgehog, we probably both wondered what the other was doing up here. Roll down the track with the occasional rise until the access barrier is reached and I know there's only a couple of hundred metres to the road.

Most of the next couple of miles is freewheeling, a bit of a rise here and there, I've decided to miss out the loop over Embsay Crag - "pointless" says Cath - and I'm soon in town. There's the occasional drunken comment from the late night revellers then it's over, 19hrs. Cath is there to meet me with a celebratory beer. She mentions that I don't look particularly tired even though I definitely feel it.

Really pleased with how it went. An ITT is much different from a group start - even if you intend to ride alone there's always someone catching you up or just ahead ready to be caught so there isn't that sense of just being "there". Going at a steadier pace also helped massively as I didn't get even a twinge of cramp which I've suffered from quite a bit in the past, surprisingly I was pushing harder on the pedals later in the ride than at the start. I didn't even get any post ride cramps either. I also had a good riding to stopping ratio, just 1hr40 stopped out of 19hrs some of which will have been opening gates - another side to riding alone where there's no chance of leap-frogging the gate duties.

Not sure if I got the food completely right: Jelly Babies whilst easy to digest do cause a bit of a sugar spike, well they do if you eat a handful at once! I didn't get chance to try out my bivy system so that will have to wait but again everything that I had and used worked as intended. I'd fitted some new tyres (Bontrager XR2 on the front, XR1 on the rear) which are lighter tread than what I'd been using and while they struggled a bit in certain scenarios they are fast rolling and were fine on most of the ground being covered.

Here's the Strava bit :

The pub looks posh, no place for a wet smelly mountain biker, though the porch is filled with wet walking boots and socks, I head inside. "Come in lad, no sort of a day to be outside". I order a soft drink and some crisps.

"Where have you come from?"


"On a bike? That's a fair way on't road."

"Err, I'm on a mountain bike."

"Bloody hell! How are you getting back?"

"Riding", I explain my route. His mood changes,

"Occupation Road eh?"

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