Every year various groups of riders from the Bearbones forums head out the weekend before Christmas for a bivy. It consists of cafe, a bit of a ride, pub, a bit more of a ride, bivy, some riding, a cafe stop finishing with more riding back to a cafe. Generally the groups are organised according to location so Wales, Scotland, North of England, etc. though occasionally there's some cross border raiding.
After a bit of humming and harring with no-one wanting to stick their head above the (icy) parapet, Chew took control and set about organising a ride in the Dales. A slight problem in that it had to be the weekend before all the others. Oh, well. After a bit of checking with the proposed route along with some changes to account for certain sections not being a bridleway and actually going through farm yards so therefore not being a good idea, the plan was formalised.
There was the usual: "I'll be there", "Err, no I won't" shenanigans which resulted in a grand total of seven of us turning up at the cafe in Kettlewell. There were two - Dave and Rob - whom I'd not met before. After some grub we managed to tear ourselves away from the warmth of the cafe fire and head up the Dale.
We'd not gone far when there's a mechanical. It turned out to be Chris' (Zippy) freehub that occasionally wouldn't work as intended. He thought it was due to the oil in the hub being stiffer due to the cold as the bike had been stored in sub-zero temps for a while and that with some use it might warm up. Then again it was significantly below zero so he'd have to be putting some serious work into it to heat it up.
Without further ado we headed further up the Dale with the road becoming increasingly white and icy as we gained height. Halfway up Langstrothdale we chose to take the path on the opposite side of the river, well, because. I'd never been along this before so it was interesting. Especially interesting was negotiating the sheets of ice where streams crossed the path and had spilled out and the thankfully short sections of limestone pavement. A couple of Km later and we are back on the road but by now it's even dicier than the path with a dusting of snow covering any ice. Fortunately all stayed upright.
Then it was through the woods. It's a long, long time since I'd been through these. By the time we got to the other side the clag was down thus kiboshing Chew's idea of a big reveal of Ribblehead viaduct. As a result we decided to cut the corner and head along the Pennine Bridleway up on to Cam Fell. What presumably was a shooting party similarly stymied by the mirk were heading the other way in their 4x4s: "You're off your tits you lot!" seemed to be their consensus. They might have been right.
The Track round Dodd Fell is wet at the best of times so today it was going to be an ice-fest. Fortunately it wasn't too bad with just one section that needed dismounting to get round a rather ominous frozen puddle. At Ten End we cut east on the bridleway. Again frozen in places necessitating walking there were usually boggy sections where the temperature actually helped, in fact it was the first time I've been able to ride the final field without dabbing. By the time we got to the road it was nearly dark.
The first section of road was really slippery and it was a bit of a relief to get onto salted roads. After a restocking at the Spar in Hawes it was decided that we'd just head along the road to the pub. At least this was fairly flat and clear so you could keep a good pace.
The pub was lovely and warm - it took a bit of effort from Chew not to fall asleep by the fire! The food was very good as well. Having imbibed and eaten it was time to head out and get to the bothy. This was uphill! A lot of uphill. Again the freezing temperatures had frozen whatever surface water was on the track so one or two short bits needed to be walked. Upward, ever upward until the track levelled off only to reveal more uphill. This eventually relented and before long we arrived at the bothy.
It's really quite well appointed. We get a fire going and the temperature inside becomes bearable. After a lot of banter, whisky and more banter we decide to turn in for the night.
Morning replaces last night's clear skies with more mirk. There's no point rushing as the cafe in Leyburn doesn't open 'til ten. A fast descent is no way to start a ride on a cold morning but at least it was followed by a stiff climb to warm things up. Not so good were the regular sheets of ice across the track. Cath came a cropper on one of these, you go down hard and fast on ice and she was a little more circumspect after this. After sussing out another potential bivvy spot for next year and more ice we transitioned to limestone country. There was the small matter of an icy road in-between mind.
After a few Km of limestone gravel tracks and tarmac we dropped into Leyburn to find the intended cafe was shut. Fortunately there was one open across the square. Phew! The cafe was rather good and had decent sized portions, certainly I struggled to finish my breakfast.
An hour later several plumper cyclists headed out into the cold again. At least we were now heading in the same direction as the wind. Some fast road work got us to the valley floor then some slower riding got us to the same height on the other side of the valley. A steady section of riding ensued around the edge of the dale before a nice fast descent to West Burton. All that was between us and Wharfedale was the small matter of the climb onto Stake Moss from Thoralby.
The only other time I've been up this way was on the YD200 when with a very lightly loaded bike with light wheels I'd resorted to pushing the concreted lower section. Today I'd got the plus wheels and was fully laden with winter bivy kit and clothing. So I rode it all! No idea how I did it really. At least higher up what in summer was soft pasture that dragged at your tyres was now crisp and pleasant to ride.
The top of Stake Moss was wide and wild - Dave said it reminded him of shots of the Tour Divide: empty spaces and big threatening skies. Steady going across the top until the descent to Kidstones. This was surprisingly icy and I walked the steeper bits though Chris rode them all. Once at the road it was a choice between the bridleway down to Buckden or the road. We all elected for the road. Then again 3Km of fast downhill is pretty chilling so I was glad of having to pedal hard along the road back to Kettlewell.
Most wanted to head off ASAP but Chris (who'd actually come up from Essex) Cath and I headed to the cafe for cake and a cup of coffee.
A good weekend.