Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A Dales Mini-adventure

Individual Time Trials (ITTs) are long distance mountain bike rides that as their name suggests are meant to be ridden as an individual. They aren't a race in the same way that a road biking sportive isn't a race but that doesn't stop people comparing times. The individual aspect can also be misleading in that if the course is well known then it may have a mass start and in this case you will likely find yourself riding with other riders at some point. The individual aspect really refers to self-reliance.

One point about ITTs is that they are usually at least 160Km (100 miles) in length which is quite a commitment for many people to step up to. Some of the publicised routes are linear which introduces the problem of getting back to your starting point though many do finish at or near railway stations. With this in mind I thought of doing a 100Km loop in the Dales as a sort of stepping stone to the longer distance.

A bit of studying of the map and we came up with a route that fitted the criteria and apart from a few kilometres at the start and finish had surprisingly little riding on the road to link things up once we got in to the meat of the riding. It even include some bridleways that one or the other of us hadn't done before. The general plan was to do about 60Km on the Saturday, bivvy out and ride the remainder on the Sunday morning. Even better it was a fine forecast for the weekend.

After a steady spin along the road to Buckden it was the first climb of the day up the bridleway to Cray. I'd done this on the YD300 and had to walk quite a bit of it so was pleased to almost clean it. Once up on Stake Moss it was a case of heading along just making sure that we didn't miss the turn for the bridleway down to Thoralby. Up here you can't see the nearby dales so it feels like you are on a huge plateau extending to the horizon, quite spooky really. The intial part of the bridleway to Thoralby is lovely grassy riding but the second part has been "upgraded" by the estate and is now a loose vehicle track, not very pleasant at all.

A choice of ways just before Thoralby so we head uphill and find ourselves navigating blind as we try to find "Folly Lane", in retrospect it might have been better heading the other way! By the time we crossed the river at Aysgarth Falls we were getting hungry so headed to the cafe - this is one aspect of ITTs that might seem slightly strange - you may use any facility along the route providing it is open to anyone. Suitably fed it was on to Carperby and a climb up on to the terrace above the valley floor. We've done this route along the terrace a few times, the YD300 does it in the opposite direction, so no navigation problems.

There was now the obvious problem ahead of the climb up the Roman Road. It's not steep but it is nearly eight kilometres of uphill on rough track. Being a Roman road it is also strikingly straight so there is always the way ahead in sight. Once at the top though, there was little more climbing left to do before the night's stop. Actually with a slight change of plan it was pretty much all descent. While on the short road section at the top of the road climb up Fleet Moss a group of road cyclists went past and I suddenly realised that I knew them - a bit of shouting and they came back for a chat.

The Roman road continues down to Ribblehead and is a cracking high level ride, the area to the SE towards Penyghent is barren and feels very isolated. Cut left and we follow the Pennine Bridleway down to Ling Gill our intended stopping point for the night.

Bivouacs are a continuous reassessment of what you've done before and adaptation to the current situation. You'll never get everything absolutely right: you'll have brought too much gear; not enough gear; the wrong gear; etc. There was quite a breeze where we planned to set up so found somewhere more sheltered - big mistake! As the sun went down it became midge hell. Our previous use of the tarp had been either as a classic tent like ridge or A-frame or as a lean to against a wall. With a clear night forecast we set it up as a half pyramid to keep any wind off us but be fairly open to allow us to get the "out in the air" feeling.

Another reason to head out on shorter routes is that you can test out strategies without feeling pressure from the event or distance. Food is one such item or strategy. There's a balancing act between carrying too much and tiring yourself out from the extra effort and not taking enough that you can't refuel. There's also the option between cooking food and eating it cold. The former requires that you carry stove and fuel but on a cold bivvy warm food is a psychological boost. Eating food cold provides as much calories but often weighs more and takes up more space. The last couple of trips we've gone for a midway option: take a stove to make brews but eat cold food. It's almost the best of both worlds in that you get something warm but because you are only boiling water and not cooking there's no messy pans to deal with. An extension of this is to take dehydrated (either shop bought or home made) food and rehydrate with boiling water in its own bag, again no messy pans. For trips during cooler weather this is probably the preferred way to do things.

All was well and we settled down to sleep. Another brilliantly clear night with several satellites passing overhead and a few shooting stars from the tail end of the Perseid shower and the Milky Way quite prominent. At some point during the night I awoke after dreaming it was raining: the sky was now half clouded over. Within a short while it had begun to drizzle. Having a down sleeping bag out in the rain isn't a good idea even though we had bivvy bags over them. So we turned round and kept our heads and the exposed part of the bags under cover of the tarp.

Morning was dull and grey rather than the forecast bright day. A brew and a sandwich and we were away within half an hour of getting up. The descent in to Horton is on a limestone track with a rubble bed in places, quite interesting in the wet. Getting in to Horton we made use of the cafe to grab some food to take out and headed up the track to Penyghent. This has been improved slightly since I last did it and I managed to ride it all. 

Following the usual "head to Hull Pot and lose where the bridleway goes" we began the long contouring track around the back of Penyghent and Plover Hill. This has been improved in places but in others it is little more than a flattening of vegetation crossing moorland and unsuccessfully trying to avoid the peat bogs. Some short sections you have to walk but it is mostly rideable. Eventually we began the descent to Foxup but rather than drop all the way to the valley floor we cut back up to join the road to Stainforth. Along this for a while then it's our last bit of off-road trail on the trail down to Litton. The last time we did this it was quite wet and greasy but today it's dry and fast.

On the road it's a steady ride back down the Dale to the car (via the cafe at Kilnsey!) for a total of 101Km. We'd cut out one bridleway above Ribblehead so very slightly shorter than originally planned but still a good couple of days out. 

Here's the video.