This is uncomfortable but such a welcome relief. I was sat on a gravelly floor, a couple of meters from my bike, and Piper's, and then a bin - you know the bit of the local convenience store that you tie your pooch to a ring screwed to the wall while you get your messages. The convenience store in question was the Spar in Longtown, just north of Carlisle. I'd just been in, swore under my breath as they didn't have the items that I'd marked on my mental shopping list in the previous couple of hours, but collected a tin of beans, pack of 6 bread rolls, a litre of oat milk - I don't know what else - as it had been just over 16 hours since we'd set off from Sheffield, my brain was less than full capacity. But it was something then. Clocking the watch, 14:23, gently chugging through the maths to estimate when we'd get to the next checkpoint. Error, try again. Hmm...
And hour or two later, on the A7, which was much quieter than we'd ever hoped, "Piper. Roll with me on this one…
8:01pm, the count down had just counted down, 75 riders, or something, were trying to clip-in, and not crash into one another, and navigate the hilly Sheffield residential streets. We were away. All Points North 2023 was a-go. 75 became 5 as our unique routes diverged and converged. Traffic lights were stopped at, 3 riders whizzed into the road ahead from the left, at the next one guy got through, we didn't, only to reconvene 500m up the road at the next. Odd bits of small talk, "nice evening for a ride", "heading east too?" (we were west), etc, chortle.
We'd picked west (clockwise) having routed both it and anti-clockwise, but the wind forecast looked perfect to tackle the hills in the lakes first, push up to near-Berwick, and give us a tailwind on the way home! On the train down that afternoon I'd had a sneaky look at some of the rookie routes - they'd started on Wednesday and Thursday. Most had gone west, but one or two were making great progress on the flatter eastern side. No one at that point had routed our plan for the northern lakes, or through the borders - had we missed a trick?
Spirits, and temperatures, were high as we spun through unfamiliar north western towns. I knew it was hilly round here, and it was, but a lot more urban sprawl than I bargained for. When was Stocksbridge,? Is this still Huddersfield? A sign for Manchester, what? Dark came down and we were still in streetlights, and nowhere near the first control. Half the evening's peanut butter sandwich rations had been polished off - actually on something that turned into a decent climb (must have been Hebden Bridge) - what a time to choose to eat!
A light behind, a racy chap caught up with us, "you want to watch out the next bit, descends and can be a bit gravelly" and, "the reservoir is just up there" - gesturing towards a gap in the hill-line. Black hills on a deep dark blue sky - night was here. So was the first checkpoint - Widdop Moor.
Descending towards the A65, we'd just been on a detour to checkpoint two, Selside. It was chilly and coming up to 2am. I hadn't yet put the leg warmers on - it's so much nicer riding without them - apart from descending. Bump bump bump, the road surface through Ingleton was not great, but we were about to get going - the direct fast (middle of the night) route towards the lakes.
"Piper. PIPER. Puncture." Ugh. 2am. We turned it around in 16 minutes (by the Garmin trace, I didn't set a stopwatch). Good job. It must have been a pinch on that rough surface... Bad job. It wasn't a pinch. We found that out 3 hours later - a second puncture on the same wheel, just as the sun was arising. Beautiful to watch the sun as fixing the second flat of the night, and concerned how many more as you insert your second spare tube, of two. "Found it" I exclaimed as we were being bitten to death by a midge swarm. A tiny piece of wire. 17 minutes to fix the second one (thanks Garmin), but hopefully the real culprit found.
A little while earlier, still in the depths of darkness, we'd made our first restock point - a 24hr garage near Crooklands - the leg warmers had been deployed. I'd sat on the floor, inside, but by the ice creams, to munch my haul of orange sugar drink, crisps, and a pack of crumpets. Three for now, three for the road…
We caught up with Hamish (cap 20) not long before that second puncture, I don't remember if it was the first encounter, but we got on quite good waving and 20 second chat terms over the next 36 hours - despite quite different routes and sleeping strategies!
I was annoyed. Annoyed at delaying Piper, being the one to cause not one by two stoppages. The one to make us try and work out the best place to resupply inner tubes. After getting on for 12 hours I was having a low on the bike too. Sun had come up, but my energy wasn't on that rhythm. Wasdale was utterly stunning though. Like, "AI make me a picture of a cyclist riding a single track road in a valley with a clear lake between hills, in the morning sun, without a cloud in the sky, nor a ripple on the water". Layers came off at the control point, let's get this day back on track.
We stopped at a Co-op not long after, Egremont I think, and it was a good one. Sugar was the order of the day, with six cupcakes (small ones, I'm not a monster), a carton of custard, and probably some other things that I forget now. It was a good one, at a good time, on a beautiful morning. Great time and day to be starting a bike ride - not to be into the 13th hour.
Everything picked up a bit after then, and we'd chosen a route that was different to most other riders, we'd seen that in the rookies. Skirting the northern lakes rather than going back in and through Kewick. We thought it was clever, until we started some pretty sharp climbs ourselves and vowed to retrospectively check in a few days. Hindsight corner: aprox. 150m extra elevation for 5km less distance - but the elevation is different, probably graded less favourably - anyway, we didn't want to go in to Penrith anyways.
Longtown was our next stop of choice, after the next checkpoint that was - Long Meg, a stone circle east of Penrith - although Broughton and a very nice looking Co-op was rather tempting. But Longtown also had a bike shop to restock those inner tubes. And that's how we got to be sitting on a gravelly pavement outside a convenience store just to the English side of the England/Scotland border at 14:23 on a Saturday afternoon, contemplating a cunning plan, based on sleepy sugar-rush maths and an optimism for riding bikes.
"Richard". "Richard!". "It's 5:45". Shit.
My mentally fatigued maths from the day before had said that on the road at 5am, finish on Sunday may be doable, It was 45 minutes after that and I hadn't even opened my eyes. In a silent strop, both of us prepared for the day. We'd spent the night at Premier Inn at Newcastle Airport. A shower and real bed was a godsend, but too good, both alarms had failed to awaken us.
Getting to that point hadn't been a given though. It was 00:30. Piper had shut down. I was cursing a crater-filled "road", with the thought of my pinch-flat problem, going into a second night. And my front light cut out.
We'd tackled the momentum sapping roads around Rothbury, been baffled by the distance from there to Winter's Gibbet - check point six. Winter's Gibbet - a gibbet: "A device used for hanging a person until dead". Nice thoughts to be having darkness having descended, the chill too, the fatigue of 28 hours in the saddle. What was that, certainly not the gibbet, a dark shadow ahead, plodding down the road, an elephant perhaps, don't startle him. Of course it was a bush. Piper and I had separated at this point, I rode forward to get to the gibbet, keep my temperature, and have a moment or two to put some layers on while we found the answer to the brevet card question.
Thoughts were long gone from a few hours earlier, rocking the tailwind up the A7, a random horse show - random of its location, and in that it was nothing like any horse show I'd ever seen, and I was brought up on that kind of thing. The A7 was a revelation. It was there that I planted the finish tomorrow possibility seed into Piper's head. Where we'd made great time on the gentle gradients, and then motored back down. We'd stopped at Hawick, Piper raided the local ice cream establishment, I made a beeline for a supermarket. Scotland, and they had empire biscuits. Result. The checkout woman was rather friendly too - she'd done a few sportives in her time and wondered what I was up to, with empire biscuits and crispy cakes in my basket.
Leaving Hawick, I avert my head to the left for a moment, the tandem! 500 and something kilometres in, and we flyby with the tandem. I'd had a message or two flash up on my phone, "it's you and the tandem, keep going", but now we'd seen them for the first time since early o'clock at Wasdale. Give it 5 minutes and they came past us like a rocket ship. Seriously. That thing can shift. And they were shifting it! Buoyed and stunned, it lifted us to press the pedals a little harder. But also, bloody hell, how do we ride against that! We'd made it to 500km and been together, who knows the stop strategy, mechanical and biological things that can happen - keep pedalling.
Norham Castle, the most northerly checkpoint. And a couple of riders sat on the bench - the bench with the crucial piece of brevet information. I don't think they'll mind me saying that they looked spent, mind I think they'd say the same about us :) Also a couple walking a dog. Spotted the Kinross Cycling Club jersey. "Oh I ride with one of them on Zwift, do you know, Rachel and Kirsteen…" Small. World.
We'd also stopped at Wooler, where I had some - under my breath - expletives for not stocking my sandwich, and had to make do with some more bread rolls. Onion bhaji and mango chutney - not even a great sandwich, but it's what I'd thought about in my mental shopping list for the last hour. Standing, a little too close to some smokers, but the wind had dropped and it wasn't carrying the nicotine ridden air away, who did we see… a bike made for two :)
I stopped the bike by the light of Piper's. We'd been riding two-abreast to give clear line of sight, and more front light on the crater-filled roads. Switched the light cable to the second of two batteries I was carrying. Back in business, but still far to far to this blooming airport Premier Inn.
We'd arrived at 1:15am. With some faff asleep by 1:45, ok 2. Alarms set for 5, but secretly mine for 4:15. All Points North this year has mandatory 3 hour rest periods, this was our first - hence the 1:15 = 4:15 idea. And 5ish was the Sunday finish cut off (finishing after midnight on Sunday would incur another 3 hour rest period - 00:00:01 naughty) - it felt a very long away away after the last couple of hours of suffering.
I had an empire biscuit and two bread rolls, from Hawick and Wooler the day before respectively, for breakfast. I don't remember what Piper had stashed away from the day before, but even now 6am we knew, bank holiday Sunday, in England, there'd be little about.
So breakfast was the hills between the pit villages in the area, and a run in and grab wrap from a Starbucks, that was eaten amongst the hills. Well actually, half at the top, then hold on to it, it's wrapper and bag in my mouth on a startling descent that very much needed two hands on the handlebars, and half at the bottom.
We'd learned in our semi-delirious state about William Winter and the gibbet the night before, none too pleasant. And we went through North Bitchburn. I couldn't help think, mind wandering for a moment that was probably 5 minutes or more given the lack of sleep, something equally unpleasant had happened there. Looking up afterwards: nope, a variation of previously Beechburn - far nicer.
It's a long way from Winter's Gibbet to the Dales Bike Centre. Long enough that it was almost lunchtime when we got there - a wave to Hamish on the way in, he obviously was a little in front of us now. And once again I was starting to flag. After a time on the bike I start to struggle to eat and drink while riding - it's just not nice, and almost a heartburn type feeling on every mouthful - and this had been quite some time. So although we were very much trying to keep the stops to a minimum I needed some intervention. Cue, hot chocolate, double espresso, and two plates of cake - all pretty quick ready to go stuff, and very required, but I don't think to Piper's pleasing. He'd grabbed some bars from the bike shop bit and was ready to go far before me. I'd also made a clothing change, and reapplied some chamois cream. This really was an investment in the future few hours - 10 minutes here possibly saving another stop, or a couple of kms in speed. And while we were there, who rolled in… yes the bike with as many seats as wheels. Crikey how's that?
The wind was turning, it'd become north easterly, and due to turn more and more easterly as the day went on. The next section was due east and out to the coast. This was where the plan was to be truly broken, or kept tentatively alive. We'd picked up a little average speed after the hilly start, and it was in the balance.
Barp. Piper nearly got taken out by an overtaking car while another car was oncoming. Yeah sure, clearly our fault. Idiot. A moment of inattention by us, we'd get a flat, or maybe road rash and some torn bar tape. A moment of inattention, or if we didn't act in the exact millimetre way that they expected, by an impatient motorist… well. We traversed the A1, the railway line that had taken us south on the iron horse just the day before. Or was it the day before the day before? What day is it?
Easingwold the next checkpoint. Where is the market cross? There's a band playing something that I'll sing for the next 10 minutes upon leaving but have no idea what it was 1 minute after that. Where is the market cross? Ah, next to the band. Move over guitar hero we got brevet questions to answer. 2011. Cool. What was the question? I don't know, but 2011 is the answer. I turn around, Ingeborg the tandem stoker is right behind me looking for the market cross.
They roll on just ahead of us - handy when the passenger can jump out and get the brevet card question answered while the engine keeps running :) I'm singing the ear worm as the music fades into the distance. Bleep bleep - left turn. The tandem had gone straight ahead. Little did we know that was the last time we saw them, but they were still spinning away in our minds for some time!
A couple of tasty little hills on the way to Helmsley. One were we had another 20 second, ok 60 second, chat with Hamish - it was ok, there was no drafting, it was 15% or something terrible. We'd shortly see him for the last time too at Helmsley as he disappeared into the Co-op while we spun on.
Pickering, yes a Co-op, was our target. Either side the busy A170 road to the coast. We knew this, also the headwind to be faced. Both were ok. Sure the road was busy, but in the right mindset that's ok. And the headwind, sharing it with another rider, you're only ever 3 minutes from being in the draft. I could have done without the equine-ist overtaking me into a central reservation - would have been mighty close if it was just them in their 4x4 tax-dodge truck, but the horse trailer that nearly took me out made my heart skip a beat. Don't tell a cyclist to "ride safe" when their out, ask every driver to "drive safe" please - the responsibility lies with them. But we can do what we can do, awareness and quick reactions help too.
Potentially the last feed, Pickering. Bread rolls, crisps, and cracked out the Red Bull. Big guns needed now. Having not being the plan, I didn't have the Pickering to Filey route on my Garmin without going via Scarborough. Not much to it really, but not being able to look down and see progress being made was frustrating. Piper did have an earlier version of a plan that did have the route, so we weren't blind, and anyway, just head east and follow signs, or until you know, the sea gets in the way.
The wind had gotten up, maybe east-north-east now, and quite a chill. While we'd faced it for so long, we knew we were going to get some payback when we turned. Just a matter of finding the last bench "facing out to sea" and answering the question, obligatory selfie, before tacking the sails and buckling up for the run home.
It was 5:30pm. Despite everything a Sunday finish was still on. 130km. 6 hours. No planned stops. It was very on. We flew once we hit the main-er road. Goole 36 miles, it seemed we blinked and it was Goole 2 miles. But again I was flagging a bit. Never really warming up from the coastal wind, the sun was out, but giving temperatures a nudge under where I'd have liked, but a couple of notches above an extra layer. I forced myself to eat. I relented and put the long sleeve jersey on as an extra layer - not wanting to face the tightness around the elbows that annoys me about arm warmers. Twilight set in as we came into the urban sprawl. Was this Doncaster yet? We'd routed away from the centre thinking that this'd be on Monday afternoon. Pothole watch became a thing again - so many more wheel breakers in cities. An actual pinch would not be welcome right now.
Rotherham, there was the football stadium, we hadn't found a direct enough way to divert around here, but quiet it was. Didn't know the football club was that big. And now on to Sheffield Road. Now you're talking.
The road began to undulate, in the semi-street lit, scanning the road ahead at 50kph for drain covers, potholes and other obstacles took every bit of concentration. But the endless traffic lights built some adrenaline and warmth. We were getting there, would it be 10:30pm? 11?
We stopped at a red annoyingly at the bottom of a descent, and Piper said clothing stop. What? We're a pretty decent pair, done loads of riding together, sat on each others wheel, or pulled the front through energy highs and lows. He likes puppy paws on the handlebars, I like my aerobars. He metronomically eats every 30 minutes on the bike, I struggle after the first dozen hours or so and am more of a binger at a stop every 3 or 4 hours. He rides (almost) all winter in shorts, and is the first to be in a short sleeve jersey, I'm in need of a tog or two more in the clothing department, and have toe covers permanently attached to my shoes. 50 hours in this was my closest to being grumpy, I think his was at the Dales Bike Centre when I ordered all that food on the "quick stop". To be fair we were both a bit silently unamused at oversleeping but that was very much 50/50. I kept quiet, reminded myself that I'd "caused" two punctures, guzzled on the last of my water with sticky juice in, and munched a couple of gummy sweets.
Traffic light surges kept me warm, and the thought of the finish line. Come on where was the Sheffield ring road? Bus, not now please. Boy racers, do one. A pair of cyclists on a mission coming through. Green, sprint sprint sprint. Freewheel. Scan the road for obstacles. Look down at the Garmin for the next navigational instruction. Look down quite intently - I'd opted not to ride with my contact lenses, they're a faff and can cause problems after so long - these evening conditions, and the backlight with white on black (dark-mode) are about my worst "seeing" conditions.
Sheffield happened, and so did the bloomin bergs up to the Heeley Institute where the finish was - after all that sprinting and speed this was the final km on quarter speed! Fin. 10:52pm.
Fifth, um, group, riding unit, home. Three solos, first at 6:50, and yes the tandem rocket ship 58 minutes prior to two unlikely chaps from Kinross Cycling Club.
What was the plan?
We routed clockwise and anti-clockwise, opting for clockwise with the weather forecast in the days before. Both were similar, and similar stopping strategies, just altering slightly around busy towns at likely rush hours. Plan A was to stop at Berwick, and Pickering, splitting the ride into three and getting us to the finish on Monday afternoon. Plan B became stop at Newcastle Airport, and Scarborough because earlier in the week it looked like Berwick and Pickering were going to be fully booked (race rule not to book accommodation more than 24 hours in advance). On the road, the thought that Newcastle Airport (630km) would be reached in the morning light Sunday turned into closer to midnight, albeit pushing to 1:30am in the end. But that opened up the possibility of the remaining 400km being doable in a - solid - day. We booked the Airport not long after the second puncture on Saturday morning. But didn't book anything on Sunday morning - attempting to leave the possibility open, but also that we would be riding towards civilisation and more options and more availability if needed. And the thought of sitting (snoozing?) it out in a 24hr McDonalds for 3 hours if we were to be 1 second after the midnight cut.
Of course finishing a day earlier than planned messed up all the other plans :) Try calling Sheffield Premier Inn to change your room to a day earlier, but after midnight, so the same day, and not making much sense, and them not having the same room type available, but you don't care just want a bed, or a floor, and a shower would be nice… And navigating with a new friend of the road (Amy, finished not long after us) to the wrong Premier Inn (there are two) around the bank holiday revellers :)
I was sorry to miss the finishers party, but couldn't justify staying an extra day and not getting home (if I could with train bike reservations - no problem in the end). And the extra day at home to get my brain functioning again has been helpful.
What a great event. Lovely folks running it. But the camaraderie on the road, something else. Just the odd word in passing, a smile and wave, a minute or two natter at a checkpoint before diverging routes once again. Brilliant.
Incredible weather. I'm sure we got it lucky. But whatever the weather, 1000km, isn't a walk in the park. Ride fast - it's hard because fast. Ride steadier - it's hard because you're out there longer. Nothing for free in this game. Also utterly grim at points too. Winter's Gibbet was type three fun - not fun at all. The rest, an awful lot of type one, a surprising amount. With a regular dash of type two just to keep it real.
What's next? Who knows. Trip to the shops maybe. Doesn't need to be bigger, or longer, or harder, every ride can be an adventure. When I first got a bike (since childhood) I said I'd never ride to work, then in Dundee, 17 miles away, as it was too far. That first commute was every bit as "epic" as this. Enough philosophy. Fin.
Comments? Tweet me @mealybar, smoke signals, or homing pigeon, or something :)