Caroline, who works in our Hathersage store, tells us about her experience of riding All Points North - a self-supported, ultra distance, endurance cycling event. This series of posts was originally published on Caroline's blog.
All Points North is an unsupported bicycle journey around the north of England. Participants have to plan and ride their own route between 10 given control locations, which can be visited in any order. I was fortunate enough to gain a place in the race, which was due to take place at the end of May, but unfortunately this was cancelled due to Covid. However, the organisers kindly gave us the opportunity to ride our planned routes in September instead, with no mass start, tracking or post-race party (gutted!) – hence the name “Not” All Points North. Although I’ve done some cycle touring and some long day rides before, this was my first real foray into multi-day ultra-distance racing. I’ve decided to write about my experience, partly so I have a permanent record of it, and partly to encourage others who might be thinking about doing something similar. I hope you enjoy it.
Start: Sheaf Square, Sheffield train station, 9:37am.
I’d arrived home from a very tiring work trip to Devon on the Friday night, so rather than setting off from Sheffield at the crack of dawn on Saturday, I planned to have a decent night’s sleep and a fairly leisurely start. I didn’t sleep amazingly well and woke up early full of excitement and nervous anticipation. I faffed about for ages having breakfast, finishing packing, doing several “final wees” – leaving the house is definitely the hardest part! I finally rolled from home in Walkley down to the train station, snapped a few quick pictures of my bike, and then I was on my way.
I based my initial route north on a ride that Dad and I had done up to Wetherby on Easter Saturday 2019. You may remember that Easter 2019 was a gloriously sunny weekend, and Dad and I had spontaneously smashed out the ride with a southerly tailwind the whole way, so my aim was to channel those good vibes. Alas this time there was a stiff breeze from the north west (right in my face) and the sky was looking distinctly ominous. Indeed, the rain started somewhere between Castleford and Pontefract, so I stopped in a bus shelter to put my jacket on and got talking to an old lady waiting for a bus. She asked where I was going and for some reason I said “Wetherby”, which I suppose was true, but a far cry from the whole truth. “On your own? You’re very brave!” If only she’d known what I was actually doing! Her bus arrived and we waved at each other as it pulled off. As I pedalled off shortly afterwards I inwardly kicked myself for being too embarrassed and doubtful of myself to tell her the whole truth and vowed to channel some more self-belief. Just before Wetherby I passed Dicky, an old school friend, and Mark, a cycling friend, riding in the opposite direction. Neither knew what I was up to but I was very happy to see some faces I recognised, so both were greeted with some enthusiastic heckling. It felt good to be rolling on some familiar roads and I even got down on the tri bars on the A168 up to Boroughbridge. In fact, this was the first road I’d ever used tri bars on (testing them out the night before Wetherby Triathlon in May 2018, nothing like a bit of last minute race prep!) and I smiled to myself at the memory. From Boroughbridge it was west to Studley Royal, the first checkpoint.
Whilst I was taking the obligatory checkpoint photo I met Colin, the first other NotAPN participant I’d seen. I mentioned how sapping I’d found the headwind but he’d set off from Silloth so flown down through the Lakes and Dales with a tailwind! I couldn’t believe how many checkpoints he’d already ticked off when I’d been finding it so hard and I felt quite disheartened. Little did I know that our paths would cross again later in the trip when the tailwind would be mine and the headwind his! Rationally, I knew that I needed to ride my own ride and not worry about how fast other people were going, but that’s definitely a mindset that takes practice to get into, and one that’s harder to achieve when you’re tired and damp and moving more slowly than you’d like. Studley was busy with people enjoying their Saturday afternoons but I’d promised myself a coffee so I had a quick stop, used the loo and filled my water bottles from the fountain in the courtyard.
After Studley the hills came thick and fast. Living in Sheffield and working in Hathersage, I am quite accustomed to hills, but my last-minute decision to ride meant that I hadn’t spent much time training on a loaded bike and I felt very sluggish. Greenhow Hill out of Pateley Bridge was particularly evil (although the section of B6265 between Greenhow Hill and Grassington is definitely one to revisit, absolutely stunning!). The showers were also coming thick and fast at that point and I stopped a couple of times to shelter from the worst of them, once in a bus shelter and then under the verandah of a cricket pavilion. I felt frustrated that I was losing a lot of time to jacket hokey-cokey and cursed at having to take my jacket AND jersey off every time I needed a wee. Men have it so much easier! At least this sign in the cricket club toilets made me laugh:
I tried to minimise stopping time by eating every time I stopped. I’d cooked a pizza at home so along with a couple of Lidl croissants and bananas this did nicely for a late lunch.
I reached CP2 Arncliffe just after 7:30pm and bumped into Jim and Rachel who were doing the whole thing on gravel bikes. We exchanged a bit of complaining about the weather which made me feel better! I rolled on through Upper Wharfedale but was feeling quite worn out by the wind and rain so decided to stop for some hot food in the form of a pub tea. When I arrived, the pub (The Buck Inn, Buckden) had technically stopped serving food but the staff could not have been more helpful finding me a table and an incredible steak pie and gravy and filling my water bottles. It was quite a classy establishment and I felt rather conspicuous sitting there in wet lycra pressed up against the radiator while, around me, some very well-dressed diners were enjoying their Saturday evening. Pie demolished, it was time to head back out into the darkness and over Kidstones Pass (incidentally, this was the first categorised climb featured in stage 1 of the 2014 TDF when it came through Yorkshire). I quite enjoy riding in the dark and the climb was fine but unfortunately somewhere on the descent the aforementioned steak pie decided to make a reappearance and rapidly exited my stomach along with everything else I had eaten that day… not a roadside experience I would recommend. I carried on but after wading through an ankle-deep flood my enthusiasm was waning and I decided it was probably time to call it a night and start looking for somewhere to sleep. I settled on the disabled public toilet in Bainbridge, undoubtedly the grimiest place I have ever slept but hear me out because it actually had several features that I would describe as “luxury” for a bivvy spot: rain-proof, lockable space for me and Hermione (yes, my bike is named after a Harry Potter character), a sink, soap, hot hand dryer and (obviously) a toilet, which, given the gut issues, gave me some peace of mind should another digestive episode occur during the night. I felt a small stab of guilt about potentially blocking a disabled person’s toilet access but quickly quelled it by deciding that if anyone with a disability in this tiny village needed a wee between midnight and 5am they could knock on and I would gladly let them in.