All Points North 2021

All Points North 2021 was the second edition of the unsupported bikepacking race around the north of England. In a nutshell, 10 control points to be visited in whichever order you choose, by whichever route you choose. No outside help, clock doesn’t stop, races starts 2000hrs. Think TCR but with whippets, coal and accents.

A Different Gear, Sheffield-Beverley North Bar

I chose to visit the checkpoints in an anti-clockwise direction, a decision based on laziness and self deception. For starters I couldn’t face plotting a route through the urban sprawl that lay to the north and north west of Sheffield. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, I knew East would mean a relatively flat and quick start which would trick my simple mind into thinking I was going really well after 60 miles. It worked and upon reaching Beverley I marvelled at my average speed on a loaded bike, ignoring entirely that this was the flattest section of the entire race.

Nothing else to report, there was another rider at Beverley, and I’m sure others arrived before me.

Checkpoint 1 – Beverly North Bar

Beverley North Bar – Runswick Bay

Faced the usual blues one encounters when riding through the night and dawn still felt like a very distant reality. I began to question some of my route choices which was wildly early to be going down that slippery slope of self doubt but it was a pit of negativity I would visit relentlessly for the next 48 hours or so (all part of the fun).

I know Runswick Bay is lovely but as it was pitch black I have nil to report. The gentleman who eventually won the race was climbing out of Runswick as I descended, and John Baston who I met at the top informed me he was already on his 3rd checkpoint. Jesus Christ. The humans who win these races are genuinely incredible specimens. On a side note John is a very talented man whose water colour of the Panceltic Race was nearly my favourite thing on instagram this year, beaten narrowly by Ye Vagabonds Canal tour and #goldenirish.

Anyway enough of that, I had to walk the last bit of the hill out of Runswick, my knees already creaking.

CP 2 – Runswick Bay

Runswick Bay- Rievaulx Abbey

The sun came up during this stretch which is always a welcome moment. It fights off the overnight weariness and from past experience I know you can normally push through at this point. I took a brief moment to pause atop an unknown point in the Yorkshire Moors ostensibly for a wee but in doing so enjoyed a few moments of utter peace and tranquillity in the dawn light. One of a few very special moments where I stopped being a miserable twat and was reminded why I persevere with this nonsense. That moment couldn’t be so glorious without the preceding 10 hours in the mind and legs.

I made it to the abbey which is right up my street but unfortunately I didn’t have time to stop and enjoy it. Alas….

CP 3 Rievalux

Rievaulx Abbey- Leeds PALS Monument

There was a downhill section to Thirsk where I was greeted by that perennial favourite; Greggs. Bacon baguette for now, bacon turnover and sausage roll for the jersey. I love Greggs. You can’t be from the North East and not love Greggs because growing up you were never more than 100 metres from one and half of Sunderland grew up with a pastie in the gob rather than a dummy. Get in me.

Covered in crumbs I continued for the slog up to Pals, and was back in a huff if I remember correctly. Another spot I’d have liked to spent a few more minutes but time waits for no man in this ridiculous game.

CP 4 Leeds PALS

Leeds PALS Monument- Grassholme Resevoir

I began glancing at the tracking at this stage (idiot) and noticed, as mentioned previously, I was erring towards smaller roads which was probably in hindsight not the best approach. I hate the constant low level stress of busy roads and I know I would enjoy them far less which is why I generally avoid them. Nonetheless, I was really beginning to bully historic Hank who, with several glasses of red in him, had planned this undulating route when flatter faster roads existed. However, I stuck to the programme and maintained faith in the pissed up ghost of routeplanning past.

This section really sticks in the mind because I think if I could work remotely (I can’t) and had oodles of money ( I don’t) then I’d buy a house on a village green here, do 100k rides in the hills before returning for a lovely pint in the local. Gorgeous part of the country.

Got to Grassholme, turned round and went back.

CP 5 Grassholme

Grassholme Resevoir to Upper Coquetdale

Fuck me, where to start. This is where the old knees really let me know what a wanker I was. I’ve ridden round here a little bit and knew the Stanhope/Crawleyside double would be unpleasant and I wasn’t wrong. My knees screamed and I genuinely thought it was going to be train time at Hexham. I’ve not done anything like this distance with a loaded bike for a couple years and it showed.

Once I got to Hexham I’d pulled myself around from any train talk and ordered a pizza. I swallowed half of the pizza and lashed the other half in a carrier bag for an interesting breakfast the next day. I knew I had to keep trucking to Coquetdale so as to avoid being shot at by any over zealous squaddies housed at Otterburn.

The inebriated route planner struck again at this point. I’d made an effort to avoid A68, unsure of what time I’d arrive and know it to be pretty fast, tracker suggested I was in the minority but I stuck to my guns. I’d plotted a route on a stretch that looked potentially gravelly but passable. When I reached the first gate that said private I was in the arse end of nowhere. I’d seen Bridleway signs and it was getting dark so ignored the sign, believing it be a landowner being a landowner. The road turned to shite, chunky gravel with a heavily rutted surface. You might seek this on some rides but not tonight baby, not tonight. I got through to the A68 in the end but i was stressed out and fuming. I’m always fuming to be fair so nothing new.

The climb to Coquetdale was a bastard in the pitch black. Met a raging cow who seemed to be stuck on the wrong side of a cattle grid and she was kicking off. I bumped into Charlotte descending who was very chipper and it was nice to chat to an actual human rather than myself for a few minutes. She was riding through to Carlisle and a hotel. Madness but very impressive.

I got to the the checkpoint, turned round. Street viewed the next couple of villages and located a bus stop. Got there and it was empty save a handful of unused condoms on the windowsill. Aware I might have landed myself in a dogging scenario I got my bag out, zipped up and shut my eyes hoping for the best. I was joined a little later by another rider not a dogger and I got a few hours sweaty kip.

End of the first leg. Vital statistics

Distance: 319 miles/ Elevation:24,295 feet

Moving Time – 23:33

Total Elapsed Time 26:33

Time without a kip – 38 hours ish

https://www.strava.com/activities/5912703442/embed/75b2fd9f6d6faec7646d27220d602daba7d66964

CP 6 Grassholme

Upper Coquetdale – Honister Slate Mine

I woke up to the pissing rain and took a little longer than needed to drag myself out of my sweaty sack. I joined the A68 despite having planned to cut through Kielder, didn’t fancy unknown gravel in the dark and wet. My knees were being lubricated by sand and pebbles so the first few hours were a real slog. Carlisle was the first target of the day and I had a quick Morrison’s stop here. Their ham and cheese baguette has no mayonnaise or mustard but a deep layer of margarine which I think works fantastically well. I had a bite every 10 minutes or so and it made my morning slightly more bearable.

I continued on down towards the lakes on a route similar to one ridden a few weeks before; a route that consisted of several very slow and gradual uphills, tres depressing. Followed a nice bike path round the bottom of Blencathra, which looked far more appetising than the very busy main. Then straight through Keswick and up Honister. Never done that climb but it was a bastard, not quite Hardknott but worse than Kirkstone. CP complete.

Honister Slate Mine – Silverdale

Quick pit stop at co-op where I spoke briefly to another rider who had taken a mental zig zag approach, fair play for doing things your own way. Her bike was also covered in cow shit which made me chuckle.

Didn’t really enjoy this leg, just wanted to get it done. Cycling in the lakes is not very pleasant between the main towns because of the heavy traffic, bit of a shame because it’s obviously very pretty. I took the balcony road around Thirlmere which was the highlight, no traffic and for once less elevation and distance than the main. The run to Silverdale was uneventful if a little lumpy. Met Derrick at the CP, nice chap but he worried me when he looked doubtful over my proposed route to Dent.

Silverdale to Dent Station

I took the smaller road from Barbon to Dent and what an absolute treat. Potentially my highlight of the ride. A lovely gentle climb alongside Calf Top with lovely light in the late afternoon.

From a distance Dent Station doesn’t look that high and I thought I was in for a quick tick but fuck me it was a bastard climb. I was delirious at the top and had to ask a tourist where one might find a clock at a train station. He advised that generally such artefacts were located on the platform and sure enough there it was. Common sense is clearly waning with my generation….

Dent Station to Malham Tarn

Crunch time really, I wanted to ride through the night to the finish but it all depended how long this leg took me and the state I was in after.

This leg wins for viaducts. I love viaducts, I’m not an engineer or an architect, nor am I in anyway design orientated. But I am in total awe of these huge imposing structures built by the manual labour of humans whose toughness I’ll never comprehend. The sunset was fantastic and provided a substantial boost in morale before the darkness set in once more.

I kept stopping to review my route to Sheffield, which was getting ahead of myself but I knew I hadn’t taken enough time on it. This was foolish and just served to stress my weary mind further. I can’t provide much detail regarding Malham because once again it was pitch black.

End of second leg vital statistics

Distance 195.89 miles/ Elevation 15,328 feet

Moving Time 15:48 hours

Elapsed Time 18:19 hours

https://www.strava.com/activities/5917739506/embed/a4396e29e5f67da07bca7b73da4c3d9642527945

Malham Tarn to Heeley Institute, Sheffield

I descended as far as Malham town and stopped in a pub for half a Black Sheep whilst I gathered my thoughts and developed a plan of attack. Riding through would provide a sub 60 hours which by this point was something of an arbitrary number but it sounded nice. However I was exhausted and was struggling to compose my thoughts so I found a small park and got into my sleeping bag.

I spent a couple hours somewhere between dream and reality, half waking to consider the merits of a process an unidentified woman was proposing, each time she proposed something I got closer to Sheffield but the more I considered it the thinner the detail of the proposals became. I was getting closer but also kept noticing I was still prone in the park. Sounds mental, reason being it was and I guess a mild hallucination bought on by lack of sleep. So when my alarm went off I gave myself an extra half hour or so lying down.

When I did set off it was freezing and I was really ready to be done, only 75 miles or so to go. Canal path to Skipton and various roads to Bradford where I began the longest 40 miles of my life. It’s so fucking lumpy and boring round there, I hated it and I wanted it to go away. But it didn’t. But then it did and I joined the rush hour towards Sheffield eventually rolling in at 60 hours 51 minutes.

I was given a beer and plate of beans on toast by a nice bloke who I think was from my neck of the woods. I would have asked but my words weren’t working, so I apologise. A tasty ending to a very tough ride which elicited the very best and worst of me, cant ask for more than that.

End of 3rd Leg Vital Statistics

Distance 71 miles/ Elevation 4,852

Moving Time 5:49

Elapsed Time 6:19

https://www.strava.com/activities/5919370221/embed/be4765ec7548d690f88f80b9bdc3e6f18df3783d

Overall Vital Statistics

Total Distance 586.1 miles /Elevation 44,475 feet

Total moving Time 45:10

Total Elapsed Time 60:47

Conclusion (a rambling monologue)

I’m not all and sunshine and light during these races (audible gasps…) and at times i didn’t want to be there. A recent relocation has dampened my enthusiasm and training in recent months and at times that negativity I’m carrying around in my day to day life spilt over and got mixed in with the ride. However, I think it’s OK to have those moments and be honest about them as long as you put them into context and have a bit of perspective. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do, to see all of these amazing places under my own steam with nobody else around. This kind of cycling is pure escapism and provides an opportunity to exist in a world where only the race matters. Not everyone has the luxury of abandoning reality like this and I had to remind myself of that a few times along the way.

The mental toughness people always refer to is the ability to see past the immediate agony/misery and appreciate just what it is that you’re doing. I frequently talk aloud to myself during these rides as if its the most normal thing in the world. Cursing loudly at a steep looking climb as I approach, promising I’ll never do this again. I’m soon laughing away at the weakness in my legs as I crawl up it before firmly reminding myself that what I’m doing is actually class and that the person at the bottom of the climb should remember that occasionally. At the top of a climb or at the end of the race it’s the same old story, a sense of having done something special that will never grow old.

Specific to this race, 312 miles is the most I’ve done in a oner (without sleep) and was further than I thought I could manage so an achievement in itself. I couldn’t have given it much more so pretty content with how it went. Looking at my 15 hours non-moving time though there is a starting point for looking at where time can be saved if I ever feel inclined….

Congratulations to the winner and everybody else who finished or even had the bottle to start, that’s half the battle. Some truly inspiring performances and people.

Nadine and Katy deserve some sort of reward for not putting their phones on silent for the duration, commendable effort.

Finally and most importantly, BIG thanks to the organisers, it was such a well run event, super casual and welcoming. We riders were so well attended to that I actually felt bad about it, so a massive shout to all the volunteers without whom we simply wouldn’t be able to put ourselves through the torture.

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