Postponed from April due to Covid-19, the 2020 edition of the Dales Divide had a new date set for the Bank Holiday weekend in August (29th-31st). In the run up to the event the weather was looking a bit dicy and with my recent history of bike packing events I had begun to believe I was forever cursed when it came to weather. So imagine my delight when the weather was looking set to be close to perfect!
The Dales Divide is a 600km predominantly off-road route crafted by Tour Divide finisher Chris Ellison. The route was originally designed by Chris to give a taste of all the highlights of Lancashire and Yorkshire whilst doing his best to emulate the sort of riding that you might encounter on the Tour Divide.
Things kicked off on Saturday the 29th from Arnside Pier at 8 a.m, after a steady awakening of car and van dwellers on the promenade, the sun arrived as forecast and there was a sense of building excitement. A particularly special opening to the event was made by the appearance of the late Mike Hall’s mum, Patricia. Mike Hall was tragically killed on the 31st March 2017, Mike was originally from Harrogate, an area that the route would be passing very close to, with the wider area of the Yorkshire Dales being the breeding ground for a life-long love of cycling for Mike. I can guarantee that almost everyone on the pier on Saturday morning had not only heard of Mike, but very likely had been inspired to ride their bike for long periods of time because of Mike’s incredible level of achievement and general inspirational nature. To have Pat there to see us off heightened the sense of how blessed we were to be able to do such a thing on such a beautiful weekend. I’m confident we all set off on Saturday with Mike in our hearts and mind as we kicked the pedals over to be embraced by the Dales.
I always wrestle with how selfish it is to go out and ride my bike for long periods of time, and I often feel guilty when riding such an event as it means I am zero help back at home, looking after a dog, animals and spending time with a very forgiving girlfriend. But I think for those in the same situation, there’s a need to go out and experience the freedoms of being out on your bike, it’s a ludicrous level of privilege and I think it’s easy to forget that and get bogged down in kit honing, marginal gains and all that other ridiculous stuff. Stuff, that in reality doesn’t matter, not really. Whenever I start to get wrapped up in all that, I try to remind myself I’m just an evolved piece of primordial slime, clinging to a rock speeding through an endless and expanding universe, and that usually gives me some perspective.
The route kicks off with a big stint on the road, with a few diversions on some double-track to keep things interesting. For me, things began to get rolling proper when we began to climb onto Scales Moor on a picky piece of Singletrack that weaved its way across a Limestone littering of scaly, scabby moorland. I found myself in a group of riders that seemed evenly paced, things weren’t going crazy but you could tell everyone was excited to be out on their bike, highlights early on were passing Ribblehead viaduct, a view I’ve seen a few times coming in from the other side when clattering my way down Inglebrough on the 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross race, a very, very different experience and as we approached the junction where you normally branch off for the trudge up Simon Fell I could feel my legs have a little wimper from the effort that Fell demands. After this things moved pretty quickly on past Malham Tarn and on to York where things got much flatter. Time past quickly as I spent a lot of time riding with Angus Buchanan and Isaac Hudson, two lovely guys who made the time pass incredibly quickly (nice to ride with you both), we passed through York pretty sharpish after getting a quick bite to eat, it was a bit of a sensory overload being in a city after spending hours in the hills to suddenly be met by many people wearing not many clothes on a boozy night out (what pandemic?), so I was glad to be on the other side of York. Angus had mentioned that he was aiming to get to a small town called Stamford Bridge where he’d seen there might be a campsite, Isaac was also ready to call it a day, I considered stopping, it’s easy to get lured into riding with others but there’s got to be an urge to keep moving and after the send off from Pat Hall I had to #bemoremike and so, I opted to keep moving if only for a little while to keep making progress. My plan coming into the Dales Divide was to not really have much of a plan, if I felt good, keep riding, if I needed sleep, then sleep, but keep it short and be as efficient as possible. By the time it got to 1a.m. I was ready for some sleep so I was on the look out for a place to bed down. I rolled past a Primary School and the gates were open, I spotted a concrete pad under the eave of the roof with a little privet hedge in-front of it, the perfect spot. I got all my kit out, drank a recovery shake and set the alarm for 0345. This would give me nearly 4 hours of sleep with an hour of riding in darkness before the sun came up.
I woke before my alarm went off, probably about 0330 as I became aware of a low humming sound right next to my head, turns out it was a hedgehog! What a treat, my little pal had nuzzled right in for the night, I actually felt guilty moving him on, which is when I took the picture below. There was a road quite close so I made sure the little guy went in the opposite direction for a long and prosperous life. These are the kinds of trail magic interactions that make this type of transient living soo worthwhile!
After blasts across open fields and some beautiful early morning riding, interspersed with other riders who popped up and then disappeared just as quickly, I soon reached Scarborough. This was an assault on the senses. I think having spent a vast portion of the evening and early morning alone and in what felt like total wilderness it was just like jumping out of a warm shower into a cold tank. It seemed like people were everywhere, and I felt invisible, maybe looking too wild-eyed and feral to risk eye contact with. I saw someone who looked in the same state as me, it was Andy Deacon. We spent a small while chatting, then he went to feed himself and I kept things spinning as I’d eaten before I got to Scarborough. On reflection this was a good move as it would have been so much less relaxed if I’d stopped in Scarborough. It was just so bloody busy!
It didn’t take long to get away from the madness and before I knew it I was descending off Goathland Moor and over Eller Beck Bridge, where there was a conveniently parked Ice-cream van, obviously I stopped, which was well-timed as right on cue a steam train was passing on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, Yorkshire was now fully showing off!
The beautiful thing about these races and because you spend so long in the saddle is you just see so much! Sitting here now recounting the when and the where and looking at the map it kind of blows my mind that you can see so much in a day.
The loose aim of day 2 was to get past Northallerton, there wasn’t really a plan after that, the thinking was that it would leave a very manageable 150km for the last day, it had crossed my mind to just ride through and just get to the finish in whatever state I arrived in. As the day progressed I lost the will for this (probably predictably!), I kept thinking to myself to just enjoy it to the max, and although riding through can be a lot of fun, mostly because of the weird stuff that happens to your mind I just didn’t feel that committed.
Blasting across Glaisdale Moor was a lot of fun, the sun was out and the going was decently quick, I also had the splendid company of Mark Wildsmith, who came out of nowhere and was absolutely stomping up the climb up onto the moor. He caught up with me so fast I was so confused as to where he’d come from. We chatted across the tops and rounded the Lion Inn before a blast across the tops, as we crested the high-point before descending back down to the road I had to answer a very urgent call of nature, so quickly said my goodbyes to Mark. Eating lots of sugary food is not good for your bowel and it will only take so much.
Once off the moor it started to get cold really quickly and the sun was now sitting very low in the sky. I should have layered up at this point but just wanted to keep moving. The going was very lumpy for the next 10kms or so, I’m not sure where it was but at some point I was ducking under a fallen tree and what could only have been some tiredness kicking in I stood up full force to be met with massive smack on the head. It felt like an anvil had been dropped on me. Turns out the tree was girthier than I’d thought and I had just fully stood up into the trunk that I was meant to be ducking. It cracked my helmet and smooshed my light. Luckily there was no damage to my light, my neck however was now throbbing. Idiot!
There then came a big descent from the tops through Osmotherley and onto Northallerton. I had planned to stop in Northallerton to get some more food, but when I checked to see what I had left it turned out I still had loads of food, including a footlong sub from Subway which I’d completely forgotten about, one of the dangers of having a gigantic frame bag I realised. I’d left the Framebag on after my trip to Ecuador with Maria, as I wanted to experiment with more carrying capacity with one eye on doing the Atlas Mountain Race in February 2021. It’s a temptation that has to be avoided, not having the carrying capacity makes you take more sensible amounts of everything.
I stopped briefly after leaving Northallerton, I was now freezing, the long descent off the tops and not stopping to put a warm layer on had been a mistake and I was now shivering, this coincided with getting the sleepies for the first time so I felt like it made sense to get a bit of sleep now, get warm and then start early. I got my phone out to have a good poke around the OS map. I spotted a church up ahead in a village called Yafforth. Churches are usually a safe bet as the entrance doors are almost always open, not to the main church, sadly too many thefts happen now. But as I rolled up to the door my guess had been correct and I was able to get in and under cover. It was still early, probably about 1130 so I set my alarm for 0330, weirdly this felt like a lie in at this point. After getting in my sleep kit I got into my bag and soon stopped shivering. About an hour later I woke up when I heard chatting, surely not a church warden at this time, maybe they’d seen my light and thought the church was being burgled. Fortunately not, it was Andy Deacon and Isaac Hudson, turns out they’d had the same idea as me, we chatted for a bit, I offered for them to jump in (it would have been snug as the room was about 6ft x 6ft, but they decided to roll on down the road, I didn’t envy them as it was still bloody cold, I didn’t feel that sorry for them though as it sounds like they’d scored an absolute winner when they’d called into to a local pub and been offered a smorgasbord of pub grub leftovers (the dream!).
I woke up feeling about as fresh as I could given the situation at 0330 on the nose, it’s amazing how your body just knows, I got my kit packed, had a bite of cold day and half old Subway and got moving. It was still bloody cold, I’d layered up though so felt snug, I’d also gone all in with my saddle sore treatment (ill-fitting shorts, won’t be using them for long rides again), all the arse cream and slidey pair of over shorts to combat the chafe, this seemed to work and I felt back in business, a little way up the road I spotted a red flashing light in the distance, I got on the pedals to catch up, I could do with some human interaction to get me through the morning. Turned out it was Mike DeBernardo, who was riding singlespeed(!), as a fan of solo gear action myself I understood how tough this route would be on one gear, it’s basically the worst of all worlds for singlespeed. Long stretches of flat road and steep loose climbs. Mike had ridden through the night and had moved waaaaay up the field, what a hero and a really lovely guy, I enjoyed chatting a lot, good to meet you Mike. As soon as the first road section came that was the end of the chat however as Mike’s legs went into sewing machine mode and I guiltily changed into a higher gear and steadily rode away feeling like an asshole.
Soon after came the bit I was really looking forward to, mainly out of curiosity. We rode past Catterick Army base where you start seeing road signs with tanks on, very odd and then start the climbing again as you shimmy past the many gun ranges and over the top of Harkerside Moor and Bolton Moor.
The route then ran through some beatiful pasture land toward Askrigg, it was across here that I noticed my rear tyre was getting a little soft, I stopped to top it up as I’d suspected I had a slow puncture earlier in the ride, but felt like it was just quicker to carry on. I got my pump out and air just started rushing out! I’ve got the Lezyne mini track pump, a great pump but it has a few design issues, the major one for me is the little bleed button it has on the collar, mostly because you can’t help but leech air out when you’re unscrewing it but also when it gets muddy it gets stuck in so is essentially just open and air just pumps through. This is what happened, and I couldn’t get it unstuck, I had to dispense nearly an entire bottle on it to get the sucker unstuck. I think I said a little “thank you” when it started inflating the tyre. I don’t know to who or to what, but thank you.
I got about 100 metres down the track before my stomach sent me another test, the most insane diarrhoea I’ve ever experienced, I’ll spare you the detail but it was an awful scene and if anyone saw me whilst on the moors, all I can say is I’m sorry. It was bad for both of us. And just like that, I was sorted and felt normal again. I made up some re-hydration drink and got that down me straight away, sickness or diarrhoea to that extent can be a race ender if not well managed so it was important to take the time to help my body out.
I sort of just got on with the rest of the ride, maybe it was the slight illness but I was just glad to be on my bike and it rolled past beautifully, when I first saw the sea again on the West coast, I’ll be honest it made me a bit emotional, I go into an intense level of concentration for these sorts of things and that is fatiguing in of itself so when the end is near and you know you’re close to some rest I think sometimes it just hits you. The funny thing is, at any point you could just choose to go into touring mode and take it easy, rest when you want to, sit and take in the views, but there’s something so intriguing about passing through landscapes as quickly as you can, it’s addictive.
I rolled in to Arnside 56 hours after I’d left, covering 602kms and climbing over 8000m. I’d seen some beautiful parts of England that I’d never seen before and met some lovely people. What’s not to like? The raw arse recovers, the hurty bits get forgotten and the never agains turn in to the what’s next… #BeMoreMike
Big thank you to the organiser Chris Ellison and all that helped to put the route together. Also a big thank you to Patricia Hall for turning out on a cold Saturday morning. We all left Arnside inspired to ride.