As the countdown to the start went from weeks to days and the butterflies in my stomach emerged from their chrysalises, I started to wish my name had never been drawn from that bloody hat. One of the lucky few? I don’t think so.
It wasn’t that I didn’t feel capable; more, did I want to go through the discomfort and effort. I really need to look into joining a snooker club. Or bowls.
But the conveyor belt of time never stops and almost without warning we’re counting down to the start: amid cowbells and cheers, riders disperse in all directions. Is my bike making new noises? Is that a twinge in my knee? Did I definitely pack my charging leads? Why has no-one gone the same way as me?
Moving northwards the sounds & sights of people spilling out of pubs and queuing for kebabs gives way to the swish of tyres on tarmac, the screech & hoots of owls and the bright eyes of a rabbit in the road.
The first night through the Dales is tough. My ’emergency’ 32 sprocket becomes the gear of choice as I struggle to settle into any sort of rhythm. I see the same faces; we exchange words and personalities come to life. Dan is chatty – the sort of person you’d like to share a beer with; Vincent has a natural warmth and I start to treasure our occasional convergences; Kate is a beast – seated on even the steepest climbs and the most efficient at the checkpoints. In & out like a thief in the night.
I nearly come a cropper on a steep, gravelly descent as first light starts to seep through. Easy there lad! The half-hearted greyness of early dawn matches my mood. I’m sure North by North West would have been much more fun. Press on. Things will improve.
The climb to Dent Station is a portent of things to come. This ain’t going to be easy. Dan and I arrive at similar times, along with a dense cloud of midges and the first rays of sun. The view is amazing and uplifting. Perhaps this is going to be OK after all. Vincent comes up as I’m leaving. I can see the midges’ eyes light up when they spy the bare flesh on his legs. They’re like Piranhas. They’ll strip a carcus in minutes if you don’t keep moving.
And on to Silverdale. The heat is getting up. Time speeds up and the miles pass almost unnoticed. The world comes to life unaware of our struggles. We’re all just atoms randomly bouncing around this world that exists purely by chance. Doubt becomes certainty; There’s nothing else I want to be doing…
The rest of the day is a blur. People everywhere. Windermere & Derwent so inviting in the afternoon sun. Pushing up the steepest bit of Honister. Even Kate ahead of me is walking. It must be tough.
I meet eventual winner Bradley Woodruff at the Spar in Longtown; he’s casually perusing the shelves. We chat outside as he stuffs cans of coke into his skinsuit. Proper minimlaist, he has less kit than I do on a day ride. He’s fully plant powered to, which puts me to shame. I’ve ditched the veganism for this event and he’s repulsed as I down a pint of milk. Better than Coke I tell myself. Fortunately we don’t chat for too long…
Dave texts: “Now you’re in fucking Scotland, this is one hell of a bike ride!” Vics & others are following on the tracker and I’m getting messages of support (good) and cricket updates (not good). I’m loving it.
First bivy in a field and I decide to sleep through the rain. 6 solid hours and I’m away by 3:45am. It’s Vic’s birthday and I remember to text. She’s been on continuous tracker duty, which is humbling and a stimulus to keep moving.
I’m planning / hoping to get to Riveaulx and I know it’s going to be a tough day. Falafel wrap for breakfast and a handful of cashews. The first section north from Saughtree is beautiful I’m sure but the mist anf dusk keep it hidden from view.
I see Vincent sat in a cowshed as I fly by on a descent in the quarter-light. I’m too far past to stop before I realise who it is. I hope he’s OK.
The road up to the Scottish border is tough and I stop for a caffeine gel. It helps. It’s cold and misty and there are riders dotted about in bus shelters, farm buildings and under trees. The 9am closing of the Otterburn Ranges has funneled us into this region. It is as remote as England gets but strangely full of Very Tired Cyclists.
The northmost checkpoint is cruel. I decide if Angela had been a friend, we’d have fallen out over this one. The midges are back with a savage vengeance but the prospect of the climb out of the checkpoint gives them an extra few minutes to tear chunks out of me.
I see Vincent on my way out. He’s really suffering with an old knee injury and is thinking he needs to scratch. I hope he makes the right decision. There aren’t many stations around here.
South to Grassholme is tougher than I expected. And I was dreading it. It is beyond beautiful though. I pass a pair – one is walking due to mechanical problem and they’re hoping to make it to Hexham. I fuel up in Bellingham. I meet Dan coming the other way just before Hexham. He’s chirpy as ever and we stop for a quick chat.
I accidentally get on the A69 and an irate truckie lets me know what he thinks about that. I meet Emily heading towards who-knows-where. She’s struggling with ther neck and back and she’s going to pack at the next station. We chat for a bit and I show her some neck & back exercises that I find helpful.
I get to Grassholme at 3:45pm. 120 miles in 12 hours. Jeeps. The worst should be over.
The next section is fast and I feel I’m on the home leg. Darlington, Yarm, Great Ayton, Guisborough. A barn owl flies next to me for 30 seconds. I track it in the beam of my helmet light.
Runswick Bay is another cruel checkpoint and I decide to catch a few hours sleep. I meet Kate there too and we both decide to bed down in a pub beer garden. We silently sort ourselves out while people laugh and talk drunkenly on a balcony behind us.
Leaving Runswick at 1:45 on a handful of cashews, I make my way across the moors towards Riveaulx. It’s cold and damp and I need all my clothes. 6:15 breakfast at Walton: another wrap, a tin of coffee and a Sinckers. Less than 100 miles to go.
I know the next section and miles count down to Beverley as the sun rises. It’s flat and familiar from here and I’m feeling better than any point since I left Heeley. Howden, Thorne, Doncaster, Rotherham…
…”Welcome to Sheffield”. Ikea. Attercliffe Road. Parkhill Flats. Heeley.
As I round the final corner my brain allows me to accept I’ve made it. There are cheers and clapping (that goes on a BIT too long). I’ve timed my arrival for exactly when Vics is in a meeting she can’t get out of. But I see Andy Smith. And Nic! Familiar faces in a sea of smiles.
All Points North is everything I wanted it to be and so much more. I really enjoyed it! The people and the atmosphere of the event were amazing – friendly, warm, inclusive. A real feeling of comradeship and camaradarie and the joy of a shared, intense experience.
I am truly grateful to everyone who helped put the event on; to Vics for giving up here birthday to be GPS Tracker Nerve Centre for my friends and family who were following (Why isn’t he moving??) It is an experience I will never forget.
Onwards to 2022!
Vincent scratched – not sure where – Vincent, drop me a line!
Emily made it to Grassholme (the toughest part) and said the exercises helped. Next year, Emily, next year – you’d broken the back of it!
Kate finished a couple of hours after me – she left me faffing at Riveaulx so I expected she’d have had her feet up by the time I finished – hope you had a trouble free run to the finish, Kate.
Dan crashed on a descent and broke his collarbone. Ouch. Heal fast my friend!