AllPointsNorth Ultra Endurance Event (rookies viewpoint)

 So, listening to podcasts whilst riding my bike has always been a fun thing to do. A few years back, whilst listening to one of my faves, the imaginatively named “The Cycling Podcast”, they discussed this thing called ultra distance bike racing, & dot watching (following the riders online via GPS). Interest piqued, I looked into dot watching & got quite hooked watching these ladies & gents take part in this lunacy. Over time I realised, I was always the watcher, but (despite being nearer 60 than 50)…I wanted really to be the dot!

Fast forward to Sept 2021 a Saturday afternoon, & here I am in sunny (really it was) Sheffield, at “race”(the organisers say its not a race…it is:) HQ. I’m attending the pre ride, safety briefing of AllPointsNorth (a self supported 600 miler with 40k feet “ish” of climbing in the North of England & a wee bit of Scotland.) I’m confirming I know when the soldiers at one of the ten checkpoints we have to visit, will be firing from tanks!! I & my fellow “rookie” riders (aka naive first timer little souls), all nod that of course we knew… (we didn’t) Thankfully Angela, (one of the superstar founder organisers of the event), just reminds us, when its better not to be riding Upper Coquetdale MOD private road…especially if your chosen jersey has one of those Wiggins RAF “target” roundels on it! So, if I can just avoid getting shot at, the rest will be a breeze, right (wrong)?

As rookies, we got eight hours start on the main field, so I get to see in broad daylight, all the places that weren’t officially on my route in Sheffield,(in other words lost). Eventually I break out of the city, into that rural idyll, Rotherham (& get a bit lost there too). Because of my love of track cycling, I decide the only way to set the course is anti-clockwise, so head to Beverley checkpoint first, stopping briefly for sandwich one of very many…(Tuna, warm, bit fizzy) Having passed an inordinate number of “weddings in marquees” (it appears to be the “game” to be into, in Humberside….what with fishing in decline.) I arrive at my second checkpoint Rievaulx Abbey, at the bottom of a steep hill, in the dark…I’m sure it was lovely. Climb back out on said steep hill, then make my first (of many) rookie errors, I rode on for a few miles & erm stopped! I bivvied where I “thought” I would be exhausted by (but wasn’t), feeling all smug & explorer like! I should have ridden on, I should have ridden to “feel” cos later down the track, I’d have liked those fresher legs back. One upside of my stop, was arriving at checkpoint three, Runswick Bay, as dawn broke on Sunday morning. This was magical, genuinely (along with the climb out again) breathtaking. It was hard to leave that view, but I had a deadline to make, operation (don’t become) “cannon fodder” was far from complete. My onward route took me round both Middlesbrough & Darlington….rookie error number two being committed here. I got “psyched out” at the start line by a fellow rider, who told me of the woes of cycling through Darlington. People apparently (league of gentlemen style) sometimes never leave! So, on the fly, I rerouted straight onto one of the roads the handbook suggested we avoid, ‘twas busy, but I survived! Arriving at checkpoint four Grassholme, this blur (Pawel, one of the first two back) went flying past me in the opposite direction, looking fresher than a daisy. I being somewhat less fresh, whimpered a bit, & consoled myself with a(nother) sandwich (ham eggs, made of plywood)….then headed north to a tank range!! I really enjoyed the challenge of the hills, & the bargains of a closing Co-op, as I headed onwards …..until it started to rain! So as not to put everyone off ever having a go at these events, I’ll gloss over the midges, & being soaking wet inside my soaking bivvy, sucking on a soaking sandwich (tuna again),having made it to checkpoint five at 1:00 am. I shivered & hyperventilated myself into a few hours slumber… point quitting now, it won’t make the rain stop. 

It’s all downhill now I thought (wrong wrong wrong) as I headed towards Cumbria & the Honister Pass checkpoint, Monday I think. The rain a distant memory, was replaced by mizzle (like rain but sneakier)….I thanked my lucky stars for being in such a stunning environment, the Scottish border roads sure are beautiful. Despite everything so far, this was ace!!! To be honest, spotting a Macdonalds on the outskirts of Carlisle was “acer!” Brief chat to a fellow rider going in the opposite direction. I tried hard not to think (& my face show) “that poor lady is going to have climb all those lovely miles I’d just swept down!” Her poker face thankfully hid  from me “that poor bloke has to get up those stupid climbs, before he gets to that really stupid Honister climb!” Several burgers n coffees (& excuses to sit a bit longer) later I headed to the Honister Pass. Now is a good time to admit I’d brought way too much stuff (“THE” classic rookie error I guess)…I’ve been up the Honister Pass before, tricky though it is, I’d managed. However when you are carrying enough for like EVERY eventuality (including being asked to fit an impromptu kitchen sink with accompanying oven, cabinets & marble top work surfaces), it was foot down, game over….”hike a bike” time, till the gradient allowed otherwise! Back to Keswick for a pizza & a few hours late evening nap on a bench. Of all the places on this ride (possibly the world), Keswick has the least peaceful benches. My slumber being broken regularly, most notably by a dog called Tequila that shoved its very slobbery face into my (probably more) slobbery face, before being told by its owner, to leave “it” (aka me). “It” left Keswick approx 2:00am to the most amazing display of stars in the sky, again truly breathtaking to see. Arriving at the really gorgeous Silverdale checkpoint at “just before Spar opened” o’clock, a quick sandwich (for the record, Spar chicken mayo, just in date, all they had before todays delivery, 1/2 price, very fizzy, beggars can’t be choosers.) then onwards.

The day (Tuesday I think) became a blur of gorgeous weather, beautiful views & stiff climbs/hikes for last few checkpoints. Dent Station next (who in the name of heck gets off, or on for that matter there?) On to Malham Tarn (ironically the only place I was refused a water bottle fill request) “water, water everywhere & not a drop to drink!” Then onto Leeds Pals, last checkpoint before Sheffield. I had an enforced (thank God) layover at Leeds Pals war memorial, as it was now very dark & I’d run out of charge on my lights & power banks (yet another rookie lesson learned)…I’d improvised the last couple of miles,(for safety, hike a bike) using my head torch on red, as a rear light & my phone torch as front “light.” Waking up ready for a dawn exit in front of that war memorial (& the names of the young soldiers robbed of a life) was a real “get over yourself” moment….this bike ride is not suffering, it’s an absolute chosen privilege. The last 70 miles back to HQ were relatively flat (but if you’re going to get a wasp stuck down your jersey, don’t do it in the steepest descent of the day! Dot to dot wasp stings ensued as I couldn’t stop.) The welcome back at Sheffield HQ was definitely not something I expected, (sort of assumed there would just be the caretaker locking up) I was clapped over the line by a veritable crowd! Rookie finisher number nine, it did send me a bit emosh. In hindsight I shouldn’t have expected anything else from this fantastic crew who organised the event. The end of ride food, a beer (& a fitting “daft hapeth” tea mug to take home) all perfect. 600 miles later (or 400 more than I’ve ever done previously), never have I felt so tired & smelly, but so alive in my life. I learned lots of lessons & ideally will put them to good use in another ultra (I’d love to do this one again too, leaving with the grown ups at bedtime)….I’m hooked, & if you’re still reading this, thinking “should I???” You should!!! 

Thanks Angela, thanks Tori, thanks all the Sheffield crew. From a Lanky…..”you’re alright you lot, in fact you’re flippin great!” 

(Mention should go to the many Spar & Co-op staff members who gamely put up with a smelly Lycra clad old “so n so” working out the best value calories per penny butties….I’m northern too! I think it was the jumbo ham n egg at Spar btw, not massively tasty, but filling.)