Hard tail… gravel bike… hard tail… gravel bike. Okay, fine.
I would come to regret this decision later as it turned out, but oh well.
I was faffing with bag packing on the Arnside promenade Thursday afternoon after a quick spin up the Knott when Stu came walking around with a wheel spinning a newly seated tyre. He had already completed the ITT reccy several weeks before and was getting ready for the Italy Divide. Minutes later EWS photographer Duncan arrived and we decided to get some pizza. After a beer in the Albion with Stu and local riders it was back to the boot of my car for some diagonal sleep.
I made my way over to the Arnside pier at 08:00 Friday morning to find another 20+ riders ready to pedal over to Scarborough and back. A few words from Chris and we we charging up Arnside Knott. A handful of riders sharpened the pointy end, including Karl Booth, Alex Pilkington and Steve Heading.
I caught Karl shortly after passing under the Ribblehead viaduct, where I had bivied in nettles with the sheep on the YD300 in 2017. We rode the Pennine Way together for a bit, both desperate for a water stop as the day was heating up. We reached a bridge across the Ribble. Karl began filtering whilst I dropped a few chlorine tablets and set off ahead.
I saw a frog jumping across the path in front of me. I like to think I am not a superstitious person, but I tend to see the frog as my spirit animal and wondered what he was trying to tell me. Whilst pondering the frog’s warning, I was suddenly overcome with a dramatic loss of energy. My legs turned to jelly and my head began to spin. Perhaps an evil frog then.
I found some shade and inhaled my homemade potato pasty, trying to cool down in the 25C mid afternoon sun. Soon feeling better, I began the push up Sun Moor Hill, another familiar section from the YD300. I noticed another rider had crept up on me. I guessed it might be Tea Boy. I reached the top and began a long glorious decent down to Bolton Abbey.
Around 22:30, I decided to have an early night with the intention of an early start. I spotted a cozy spot amongst some trees and lifted the bike over the fence to reach a discrete bivy. Whilst hopping over the fence I felt electricity throughout my whole body and dropped the bike with a loud WTF. I hadn’t considered an electric fence. No sooner had I climbed into my bag, I saw Tea Boy stealthily passing by.
I was on the bike by 05:20 with cold hands and feet, just begging for the sun to get out of bed. It was a flat and functional ride through York and I knew nothing would be open yet. I stumbled across a Morrisons petrol station just past 06:00, chugged a chocolate milk and refilled my bottles.
It was a dull series of flat road sections for the first part of the day, passing through towns like Driffield and Burton Fleming and then finally descending up Scarborough around 14:00. What a circus! The sunny holiday weekend attracted hoards of out of towners and things were already getting messy. Agro blokes on scooters and drunks in the street; it took concentration to keep moving in a straight line.
I escaped to Goathland for a water stop and stretch before heading into the North York Moors. At the top of the first climb, I tried to get some of my final homemade pasty down and vomited some mushrooms from my ‘breakfast in a box’ in Driffield. “Uh oh”, I said aloud to the hills.
I slowed the pace a bit and kept drinking water. The sun was going down and I felt the chill as I bumbled into the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge. The place was heaving with Easter family holidaymakers. There were no beds to be had, so I sat down with a pint of Coke and nursed a bowl of tomato soup.
A concerned lone rambler approached with her glass of wine. “Are you okay?”, she said. “You don’t look well”.
She had a word with the pub owner who agreed to let me squat in the entrance to the beer cellar for the night to recover with a bit of extra warmth. He took me round and opened the door. A concrete floor with some buckets of paint and a ladder. “It’s perfect!”, I said.
I arose from my pub cave a different human, fever gone, brain now mostly working, but I was no longer racing. I rolled up my grubby bivy burrito, applied various creams and started peddling.
After a masochistic rocky descent on the 40mm tyres, I caught up with Sean, Alan G and Craig Mac at the Lord Stones Cafe. They has wizzed passed me during my pub floor slumber. They were just getting ready to set off as I apprehensively tucked into my full Yorkshire, still feeling fragile.
After playing catchup, I rode with them for a bit, but I was off the pace and Single Speed Sean (Triple S) was full of energy and charging ahead on the climbs.
At The Crown in Askrigg where I had been missing out on a raucous hen party piss up. I tried to force some cod & chips down me whilst these jolly gals downed their wine. Pete arrived just as I was heading off. I knew it wouldn’t be long before he caught up with me.
Marching up the old Cam High Road, another familiar sight from the YD300, the sun was going down almost as fast as my eyes. Even in my diminished state, I was lured by Sean’s encouragement to push into the night to the finish on Day 3. But I remembered Alan’s wise advice to enjoy the weekend.
He was right. I decided to enjoy the starry night. A stroke of good fortune. I picked the most epic bivy spot on Wold Fell where I lay on my back watching shooting stars until 11:00 when a red full moon rose to the south.
I awoke to the sun rising in nearly the same spot as the moon six hours earlier, but I still wasn’t getting up. I was on holiday.
It was a unceremonious finish in Arnside with a token finish photo on the end of the sad little pier. “Can you take my photo?”, I said to a mum who had just changed a nappy. She must have been thinking, who is the smelly rough sleeper in lycra and WTF is he going to do with this shit photo?
I bumped into Sean and we headed to the pub for a post mortem, him with lots of energy and hungry for a burger, me still feeling fragile with no appetite. We watched the remaining dots Duncan, Andy and Chris head home and remarked on some notable finish times. Alex just a few minutes under 2 days and Alan just 1 minute under 3 days!
I was not particularly enjoying myself on the 2nd night. I had seriously considered scratching for the first time in my four years of riding these kind of events. But when I looked into the logistics of getting myself and bike 200km back to the car by train, I realised it would be easier to cycle! It was the right move.
So why did I get sick? Who knows. Maybe I was going too fast. Maybe I was dehydrated. Maybe I ate too much ibuprofen and caffeine. Maybe I should have ridden a more comfortable bike with lower gears. Or all of the above. For whatever reason, I was forced to realign expectations and attitude in order to have a good time. And in doing so, I was able to finish with some great memories and new friends… and a horrible case of saddle sores.