And so it was we found ourselves rolling out of a Different Gear into the dusking light and through the city of Sheffield. My stomach was comfortably full of pizza and the remainder was strapped to the pannier rack for later, but I was hoping to ride right through this first 50 miles. Riders quickly diverged and we bumped into a few a couple of times on the way out but very soon we were riding alone in the darkness.
The night was warm and peaceful and I pushed hard to make good progress on this first leg, the terrain slightly rolling but the road shadowing the motorway was direct and reasonably quiet. One brief toilet break and we were soon approaching Wetherby services where we planned to stop for the night at just about 00:15am. Pleased with our progress we checked in quickly not to lose time and ate a bit more cold pizza before bed.
Unfortunately the hotel was serving as base for a wedding party and the sounds of merriment, which seemed so out of place considering what we were trying to achieve, kept us awake at first eating into precious hours of rest. The 4am alarm went off far too soon and I had to be shaken awake having slept through it. Groggy minds made for a slower packing up process and when we left closer to 5am I realised this was time I had not factored into the plan, today was the longest day and I was determined to stick to schedule to have any hope of making it round the ride.
Once on the road it was a relief to have some flat miles to start with, with a minor set back when the shop we were relying on to be open was very much closed meaning we hit the first control before breakfast celebrating with cold pizza again. Leeds Pal Memorial was to set the theme for controls the whole way around, necessitating an out and back detour, uphill and then straight back down. The weirdly isolate memorial seemed a lonely place surrounded by farmland and it was made even more poignant to learn the answer to the first control question was what age had Private Willy King died :aged 19.
We were keen to push onto Middleham at 93 miles where we next expected there to be a shop to stock up and were even more delighted to find it had a coffee machine (although only after we’d bought cold sandwiches did we find it had a microwave and we could have treated ourselves to warm food instead. The next stretch was at least 50miles without facilities so we ensured our water was topped up and we were full with egg sandwiches, cold baked beans and sausages and yoghurts.
This was where the terrain certainly started to get lumpier as we entered familiar territory of the Yorkshire Dales. Many an audax ride has taken us along these roads and we couldn’t resist and ice cream and a freshen up at the public loos in Kettlewell. We often ride the Etape du Dales route out of here too(and the Selad ud Epate when we do it in reverse) and felt more confident for being on familiar roads and reminisced about the various times we’d ridden them before.
The climb up to Malham Tarn was instantly familiar once we were on it and we groaned and settled down to a steady grind up one of the top 100 hill climbs in Yorkshire (according to Simon Warren), and unfortunately this wouldn’t be the last on our route.
We were treated to a descent to Malham Tarn checkpoint however, but the rougher surface and walkers and tourists made for careful going so we didn’t gain time. An open toilet provided a much needed top up of water bottles and a bit of refreshment but the unappetisingly beige wrap we had bought earlier seemed for reward for our efforts… we needed the fuel though.
Pen-y-Ghent raised it’s familiar peak in the distance and our thoughts turned to walking the Three Peaks and Pennine Way in this area. The familiar site of the Fourth Peak snack bar was too much for Stevie and he pleaded for a stop for hot dogs washed down with cool drinks in the midday heat while I tried not to witter about the time lost by stopping.
We knew the next stretch was a gentle drag so yet again settled to steadily pulling up to the top. Our next control was certainly not gentle and yet again prior knowledge meant we knew we were in for a steep pull up to Dent station through some wicked switchbacks. I’ve never been in the actual station before but it was no surprise to find out it was the highest in England.
Time lost climbing could not be recouped on the technical descent, but the morale boost of having 3/10 checkpoints done was great and a cracking gradual downhill heading toward the West coast felt well earned. I was starting to feel increasingly edgy though, the Dales had taken it out of us somewhat with so much brutal climbing and we never seemed to be getting a break to go faster with our average speed, including stops, slipped below the 10mph I’d hoped for. Arriving at Silverdale, (175 miles) just in time for my plan but then lost time looking for the control question answer put me in a particularly bad mood and Stevie was rapidly getting fed up with me moaning about a schedule that was meant to be entirely flexible anyway. I only settled down a bit when the main road up towards the Lake District proved a flyer with a tailwind and pre-ordering some pizza from Ambleside cheered us up even more as what felt like the first solid meal of the day!
Yet another out and back and epic climb for our 4th control: Honister Pass. We knew the climb well and knew we would be able to get up it on tandem, but this still didn’t change the fact it was going to be slow. It had long since got dark and I had watched the sunset over lake Windermere a few hours earlier and we were starting to feel the drag of tiredness on the one way route to the climb. We had resorted to putting the speaker, filled with cheesy upbeat tunes, on along the quiet country lanes and were suddenly shocked by another bike light on the road and experienced ultra cyclist Anisa Auben popped out of the dark. She had just stopped to rest her eyes too after an even longer day than us- she had had next to no sleep since starting but had another checkpoint in the bag having headed to Reivaulx Abbey first. She was delighted to see us for a bit of company as , as much as the rules forbid drafting, we are allowed to ride together for a short distance. We excitedly chatted about how our rides were going and what other things we’d been up to since we last saw Anisa on the Old 240 audax in the Yorkshire Dales a few years ago. The difference in pace of the tandem, faster on the descents, slower on the climbs made for a slightly broken conversation but we were all glad to have an excuse to chat as it kept us stimulated and awake to the foot of Honister. Anisa opted to save her knees and walked the toughest gradient while we grinded up to the old slate mine at the top. Now I was reminded of my Coast to Coast run earlier in the year and flying down to the slate mine on a shaley track after an epic day or trying to run uphill.
Cycling up the road proved only slightly easier for our tired legs and by the time we had found the information we needed for the Brevet Anisa had joined us at the top. We soon sped by her on the descent however and called to wish her luck for the rest of her ride. Now with all the big climbs out of the way I was ready to put the pedal down and power through Keswick to Penrith where a comfy bed awaited. The main road was wonderfully quiet at this time of night but a hard day on the front was starting wear on Stevie and firstly the music came on again and then the caffeine chewing gums followed by me trying to bully him into staying awake. I felt we were making up time on this section and desperately wanted to get to the hotel for 2am to feel like we were still on schedule. He was less worried about the actual time and struggling badly with the doozies but eventually we rolled in at 2:15am. We had a plan in mind: 1. kettle on 2. clothes off 3. water in pot noodles 4. super quick shower 5. super quick shorts wash 6. eat pot noddle 7. bed!
Feeling full and content with my efficiency I was out like a light and the alarm went off a 6:15am the next morning to get us out of the room by 7am for a 10hour 100mile ride to our most Northerly point: Upper Coquetdale.