I recall the words that I wrote for last year’s Dales Divide ride and they very much stand for and represent this year’s ride. However, this year has been different, we have all had Covid to contend with.
It’s fair to say it’s been a pretty interesting year so far – our normal lives have been changed, up-set and totally interfered with by Covid – this is something that we’ll never ever forget!
There is now a sense of ‘normality’ returning to life and it is good to be able to get back doing things that we took for granted before. The Dales Divide (DD) is the first ‘event’ for me this year and I guess the same for many of us.
Taking inspiration from the late Mike Hall; Chris Ellison (the DD creator) has worked super-hard in getting the ride off the ground, he has biked all his life and has gradually worked his way into bike-packing during this last decade. As well as taking inspiration from our local past-master Mike, Chris was inspired to create a ride based on his Tour Divide Ride experience that traverses the Rockies from Border to Border. Sadly the UK lacks any such extreme mountains or distance, but we can make a good substitute through the softer Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cleveland landscapes. And this is exactly what the Dales Divide is an off-road, coast-to-coast and all the way back again.
Bring ‘New Blood’ in…
Last year’s ride had around 20 starters and this year the ride had progressed to around 50 starters, it had such a wide spectrum of riders and bikes from age 19 to age 70 and bikes ranging from a Dawes Galaxy (Rough-stuff style) to a Full-Susser and no doubt at Fat-bike and everything else in between. The DD has seen a large interest in those starting out in bike-packing and for whom this may be their first multi-day minimalist bike adventure… I found the love of bike-packing about five years ago, I had previously been involved with Adventure Racing directly before and was ready for a change – for something simple – exactly like Bike-Packing. You can make Bike-Packing into whatever you wish …a solo jaunt or challenge, a tour with friends or family, somewhere local or somewhere foreign and then there are organised events from ‘grass-roots’ stuff like the DD, on to the more ‘commercial’ events that are now appearing.
This year was even more special, since Mike’s mum had travelled from Harrogate to see us all off and to ride with integrity and determination – we are all ‘crazies’!
This time round…
Like last year’s inaugural DD the weather was pretty good for this weekend, just a ‘punchy’ northerly wind to contend with and some cooler than usual temperatures, so this means you can run a nice light set-up, but never to skimp on taking the wet weather gear and some spare warm clothing – the nights got cool and as the ride progresses it is often hard to keep a fatigued body warm. As always in these long bike-pack rides (read ‘races’ here!), there is point in it were it turns from a ‘race’ to a ‘survival game’…
It’s not your fellow competitors you have to conquer, but the all that the terrain and weather throws at you.
The DD is a great route and covers a wide range of landscapes, terrains and surfaces, to me it feels like a ‘friendly’ ride, as there are no nasty surprises, or extended Hike-a-Bikes, but don’t take it for granted any landscape can be challenging if the conditions are poor – local rider and guru all things bike-packing – Stu Taylor had some brutal conditions when he ‘proof rode’ the 2019 route the March before. I recall his story of a pub-landlord taking pity on him and letting him use the summerhouse to kip in after Stu asked if he could pitch his tent in the back garden – you get these moments and encounters in bike-packing, small acts of kindness – you get them and you pass them on!
What’s the ride-plan..?
Just keep it simple and don’t overwhelm yourself with times, targets and positions. To finish the ride should be the main objective, hopefully you’ll enjoy some great scenery and wildlife encounters, sun-sets and sun-rises, moon-lit night riding, sharing the journey with other riders, or being out there alone. Don’t push hard from the start – we should all just be just ‘cruising’ to Scarborough! Keep some gas in the tank for the second half, the NY Moors present some very difficult climbs, so get a good feed beforehand and don’t be afraid to get off and push – your ‘quads’ will thank you for it later! Then there’s the rest and sleep… I grabbed 3 hours on night one in a nice cosy church porch. It was an odd start to my ride having had a very stressful week completing our house sale, which went through successfully the Friday before, I was riding to York with a sense of guilt and certainly no-passion to ride. Something then clicked in me while riding through the city, maybe seeing the tail light and catching up with the rider ahead – Richard Gate. Like a ‘switch’ I then felt back ‘on-it’, I had a job to do and it was to ride my arse-off and get to Arnside!
There was no-way that I was any fitter or faster this year, only just recently I had started to get back into some multi-day rides, I was also heavier – having found the love of ‘home-baking’ during lockdown – who can resist the smell of fresh bread..?!? …anyway I’d soon burn the excess off… As I mentioned before forget schedules etc. there are too many variables to contend with in this game. Ride by feel alone and you should always feel happy when riding – being on a bike in the wild, even in poor conditions is better than being in the office at work!
Waking on day 2 I checked ‘Trackleaders’ and it looked like I had assumed lead position, this can instantly create another burden of stress – if you let it. But if you know that your strong point is the ‘long-game endurance stuff’, then all you have to do is ride as best as you can and be efficient with everything as you can and this is done by minimising ‘stop’ time. This year I had planned just 3 supply stops, if it was warmer more stops would have likely been needed.
My bike set-up is my trusty Fatster-1 – a home built 29er+. It boasts a very comfy ride from the oversize tyres, I think that this is a game-changer on a long ride, forget the turn of speed a skinny bike may provide, comfort is key and it helps protect your body and allows you to endure more distance and rougher surfaces. You can ride ‘lazy’, no need for precise-ness that all takes extra concentration and effort. You just crank the pedals and steer a bit. I went quite light, with a front roll, containing sleeping kit and some spare clothes, everything else like food in my top-tube back, bike spares, tools and batteries in the small seat pack, then everything else in my back pockets!
Further info and results here… (also a good portal for event watching)
A bit of post-race geekery…
As I had progressed well through night 2, it was looking like I may be ‘up’ on last year’s time, although I was not motivated to push harder, I had worked hard-enough and no-one was chasing me, by now it had looked like the ‘chasers’ had stopped to rest or had retired. I looked at ‘Trackleaders’ and appeared to be about 6-7hrs ahead. What happened to the others..? I ended up finishing at 07:12, 2019 I finished at 07:16. Also I compared my CP timings between this year and last and all within 20 minutes of each other – that’s sort of spooky-weird, I had no watch and only checked the time on my phone every few hours.
I ‘doff’ my hat to all the finishers, but especially the following people:-
– Karen Price – First female finisher – the sport needs the ladies as well!
– Mark Wildsmith – He rode magnificently on this first ever event and was 2nd rider to finish.
– Chris Ellison (aka The Captain) took 5hrs off his last year’s time.
– Rod Gemmell who is 70 years of age just ‘rode long and rode strong’, his dot was on the course and moving for 5days 8hrs – a credit and inspiration to us all.
Also a thanks to Stu Taylor for being the DotWatcher Media editor, bring the race to life for those at home.
Nice to finish on a good one – I now prepare myself to become ‘Mr DIY Man’ for the next six months – the new house project beckons!
Hi Chris, Alex and others
What a ride. The TD has nothing on the DD except length. Those bogs, those stony tracks will live on long in the memory. As will the 7km ride out of Bainbridge on the Roman road. I could hear the legions marching up behind me such I had to get out of their way. What a feat of 2,000 year old engineering. Later that day at the Sweet William bothy sheltering from the driving wind and rain and putting on every piece of clothing I had I even sent my sister a message to say where I was and where I was going and wrote the same message in the book. The sense of struggling on against the elements is one again I will not forget.
Thanks Chris a great and challenging ride.