Now I’m beating myself up. It was only a couple of hours to turn the pedals to the Kirkstone Pass Inn and I took the easy option of a left turn to Oxenholme station in the pouring rain instead on that Monday morning, and thus scratched from (Not) All Points North 2020.
Rewind less than 2 months to July 2020. I became aware that the “All Points North” event that had been scheduled for late May had been postponed to September, due to Covid-19, and was now being held as an informal event for anyone who wanted to devise a route and visit the 10 controls spread over the North of England.
Not a race. No entrance fee. No tracker.
No mass start.
No fixed start place or time.
A very generous 12 days to “count as a finisher”. Normally the expectation is to finish in 72hrs.
I had been planning to ride another event as my first “multi day event” this summer. Suddenly the dream of me trying something way out of my comfort zone was on again.
Most importantly I had a week's leave coincidentally booked from 5th Sept. Originally we planned a cycling/sailing holiday in Greece in those long gone days when you could plan holidays, Greece wasn’t happening.
What a turn around. I immediately dropped the ten control coordinates into Komoot and started plotting a route. I had a goal again. We could choose in what order to visit the controls, as long as a loop was completed.
I know Cumbria and Northumberland/Tyneside well enough that there would be regular “more familiar” bits but I’ve never really been to Yorkshire at all, certainly not cycling. At the end of July we had had a week touring #upNorth riding a Dales and Lakes Loop and then C2C and Hadrian's Wall which was already planned before Not All Points North was on my radar.
As I've never toured/bikepacked on my own over multi days I also planned a long weekend to complete Lon Las Cymru in August sandwiching our holiday and NotAPN20, allowing three weeks tapering before NotAPN20. I completed the route in pretty wet conditions, I had to adapt the original plan and didn't make two x 200km DIY audax as hoped but I did prove I had the capacity to set out and survive on my own in bad weather. The wild camping was particularly testing. I also crashed 10 miles from the end, resulting in a knee injury that very nearly jeopardised NotAPN20.
Starting and finishing at Sheaf Square outside Sheffield Station the extreme points of NotAPN were Silloth on the west coast and Berwick upon Tweed on the east coast, tiptoeing into Scotland. My route came to just shy of 1000km and 10000m of climbing and clockwise was chosen so I was getting the tough Yorkshire Dales done (Arnicliffe and Keld) whilst fresh then familiar Cumbria (Kirkstone Pass) and a visit to Silloth AONB and across to Kielder Forest for a different kind of wild, hopefully with a “recovery” tailwind. After Berwick I was planning to track the coast on NCN1 (via an optional side trip to Lindisfarne if tide suitable) onto Amble then heading inland to cross the Tyne at Wylam, where we’d camped in July returning from C2C. Down and up to Blanchland/Draycott Water and the last very tough push through N York Moors via Rosedale Abbey and Castle Howard and back to Sheffield, hoping being so close to completion would wind me home. 6 days/5 nights with a day spare to flex into if needed. My route clockwise (we had to keep our route private, no help allowed with formulating your route.)
My planned route Not All Points North 2020
I knew there would be some walking, I’m a plodder. I knew I found wild camping stressful, not the lack of facilities/roughing it aspect but the fear of being able to find somewhere suitable to pitch before dusk and being discovered. I was buoyed up I managed to get campsites booked at Troutbeck nr Penrith, Kielder and Amble so only the first and fifth nights were “wild”.
Mistake 1 Rigid plan
I planned like “we” do for tours, but on tours mostly you’re being fairly conservative each day so when you have bad weather/mechanicals/hills are hillier than they appeared on paper there is time to regroup and still make the plan. I was planning to average 100mile days which is not much for others but not tested on multi back to back stints for me. My eyesight is poor, so I keep night riding to a minimum.
Mistake 2 Overpacking
I knew others would mainly be bivvying and carrying less even though I had pared down my kit. It always rains and/or there are cyclist eating midges when I tour and I need a sleep mat so a lightweight tent it is. Bikepacking bags do not fit tent/mat/sleeping bag/winter clothes/some food on an XS frame, so I just went with smaller front panniers on the back with a bar bag. I’d treated myself to a dynamo hub and usb charger set up as my birthday present. Brake pads changed, bike serviced, I'm an incompetent mechanic so that gave me some reassurance. I also bought myself a Brukit, so I could feed myself and make hot drinks in the tent and perhaps even en route at the top of a stunning climb? However much I analyse it for me the only thing I should have left behind was the Brukit, it was never used. I bought a lighter sleep mat but can't justify the £100s for ultra lightweight sleeping bag and mat.
CP1 My starting point the steps of Sheaf Square outside Sheffield Station
Mistake 3 Starting too late - Saturday
We could start anytime from midnight, but it didn't matter as it wasn't a race. If I'd caught the train up to Leeds (from Bristol) on Friday night (rather than Saturday morning) I could have started at 7 and would not have been caught out in the Dales in the dark not being able to find a camp spot. So I would not have been so wet, and would have started promptly on Sunday morning. I'd also have left my post ride bag at my daughter's in Leeds rather than carrying it on my back up to Wetherby where we arranged to meet mid afternoon to hand it over. Keep post race plans out of race logistics! Do not ride with a rucksack for 70km! I found out afterwards that I would have broken the rules in the regular event as you have to finish with all the kit you start with. Lesson learnt.
I pushed on towards Pateley Bridge, I had been sensible and looked up "resupply" when planning and knew the Spar in Pateley Bridge was open until 10pm.
I took a wrong turn in Hawes and ended up in a café/museum car park with public toilets. Never a pass a public convenience without using it on a bike. I came out and found 4 cyclists, then (too late) I spotted they were from VC167 the arch rivals of Audax Club Bristol whose shirt I am sporting. Colin is the points champion and they dethroned us as national Audax champions last year and luckily they were pretty friendly and I didn't get lynched. They knew all about NotAPN20 as the organisers are in their club (I think) They wished me "bonne route" and said very nice things, very nice folk.
Mistake 6 Not Eating Enough
I pulled up at the first café in Kirkby Stephen, the White Hare Café. Benches outside, a track stand pump and a very welcoming owner. it was gone 4.30 (Sunday closing time) and his final customers were departing. That was no problem, I was welcomed with open arms, well if we hadn't have been social distancing and all that. I had another baked potato beans and cheese the same as yesterday, brought out in minutes with a huge pot of tea. Maz was concerned at my dilemma re where to camp that night and rushed off to google campsites (which I was also doing!) After a lovely chat and quite impolite shovelling down of food, I paid up and thanked Maz. I used the facilities and on departing he insisted I took a paper bag with a ginormous piece of flapjack in "for the tent later", I had said I would be wild camping somewhere as no campsites on my route. People are just so lovely. I inelegantly pulled on legwarmers and thermal arm warmers to beat the evening chill, the wind was affecting perceived temperature as I was still quite wet. I set out rejuvenated, things were getting better.