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.
Descent to Kirkby Stephen
I only managed 25% of Not All Points North 2020 #NotAPN20 over 2 days. I could not face the thought of another wet night that night stressing over finding a camping spot knowing my tent was soaked. I was worrying about that night at 8am in the morning.
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.
Panniers off for the reserved bike space on Cross Country Trains Bristol Temple Meads to Sheffield
The curved mirrored walkway at Sheaf Square is not flattering to short rotund cyclists!
The ride from Sheffield to Wetherby was a little tedious, I was right to treat that as "getting it done" so the more pleasant roads after Wetherby were much appreciated, especially as I'd left the rucksack with my daughter at the cafe where I devoured a baked potato with beans and cheese, classic audax fare.
Traffic density plummeted and it was a tonic to be leaving the conurbations behind. Studley Park was the first control and all the NT staff were racing home. It was 6pm already. I walked round and round that church trying to find the opening times, in the end I took pics and googled them. What a waste of time, I hadn't used the time to fuel so a dead 45 mins. Studley Park was lovely though.
CP2 St Mary's Church Studley Deer Park near RiponI 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.
Mistake 4 Carrying too much food
I've always toured in the wilds of Scotland/Wales/Lakes/Pennines etc and often there are no shops/cafés for hours or over a day at a time. With Covid this is even more relevant as I had found on my previous two multi day trips this year. So I was carrying enough food to manage for nearly a day, inc a back up pouch of dahl. I was worrying about fading light, couldn't stop for a pizza in Pateley Bridge and rushed round the spar buying random sardines, tea cakes, butter, bananas and a 2l bottle of water etc and then had to carry them in a musette I had bought for just such emergencies. I strapped the water bottle on the rack with a bungee, I'd had to do that in Wales.
Then the hill out of Pateley Bridge was straight up. I wanted to get to the reservoir to camp but by the time I was up the top and could contemplate some flat land it was dark. My new dynamo lights were good but don't stay on walking so I put the spare blinkie on too. I nearly lost the water at one point, all this faff = time. It was raining.
I could see I was at my route end near the reservoir but couldn't see where would be ok to camp, it was very marshy. So I rang a B&B but it turned out their availability calendar was wrong. He took pity on me and said I could camp in the garden if I had breakfast in the morning. It took another 45 mins to get to Grassington, tent up and the very kindly B&B owner made me hot chocolate and a huge slab of cake was brought out. I only had use of a cloakroom and didn't like to wash so it was wild camping really.
Mistake 5 Starting too late again - Sunday
It rained overnight and I packed up a very wet tent in the rain as early as I dared, and had a fantastic breakfast whilst stressing about time. I stashed the food I hadn't eaten from the Spar in panniers and bungeed the wet tent on the rack.
If only I'd been away at 7.30 and not 9.30. I was repeating my mistakes. On the other hand I needed that breakfast, it was stupendous. A nice level ride out to the 2nd control at Arnicliffe to warm up. The rain was easing.
There was a cyclist lurking, taking pictures of the pub (we had to take a pic at each control, and answer the relevant question, see image above) I took my photo as evidence and she said "are you Fiona?" Turns out it was Sarah, my online cycling/audax friend from Lincoln, we had never met nor had we shared we were entering NotAPN20. This was a big highlight of my weekend, meeting a real live "other nutter but very normal like me" person on the road. We both had the same tent and Sarah had camped near the reservoir and got away much earlier. We both thought we were carrying too much. I think I ate a banana and we nattered a short while and she mentioned something about her route avoiding Butter Tubs. I knew I had big hills all day but did not know if Butter Tubs was one.
Sarah at Arnicliffe
Sarah left a couple of minutes before and I passed her not long after, now I know our routes deviated after that. I was heading towards Fleet Moss and Hawes, another legendary climb I didn't realise was on my route. A brief speedy downhill section and a couple hailed me as I passed "are you actually from Bristol?" I stopped and said "yes" So were they, a few seconds chatting and it turns out he was the Golf Captain at the club Steve plays at, 5 years ago. They were walking the Dales Way and completed it. His wife very kindly found me on Instagram and forwarded the only photo of me (I had declined Sarah's kind offer to take a photo at Arnicliffe.)
I slogged my way up what I now know is Fleet Moss. I was quite glad I hadn't realised the names as I may have psyched myself out. Walking was involved.
Then a whoosh into Hawes, a touristy busy place that I certainly didn't want to stop in. I knew there was a hill up the other side, a little hill called Buttertubs.
HawesI 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
Buttertubs was conquered very slowly, with more walking. I was hoping for some food at the 3rd control in Keld, an unscheduled tour down into the village looking for the phone box that was on the road at the top. The pub only had tea/coffee and crisps so I drank a pot of tea huddled in the porch as non residents were not allowed to stay inside. I ate some of the rolls I still had from home, but didn't eat enough. I found it hard eating all day.
CP4 KeldRolling climbing continued but eventually (4pm?) I could see the Lakeland Fells in the distance and was on the descent to Kirkby Stephen. The vista was just stunning. A highpoint of my weekend. I finally had phone signal so rang my parents in Penrith to say they wouldn't be meeting me for a pub meal in Troutbeck (the Penrith one) tonight, I was way behind! I needed a proper sit down meal and I whizzed down to Kirkby Stephen, an endorphin boosting descent ruined by a beeping car who yelled obscenities at me when it was OK for me to safely pull in to let them past, it was the 3rd car in the queue. The others thanked me. People ugh. But as always, the vast majority are lovely. That was my only incident. Traffic was exemplary otherwise.
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. The ride across the moors towards Orton was spectacular, we were here on our Dales and Lakes loop at the end of July.
Mistake 7 Not setting up camp early enough - again
I promptly repeated yesterday's mistake. I could have camped on Orton Moor but I was motivated to get as much done to recover the day as possible to make tomorrow less daunting.
Sunday 6th was also #RaphaWomens100 day and I was not at 100km. I had that motivation to push me on riding with Emily Chappell's "Invisible Peloton", or more accurately my invisible peloton of people who inspire me on the bike. I "rode" with other women around the world vicariously and made my 100km even if not the 100 miles that had been the aim.
The evening sun was stunning, my thermal arm warmers were pushed down. Through Tebay then the drag up on the wide but empty road running parallel to the M6 southbound. I hauled myself up high and finally turned westwards away from the motorway din. Both the light and weather were closing in, I took a side road and stopped at the first decent looking field with a big wall to hide behind with the sheep. I dead lifted my bike over my head, threw the luggage over and carefully climbed the gate near the hinges, only to find a very marshy sloping field with lots of sheep poo. A theme of my wild camping spots it seems. The flattest driest bit was still a sloping and diagonal pitch. No hope of lighting my stove for a drink again. I ate some more rolls from home and the flapjack and tried to sleep. The inside of the tent is also wet from packing it up in the rain this morning.
I started to sort myself out at first light, I had slept very badly again, pulling myself up the mat all night and listening to the persistently heavy rain. This was my view when I thought about a mug of tea at 6am, the rain in my face, I quickly gave up on that idea, it's not safe to light up under the very small porch. My left knee was very sore, there was nothing wrong with it last night, my right knee has been the worry after the accident on Lon Las Cymru 3 weeks ago.
So so wet at dawn on Monday..so I had 2 tea cakes with slabs of butter for breakfast. This is what it's really like bikepacking. Not staring wistfully at a beautiful sunrise as other bikepacking blogs have you believe.
I was packed up for 7.30, not late today, but I was absolutely drenched with all my cycling kit on including thermal arm warmers, leg warmers, rain jacket. My shoes have been soaked since Saturday.
Mistake 8 Giving up without taking time to regroup
In my head I had already given up. I hadn't considered giving up last night so I didn't even sleep on the idea. I just could not face camping wild again tonight as I was now behind my campsite reservations and it was impossible to rely on getting a site on spec at present due to Covid limitations. I needed dry shorts and a shower as I was suffering already with saddle sores, which has never been a problem for me before this summer.
I huddled under a tree and put Oxenholme station on google maps and listened to the directions. I passed one other cyclist in the opposite direction who turned out to be another All Points Norther, I didn't know at the time, but it was a lovely cheerful greeting from another human. My legs were weary. I turned off my NAPN route. If I'd cycled the same distance west rather than south I would not have been far from Windermere or a cafe or a supermarket. Then I could have regrouped, looked at my phone in the dry so I could see it, realised that Kirkstone was easier than yesterday's hills (which I did know but I wasn't processing) Mainly I could have eaten something and possibly booked some dry accommodation for that night. I would not have scratched so early if my head had been playing ball.
I rolled into Oxenholme, bought a ticket and sat down on the platform to wait an hour for the train to Penrith. I felt a bit pathetic. I do know that I doubt I'd have made the whole course, perhaps across to Berwick and down to Durham but my saddle sore problems were ramping up. I need to get that sorted out. It was just ironic that the injured knee that nearly prevented me starting was absolutely fine. The other knee had swelled sleeping at an angle over night, I couldn't walk on it once I stopped cycling and it was OK 48 hrs later. I think my sort of cycling is more about damage limitation.
Scratched and waiting for a train at OxenholmeMistake 9 Having comprehensive bail out plans
Perhaps my head failed me because it was easy for me to bail at that point. I had my parents in Penrith to descend upon, if I'd got to Blanchland my route then went past my brother's house in Durham and my daughter lives in Leeds. I had my railcard and lots of stations to get a train from.
Not All Points North was my first ever multi day endurance cycling event. So perhaps it was an inspired way to learn. After all, my first multi day solo trip had only been 3 weeks before and I had been injured for the intervening tapering period. That certainly did not leave me in the ideal focussed frame of mind. I'm certainly less fit than I was in March going into UK Lockdown as I have had no access to the gym up to now, I don't own a turbo trainer and have ridden less miles than normal too this year. I was very cross with myself on the train, it did not occur to me to get off in Penrith buy another ticket and go back to Oxenholme and just get on with it.
I have not been put off, I will apply myself and give myself a better chance next year. I am not in it to win it, just in it to prove to myself that I can get round without relying on anybody else. I will down that emergency gel before deciding I was too hungry and lethargic to just continue slowly until I eventually came to a café.
Thank you to All Points North organisers for opening up an informal event in this strange disjointed year, not charging a penny for the great privilege of taking part and making it a really special accessible event. I loved it, even if their were times I questioned my sanity that is what endurance cycling is about. I have written this blog post to remind me next time what not to do.
The biggest hurdle was entering, and actually starting. So really I'm pretty proud of myself for psyching myself up. I didn't think I'd meet another participant and I did and the social media interaction made me feel like I was part of the event even if I felt a bit of a fraud entering.
I'm wistful that I didn't see the AONB around Silloth, didn't make my planned sidetrips into Kielder Forest and Lindisfarne, nor the fantastic café at Blanchland my brother had told me about. I still haven't been to the Yorkshire Moors. I will return. I love it #upnorth