Spring Into The Dales - April 23rd 2006 [Road]

So at last it was time for 'Spring Into The Dales' 2006. Spring had been a long time coming this year. A severe winter had been forecast for the UK, but it turned out to be not so much severe as just plain lonnnnnnnnnnnnnng! Only two weeks ago I'd done a 100km ride with fellow C+ forum members 'Nickwill' and 'Warburton' and we had been repeatedly ambushed by wintry showers up on the tops. On Sunday though, 'proper' spring weather was forecast so was able to leave my rain jacket at home. Instead, I wore one of my super-value cheapo (5.99!) ALDI gilets with a long-sleeved base-layer and jersey combination underneath. I chose 3/4 length bibtights with lightweight leg-warmers for my bottom half. I thought that would be about right, but the weather was even better than expected, and I actually felt very over-dressed for the second half of the ride...

I only got five hours sleep before the event due to a combination of nerves and not wanting to be late again. Last year, despite only living round the corner from the start, I was 30 minutes late and missed riding off with everyone else. I was up this time at 6:30 am and therefore had plenty of time to be ready by 9:00. Or so you'd think... I'd made my drinks up the night before, and fettled my trusty Basso, so pretty much all I had to do was have my breakfast, and then make my final choice of what clothing to wear after checking the latest forecast. Unfortunately, I didn't feel very hungry that early in the morning, so I made the mistake of switching my computer on and killing some time on t'Internet. I might as well have had an extra hour in bed. I eventually had breakfast at about 7:30. As usual, it was muesli, but I forced down an even larger bowl than normal - working on the assumption that I would be needing the energy later. More dithering ensued, and then a last minute panic sorting out silly little things that I'd overlooked, things like changing my bike computer over to metric units, to match the route guide (which I'm proud to say I didn't need to consult once - I only made one error on the route and realised my mistake after about 20 metres).

And so it came to pass that I was late again this year... Only 5 minutes, but it meant that I didn't have time for the planned pre-ride rendezvous with C+ forum co-conspirators Nickwill, 'MSeries' and 'Blonde'. I mounted my bike and shot off from my back door in a bit of a flap, with only a couple of minutes to go to 'the off'. When I got round to Salem Street, I was immediately confronted by an angry mob of fellow audaxers - how dare I be late again! Actually they all seemed pretty cheerful, but they were just setting off, and I was going against the flow... I had to find my way through somehow to pick up my start-pack. Having almost knocked over a few scrawny old guys in my haste, I clattered my way up to the top floor of t'mill, got my paperwork, and clattered back down to my bike. Damn Look cleats - I nearly came a cropper on the way down the stairs.

And he was off! I went with the last few riders and told myself to calm down, and not overdo things on the first climb. Keighley Road is the longest climb of the day (over 7 km) and my legs were not yet warmed up so it would have made sense to take it easy, just as most of the other riders were. I didn't, of course... No sooner had I got beyond the houses, and into the woods below Pecket Well, than my adrenaline took over and I started overtaking one group of riders after another. I was feeling fine and this was going to be a great ride. Yes, and I felt like that for all of about 5 minutes. By the time that I reached Pecket Well, my mega-muesli breakfast appeared to have congealed into a big heavy lump in my stomach and I seriously considered throwing up over the nearest wall. Not nice. The only thing that stopped me was the fear of then having to do the ride on an empty stomach. Commonsense prevailed and I slowed to a more comfortable pace which I maintained to the Cock Hill summit.

I went down into Oxenhope pretty quickly. A lot of people seemed to be descending with their brakes on but I don't like to do that. I didn't take any unnecessary risks though; just the necessary ones.

We took a left turn at Oxenhope, leading round to the foot of Penistone Hill. I'd struggled up that two weeks before with Nickwill and Warburton, well, struggled relative to them that is. I still feel a bit heavy and under-powered on steep hills and the difference between those two and me had been immediately apparent. The same thing happened on Sunday. A lot of the people that I'd overtaken earlier were now overtaking me. Some of these were young, skinny, and on very lightweight bikes so I didn't feel too bad about them. It was the grey-haired, grey-bearded pensioners that got to me! They had big saddlebags weighing them down (just what do they carry in those bags by the way - tents?). I could have done with more storage space but those bags seemed a little bit OTT. Some of the old uns were pretty scrawny, but there were many others who were carrying far more weight than me. And their bikes all seemed to be fairly heavy steel-framed affairs with full mudguards. I had no excuses. I SHOULD have been able to climb faster than them - but I just wasn't fit enough. I need to spend more time out on my various bikes, and less time on the computer doing this kind of thing...!

I eventually crested the hill in front of some riders, and behind others. Looking towards Scar Top, I could see tell-tale patches of fluorescent yellow and green stretching out into the distance. They were the reflective jackets worn by the fast riders who had already got a kilometre or more ahead of me. I certainly wasn't going to break any speed records that day!

The sun was shining now and very pleasant it was too. I descended to Lower Laithe reservoir with the usual caution. That hill is too steep and pot-holed to take risks on.

The route then turns left up into Stanbury. I didn't exactly feel bad, but even at that early stage in the ride, I felt as though I didn't have any 'oomph' in my legs, so the little drag felt even more draggy than usual. After passing through the village, I was soon re-overtaking riders on the sharp drop down towards Ponden reservoir. I like to maintain my speed at the bottom because the road rises up again immediately. On a good day, I can stay on the big chainring and use my momentum to carry me almost to the top of the next little climb. I had to resort to my middle-ring and big sprocket combination on Sunday though.

It didn't take long to get to the foot of the nasty climb to Scar Top. That is just a bit too steep and a bit too long for me to manage comfortably. Its one saving grace, however, is that there is a section halfway up where the gradient eases for a few metres so you can at least recover for a few seconds. I look forward to the day when I can climb Scar Top comfortably. Years ago, it was an exercise in survival for me. It was all that I could do to actually get up the thing without stopping for a rest. I have progressed to the point now where it just feels like really hard work, but at least I don't fear it anymore. Actually enjoying it will have to wait for another year...

The next section of the route is pleasant enough - a long gentle undulating rise up to the now defunct Herders Arms pub, situated on the crest of a hill above Wycoller Country Park. On the way, as I came up to Watersheddies reservoir, I became aware of a couple of potential problems...

It was developing into a rather nice sunny day. Given the near arctic conditions that I'd endured along there on my previous visit, this was very pleasing, except that I realised that I would have been better off with my original choice of clothing. My long-sleeved jersey is great in cold-to-mild conditions, but a bit much in warm-to-hot weather. Arm-warmers and short-sleeved jersey would have been a much better choice, because the arm-warmers would now be coming off. Oh well.

Worryingly, I could hear a funny noise coming from my bike. Not a loud noise, nor a particularly destructive kind of noise, but I'm a bit fussy about that kind of thing. I regret to say that I'm generally a bit of an untidy, disorganised person, but I do like my bikes to work properly. Mystery noises are a sign that something is wrong, and need to be investigated. Previous warnings which I ignored, when I was younger and more foolish you understand, led to unforeseen consequences (see *1* below). My investigations on Sunday didn't get me anywhere. The noise was subtle and I could hardly hear it a lot of the time. It was one of those noises whose source can't quite be located. After a couple of fruitless maintenance stops, I decided to try and ignore it, and sort it out when I got home, unless it got worse en route, which it didn't...

The descent from the Herders was fun, as usual. It's very quick, and as long as suitable caution is exercised on the bends, not too risky.

I caught up with a few other riders at Laneshaw Bridge, but they gradually pulled away from me on the climb up the first part of Elslack moor (see *2* below). I overtook a couple of guys on the steep descent to Earby. That does require caution, but they looked absolutely terrified - it's not THAT bad! The first control point was situated in the town, and it wasn't hard to spot it. There must have been about 50 gnarly audax riders gathered around chatting, or waiting to get their cards stamped. There seemed to be an awful lot of grey beards and grey-haired or bald heads on display... The official's car boot was open, and we were told to help ourselves to chocolate biscuits, cakes etc. So I did! I don't buy that sort of thing because I have a bit of a sweet tooth and would soon gorge myself back up to 16 stone plus. Still, on a tough day out like SITD I needed to keep the old blood-sugar topped up. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Last year, I found the directions out of Earby a little bit confusing. It was obvious that other people were having the same problem at the junction with the A56 this year. I remembered that a right turn towards Skipton was called for, but many riders had turned left, and had then stopped in a big confused group down the road to discuss what to do next. I pointed to the right and set off. It seemed that there was a reluctance to trust my navigational skills because the expected surge of riders never came.

I wanted to get off the A road and away from the traffic as quickly as possible so I didn't hang about. I soon got to the left turn at Thornton-in-Craven onto the B6262 Barnoldswick Road. I spotted a sign there saying "CAUTION - Cycling Event" which was a bit odd, because there hadn't been any signs elsewhere on the route. Then I started encountering cyclists coming the other way. The numbers on their backs, and their tri-bars gave away the fact that a Time Trial was in progress. It was the first one I'd ever come across. Coming to think of it, I've only encountered one (amateur) Road Race too. That was in the Forest of Bowland a couple of summers ago.

As required, I crossed the busy A59 at West Marton and set off down a nice little lane which eventually ends up in Gargrave. I returned a cheery wave to a middle-aged couple on a tandem coming towards me; they seemed to be having a nice day out together (see *3* below). Shortly after this the riders delayed at Earby finally started to overtake me. I let the first couple of groups go as they were too fast for me, but a third weren't going that much quicker than me so I accelerated and tagged along with them to Gargave.

I didn't want to hang about at the cafe stop at Gargrave, so I just got my card stamped and was soon back on my way. This time round, I took the official route at the side of the Cafe, rather than going down the main road and turning left.

I made my only navigational error of the day about 1.5 km out of Gargrave. I followed the road round to the left as it headed towards Airton, but didn't remember the big building ahead of me. It looked a bit like a stately home, and I was sure that it would have stuck in my mind if I'd ridden past it last year, so I turned back and then saw other riders taking the right fork for Hetton as I should have done.

I soon started encountering a lot of 'roadkill'. I'd been rather shocked the first time that I did my 'Grassington loop' to see scores of squashed rabbits, hedgehogs, pheasants etc splatted all over the roads out there. I suppose it's just that there is a lot more wildlife about to GET killed in the Dales. Darwinian selection at its most brutal! The creatures that find roads and headlights most fascinating don't survive long enough to have a lot of offspring. The timid ones live to breed another day...

It may be obvious that once again I'd ended up on a solo mission. I wasn't quite quick enough for the faster riders, the ones now passing me in two and threes. They had probably stopped at Gargrave, and were now regaining their places ahead of me. The slower riders were either doing the 'Leap Into The Aire' event, or were dropping further and further behind me. Never mind, I'm used to riding alone, and at least I could see other riders out enjoying themselves and exchange friendly greetings from time to time.

Hetton came and went, and then Cracoe. Immediately after that comes a welcome diversion off the main road onto a few km of really nice singletrack lane which rises quite steeply in places, and then plunges back down through the hamlet of Thorpe. We had to turn right onto the B6160 and it is then only a couple of km to Burnsall (see *4* below).

One quick stop at Burnsall 'Gents' to refill my bottles, and I was back on my way. Over the bridge and heading south-east to Appletreewick. There was an 'information control here'. What is the name of the second pub on the left? Answer: The New Inn (see *5* below). Last year it was the first pub on the left. Next year it will probably be the other one - so many pubs for such a small settlement!

I caught up with a pensioner cyclist at Appletreewick. He was riding an old Colnago with down-tube gearshifters and was wearing very colourful cycling kit. I had a quick chat with him, before pressing on. He'd set off early to 'get a head start' on everybody else but he still wasn't doing too badly to get that far before I overtook him. A bit further on, I started speaking to another man, this time someone about the same age as me (50ish). He wasn't sure about the route, but I remembered missing the right turn last year and reassured him that we needed to head towards Barden. As we rode along chatting, we passed a couple stood at the side of the road. They were removing some cycling clothing which had become surplus to requirements in the warm sunshine that we were now enjoying. We called out to them as we passed but about 50 metres on, I realised that they were probably MSeries and Blonde. I couldn't be bothered to turn round and go back to them, and anyway, I had a sneaky feeling that I'd be seeing them again soon...

Sure enough, it wasn't long before we were overtaken. I had a closer look this time and I got tell it WAS them. Blonde went whizzing up the next little climb, and I decided to go up and say hello to MSeries. He seemed friendly enough, and we went along together towards Storiths. That is a lovely stretch of road, but there are some steep little climbs on it. Blonde had gone on ahead, and was out of sight as we climbed up a double chevron climb after a small ford. I was getting blinded by sweat so I stopped to wipe my face, and MSeries went on to rejoin his frisky biking buddy.

I met a few other riders at the junction with the A59. There was quite a lot of traffic and it was moving pretty quickly, so getting across the road was a bit tricky. Eventually we had a gap, and got over to the other side. After a quick 1 km descent, we turned left and headed along a quiet lane through Beamsley. That led to the turnoff for the footbridge over the Wharfe. About eight of us (including MSeries and Blonde) gathered there, crossed the river and ascended together. That involved shouldering our bikes and walking up some steep steps to the applause of a group of ramblers coming the other way who stopped to let us go past.

After a couple of back streets, we came to the A65, and crossed that to begin our climb over Middle Moor. I felt as though I was cooking, and also in need of a pee-stop so I let the others go on ahead. I took off my gilet and immediately felt better; I probably should have removed it earlier at my refuelling stop at Burnsall. I also had to unzip my jersey all the way down to allow more cooling. I almost took that off as well - I had a long-sleeved base layer on underneath - but it would have been another thing to carry and I was starting to feel somewhat weighed down by the bits and pieces that I was toting. The climb didn't feel too bad this year, going at my own pace. Most of the others had long gone by the time that I got to the information control at the top. I borrowed a pen off someone to write down the name of the road we'd just climbed - 'Cocking Lane'. Another group arrived at the summit just as we were setting off. I went off on the descent with one brave soul as the more timid riders held back. He got ahead of me, but then I overtook him as he slowed suddenly. I dived past him, and heard him shout something as I went by, although I didn't catch what it was. No time for that now. He finally caught me on the run into Silsden so I asked what he'd said. He had only wanted to know if I was sure that we were going the right way, because he couldn't face having to climb back up again if we weren't! I reassured him that navigation was easy from now on.

We passed through Silsden as quickly as we could... the appropriate thing to do, methinks, though don't tell the proud inhabitants of said town!

I led the reformed group up to the lights in Steeton and set them on their way. I was starting to feel a bit jaded by now and didn't bother trying to stay with them. It might have been better if I had, because there was a nagging headwind on the A629 into Keighley.

I eventually got to the control at Rossi's Cafe where I locked my bike up and had a quick can of Coke and piece of cake. I spotted MSeries and Blonde finishing their drinks and setting off, but they were out of sight by the time that I got moving again.

There were an awful lot of people about for a Sunday afternoon in Keighley; I remember when towns were quiet on Sundays. I'm showing my age I suppose... Ah, it was Saint George's Day! There seemed to be some sort of service going on because there were scouts and guides standing to attention at the roadside and many were holding flags. I didn't hang about to see what was going on though, because I was in the final stages of the day's event and I just wanted to get home.

The climb up to Cross Roads went remarkably well. I was feeling a bit tired, and my back was aching, but I managed a reasonable speed this year, compared with the lengthy struggle of the year before.

Haworth Brow seemed okay too, although I began to suspect that the wind had swung round a bit since we'd set off in the morning. I'd thought that we might have a tailwind on Oxenhope Moor, but my hopes were now dashed. There was actually a moderate cross/headwind as I began the climb proper. When I'm tired, that climb really bothers me. It is steep enough and long enough to hurt, and it doesn't help to have any wind at all unless it is behind you. Which it wasn't...

I grovelled up the hill again, just as I had last year, but at least I was doing 8-9 kph rather than the 4-5 kph of 2005. A few riders began to overtake me, and slowly disappear into the distance. A bit disappointing really. I'd been hoping for better things this year, but there is clearly much work still to do to achieve the level of fitness that I want to have.

A rider aged about 60 went by with someone younger. The young guy was riding strongly, but at least the older one had the decency to shake his head as he went by, looking suitably knackered. I realised that I was starting to crack towards the top of the climb. It was a very sudden thing and was almost certainly a sign of the dreaded 'bonk' or 'hunger knock' about to strike. I'd passed the pub on my left and I knew damn well that I only had about 1.2 km to the summit, but that didn't seem to help - I was slowing down. I guessed that I had no more than 5 minutes to the top so I decided to count down 1 minute at a time. That quickly did my head in because each minute seemed to take a lifetime, so I started counting down in half-minutes, then finally, quarter-minutes. I could see the top of the hill ahead of me now and yet I felt so low I almost cried. I was definitely 'running on empty', which surprised me having fuelled up with: a big bowl of muesli, two bananas, 3 litres of carbo drink, 3 small cakes and a can of coca cola. It became obvious later that it was not enough because despite tucking into sandwiches, biscuits, cakes, scones and coffee (Yum!) back at Salem Mill, I still weighed more than 1 kg less when I got home, than when I'd set off. Thinking about it - it might have been dehydration due to excessive sweating - I was definitely overdressed for the warm weather on the day.

The summit at last - hoo-bloody-rah! My spirits lifted instantly. I could see the pair of riders that had recently passed me about 500 metres ahead and set off in pursuit of them. I overhauled them before Pecket Well and then started catching up with others in twos and threes. I just wanted to get back, but the Sunday traffic going down to Hebden Bridge was getting in the way. I contemplated overtaking the cars, but commonsense prevailed and I went down with the other cyclists at about 40 kph.

We saw several examples of stupid driving in the few kms of the ride, but eventually we all made it back to the mill in one piece. I chained my bike up inside and clambered up to get my card stamped. Chris Crossland, the SITD organiser asked me if I'd enjoyed the ride and I said that I had, but was miffed not to have gone round quicker. He said that 6 1/2 hours wasn't a bad time for that ride. I suppose that he's right. My time included a total of 50 minutes for stops too. Next year, I'll try for about 5 1/2- 6 hours with stops.

After that I had rather a lot to eat and drink, thanks very much!

MSeries And Blonde were chatting to Nickwill and a few others at a table near to me. I wasn't really feeling like talking to anybody at that point so I just sat and stared into space with glazed eyes... MS & B got up after a few minutes, said goodbye and went on their way - they still had to ride back to Leeds! I looked about and started to overhear a conversation about somebody having had his bike stolen. I didn't catch the details. It confirms that my feelings are valid however - I've been told off by some for being 'untrusting' or 'cynical' about human nature - as if anybody would want to steal my bike! Actually, I think they would and I worry about it. I can't afford to replace any of my bikes if my insurance company choose not to cough up. It would also spoil a nice day out. I did a bit of research after the event, and heard again that teams of bike thieves are at work in the Dales, Peak District and Bowland areas; all the cycling hotspots round here in fact! They are getting quite crafty about it now. A thief in full cycling kit is dropped around the corner from a busy cyclists' cafe. He wanders over to the parked bikes and bends over one. He looks the part, so nobody takes much notice of what he is doing, which of course, is cutting the lock off (if one is even being used). He rides the bike round the corner, chucks it in the back of his mate's van and off they go... bastards!

I was feeling in need of a long hot soak, so I headed down to my bike and tried to get the lock off, but I was so tired that I had to sit down to do it. After that, I tried getting to my feet and I stumbled backwards, knocking into a guy's bike as he was trying to fix a puncture - oops! I apologised and had a very brief chat with him. He'd ridden from Manchester that morning, and had done Blackstone Edge as a warm-up for the SITD climbs - wasn't there enough climbing for him! He was going back along the valley roads, however, because he'd had enough of the lumpy stuff!

Off home I went and soon I was luxuriating in my bath. And very relaxing it was, except for one thing... How do you know when you are exhausted? I would suggest that lying in a bath, being annoyed by a dripping tap, looking at it for 45 minutes, finding it intensely irritating, but being too spent to lean forward and sort it out is a sure sign! I slept well that night.


*1* Consequences of ignoring strange noises from bikes in the past

One buggered bottom bracket. A handlebar stem bolt failing on my mountain bike (MTB). A MTB tyre coming off its rim. A MTB tube exploding through a split tyre. A road tube nearly exploding through a split tyre! MTB front brake blocks wearing out mid-descent and leading to the destruction of my wheel; I couldn't stop using just my back brake, so I had no choice - that's the last time that I try to get "just one more ride" out of a pair of worn blocks! A chain snapping, with eye-watering results! A saddle breaking off. That NEARLY had eye-watering results, but I felt it move and stood up in time! Fortunately, I was not far from home, but I had to ride back standing up, with my saddle stashed in my back pocket. There are more, but you get the idea... Since the SITD ride, I noticed that the end of the front derailleur cable was rubbing on my back tyre. What really bugs me about this discovery is that the same thing happened on my Cannondale in Spain and yet I didn't think to check for it on the Basso...

*2* Problems climbing

I still need to lose another stone or so to be at my best for climbing, but the main problem is my back. I can be climbing at a certain level of effort and that is okay, but when I try just a bit harder, my back starts to pack up. My legs don't feel too bad, and my heart and lungs are okay, just Monsieur Back, he say "Non!". I never get round to doing anything about it, even though I know what the problem is caused by - a combination of inflexibility, and lack of core strength. Riding bikes is fun, but I've never really got into stretching and back and abdominal exercises. I'll have to force myself to give them a go...

*3* Tandems and Relationships

If I ever end up in a relationship with a female cyclist who needs a bit of help to keep up with me, I'd consider trying out a tandem. I wouldn't want to ride tandem with a woman who wasn't my partner, or with a man - it would seem too intimate somehow! I would definitely have to be 'Captain'; I don't fancy relinquishing control of the steering and brakes even though I'm happy to do that in a car. I think that riding a tandem together would be a real make-or-break test of a relationship. It would be very easy to get ratty with each other if one wanted to ride further or faster than the other. And if one rider caused a crash, it would take a lot of lip-biting for the other not to make a fuss about it!

*4* Extending the SITD route

Turn left at Thorpe (rather than right towards Burnsall) and head up the B6160 to Kettlewell, then turn right over the Wharfe, and take the Dales Way back to Grassington. Follow the B6265 to Hebden, and take a little back road to the right there to rejoin the SITD route just before Appletreewick. If you look on OS map 98, you'll see that this is quite a simple diversion to follow, and from what I recall, a very nice one.

*5* The New Inn, Appletreewick

Something stuck in my mind about that pub so I did a search on t'Internet when I got home. Ah yes, it was famous for welcoming hikers, horseriders, mountain-bikers and other cyclists. I'd fancied stopping there for a mountain biking weekend in the Dales, but I think that the pub has changed hands since then. The previous owner had lock-up bike sheds, tools, route guides, bike-washing facilities etc. available. It might not be like that now.