Up and Down in the Dales

Having been a member of Thames Valley Triathletes for just over two and a half years, I’d never been able to join them on their annual cycling trip, so I decided this was the year.

Destination: Yorkshire Dales.
Date: Early April, the hottest weekend of the year so far, a subtropical 21 degrees.
Target: Cycling up (and down) some obscenely steep hills.

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We drove up early on the Friday to arrive at our hostel in Hawes for lunch and ready for our first ride of the weekend. The 20 triathletes split into three groups based on ability, I popped myself in the slowest group, also known as, “Special Needs” or later on, “Team Crosbie” after our speediest member!

The 30 km ride took us along beautifully undulating country roads, surrounded by greenery and freshly born lambs frolicking in the fields, as I would expect from Yorkshire in the spring. We passed the “Elite” group fixing someone’s chain after only a few kilometres, the only way we were ever likely to overtake them! The ominous hills either side of us in the valley were beckoning, it was only a matter of time before we knew we’d have to climb one.

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Turning off the main road for just a few kilometres we completed a comfortable downhill stretch before turning into a very steep, narrow lane. And it got steeper…and steeper! Admittedly I gave up and walked fairly early on…well someone had to stop to take photos! When it levelled out slightly I mounted my bike again and struggled uphill for another 2km where I felt like I was on top of the world! The views were just incredible! And I’d made it to the top!

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Then came the downhill. It was fun at first…sweeping corners, stunning views, but when you realise your hands are fully on the brakes yet you continue to accelerate, it all becomes slightly less fun! No time to admire the views and barely enough time to negotiate the next pot hole or corner, I was thrilled to still be alive when we made it to the bottom! As much a workout for my fingers as it was my legs, this was a bold introduction to what was in store for the rest of the weekend!

After a relaxing evening of Uno and cider, I woke up feeling somewhat groggy on Saturday morning. A cooked breakfast and a quick walk in the sunshine soon re-energised me ready for our long ride.

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This time the hill hit us smack in the face in the first 20 minutes, 6km of climbing with barely a chance to warm up. I wasn’t far from the top when I decided to stop and walk this time, I probably could have made it, but I was enjoying the view too much! The next stretch was probably my favourite of the whole weekend, gently undulating along the top of a valley, followed by an exhilarating (as opposed to terrifying) descent.

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However, what comes down must go up and we were treated to a series of savage hills even before lunch. We were ecstatic to stumble across the Dales Bike Centre in Reeth, with attached Coffee and Cakery! Ok it wasn’t quite lunchtime yet, and we’d covered a pitiful 33km in 3 hours, but we’d definitely earned our cake! I was so glad to be in Team Crosbie!

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After two more gruelling hills and the realisation that we’d just completed an Olympic triathlon cycle leg (40km) in just over three and a half hours, we stopped at the officially prearranged lunch stop…for our second lunch. At this point we decided we would try to reroute the way back to make it slightly shorter.

Our attempt failed miserably. We were on the right track and had just obliterated another glorious descent, when we found ourselves back at the Cakery. We’d missed a turning halfway down “that” hill. There were few options other than to go back up the hill we’d just so gleefully come down. This was heartbreaking news, definitely a low point of the ride in every sense of the word.

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So, off we pootled to find the turning we’d missed, which also offered us another 4km of climbing to chew on. And this was the easiest way out of our hole! At this point we were hot, sunburnt and tired, even my watch gave up. The final 25km slog back to Hawes was quiet and slow. Every mile felt longer and longer. But we made it of course! 105km with around 2,500m of climbing. And more to come on Sunday!

Saturday evening we ate out at a local pub, I even stopped for some chips on the way there I was so hungry. After such a long day it was great to relax, eat and drink guilt-free and get ready for the next day’s cycling. I don’t remember the last time I was in bed by 10pm on a Saturday night! It gave me time to admire my ridiculous tan lines.

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Sunday’s ride started off gently, we killed 20km in just under an hour, which was great compared to Saturday’s efforts! But that was where the easy ride ended. We were faced with a 25% incline to begin with, that was lovely to walk up! Took some pictures, ate some sweets, enjoyed the view 🙂

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After a relatively short descent was a long windy slog to Kettlewell for lunch. Much of it seemed relatively flat, with the added excitement of some Highland Cows on the road, but the headwind made it tricky and the constant flow of cars and motorbikes on such a narrow stretch of road was unpleasant.

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At the top I was warned about the descent ahead of me. I prepared my fingers for a tough few minutes of braking hard and off we went. Most of it went smoothly, the hairpin bend on a 25% gradient was a particular highlight! But again, I survived! And we were rewarded with lunch at the bottom.

The route back to Hawes was much shorter, but the weather began to deteriorate. The glorious sunshine we’d been lucky enough to enjoy all weekend was soon smothered by clouds and mist, and wind picked up even more. From Kettlewell it was reasonably flat, with only one big hill to get over, Fleet Moss.

I was struggling on the “flat” parts of the approach, so I really couldn’t see myself making it up a small hill, let alone this monstrosity! A 16% bump came and went and I tackled it ok. After that it just became gradually steeper, about 250m of climbing over 4km, and I just kept pedalling away. James Crosbie was my beacon of joy at the top of every hill, but never as much as this in the gloomy mist that had completely engulfed the Dales. I’d made it all the way to the top without walking! I was elated! Now we just had to get down the other side…

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This was probably the most terrifying descent of the weekend, purely because my hands were already worn out, so they just couldn’t hold the brakes any tighter. I reached 55kph with my brakes on as hard as I could squeeze. At one point I just had to let go and hope for the best as I couldn’t hold them any longer. The cross wind was blowing me all over the road, thank goodness very few cars were around.

It was a shame to end the weekend on a less enjoyable stretch, but the whole trip was a fantastic experience and I learnt so much about what I am able to push myself to do. It will certainly make all the local hills appear very tame indeed!


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