When I found out about All Points North I was really excited. This was a 1000 km, 3 day event starting in Sheffield on a Bank Holiday weekend, it was easily accessible without taking away any annual leave.
Having no major events like Transcontinental for 2019, it was great to get this in the diary and have a target for the year. The event was being run on the same self-supported rules as the Transcontinental although it was designated a ride. #notarace.
The route planning had a slightly different challenge since the 9 checkpoints could be visited in any order. The Big Daddy was Great Dun Fell with the remaining 8 spread from coast to coast and as far North as Kielder Castle. My initial assessment showed the quickest route was a broadly circular sequence with just the direction to be decided upon. Even avoiding major roads it was actually achievable in 900 km.
I opted to head for the East coast from the start, on the basis that it was the least scenic and flattest part of the route and therefore deserved to be the night time section. This would have a tailwind assuming a normal prevailing wind direction.
My strategy was going to be a little different than TCR, I wanted to travel light, taking no sleeping kit and have only one sleep but in a hotel.
I also wanted to dispel a nagging doubt from my Transcontinental race. I suffered horrendously on Day 2 & 3. I’m pretty sure was down to the heatstroke, but had I simply overstretched myself on Day 1? If I could do APN in two days it would finally put my mind at rest and I could blame it fairly and squarely on heatstroke.
The organisation at the start was superb, all administrative tasks were completed without fuss or delay and there was ample time to chat to the other riders ahead of the start. Cups of tea and snacks were laid on in abundance for the riders.
I was surprised how much chat there was about routes, since of course these had been so secret in the build up, but people were quite set on their plans and not going to be making a last minute change. Eventually we gathered in the street and all of a sudden there was a countdown and we were off!
Day 1: To Carlisle Rest stop: Total Distance 462 km, total average 26.9 kph
I began the event in absolute last position since I stopped after the very first corner! I searched on Booking.com for accommodation in Carlisle, just 460 km away. Success! A room was available in my bookmarked hotel and my plan was in action!
I then proceeded to hit every red light through Sheffield and Rotherham. During the intervening drag strips I caught up to a few riders including Jenny Tough. Eventually I was heading East at a good non-interrupted speed, with a tailwind helping me on my way to Flamborough Head Lighthouse.
I averaged 32 kph for the first three hours, stopping only for a natural break and then for a sandwich on a random residential street in Beverley. When I saw a revolving light in the distance I realised the lighthouse must actually be a working facility rather than just a tourist attraction. On arrival it was a little weird hearing the waves crashing but not seeing the sea itself.
A rolling main road headed North but it was dead quiet in the early hours of the morning. The sky wasn’t completely dark and an orange moon behind kept me company. I passed Lee Cap 25 who was stopping for a coffee before Scarborough. The temperature steadily dropped but the climbs kept me warm. I coasted into the Abbey at Whitby to see rider 27 Luke who was already marking his brevet card at the checkpoint.
A quick about turn and I took the fast, boring route away from the Abbey, skirting the town centre in favor of the main road bridge and I began the climb back onto the moors.
The temperature gradually fell to 3 degrees and I put gloves on, but I actually remained in shorts and arm warmers plus gilet. I felt a little tired at one point, took on a few sugary eats and was very glad to eventually see the rising yellow globe. Despite it having become light, it was a good hour before the sun revealed itself.
I was well ahead of schedule and was looking forward to breakfast to mark the end of the long night ride section.
I soon passed through Middlesbrough. I had scouted out the route here and knew exactly which bike paths to take for a quick route to my bookmarked McD at Stockton on Tees. Whilst I waited at 6:20 am for my three breakfasts and cappuccino, I checked the tracker website. To my astonishment I could see that of the anti-clockwise brigade, I was in the lead!
The sun now brought some welcome warmth as I passed North through Durham and hit several long climbs before Hexham where I had planned to do some food shopping. The OTE Duobars I had demolished were substituted by Rice Crispie squares and I stashed more sandwiches for consumption much later in the day, meaning I could ride non-stop right through to Carlisle. A bag of crisps were nested inside the front of my gilet and I was able to dip in without spilling them everywhere.
The legs were still going well and Kielder Castle control was reached around midday after 16 hours of riding.
Some really scenic riding now though it began to rain after Newcastleton. Arriving in Carlisle at 3 pm I considered riding further instead of going to the hotel. But with no bivi option, I decided to get sleep as planned and then continue into the night. Did it matter that I was getting my sleep in the late afternoon? Of course it didn’t, I had pedaled long and far enough to need sleep and rest whatever time of day it was. Normal rules don’t apply in ultra races
I was a little inefficient here, first shopping for breakfast food, then grabbing a McD meal and finally locating the hotel to check in at 4 pm. My stomach filled, I oiled my chain, showered and climbed into bed with a chocolate milk. Updates on social media showed me that Pawel Cap 39 looked like the man in front of the clockwise riders. He had completed all the hilly checkpoints which I would do tomorrow and was already near Carlisle.
Sleep came easily and I dreamed about mending coat hangers. ($*#”!?) but after about 3 1/2 hrs I was wakened by noisy neighbors. After snoozing a little longer I decided to get up, eat my “breakfast” porridge pots and checkout. So I was on the road again soon after 9 pm, only 5-6 hours off the bike.
Day 2: To the finish. Total Distance 422 km, total average 22.3 kph
To my surprise, the rain had stopped during my sleep and the roads had dried out. I made a blazing start heading south towards Great Dun Fell. The darkness grew and I switched on my head light as I crossed the M6 towards Langwathby. Heavy rain started again. I put on my waterproof and toe covers though it stopped again as I began the long climb up Gt Dun.
Lee Grieve Cap 25 was coming off the mountain and he reported very poor conditions at the top, though it was quite calm & pleasant where we chatted. Lee was in front of me at this point, but he was going to find somewhere to sleep and I should therefore pull ahead of him again.
Sure enough the weather deteriorated the higher I climbed. The main problem was the dense cloud which together with my head lamp shrouded my entire view of the road. It was a real challenge to keep the bike pointed at the road especially given the steep gradient. A running/hiking event helped somewhat as the hikers had head torches which revealed the route ahead.
The rain started again and as I reached the left turn and the closed gate, the wind increased violently, pushing me off the road. I literally only knew I had reached the top when I almost crashed into the radar station. I spent an infuriating 15 minutes locating the entrance door then trying to get a timestamped photo whilst my phone would turn off and reboot just as I pressed the shutter. During this time I was getting colder and wetter. I put on my legwarmers and then totally disoriented, couldn’t find the road back towards the descent!
Eventually descending, it was slow progress again keeping the bike on the road. Thank goodness the snow poles had reflectors on.
At the bottom the rain stopped and again it was reasonably pleasant on the way to Tan Hill. Only windy at the very top of the fell but dry, I arrived about 2:50 am to find people still drinking!
The landlady was very concerned about me, kept offering me shelter and food, but I cracked onward, retracing my route off the fell and toward Kirkby Stephen and Sedbergh. I believe I passed other riders who were sleeping at Kirkby Stephen about 4 am! I had to fight a strong headwind for the first time in the ride past the Howgill fells and endure over some steep terrain crossing the M6 again toward the coast. I had again ridden this section in training so knew what to expect.
The rain was now non-stop and getting heavier. At Arnside it was pretty miserable. My phone played up again and I lost another 15 minutes trying to get a photo.
The rain was now a full downpour and at Wray, my phone unusable, I was very cold. I had second thoughts about setting off over the fells again to Sladburn. The Post Office cafe was not yet open and so I continued to the point of no return. The skies to the west looked a little brighter and thankfully the rain eased for a short while and I warmed up on the climb. Descending carefully, a puncture here would have been disastrous, I reached Slaidburn. I used my Gopro to take the checkpoint photo then took advantage of the hand drier in the toilets to blow wonderful warm air up my waterproof. It inflated my jacket and puffed out through my arms and neck. This was for sure the high point of the day so far and I spent far too long enjoying it! My dot watching Dad also walked in at this point having spotted my bike outside.
Luke Cap 27 was also in Slaidburn so we were level pegging with only two controls to go.
Also having phone probems, he left shortly before me and I didn’t see which way he went. Was he going to Haworth or Brimham?
I headed for Haworth, I would have a reasonably good wind direction and knew the roads very well. A quick food stop in Barnoldswick and the rain was easing again.
Haworth was dispensed with efficiently and I headed straight on towards Brimham, more climbing but with the wind behind me and I was starting to feel like the end was near. My wife was trying to meet me on route to cheer me on but somehow failed to find me with the trackers being around 15 minutes delayed.
I got within 5 km of Brimham when I passed Luke Cap 27 coming the other way against the wind. My greeting was perhaps a little too enthusiastic this time as I worked out quickly that I must surely be at a large advantage over him now to the finish. I had no idea where Pawel Cap 39 was, all I could do was keep going.
The last climb to Brimham was a stinker, Hartwith Bank. Here I felt the sun once again, got too warm and removed my leg warmers and waterproof for the first time that day.
The final checkpoint was done swiftly and I had a combined tailwind and down hill for the next 15 km. Woohoo! The end was in sight!
A final food stop to indulge my yearning for a prawn sandwich + Snickers then I could concentrate on the final 75 km to the finish. I stopped once more to oil my chain which now dry was starting to make a noise. I cursed at the last few hills to Rotherham and then began the last urban run into Sheffield.
Payback time! All the traffic lights were green this time, so despite the headwind I made good time into the finish.
Pulling in to the courtyard, I wondered where the greeting was. I was expecting the team to be cheering me in, but no. Just one chap who started chatting with me and then asked if I wanted to know my position. I thought it can’t be that high if this is my reception, than he almost apologetically announces I am in second place. He must have thought I would be gutted, but quite the reverse, I was delighted!
When I go inside I finally get the applause, hugs from Angie and am greeted by the winner Pawel Pulawski Cap 39. Pawel had arrived just 44 minutes before me after his headwind slog from Flamborough.
Third place was taken by Luke Allen who arrived 17 minutes later, closer than I thought it would be and my prawn sandwich stop was riskier than I’d considered!
The remainder of the weekend was a mixture of sleeping, eating, chatting to all the finishers, comparing stories, routes and watching the dots still out on the road. APN had a marquee for riders to sleep in and provided no end of food to help us replace those calories we had burned. I had a massage which really eased my sore ankles and shoulders. Pawel invited me to take part in his next Race Through Poland which just a couple of weeks ago had been a pretty dramatic washout!
An impressive number of riders attended the superb meal on Monday evening.
All Points North was simply superbly organised, an absolutely huge success and an event I would love to return to in 2020.
Angie, Tori, Andy and the whole crew did an amazing job and put in some long hours to make sure the riders were safe and well cared for on their return. An incredible job for which I am extremely grateful!