I woke up without an alarm, it was a beautiful bright day outside. I looked at the time – 7:35. Why was I in bed so late? Oh yes, I remembered, I’d be cycling tonight, and the next few days. I turned around and went back to sleep, trying to add a bit more in the basket.
I woke up later again and spent the rest of the day eating (i.e. carb loading), doing some final research on my route and scrolling through the messages on the event’s Whatsapp group. I’ve signed up for the All Points North event at the beginning of the year. Since then I’ve spent the time training harder than ever, building a bike from scratch while researching every part, ordering it and putting it together and also planning my route.
I’ve never done an event like it before, but I was very excited and a bit anxious, you know… the good kind of feeling you get when you are about to do something you want but is out of your comfort zone.
I arrived at the HQ in the Heeley Institute around 14:30, signed in, got my tracker, my goodies bag and went to the mechanical checkup.
Then I went around talking to people, socialising, and even hearing some people’s strategies. It was a great time and I really enjoyed seeing everyone’s setups.
After a few hours of teas, cakes and much conversation I was beginning to feel eager to get going. It was the huge suspense before the storm.
We went in for the briefing.
It was brief and then we started to get read to go. I noticed stomach problems beginning their first signs, but there wasn’t enough time before the start to go to the loo. Later it would have to be then.
Countdown. Exciting times, this is happening!
We all left and in minutes people started to disperse into little roads, you would see some passing left and right at the coming traffic lights.
I was on a straight road with 2-3 other riders in front of me, then I turned left and was alone. I kept pedalling through the familiar streets, trying to gather my thoughts. A few moments later I saw a rider come up on the main road. He looked lost a bit. The underpasses were closed and his route was not working. He followed me on the cycle paths that I knew however due to more closed passages I got us into some staircases. Great, here was a local showing another cyclist the place the wrong way round. We carried the bikes and continued.
As we had just began having a conversation, my route diverged from his and as I was leaving the road he was on we said goodbye and continued our own ways.
Now I was really alone. My plan was to stop at the first McDonalds I knew on the way and use the loo and stock on a few little snacks.
The rules and the plan
All Points North is a ultra endurance, self supported event. What that means is that you cycle a lot, day after day and you have to rely entirely on yourself – wits, skills, legs. In particular, for this event you also get to plan your own route between 10 given checkpoints. This last part is the source of a lot of fun as most of the riders had GPS trackers and in the aftermath you could see the incredible array of options to route between the checkpoints.
My plan was simple, I made a route around the checkpoints which resulted in about 905km. I made the route clockwise and counterclockwise, with the idea to choose which one I would do closer to the start depending on weather and winds.
The clockwise route started through the Yorkshire Dales and had most of the elevation in the first two days (around 9000m). The total elevation for my route was 11000. That meant that if I would choose to go counter-clockwise I cloud have a very long first night + day and make good progress.
It had been in my mind for months, but now I was in the middle of it. I left McDonalds feeling better but still with a pretty upset stomach. I calmed my head and focused on a steady pace. This was going to take a while, no point to rush.
The sun was getting closer to the horizon and the sky was beautiful.
I felt weak, no energy or power in my legs, not because they were tired, but because of the stomach problems.
I had to stop on the side of the road a few times and after one of the stops I saw people in one of the Whatsapp group commenting, wondering why my dot is showing in a river :)).
I kept going through the night, I knew the way to checkpoint one as I had done it a few weeks before.
Eventually I made it to Haworth and climbed the cobbled street up to the top where the checkpoint was located. There were four more riders there, taking timestamped photos against the pub’s wall (part of the event’s requirements). Then it was my turn.
One of them told me that his titanium frame had cracked as soon as he was out of Sheffield, but luckily his home was en route, so he stopped to get his other bike. He said he was pretty sure he would be disqualified by now, but would keep going. It was odd to see four riders together as the event specifies only solo or pairs. Later I would find out that the two pairs had decided to go together and from their photos I think they had an amazing time for it!
On my way out of Haworth another rider came in the opposite direction against me. That puzzled me for a moment as I thought I had gone the wrong way, but then I realised we all had different routes and he was probably coming from a different checkpoint and this one was his second.
I pushed on two my checkpoint two – Brimham rocks, North of Leeds.
At this point it was pitch dark and it got really cold, at least colder than I expected. My sleeping kit was not good enough for those temperatures but I also didn’t plan to sleep the first night, so I just pushed on.
Cycling during the night in complete darkness, with stars above you, wildlife around and no cars on small country lanes is an incredible experience. It is surreal and pretty hard to describe with words. I loved it, this is why I was in this event, to have new experiences and not even a few hours in it was happening.
I entered the Dales and the hills began. Up and down, much steeper in average gradient than the ones I knew in the Peak District. You lost all inertia and had to climb every meter of them. I was glad for my new gears, which made climbing much easier, especially with the mushy legs.
Slowly the sun started to show up. The night passed pretty quickly and I was close to the second checkpoint. I hadn’t spoken to anyone until then, I didn’t know where the other riders are, I just knew I will keep going.
Here I stoped for a second to check the event’s Whatsapp group and saw a pair of riders having posted a photo from the rocks just three minutes before I posted mine. They were still there, so I headed further to the actual heart of the park. The pair passed me on the way.
I sat there soaking up the atmosphere for a few minutes. Not too long though, had to keep moving. I headed out back on the gravel track and thinking how much of a good spot this area would be to just lie down for a half an hour nap, but thought it would be best after I reach the next checkpoint. After all it was just 60km away.
After the rocks there came a few steep descends and a few equally steep climbs. That should be alright though, not much more to it, I should be mainly descending to Slaidburn (next CP), right? Wrong! What followed were a couple of hours of brutally steep hills followed by equally steep downhills (no relaxing). I needed a break. Luckily at around half six there came a petrol station which had self-serving Costa coffee. Perfect!
The hills continued, but I started to pay more attention to the surrounding landscapes.
Yorkshire Dales is truly beautiful. I would certainly come back!
After about an hour I came to the top of some sort of plateau but I was feeling tired, so stopped at another petrol station for a quick sandwich and more coffee.
This really invigorated me which meant I wasn’t eating enough. Note taken.
I was not far from checkpoint three – Slaidburn, which motivated me and with some music I started to get into a rhythm. After a few hills I noticed another cyclist in the distance and as any cyclist would know – you have to catch up with them. Soon I found myself at their tail and observed the setup. Panniers with an old school steel frame, he had to reach down to change the gears periodically.
I lined up with the guy, greeted him and asked where he’s coming from. He was doing John O’Groats to Lands End (the length of England from North to South, i.e. LeJog). His next . stop was somewhere in Wales as he was going to a bikepacking gathering near there.
Together we arrived in Slaidburn and my first order of business was to take the checkpoint timestamped photo.
Then after a few more words he left around the corner.
It’s always great to meet other cyclists on the road and share stories. Alex (I believe is his name) also mentioned a few great camping spots near where we met in the forest.
When entering the village I noticed a few APN riders sitting at a cafe eating some food. That was my next stop as I’ve not had a proper meal in about 12 hours.
Quite a few other cyclists past by and some stopped for cake and coffee too. They were utterly impressed with the distance me and the other APN rider had done and with the event as a whole. This probably delayed me quite a bit, but I really enjoyed talking to them. It also brought me back to Earth in terms of expectations. It was not a normal thing to cycle these distances, even though that was the vibe from everyone participating in the event. This is a very small percentage of cyclists who end up on this side of the scale of kms.
I was feeling really good now, the rest, food and drink along with the conversations lifted my spirits. The APN pair that left me at Brimham rocks also had just arrived. Their route was different and went through more main roads. Maybe flatter, but I truly enjoyed my choice so far. Small lanes, quiet and just the sheep and rabbits to keep me company. On we go.
There was a huge climb coming somewhere out of Slaidburn, so that food was going to come in handy. Next checkpoint was Arnside on the coast in Cumbria.
A few more ups and downs and then a really long and fast downhill brought me to the base of the climb. I could see a few fluorescent dots in the distance. Guess what, I had to catch them.
It was a gruelling climb. Really, really long and relentless. I was on first gear, low cadence, just going one stroke at a time. Thankfully mid-way there was a small downhill but it immediately followed by a steeper section. I caught up with the cyclists. They were touring ones and I was jealous of their low gears. But I didn’t have that luxury so I had to get out of the saddle and grind it slowly up.
At the top, the view opened breathtakingly. You could see 360 the valleys and the peaks in the distance. It was incredible. It also came with an equally long descend. A was kind again, mindlessly enjoying the speed, the turns, I was one with the bike and the landscape, what pure joy!
After a few rolling hills (my favourite) another long descend off the mountain came. I was so concentrated on that so that I missed my turn half way down the hill. Breaks, turn grind back up to the section. Painful lesson.
After a few more rolling hills I joined the main road and stopped. My feet were killing me, they were in so much pain that I had no ability to press the pedals on them. Also a slight pain on the outside of my right knee had started to develop.
I sat on the grass and massaged my feet and stretch my legs. A few casual cyclists passed and greeted. Their bikes and helmets looked to be rented and the group all had massive grins of joy. Can’t blame them!
Time to go! After about an hour I started to feel tired again and thought it would be a good time to have a little nap. My eyes kept scouting the surrounding landscapes until at one point I saw a gate into a field. It looks so soft and green – perfect. I stopped and set the “camp” up in 5 minutes.
Lied down, alarm on, ambient music – bliss. Not even ten minutes after I closed my eyes and was just about to drift into sleep – plop, plop. I lifted the cap from my eyes – it was raining. Great. I got up and looked around, I was almost surrounded by cows. They all started mooing.
That was not a problem, the problem was that I was dressed almost entirely in red and I wasn’t sure if there won’t be a bull there. The tough made me wake up very quickly (I’ve been in a field with a bull before). I grabbed everything and the bike in another hand and tip-toed out of the field asap.
As soon as I was out, the pair that I met at Slaidburn just passed on the road looking at me and greeting. Right, I had to go. I stuffed everything in the saddlebag, put the rain jacket on and chased them down the road.
Soon I was behind them and overtook them with a greeting. The rain got stronger. Damn, I was hoping for a dry day, expecting it the next morning. My plan was to cycle through the next night too before the storm to make the most progress in fair weather. Well, that plan was out of the window now.
A few downhills, some flats and I was in Arnside. It was raining full on now. First thing, I went to take the timestamped photo.
Quickly after the photo I found a little restaurant / takeaway and sat down. There was another APN rider in there who was just finishing up.
The owner (from what it seemed) came out from the kitchen and greeted me. “Ah, you’re here, great!”. I looked puzzled. “Yes, I have been following the dot, I knew you were coming soon. Two more are behind you as well.”. Yes, yes, I just passed them, they are coming. But how do you know? “I follow the dots on the site and there is a live camera in the village near the monument”. Amazing!
Soon I had food in front of me and started working on it!
The rain kept coming down. The rider I met initially packed and left. The pair 56 that I passed arrived and sat down making their order.
There was an elderly couple sitting on one of the tables and we got chatting. They asked me where I was from. In fact the guy asked me to let him guess and I did. He said I was Spanish perhaps. I told him he wasn’t the first one to guess so, and in fact I’ve been though of as Greek, Italian and Portuguese before, but was in fact Bulgarian. He was really friendly and both of them were interested in the event me and the other pair (plus all the passing riders) were doing. However, I had a huge lunch to go through so I excused myself and went back to working on it.
While eating I looked at the forecast – rain. I had to admit a plan for a good night sleep was overdue as a nap was not likely, I had been up for close to 24 hours and the weather was just going to get nastier. Rest was a must.
Looking on Booking.com brought a hostel in Kirkby Stephen just at the base of the Tan Hill checkpoint. It said there was only one room available and it was £27. Nothing better anywhere near and it was on my route – perfect. I booked it and a wave of moral came over me.
I ordered another portion of chips and put it in a napkin and then inside my snack bar pouch at the front. Packed everything and while doing it I noticed a whole family sitting on the side looking at the bike and me so naturally I started a conversation. They thought the distance, weather and checkpoints were an insane idea to cover in three days (I don’t blame them). The mother said she can’t imagine doing 20 miles on a bike. I told her how a year ago I started with bonking after 15 miles and have been training continuously since then. Her little daughter seemed both interested but also reluctant to admit something of this magnitude would be ever in her dreams to achieve. I think I picked up on that and told her she should think of it long term and that it would be an incredible adventure she would never forget.
Some of the strongest riders in the event are women (way stronger than I am or might even be) and I would love to see more women in these events because they add a lot of value to the overall experience and I strongly feel no woman should feel this is something not possible just because they are a particular gender.
After the short chat I finished packing, rain jacket on and rolled down the promenade.
The rain had turned into a drizzle and I enjoyed the magnificent views around, soaking in the landscape and the low tide. The terrain one gets to experience on this event… absolutely amazing!
Down in the aero bars, gear up and music on.
I was in the zone. The knee pain was there but I was ignoring it. My main focus was on the series of rolling hills that came as I knew I needed to cross over the range to get down into Kirkby Stephens.
Somewhere on the way into the small lanes I encountered a road closure. Considering to just try and go around the fences proved impossible or at least too much hassle and potentially wrecking the bike. I looked on the phone and found a nice re-route that would bring me back onto my original route in ten kilometres. Crisis averted!
Literally 20 seconds later up a steep hill I got a flat. My mood went a bit sour but I thought a warm bed was waiting for me so this shouldn’t be too bad. I took the spare out, changed it and went on.
About three minutes later up the hill I noticed that the bike was acting weird. Looked down – another flat. What a noob, I forgot to check the inside of the tyre for any leftover sharp objects… Schoolboy!
This put me in a really bad mood. I didn’t want to be dealing with this, again, in the rain with no other spare left. Patching up the tube was the only way and I was cold and wet. I put the bike a side and had a stroll. My hands were cold and I didn’t want to commit to this faff again. The cold started to settle in though so I thought I better get it done.
It must have taken me 20 minutes to fix the tube and put it back in. My mood was low and I realised I am simply tired and needed some sleep. Normally things like these wouldn’t affect me as much, but it felt like in that moment I had little control over how they made me feel.
There were a few more hours to go and my feet were getting wet, so I put some leftover sandwich bags with the handy elastic bands I always have available. That seemed to do the trick – my feet felt warm and dry (somewhat).
There were at least two more hours to go. The flat I fixed had a slight problem. The tyre hadn’t gone back in place onto the rim correctly and there was one spot that seemed to be lower than the rest of the circumference. That resulted in a “do dum, do dum, do dum” kind of experience. Lovely. It can be relaxing or really annoying.
I focused on some nice music and soaked in the landscape. It was beautiful and this is why I was here – to enjoy it. The rain didn’t matter anymore as I was wet but warm. But I loved being outside in these conditions, I remembered. It is rare that one sees nature in these elements now that life is mostly sheltered and comfy. It was beautiful. A little grin sneaked on my face.
Eventually I arrived in Kirkby Stephen. My original idea was to checkin into the hostel and then climb Tan Hill, come down and go to bed. However, I felt tired and my judgement was not at its best. Little things irritated me and I had already done more than I have ever done before on a bike in a day. If anything, that day showed me there is grit in me, but I was still new to this business, there is a lot to learn and I wasn’t doing bad, but it didn’t feel like the time to push my luck. I checked into the hostel (which happened over the phone with a door code given to me and a piece of paper with my details left inside). I put my bike in the bike shed which is attached to the main building and saw another APN bike there with the number 5 on it. They must have arrived quite a bit before me, but it was comforting to see I wasn’t the only one making that decision.
I found my room and left my stuff in there, then went to the nearby shop to get some food and breakfast and then to the takeaway pizza for what-felt-like a well deserved feast.
While I was eating another APN rider came in. He seemed super concentrated and into the zone. We exchanged greetings but didn’t talk at all. He went on the other side of the room and unpacked and started eating some of his food. He looked like one of the fast guys, I don’t know why, but it just seemed to me he was in that mental state. Every movement was measured, he was focused and I knew he was in a rush, trying to get through the distance as fast as possible, so I left him to it.
Back in my room I met Chris. He is a history teacher for Scarborough who decided to cycle from Carlisle back home (yeah, it’s a long away away). He went to the north to see Carlisle castle and was now on his way back.
Chris was super friendly to say the least. We talked about the event and how my day had gone. He was impressed that I was even part of the event after only starting to cycle in 2016. He gave me a lot of little tips and also showed me the dry room in the hostel where I could leave my kit to dry overnight.
It was time for me to shower, my clothes were drying but I needed to get clean and go to bed. There was a slight problem though – I didn’t take a towel with me. Going downstairs there was a pile of freshly washed shower mats, the ones you put next to your bathtub to step on when you get out. And… you guessed it, I grabbed one of those and used it as a towel after I showered. It was perfect, very absorbent, soft and clean.
After faffing about and trying to be quiet as everyone else were asleep I got myself into bed, set an alarm and immediately collapsed like a fallen tree into a deep sleep.
Ride time: 16:30:25
Kilometres: 299.76 km
Elevation: 4,830 m
On Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/2403843421