Monday, 21 May 2012

Pennine Bridleway Double - Ouch!

A few days after I finished the ride and am still grinning to myself about finishing it. Why? I didn't break the record, far from it, I was several hours slower. I didn't have great weather, in fact I had many hours of rain. I didn't have the perfect ride, I suffered punctures, a mechanical problem and had a couple of kit issues. I am smiling because I kept on going, pushing myself towards the finish, taking the opportunities where they presented themselves (and there were plenty) to enjoy the varied and stunning terrain and views of the Pennines and the Peak District, and I kept going all the way to the finish of the challenge that I set myself, not stopping once until I had reached my goal. I had done it, I had completed the Pennine Bridleway Double, a continuous ride north up the southern section of the Pennine Bridleway, around the Mary Townley Loop, and then back down the Pennine Bridleway to Middleton Top......
Here's how my ride went:

As those of you reading this soon after the event are aware; it had rained a lot, almost continuously, during the weeks leading up to the time I set off. With this in mind I set off up to the Peaks with pretty much all my cycling kit packed, to cover every eventuality. I had hoped, were conditions favourable (much of the trail dries fast), to have a tilt at Steve Headings amazing time of 21hr 39mins, but I also had in the back of my mind the fate that befell Rob Lee, who got caught out by the conditions and ended up finding an already tough ride even tougher and having to dig deeper than anyone might ideally want to find themselves doing.
Happy, relaxing in the evening sun at Middleton Top before "a bit of a ride"
About 10metres in and my grin
couldn't be any wider!
As you can see by the photo; I was lucky enough that, when I chose to start, the rain had stopped (momentarily!) and it was a lovely sunny, if slightly nippy, evening. The perfect conditions for such an undertaking. The air was perfectly still, which added to the calmness although, secretly, I wished it were a little windy as it had been a southerly wind all week, which would have been a lovely tailwind!

The first 45mins are pretty steady along the High Peak Trail, a lovely opportunity to warm the legs up, spin along gently and watch the sun go down before hitting the rolling limestone of the White Peak. Bliss.

It's not long though before the terrain gives way to another feature of this area of the country: Dales. Specifically the beautiful, but steep sided, Chee Dale, which the route descends into before climbing straight back out again. Ouch! At the bottom of Chee Dale, my woes began. I had chosen to run a bikepacking style setup, with bottles on the forks and all my gear on the bike to keep the weight off my back for all the climbing I would be doing. This was the first time I had used such a setup in a "race" scenario, rather than something a lot more social and missing a stopwatch. Unfortunately, despite being firmly in place for some while before I set off, one of the bottle cage mounts decided to come loose, drop it's rubber boot onto the trail half way down the descent and flap around the bottom of the fork. Bother. After two abortive attempts to fix it, I arrived at a third, sturdy-ish solution, affected the same bodge to the other mount, just in case, and set off after a delay of some 35minutes (later confirmed by my GPS file). No matter, The trails were proving slippier than I had hoped so I stopped thinking about the record this was going to take as long as it takes, and pressed on, still enjoying the wonderfully calm evening and clear skies. The little dip through Dam Dale would see my bodge fail it's first proper test, but 15minutes or so later and it was up and running again and the miles continued to spin away as the trails remained relatively easy going.

As I approached Rushop Edge and Roych Clough the White Peak gave way to the gritstone of the Dark Peak. These became trails I had lived next to and ridden regularly several years ago and I couldn't help but push a little harder on the pedals and lean a little more into the corners as I made my way towards Hayfield as these are trails I truly enjoy.

"A couple" of zipties to steady up some unsteady bottle cage mounting
At South Head, the highest point on the Pennine Bridleway, Grace had made her way up the hill to see me ride through. With her she had zipties and I used some of these to firm up my previous bodges with the water bottle mounts, which would see them remain in place for the remainder of the ride.

Much happier with my bottles, I headed out into the night. As I left Glossop behind me I was, for the first time in a while, a good distance away from any small settlement and the cloudlessness of the sky would normally have meant a fantastic starscape. What I was treated to however was much more spectacular: To my left was Manchester and the light pollution produced a stunning pinky-orange glow that dominated the night sky in a way I'd never seen before and, with many hours of darkness in the hills ahead of me, I had a unique opportunity to take in the amazing sight. With this amazing horizon all around me and the hills all to myself in eerily calm air I rode through the night. What a wonderful way to spend one's time.

As the sun started to rise I looked forward to the end of the Pennine Bridleway, which would soon give way to the Mary Towneley Loop and to the warmth of the sun after the chill of a cloudless night. However, it soon became apparent this would not be the case. Blue became grey and things started to look a little ominous. As I climbed away from Hollingworth Lake in what was now full daylight I paused to take off my warm overnight layers and replace them with a waterproof. An hour later I would pause to put several of the warmer items back on under the waterproof as the still air gave way to what became increasingly stronger winds.

I really enjoy riding the Mary Townley Loop. I have made a couple of trips up to recce the route and have taken the opportunity to ride the whole loop twice as it's just a nice day out. At 5am, the sun was up so it felt like the middle of the morning but I had the whole place to myself. Wonderful.

I reached the "halfway" point, where the northern section of trail breaks off, over 45minutes past 12hours. Three puncture stops having nibbled yet more out of my average speed reading, it was not a good sign. I hadn't been keeping a note of my pace, but after 12hrs of continuous riding there's a pretty low probability of riding faster for the next 12hrs. Particularly when the way round means the way back is the reverse of the route that took the great Nick Craig 11hrs and 58mins to complete in a single ride. Uh-oh! It was clearly time to knuckle down, take stock of what food I had left, make sure I didn't run out and make sure I set a sustainable pace. All the while the rain carried on coming down. Mostly fairly light, but constant none the less and the wind, now directly in my face, was picking up. The day was slowly turning from pleasant to having a whiff of epic creeping in at the corners.

I trundled on. Happily reflecting that the adverse weather had, for the most part, kept the hills empty. The odd person I did see was passed with a mutual recognition that the weather was not ideal but it was grand to be out in the hills none the less. I suspect I must have been looking like I was trying quite hard as I had several gates held open for me from generous distances away!

The big test of my head would be Hayfield. The tent, warmth, my down sleeping bag, a hot shower, clean clothes were all there and, only a few metres away. I had to stop to refill with water next to the campsite before choosing to remount the bike and climb from water level up to the highest point on the trail, into a headwind and the final 37miles away from comfort and food. By now I was really hungry, I only really took food for a sub 24hr ride and it had been clear to me for a while that this is not be what what I would be doing. As it was however, looking back, I never paused to think about when I got there, I just refilled and carried on, I must have been pretty focussed on my end goal! As I pushed up the steepest part of the trail, at the bottom of the climb at least, I paused at a gate and saw a little message that made me smile :-)
Inspirational message, juxtaposed with highest point on the route just ahead of me and between me and the finish!
I knew that, once I made it over South Head and into Roych Clough, I was home and dry, just a couple of short sharp climbs between me and my goal. I think at this point I lost what little remained of my eating discipline, already behind what it should be, such was my worry at running out of food. Looking back at my file, my speed never really got going after this point, explained by finishing with several gels remaining in my pockets. Undaunted by my tiredness I carried on, enjoying the long flowing descent to The Roych. I was going to make it.

As I dropped into Chee Dale, still one of my favourite places for an evening stroll in the Peak, I slowed to look around and take in the view, then quickly sped up as I realised the sun was low and I wasn't going to make it back before dark! How much light was left in my batteries? I couldn't remember. A silly oversight.

A tired, but happy, rider; slouched over the bars as he reaches
the end of the High Peak Trail and the end of his ride
I made it to the safety of the High Peak Trail before needing to turn the lights on. From here the low light of the 24hr setting would just about suffice, although it did see me go through a couple of puddles I'd rather have avoided. What had been a pleasant 45mins warm up watching sunset the day before, now became an hour's slog, in dim light into what was, and had been for several hours, a block headwind. It should have been painful and unpleasant. It wasn't, instead I was tingling with anticipation. I was going to make it. But how long would it take me. I pushed on the pedals, but my legs were empty, should I have another gel, how long since I last had one. Oops, no wonder I was tired. Another silly mistake from a tired rider. All the while, my legs kept pushing on, willing me to the finish.

5 miles to go said the last sign I was able to read, and then it started to rain hard again. I enjoyed the cooling effect and pushed one for one final time. The final car park came and went, then the final road crossing, and then I could see it, the glow from the streetlamp at the finish car park. What a relief, what a feeling of elation! It hadn't been a perfect ride, far from it, hindered further by some detailed kit and setup choices that I am pretty unhappy about their unsucsessful translation from training to "race day" performance, but despite all the unfortunate events and things that hadn't gone as perfectly as I might had wished I had continued pushing on and my reward was exactly the same at the end, perhaps even sweeter: I had done the Pennine Bridleway Double!
As you can see from my face, I was pretty wiped out. It had taken me 26hrs and 2minutes, I had covered 195miles and climbed 25'574ft according to my GPS.

I think the route looks pretty impressive laid out on a map, it covers a long way!

So, I didn't break the record. I wasn't even remotely close. But I did have a great, and hard ride and I finished something I'd set out to do a long while ago. Will I be back in good weather to have a go at Steve's time? I hope so, but not for a little while yet. For now I'm going to enjoy my happy memories of the experience and I before I even think about getting on a bike for a few days, I may just need to recover a little first!


  1. Cracking riding there Rob! Good to see you're out riding the long distances again and your knee is better.

    1. Cheers Jez. I really enjoyed being out there, I love rides like this; they're always a good test of rider, preparation and equipment and very different to the security of a closed circuit race.

  2. Blimey Rob, that's a big old ride by anyone's standards, well done!

    1. Thanks Nick, hopefully there's a few more like that left in me yet ;-) Hardest part now is resting up trying to prepare for racing this coming weekend!

  3. Well done Rob. A mighty impressive ride.

    1. Thanks Emyr. It was a really fun ride, not sure quite how impressive it was though!

  4. Great effort Rob and a good read! I did it last year in 23:59 (!) in conditions that were a lot more favourable. Write up on my blog. It's an epic ride and something I'd live to repeat. Perhaps a welsh epic next time. Steves a monster!

    1. Thanks Alan, I read your blog last year, a cracking ride. If only there were time for this kind of foolishness every few weeks eh?

  5. Nice one Rob. Sounds like a good route.

    PS I've never trusted fork-leg bottles and you've only added to my doubts.

    1. Cheers Aidan, I did enjoy the route, and will be back for another go to try and finish in a competitive time in nice weather with a better setup. I just proved my own favourite adage: "never try anything new on race day" (not just the bottles I made a few other errors I didn't detail too).

      Better to find out last week than during England-Wales-England eh?!

      Fork mounted bottles - Once I'd got the mounts zipties to oblivion, they worked just fine, didn't pop out once. More testing needed at the moment though....

  6. Great write up. I have ridden up to, and back from MTL, along PBW and it is a tough but beautiful route. Must try this during the summer - but would be happy with <48 hours.


    1. Thank you, kind words. I know a few people who have tackled it over 3 days with a tent or bivi, a far more sensible approach if you ask me! I think they still found it tough due to the steepness of the climbing and rocky terrain, but I say: Go for it!

  7. Good effort Rob ... you should have known better than expect anything but rain oop north ;o)