Andy Deacon and the Dales Divide
The Dales Divide 2020 – 29th August - 8.00am - Arnside Pier – 600km
Written by Andy Deacon
I first registered my interest to ride the event, which was due to take place on Easter weekend back in December, before any of us even knew how different life would be in a few months’ time following the impact of the big C. The event was organised by Chris Ellison, the inaugural race took place last year and had been dreamt up after he had finished the Tour divide himself – a 2700ish mile bikepacking race from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. For many, this is the pinnacle of unsupported racing, but given the timescale, financial and logistical implications, it’s an unachievable goal for many. Chris’s objective was to create something that ticked the ‘pure adventure’ box whilst being accessible to all using the extensive playground that is the county of Yorkshire.
With a mountain biking background and having done a reasonable amount of bikepacking for fun, mixed in with the odd race I knew very well that you don’t need to leave the rock we live on to have one hell of an adventure, so this was the primary interest for me. I’ve also not really done that much riding in the dales and had never ridden in the North Yorkshire Moors, so that added another layer to the appeal.
With COVID-19 wiping the entire race calendar in the early part of the year, the Dales divide was postponed and the date moved to the August Bank Holiday weekend. It was nice to have something to look forward to and at least keep the base miles clocking up, I was really struggling with motivation with an empty calendar earlier in the year and with working from home – no commuting either which has been my staple base maintainer for a few years. The event also timed nicely with a fresh build of my new Smokestone Mr Harry adventure bike – comfy gravel/adventure geometry but with clearance for 29+ tyres should I wish to embrace the full comfort qualities of large tyres. I opted for 2.25” as a happy balance of comfort, rolling resistance on varied terrain (Bike spec at bottom). The Dales divide would provide a great shakedown ride for the setup by chucking it in at the deep end. As with other races I’ve given a go, I signed up to the Trackleaders website set up for the event so that anyone with a passing interest in what I was up to could follow my ‘dot’ and see how I was getting on.
Dotwatching has become a huge part of these events now, watching people cover unfathomable distances on bicycles has gained mass appeal and is very addictive! The first person I became aware of doing this type of thing was the late Mike Hall, a proud Yorkshireman and ultra-cycling god in the eyes of many. Following his dot on various Tour divide attempts, Trans AM bike race opened my eyes to where the bar actually was for covering distance on a bicycle unsupported. I also watched on in awe of my late former teammate Lee Fancourt when he was crushing Guinness World Records with a tracker on the back for us all to join him on his rides.
The race started down at Arnside pier, on the west coast, and kicked off with a short speech by event organiser Chris and by Pat, mother of the late Mike Hall, her words were inspirational and talked of Mike referring to fellow ultra racers as the ‘crazies’, it was a fitting start to have him in our thoughts when adventuring in what was his playground being a proud Yorkshireman. #bemoremike has never felt more fitting.
Looking around at other bikes, there was a broad spectrum of chosen steeds and approaches in terms of how much kit was required. From a ‘Dawes Galaxy’ touring bike on 33mm tyres with full mudguards to a full suspension bike and everything in between!!! This is one of the beautiful parts of bikepack racing, no bike snobbery, no ego - just run what ya brung! My packed setup did look a little on the leaner side, but I knew I had everything I might need to survive and stay warm. A few years back when I was getting into this crazy world I always used to take too much stuff! Over time I have learnt what is necessary for me and my packing has evolved a lot. As for the age and experience of other riders this was extremely diverse, from 19 year olds to 70 year young’s, complete novices to trans-continental finishers…..Off we went.
The pace at the beginning was high, it always is! I’ve never understood this but I am incapable of letting a bunch of riders go up the road ahead even though I know this is a marathon, not a sprint!!. A bunch of about 15 or so riders in smaller groups remained together for the first couple of hours, the sun was shining and terrain was very lumpy, I started out wearing my orkaan kit from Stolen Goat. The weave of the material contains a hydrophobic quality interwoven into the fabric so if the weather turns or you are getting sprayed in puddle spray or worse, then the majority of it beads off. This is a game changer for me in bikepacking as the kit dries super-fast and keeps you warmer. I use the short sleeve and bibs combined with arm warmers so if I get warm, I can just remove them quickly whilst continuing and tuck them in my jersey pocket.
The route ventured into the Yorkshire Dales National Park with hours to be spent travelling along the edge of Whernside and along Scales Moor. I rode with Richard Gate for a few– a strong rider and TCR finisher and we chatted all things bike related. About three hours in… I hit the first challenge!!
Disaster, the bracket my rear seatpack was attached to snapped clean in two, this bracket was being used to allow me to use a dropper seatpost which, whilst definitely not essential, does have some use for bikepacking. For me, its most useful in getting the saddle out of the way when opening and closing gates (there were lots!) and when on really technical descents. Use of this feature was over now as without the bracket, it was tape and zip tie solution mode to attach the bag to the dropper post!... Onwards!
In what seemed like no time I had made it to the first iconic feature of the Dales – the Ribblehead viaduct, a vast railway line span structure dating back to the 1870s. At this point, last year’s winner Alex Pilkington appeared behind me, not sure quite how I’d ended up ahead of him given I’d had a mechanical, we rode together for a short while before Alex pulled away from me, I have nothing but respect for Alex, he is a super strong rider with a great attitude, pace control and ability to ride sleep deprived, something that’s vital for doing this type of thing quickly.
From here on I cracked on for most of the day solo, stopping at Chris’s home 85km in at ‘Highbark’ for refill my bottles before cracking on. The route wiggled across various rugged terrain for past Malham tarn across Bardon Moor before arriving at Bolton Abbey, another bottle refill here and on I went. This next stretch was truly Mike Halls back garden as the route wiggled East above his hometown of Harrogate. I kept thinking how he might have done on this route and where he might at this point. I only had the privilege of meeting and racing against Mike once at ‘battle on the beach’ back in 2016.
Onwards I pressed still solo with the goal of getting some dinner in York, sure enough I made it albeit later than planned. York was full of clubbers, drunk people being sick and the general beating heart of a city, it always far more alive when you’ve been up in the hills all day, I was keen to get food and get out ASAP and back to the peace of my own head.. a Veggie burger and more fries than one could possibly eat was obtained from ‘Five guys’ and then made a bit of a mess of trying to get out of the one-way system.
By now the temperature had dropped so out came the Climb and conquer winter jersey, this thing is apocalypse proof and had kept me alive up in the Scottish Highlands on last year’s Gbduro. With this on and a belly full of filth I was nice and comfortable and cracked on until about 02.30am. Some 18.5 hours in. I wanted to go further but my head was playing games with me as it was quite cold now. Every time I went over an exposed moor section, the wind was gusting and I was thinking ‘I can’t sleep here and stay warm’. So, when I dropped down Into Millington dale where it was a degree or two warmer, no wind and my head wacked the brakes on and said ‘we’re stopping here mate’, 260km done on day 1.
It was here I had my second mechanical to sort too – which also had made me stop. The brake pad spring had somehow got stuck on the face of the brake pads and was mangled beyond repair. New pads and I’ll be all good I thought – except the new pads didn’t contain a new spring!!! Disaster!! So, I sat there in my bivi bag and made best of what was left of the spring and went to sleep for 3.5 hours. I slept amazing, a last-minute change to taking my thicker down sleeping bag was really earning its grams. I slept in my van the night before the race in Arnside and it was chilly, this was enough to ditch my ultralight one and take the hit on extra grams…. Best decision ever!
I was awoken by brakes squealing and a gate slamming which got me up and moving again from another rider, it was Steven Chapman. I set off after him. This section was through a lot of very muddy fields full of cattle and I couldn’t find a morning rhythm at all, the going was really slow all the way to Driffield and then into the northerly headwind up to Scarborough and onto the coast close to the sight of the Former Holbeck Hotel which famously slipped down the cliffs and into the sea in the 90s. The RideFarr aero mount was really useful for narrowing my shoulders in the headwind! Plus it gave a position to rest my hands that differed to the hoods, tops or drops, and a great light mount!
Steven caught me up here and said he had just had a subway in Driffield I think – how did I miss that! As soon as Scarbourgh subway appeared, stopping was the only option. A footlong of veggie power destroyed and I pressed on along the coast past South and North bay, both beaches were heaving with people, you would never know COVID-19 was a thing here.
It was about time for another Disaster!!! I fitted new cleats to my shoes (which is what attaches your foot to the pedal) just before the event as the old ones were worn. I obviously didn’t do them up tight enough as I lost a cleat bolt!!!! No spare of them in stock on the bike and I couldn’t even get my shoe off the pedal so had to dig out the tools and prize it off! I was sat in the road climb which is on the approach to the North Yorkshire moors when a cheery looking family in a VW Transporter pulled over to see if they could help out, they’d just been cycling as a family up in the moors and were on the way home. The guy ripped out his shoes and gave me one of his cleat bolts, what a gent! This saved me having to remove a bolt from something else on my bike like the brake rotor to make do!
A strong young rider called, Isaac Hudson caught me up here too and we rode together through the entire route through the moors. The terrain here was hard as nails but both of us benefitted from having each other for company. Our aim was to get off the moors before dark and get dinner in Osmotherley. Little did we know how tough that was going to be or how cold it was going to get up there!
The new Smokestone frame was excelling on the technical terrain as was the Whisky fork, I’ve never seen a carbon fork visually flex and absorb quite so much vibration before! Having 2.25” mountain bike sized tyres was a real benefit in terms of looking after my body a bit and allowing me to roll over the rocks, boulders, steps, and whatever else was thrown at it. Isaac was on a Gravel bike with 38mm tyres! Had it not been for his obvious talent to ride a bike, he would have had to walk a lot more of the route. We were fairly evenly paced through here till I had the bonk of all bonks where I wasn’t quite eating or drinking enough, it took about 4 hours of moaning and 3-4 litres of water and sugary snacks to feel human again.
We finally got off the moors and into Osmotherly at 10.10pm, luckily for us The Queen Catherine Hotel was ran by a legend, despite finishing serving food they made us a banquet of left overs from the Sunday roasts they’ve been serving!!! Being veggie, they even made me a massive pile of pancakes to smother in gravy to go with a huge Yorkshire, veg and a massive pile of roasties!!! Heaven.
We cracked on till about midnight and slept in Thrintoft, in a covered smoking area behind a pub at 460km. It was absolutely freezing and again the thick sleeping bag paid its self back and some! Alarm was set for 5am.
Getting going again was slow and faffy as neither of us were truly down with how cold all the kit was to put back on! Eventually we got rolling again at 5.50am. My legs were not keen on doing anything this morning and this combined with my brakes dragging meant I was struggling to keep up with Isaac, after getting dropped I stopped, changed my rear brake pads and cleaned the caliper out set off again solo. A few hours later I reached just past Leyburn when I suddenly realised I had left my van key at the pub we slept behind!!! Grade A DISASTER!!! Now being tired, I couldn’t think straight how to solve this at all! My logic was saying I needed to find someone with a van or a truck to take me to get the key and come back, to where I was on the route to continue. I couldn’t separate the bike from the problem! Eventually I realised that retrieving the key didn’t actually need the bike to be there, so I smashed a coffee and veggie pasty in the bakery in Leyburn, left my bike in their store room and got a taxi to collect the key.
When I returned and went to get rolling again, my Garmin navigation device was having none of it. Having googled how to soft reset it and doing so 30 or so times I’d resorted to having to continue without it. I looked on the tracker and could see there were two riders, Angus Buchanan and Ian McNab who were less than 30 mins behind me, so I waited for them whilst still faffing with my Garmin. As they came over the brow of the hill, my Garmin behaved again!! Onwards Ian soon pulled away up the trail when I stopped to fill my bottles from a stream via my MSR trail filter. The water tasted amazing!
The final afternoon of riding was a dream, amazing company, great weather, some good food and coffee in Askrigg. The section from here to Dent is the only bit I had ridden before at last year’s GBduro and it was amazing to ride this again, the trail running with Dent viaduct in the valley below is truly breath-taking. We caught Ian again near the top of a never-ending rocky climb out of Bainbridge, I had another wobble up here but coffee beans saved the day! The route was very slow going in places towards the end with lots of bog snorkelling and pushing but with company it was a breeze. My friend and all-round good guy Iain Nussey who lives locally joined us for the final 8 mile road run in to the finish, with the sun setting and knowing the end was in sight, it was amazing to roll into the finish together.
The light was amazing approaching the Pier, job done! Thanks to everyone I had the pleasure of riding with, congrats to Alex for beating his previous time by 3 minutes and a huge thanks To Chris Ellison for organising such a wonderful event.
Smokestone Mr Harry Large Frame
Whisky Carbon Fork
1x11 drivetrain (SRAM rival hydro levers, modified SRAM XX1 eagle mech, 10-50 Garbaruk cassette, 38t Absolute black oval)
Hope RX4 brakes
Vittoria Terreno 29 x 2.25” tyres tubeless
Crankbrothers dropper post wired into left shifter lever.
3T Carbon bars with RideFarr carbon aero bolt on.
Alpkit stem cells x2
Alpkit top tube feed bag x1
Alpkit upper frame bag
Alpkit seatpack with ExoRail
Kit list Seatpack Mountain equipment dragon sleeping bag (helium shown above got swapped out last minute!), klymit xframe mat, alpkit bivvybag, SG climb and conquer winter jersey, SG orkaan leg warmers, spare SVV socks & SG gloves, merino buff. Frame bag 2x 10,000mah powerpacks, 2x exposure joystick lights, various cables, mini usb mains plug, happy bottom bum butter, SG buff (doubles as a face mask), mini lock,spare batteries, msr trailshot water filter, deuce shovel, Columbia Titanium rain jacket, Tools & spares Tubolito inner tubes x2, spare spot batteries, lezyne multitool, insulation tape, brake pads, stans fluid, squirt chainlube, superglue, glue and patches, split link, spoke key, tubeless worms, earplugs(for big holes in tyres), tubular needle and thread(for tyre cuts), valve key, spokes x2, zip ties. Bandages, plasters, paracetamol. Stem cells and top tube bag Clif bloks, peanuts, jelly beans, nature valley bars, poor mans snickers. On the bike, 2x750ml bottles, 1x500ml bottle, lezyne mini pump, garmin 520+ Starting kit: Kask Protone, Stolen Goat orkaan bibs, ss jersey & arm warmers which is all breathable but water resistant, Shimano XC7 shoes.