After 3 changes of route my first attempt at solo bikepacking didn’t really go to plan (seem to be developing bad habit of this with my rides at the moment…). At the last minute, I opted to go ride the Pennine Bridleway North-to-South instead of the Lakeland 200. The main reason was ease of navigation, having the guidebook with info about stops/food etc. and avoiding the Great North Swim crowd around Windermere.
Packed up, hopped on the train to Leeds and then on to Kirkby Stephen. On the second leg of my journey I met an older guy heading towards Skiddaw for long weekend touring and exploring, he had a lot of interesting cycle and outdoor stories, taking a tandem across the Alps, pedalling a rickshaw out of the riots in Genoa and all the way back to Leeds… It turns out he also knew the train route pretty well and was able to point out where we were and assorted local knowledge about the towns, villages, quarrying, landscape, rivers, peaks, valleys and pubs you could see along the way!
Part way through the great stories and interesting conversations, I realised about I’d forgotten my lunch and only had a couple of Clif bars and a pack of Shot Bloks. Never mind I thought, I have some notes from the guidebook covering the first half of the route with places to eat/which stretches would be quite desolate, I’ll just dig these out when I get off the train and see how far the first pub is… Arriving at Kirkby Stephen about 12, I realised I’d forgotten these too (doh!).
Rather than head down to the actual town (mistake!!), I set off anyway with a vague recollection there was a pub about 20km or so in and I’d get a late lunch there.
Upon joining the trail, the hills started pretty much straight away, having forgotten to let some air out of my tyres the first gravel-climbs were hard and resulted in a lot of pushing, followed by a steep, slippy, grass descent. With tyres at 60something PSI and ‘dry condition’ treads this was absolutely terrifying and I spent a good 15 minutes waiting for my heart rate to come down and the adrenaline to wear off at the bottom, making sure the tyres were several PSI lower than when I started. After griding up the other side of the valley I reached a one of the standard photo spots, the stone carving above. At this point it’d taken 2 hours to ride 15km…
From here on the elevation eased off a bit but the trails were still mixed and nearly 3 hot, muggy and midge-bitten hours after getting off the train I arrived at the pub only to find they’d had to stop food for a few hours and had a £10 minimum card spend. Rummaging for change I managed to acquire 2 bags of nuts and a Coke, I refilled bottles and set off again.
After this the trails got a bit faster, but signs of civilisation rapidly decreased. Plugged the iPod in and had Queen’s Greatest Hits blasting in my ears to help me up the climbs (note to self: do not double-hand air-guitar off road again…) I saw only one or two humans along the way. Somewhere in sight of Ingleborough I bumped into a spiky friend (pictured) sat in the middle of the path. Shortly after this I joined the Pennine Way and headed down to another popular photo spot, the Far Moor Bridge (pictured).
At this point I was feeling pretty bummed out, tired and the spitting rain had me doubting if I had the energy to push on. I reached the road just above Horton on Ribblesdale and decided it was time to abandon the ride. I coasted down to to Settle as I had time between the trains and there’d be more chance of getting some food, skipped a huge queue for the chippy and ended up with a vending machine dinner of Dairy Milk and Doritos instead. Several hours of delayed trains later I arrived back in Manchester tired and bummed out, but thankfully in one piece.
Spent the rest of the weekend off the bike and back at my parents, including being attacked by more midges walking along Froggatt Edge on Sunday. On reflection, maybe my plans were overambitious, not necessarily from the physical side but being mentally up to riding alone, off-road for 330km… Maybe it’s time to find some more riding buddies, or just get used to ignoring my stupid brain when it’s telling me to give up and go home.
Kit list v1
Next time I’ll lose the guide book and take a few photocopied pages, insulated jacket will be swapped for a vest and the spare base layer will be dropped.
First aid pouch needs some work (extra bits inside not pictured). The headband light strap thing wasn’t used either.
A small notebook and pen would have been a good idea.