13/04/2023 - Dales Divide 2023 by Richard

Dales Divide DONE!

I'd never set up a camp outdoors on a ride, I've never woken up and had to get straight on my bike to avoid the cold. There were so many variables and potential risks to the Dales Divide that I could fall into the abyss thinking of any single one of them. To the point where I didn't want to do the ride at all in the weeks leading up to it. The weather was abysmal and the mojo was low. Somehow it all clicked in my head about 2 weeks before - "I'm going to spend the whole weekend riding. That in itself is a massive treat, whether I finish or not, so I'll enjoy what I know I'll enjoy, and deal with everything else when it pops up". From then on it was a go. The rest was just admin.

Here's a spoiler - all was well and I completed it. Rather than a blow-by-blow account of the weekend, here are some bits I enjoyed, endured and experienced in just under 3 days, in the hope it'll get you understanding that you are very capable of going well beyond what you think you can.

- Prep is good but shouldn't run / ruin your life. You'll never think you've trained 'enough' but my longest ride since last summer was about 4 or 5 hours of winch & plummet riding in the woods with my mates. Note the "with my mates" - that means there was a lot of chat! Yoga, digging, walking the dog, the gym, whatever. Moving is good, whatever it is.

- Kit prep is pretty important. There are lists on bikepacking.com about what to take on trips which are a great help but they sometimes put the fear into you and have you thinking "Do I take spare tyre sealant?" I've never used tyre sealant on the trail, why would I start now? I'm not likely to replace spokes either. My tool wrap was rudimentary but had everything I'd need for a fix or bodge on almost every part of my bike. That was it. There are shops en route and the very best prep is making sure your bike works in the first place. I'm more than happy to say I had zero mechanicals on the whole ride. Know your bike and how to fix / check it.

- Keep your chain wet! I put my lube in a very accessible pocket so I could grab it on almost every stop. I could have done with wiping it more than I did but as soon as you set off you'll notice the difference and thank yourself.

- Headphones worked for some flat, tiresome bits but I can't remember what I listened to, just the feeling of enjoying the rave every now and again. An Andy C mix got us the 45km to Catterick without food, early morning in the fog though, so I'll be eternally grateful to him for life.

- Eat. All the time! Even if you don't want to. If you can hear your belly grumbling it's probably too late. Eat anything you like and what you know won't upset your stomach. I found cool doritos went down really well even though I never eat them normally. Pasta salad meal-deals were a big treat. Double Macdonalds breakfasts too. It's so weird what you end up craving. Managed the whole thing with no gels or bars though.

- Turns out I really like a hill and the flat bits I'd been craving were actually super hard work. We pulled a long day on Saturday but as soon as the terrain got lumpy again I relaxed into it so much better. After a hectic Scarborough (mods, rockers, surfers, tourists, sunshine and us) the cyclepaths dragged but the quiet winch up to the forestry land was a absolute treat. Likewise another highlight was the ride up Camm High road - 45 mins, in a straight line, constant gradient, just tech enough to have to concentrate. The closest I came to falling into a trance. Nearly wanted to ride down just to ride back up again! You're really going to have to love the hills on a ride like this (or at least endure them without lasting mental damage).

- Spring was springing - lambs, daffs, rabbits, so many birds, owls, swoopy ground nesting birds, pheasants and tulips. Just a treat all day every day.

- It got COLD in the vale of York at night. You're low down, by water. If you're camping there find some trees for shelter. All my bivvy nervousness disappeared when I realised how tired I was. I ditched my bibs for the sleep and put on some dry tights, socks and a base layer. Did 30 star jumps then hopped straight into my bag. If anything I was too warm! The next night somewhere on the North York moors was the opposite. We were as low as we could get as it was baltic on the tops but even in the trees, it was foggy & cold. A simpler set up means a quicker pack up time and you can get back on the road (and therefore warmer) quicker. We had 5 hrs on the first night and 2 the second. It's utterly wild what the body can achieve on that little sleep.

- Be nice to publicans and they might be nice to you. Tony at the Arncliffe Arms in Glaisdale opened up the kitchen to make us some chips (for nowt!). The route kicked up through the village then headed on to the moors for a few hours in the dark so without that restorative pint and some hot food I might have been calling it quits and or in a pretty dangerous position.

- The phrase 'you make your own luck' rings pretty true on rides like this. Mostly my 'luck' came through listening really hard to what I needed at any moment. Sometimes it was simply a deeper breath, other times it was a stop for a stretch, toilet, chain lube, pint, food, sleep, photo, whatever. I had to be listening though, otherwise things went wrong like forgetting to fill my bottles, dropping something, missing a turn etc. That sounds really preachy but if I was masking how I felt with music for instance, I'd miss more junctions than if I'd just been chilling.

- It's a race, but the only person I was racing was me. The impetus to keep moving, make good time and not faff was brilliant. That doesn't mean I missed out on things, but if I wanted to go touring, I'd go touring. The first day seeing all the slow moving dots behind you was like a weird dream being chased by an unstoppable pursuer. Remember they're all feeling it too though.

- Read the route info! Chris and team have put together a phenomenal route and backed it up with a huge amount of support material. When you sign up you're sent maps, profiles, points of interest, descriptions, a piece on 'how to be successful' along with them taking care of organising car parking and even a feed station 80km in to the first day. The Dales Divide is billed as an introduction to ultra racing and the feeling of inclusivity & welcomeness is unmissable. I can't remember going to such a well-supported race ever.

- The Cascade was a perfect choice of bike. I wouldn't have minded a bit of suspension up front and some of the descents were pretty hairy so maybe a flat bar set-up would have suited better but overall yes. I'm so happy how it turned out and if I do this again I'll almost definitly be on it again. Or a KTM 250!

- Just after your first glimpse of the sea there's a huge downhill run so put your phone back quick and hold on tight. Now you know!

- You'll somehow get used to feeling simultaneously awful and fantastic at the same time. Focus on the fantastic and keep going.

- Chammy cream is my new favourite thing. No saddle sores in 600km. A miracle.

- Different layers and waterproof socks were my saviours. Sprayway and Sealskinz are actual lifesavers. Could have done with thicker gloves - my palms hurt but I'd brought compede which I stuck on for the last day. They were magic.

There are many more qualified people to tell you how to do something like this but no one is more qualified to decide that they can than you are. These sort of rides might not be for everyone but bikes are too fun to dismiss certain bits on a whim. You never know what you'll learn on a ride like this - especially about yourself. I'm probably not going to shut up about this one for a while so if you ask me about it, I'm going to assume you're curious and I will encourage you to ride well past sunset, sleep in a ditch, get cold & filthy, and have the best time doing it.

Rich rode his Cotic Cascade adventure bike on Dales Divide. Be More Baybutt: Get your adventure machine today.

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