13/04/2023 - Dales Divide 2023 by Abby

Dales Divide by Abby Popplestone

Dales Divide was my first ever race and despite having a few long distance rides under my belt, I went into it with zero expectations because I had no idea how i'd perform under race conditions and if i've learned anything from the rallies i've already done, it's that nothing goes to plan and so much is out of your control that there's no point being married to an outcome.

Why race though? Good question. In all honesty, I didn't really care about the racing element, I only signed up because I got FOMO when loads of my mates and cool people i've been following on the Gram announced they were doing it, so I threw my name into the hat and got accepted immediately.

Dales Divide 2023

It was at that point I decided to have a look at the route profile.

Oh boy.

If you've ever been to Yorkshire you'll know it ain't flat. This route snakes its way into the most remote corners of this wild, rugged landscape. It's demanding, relentless and unforgiving, it chews you up and just when you think you've reached your limit, it spits you out onto an exhilarating descent with sweeping 360 views. Upon speaking to a few mates who'd done the route last year it became clear that a lot of my time would be spent squelching through bogs and negotiating yet ANOTHER gate latch, with that in mind, I decided to do the shorter 400km route instead of the full 600K. A wise decision (for me).

On the day of the race around 200 riders gathered onto the pier and nervous energy filled the air. I scanned the crowd and spotted familiar faces which was reassuring. Suddenly, the bell rang and it was time to roll out, the super keen beans whizzed off like a shot and I was still faffing with my bags. As the crowd dwindled I started to panic that I would be left behind, but then I looked up I saw my pal stroll towards me, espresso in hand, and right then I knew our racing career was over. What a vibe.

The entire weekend was spent like that. To be honest, I completely forgot it was a race, I was having so much fun. An hour or so into the first day we rolled past a gorgeous stream and I said to my pal 'ooh, shall we have a swim?' and she was like 'Abby, it's a race babes!'.

Oh yea!

10 mins later we were queuing for an ice cream.

I learned so much on this trip but my biggest takeaway is that I have zero urgency on bike rides. Despite trying hard to be efficient and not waste time, somehow, I lost hours to the faff and chat. I couldn't seem to make myself care about going quickly, and I'm totally okay with that.

Don't get me wrong, I love trying hard. I get a real buzz out of pushing my mind and body to their limit and seeing what I'm capable of. Looking back at a particularly hard section, or gazing into the distance realising you were on the horizon only a few hours before is incredibly satisfying, but I kept forgetting I had to go fast. I was just so happy to be there and among other riders, I didn't think about the end result at all and I don't think i'm the only one. The Dales Divide has a reputation of being a really friendly race, whilst there are obviously a proportion of people there to race hard, my perception is that a bigger percentage of folks are there for the craic.

Once Claire and I accepted we weren't going to be winning any awards we engaged holiday mode and bumped into another friend who herded us the rest of the way. It was such a laugh. The three of us rode the rest of the route together and we got up to all kinds of shenanigans and met an eclectic mix of people all while riding through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the UK. What better way to spend an Easter holiday?

Will I do it again? Maybe. This route was tough! We rode hard from early morning till late into the night dragging our bikes through ankle deep bogs, across rugged moorland and through rivers. Despite being slow I rode well and my body and mind felt strong, stronger than I've ever felt on long distance rides before which was so satisfying. For me, the marker of success is how much fun I'm having. I'm nowhere near fast or efficient enough to get decent race places, so I don't measure my success by my place on a podium. I just wanna ride my bike far and hard and have a right laugh while doing it.

If that sounds like your jam, Dales Divide could be a great one for you next year. Just remember your waterproof socks!

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