After arriving in London, assembling my bike I decided it was time to get moving. Originally I had planned to ride from London to St. Andrews to attend my first conference, but circumstances arose such that I had to leave Canada about 4 days later than I had originally intended. This would give me 4 days to ride some 800 miles on a fixed gear. Not likely.
Now given some good training and weather (hmm... foreshadowing?) I might be able to do a single 200 mile day on its own, but four such days back to back. That is so wrong I was almost tempted. Then some sort form of sanity took over as I realized that the Tour doesn't even do that large a mileage. At most I believe they cover 150 miles (240 km) in a day, plus they are not hauling gear, they are on bikes that have more than one gear, and they have support riders and cars offering help.
Now I have thoroughly justified being a slack ass I decided to make it easy on myself and take the train from London to York the evening prior. After which I set out on an epic 100 mile day with rain, wind and 17% grade climbs.
For an apparent smart guy, I can be rather dumb
Yes, its true. A friend called me on it a while back and I must admit that he may be right, but still a jackass. My plan for day 1 was to ride about 120 miles (200 km) and make my way entirely on quiet back roads. The goal was to get some epic miles and enjoy the scenery. Running back roads is always slower (the roads are graded less) than the main roads, but when the scenery opens up before you and you are the only one on the road it so worth the extra effort. Plus, in the UK there are no shoulders to ride on when you are on the main roads, as such I wanted to avoid the "A" routes at all cost.
Its all fine and dandy to take back roads when you know where you are going, but its a whole other situation when you are coming from North America to the UK. Unlike Canada or the United States, in the UK you have almost too many choices. There is just a mass rural and main routes criss-crossing the country side. When I first looked at the maps, I realized I had too many choices.
Its hard to know cruising around google maps or google earth which routes to choose a head of time. No where is there information to tell you which ones will have traffic, which ones are flat and which ones will have monster climbs (Ed note: Just for the record I am a sick puppy and prefer routes with monster climbs).
While I went there with a guide book, I quickly found that the Sustrans.org.uk routes saved the day.
Systran Routes all the way!
After a quick bit of morning sight seeing, I set out from York, heading North West following my then beloved guide book. However, my love for the guide book soon ended. Starting out my idea was simple: I would refer to the guide book for a general idea of roads to take, then plot out my actual route on the UK ordinance map.
Sounds great in theory, but in reality it sucked ass. Just as I would get going, I would miss some stupid turn, get lost and spend far too long looking at the map to figure out what I had done wrong. Next I tried the "Ask a stranger" approach which only works when strangers don't want to send you to crazy places. Finally, I stumbled upon the UK Sustrans routes.
Imagine you take the best routes you have figured out over a lifetime of cycling. You then clearly map these routes out, and hand them into a central agency who comes along and puts up sign posts across the country side so you can easily follow these routes. I don't know much of the history of how this came to be, but as an outside this is pretty much how the Sustrans.org.uk network of routes appeared to me.
At first I was weary of the routes, deciding instead to stick with my original plan. But then I just kept seeing them over and over again, typically in areas I thought were the most interesting to ride. Finally, I put away my guide book and started following the Sustrans routes. And I am glad I did.
Imagine cruising along a 5 foot wide lane, the grass growing tall as you cruise along at speed down a lane that is restricted to cycling and walking only. Can we say riding nirvana? The Sustrans routes sent me down all sort of cute side lanes (e.g. pictured left) where cars were not allow. It was like a freakin revelation! I had heard and seen pictures of such mythical bike routes, but it was a whole other world actually riding on them. Plus this is England which is supposed to be notoriously bad compared to the rest of Europe
Following these routes at a good clip I made my way North west out of York and towards Newton-on-Ouse, with my first planned tourist stop being the Fountains Abbey. (Hey, I may be riding lots of miles, but be damned if I am not going to take in the scenery),
For some strange reason, before I left that day I took my warm wool jersey. When I arrived in York it was freaking warm. When I left in the morning it was sunny. By the time I left Newton-on-Ouseit was cloudy, by Ripon it had started to rain and by the Fountains Abbey the skies had opened up and was riding in an inch of water. Its July and all of a sudden it seemed like I was in a winter unwonder land.
At the time I wasn't too worried, a freak summer shower I thought, after all its summer. Yes, everyone knows it rains a lot in the UK, but come on its the middle of summer afterall. This should clear up after a bit.
What I didn't realize was that this was just a foreshadow of the hell that was about to come down the shoot and slap me in the face like a fresh faced fixie newbie shocked that the pedals keep moving when s/he forgot to keep pedaling.
Hmmm... 10 lbs of Gear?
Recall that in my infinite wisdom I decided to only allow myself 10 lbs of gear for a month's travels. In that I never saw fit to include proper rain gear. I simply took the kind of gear where you get wet and you layer. Afterall I live and ride on the Wet West Coast of Canada, with one of the highest annual rainfalls in the world! I can take on a little unseasonable UK summer rain, right?
Well the answer was a resounding yes on this day. Since I was already soaking wet I decided to keep moving fast and stay warm. Screw the Abbey. I took a quick look then jumped on my bike and started cooking it.
Pouring on the speed I was able to outrun the rain and start to get into some semi-dry areas. This allowed me to dry off some and get warmed up. By the time I hit Pateley Bridge I was in decent weather so I decided to grab a coffee and a quick bit to eat.
And the Lord Giveth'
After my coffee I headed out to keep moving towards my destination. The Guide book said it should take 3 days to reach the lake district, I decided one day was a good goal. Then just as I started to get moving the heavens really opened up and experienced some of the hardest rain I have seen in my life. It was raining so hard I ran took cover in the nearest church for nearly an hour where I chatted with the minister about cycling.
After a while I gave up and just gave up on the rain and decided to get really soaking. In the mean time I decided to abandon my guide book as it wanted to send me down some "A" routes, instead I found a cycling brochure in the information office that promised great cycling if I headed straight east towards the town of Grassington and the York Dales National Park. This was a bit out of the way (the Guide book headed North for a flatter route), but what ever I like a challenge. With my rest I also tracked down some accommodation in the town of Dent.
Ready or Not, Yorkshire Dales here I am you steep MOFO
Delays aside I started to make good progress and rode as fast as I could towards Grassington, basically went into time trial mode and ate up the road. My head was down and all I did was focus on how fast I could go, powering each of the rolling hills to keep my momentum up. With a gearing of 80 inches that means pretty damn fast. By this point, the pure flat riding was slowly disappearing but I was handling the small climbs without problem. When I finally reached Grassington, was hungry (I hadn't had lunch yet) and decided to grab one of the best baguette sandwich of my to date medium length life.
I was looking at my map when I got a stroke of luck. A local cyclist (he had just finished a 70 mile ride) was in the store at the same time and offered me help in finding the best route to the Lake District (day 2 destination). We poured over my map and he marked out where I should go (generally that is, I had a crappy map for this portion of the UK) and I did my best to listen while my thoughts found the sandwich I was eating to me much more interesting. Mmmmm, fresh baguette.
With the brief rest over it was time to get going, destination Dent. Head down I sped off to make up the hour I had lost waiting for the damn rain to stop. This was probably not the best idea because before I knew it I had gotten off track and was no longer following his directions. This mainly occured because I ran across another roadie. He started drafting me so I had to show him that after 70 miles I still have tons of umpf left in these here legs. Before I knew it I was way off track.
A quick look at the map set me straight. While I wasn't on the pre-determined route here was a new one. Right up the center of the Yorkshire610 Dale mountains. Wait a second why are these double arrows everywhere on the map. I would soon find out that these were the really steep routes.
Oughtershaw Rd - WTF!
The scenery was absolutely amazing, but the next few miles would try and kick my freakin ass. This mainly occurred on Oughtershaw Rd. In a flat land TT gear, here I was out of the saddle grunting up 17% grades with a complete and in ability to let myself walk. I chose the gear and be damned if I am going to back out now!
Here are some pictures from the this section.
The last picture I captures a bit of the climbing. The hills just never seemed to end, once you got to one subpeak, another appeared. This happened over and over again, slowly wearing down my determination not to have to push my bike. It was quickly dawning on my that I took a really, really, really stupid gear. Plus, I still had many days left and shouldn't toast myself, but I didn't care. My pride was at stake. In the end I had to resort to tacking across the narrow road way hopping an auto didn't come flying over the blind corner and hill crest just ahead. A couple times they did and I probably looked pretty funny diving off the road and onto the walls or into the grass.
Dent, give me food and a bed damn it
Eventually, after a long, long day of climbing, I rolled into my destination just as a massive storm cloud was catching up. As I entered the B&B a stoke broke forth and the town was en capsuled in a fairly violent thunderstorm. Hmm... camping under a tarp or a warm bed? I pondered this for about 5 seconds as I headed to the pub for a meal and a well deserved brew.
Day 1 Route (100 miles)
In total I covered a little over 100 miles as near as I could figure it. With all the stopping and climbing, not too bad for the Jet lagged first day.