Cycling across the hills and valleys of northern England takes courage
It’s dark, you’re in the middle of a military firing range on the Northumberland moors, you’ve been cycling for 24 hours and there are so many sheep on the starlit road in front of you that you can’t see where you’re going. What do you do?
“I started singing,” said Charlotte Thompson. “Scat singing, bee bap bap bap doo woop. I couldn’t just keep shouting at them, so I sang to keep them out of the road. And it worked.”
Taking on a 1,000 km cycle ride across the hills and valleys of northern England requires planning, preparation, athleticism, courage, determination, the ability to keep eating every few hours, and, of course, problem solving.
“The low point was being stung by a wasp, near my eye,” said Mat Ivings. “I usually react badly, last time it happened my whole eye closed up.” Mat took some antihistamines and considered his options.
He called his wife, Kristina, from Carlisle, with the prospect of the Lake District hills ahead. She said: “Well, you’ve got to get back somehow, so why don’t you just start and see how you get on?”
“It was good advice, so I kept going, one hour at a time, my eye didn’t get any worse, and I made it. But my kids think I’m nuts.”
Last weekend saw 68 cyclists set out from Heeley Institute to ride the second All Points North cycle challenge, organised by Heeley Trust and A Different Gear community bike shop.
The riders, including 17 ‘rookies’ who’d never done anything like it before, had to find their own way around ten checkpoints at hard to reach locations like Runswick Bay on the North Yorkshire coast, Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales and Honister Pass in the Lake District.
After setting off at 8pm on Saturday (or noon for the rookies) on their self-supported tour to the Scottish borders, the Atlantic, the North Sea, and over 12,000 metres of hill climbing, the riders wound their way back to Heeley for a celebratory curry on Tuesday evening.
45 riders made it, including most of the rookies, and Derby tandem couple Laura Massey-Pugh and Steven Massey who were training for a round the word record attempt next year.
Organiser Angela Walker of A Different Gear has completed several huge multi-day cycling events across Europe over the last few years.
All Points North was designed to give cyclists a taste of such events over a shorter time period, but covering the gruelling conditions of northern England, she said.
“Although the weather this time was quite good, so I don’t think they had a proper northern experience.”
“To me, getting out of your comfort zone is important,” said Joe le Sage, a Sheffield hospital physiotherapist. “I had butterflies before I started, but since the finish I’ve felt euphoric. It really has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”
Riders talked of the tranquility of riding through the night on silent roads watched by owls, rabbits and hedgehogs, and seeing the landscape pass by through dawn on the Yorkshire moors.
Charlotte Thompson, who works at Arup in Sheffield city centre, completed the ride in just under 53 hours, finishing 7th overall, ahead of most of the male riders, but six hours after the dramatic events of Monday evening as Bradley Woodruffe and Pawel Pulawski arrived back within a minute of each other.
Angela says women are just as capable of doing well in endurance events as men. “There’s no difference in strength and courage and determination,” she said. “It’s not just about riding your bike fast.”
Completing a ride like All Points North changes you, Charlotte believes.
“I think it changes how you hold yourself, and builds confidence and assertiveness in other parts of your life. That resilience transcends the ride and helps me feel more confident in a boardroom or in a confrontational situation,” she said, reflecting on her efforts.
“There’s a sense of focus you don’t get in normal life, just spinning your legs, fuelling them and thinking where you’re going. It was like two days of meditation. I find it really calming.”