Saturday, September 28, 2019

I've spent months trying to kid myself my road bike is bent as that would explain why I feel odd on it and get sore knees/hips/ankles.

I measured it today. It's straight. Turns out I'm just middle aged. Now I have to try and fix shit up so I can ride it.

September Bivi

Given that the weather for the penultimate weekend in September was forecast to be beautiful and warm, I was super motivated to get out.  On Thursday night I was packed up and ready to roll.  On Friday morning I rode to work and left EmVee in the carpark.  I wasn't even phased by leaving my rucsac at home and having to ride all the way back up hill to fetch it.  

I finished work early but stayed at my desk, plotting an impromptu route.  I'd had a great idea to head North towards the Yorkshire Dales.  I knew I wouldn't make it there but a trip towards Howarth didn't seem too wrong.  Not wanting to dally at my desk too long, I opted for the easy Garmin Mapping service which meant I didn't really have much idea whether I'd plotted a roadie or MTB or walking route!

I left the office and headed straight for the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT).

There's a wonderful bike lane that trundles up the side of the M1.  It's surfaced, mostly, with tarmac but it's fabulous to finally cross the motorway, full of cars and turned towards Thorpe Hesley.  I wibbled through all kinds of back-road / greenway bike lanes through industrial estates I couldn't otherwise show you and then back into Wortley.  Finally off road and crossing the fields, it was a great relief but I was getting hungry.

The pub in Wortley looked a bit posh so instead I got on the TPT itself and rode outwards towards the Peak, dropping down at Oxprings to eat dinner in the Waggon and Horses.  

A passing walker accosted me as I locked up.  "Ooooh, are you... 'bikepacking'".   
Me: Erm yeah.
Walker: aren't you scared.
Me:erm No.
Walker: I think you're very brave.
Me: Not really.
Walker: I fancy a go at that.  

OK, so you're not scared?  I left it.

I ate my dinner watching the sunset and persuading the waitresses to come outside with my food.  I tried not to spend too much time indoor in the warm.

I left the pub in fading light and joined the TPT again up to Dunsford Bridge.  From there, my first tentative pedal strokes on new territory, I took the trail around the edge of the reservoir.  Much to my disappointment it wasn't really a trail it was a road with closed gates.  Still, better things were to come.  I enjoyed the reservoir in the fading light and climbed up on to the Pennines, chatting with some locals out for a dog walk in the dusk.

A few sweeps around woodlands and forested slopes and I finally dropped into Holme (yes as in Holme Firth and Holme Moss).  I flipped in and out of minor roads which I'd never been on before then finally, started the climb out of the village.  I was getting pretty tired and would start looking for somewhere to sleep soon.

I took a wrong turn, chose the wrong side-road out of two options.  Obviously, descending at speed, out of two choices, I took the easier option - after all this was a pleasure ride not a race.  Of course, I chose the wrong one and ended up at a dead end but a look at the map told me there was a footpath straight up the hillside to the other road.

I climbed up some incredibly steep steps then through a gate.  By now the light was completely gone and as I plodded along up a steep slope, my wheel off the ground half the time, my dynamo light gradually died.  In the darkness I realised I'd totally lost the path and my feet were now stepping in deep piles of dead leaves and cracking branches.  I alerted the owls who hooted at me through the trees and the foxes started yapping.  With the steep slope I couldn't stop here.

I looked around with the strong light to see if I could see the path but to no avail but what I did find was a patch of flat ground, just down hill of a tree with its roots part-exposed - the perfect place to lock up the bike a roll out a bivi.  Even more perfect that I'd lost the path and the wildlife seemed to quieten down.  I decided to risk it and pressed the OK button on my spot.

This was my view

I was a little apprehensive.  A new bivi bag.  I put my mat on the floor and slept in the bivi bag with a sleeping bag in.  Just as I'd got comfy, my final thought was, "I hope this tree doesn't fall over in the night" but it looked sound so I shut my eyes.

I was a bit excited so was awake until midnight.  TSK texted me to make sure I was OK as my spot didn't ping.  I sent a text then went to sleep.  I was woken a few times by foxes and once by a dream that a helicopter was passing searching for my spot but otherwise it was a quiet night.  The alarm went off at 05:45 and I had thought I was on the wrong side of the hill for the sunrise but as time went on, this appeared. 

I didn't even have to get out of my sleeping bag.

The daylight brought more good news, the path I had missed made a meandering slope across the hillside to join the road at a simple stile without me having to break my ankles pushing the bike up vertical any more.

The sun continued to rise as I made my way towards Diggle reservoir.
After this photo things got a bit bright for photography.
At Diggle res, the light was incredible and the solitude was amazing.  The bridleway is made up of old cart tracks, rutted through years of use, giving a real sense of history to the place.

It was around 7am and a kestrel flew along the path straight towards me before banking away 3 metres from my front wheel.  Wheaters and finches zipped around catching early flies and sheep lazily chomped away.

I reserved breakfast in Marsden in my mind but couldn't hold on that long and ended up in a cute little cafe called Ivy's in Meltham.  A bit of a greasy-spoon, I ordered tea but then noticed the filter coffee so a double-whammy to go with my veggie breakfast (with black pud).

By now I was a bit fed up of roads so I started to do a lot of messing about with the route - constantly stopping to zoom in/out of my Garmin OS Map to find bridleway diversions.  They were all wonderful - I was having far too much success.

I reached a rather puzzling routing where my plot seemed to follow the M62 for some distance.  Confused by this from the map, I didn't quite know what to expect.  Sure enough, the "road" (footpath) leads straight along a dam, on top of which sits the M62.  Whilst I was very tempted to ride across it, I was also a little hesitant.  Footpaths in broad daylight aren't really my thing and a large group of people were assembled on the other side of the dam.  I decided to give it a miss and descend the road to take an alternative bridleway instead.

Unfortunately I descended the wrong road and just ended up on the Yorkshire water service road on the bottom of the dam.  I took a thrash through some trees and bushes to try and hike my way out but just got confronted with a wall of nettles and a chasm of water so I hiked back out.

Advertising truck graveyard with the M62 along the dam in the distance.
After all that I needed lunch and pulled into the Co-op in Ripponden to stock up.  I enjoyed riding with my backpack this weekend and tootled my food down the road to a pleasant bench to sit and eat at for some time.

I made scribbles across to Cragg vale on joyous double-track by comparison and I rode for hours, doing double-backs just to cover more ground off-road.  There's only steep ways out of Cragg Vale though and I rode up Penny lane on the cobbles.  Only at around 13:30 did I allow myself to drop into Hebden Bridge for some more food and coffee.  It was busy though so I lay in the sun on the bench, my face shielded from the sun by my nose bags and I ate food lying on my back whilst people milled about.  I never found the will to lock up and go for that coffee so I set off without any water top up to get away from town.  In retrospect it wasn't wise but I managed.

No wonder I was tired after this Balsam explosion.
Instead of riding down the canal the rest of the way I climbed back out up the steep sides of the valley and back onto the top of the pennines.  It was glorious and I had a pee in the tussocks, looking over Stoodley pike.  Crossed the moors to the pike and joined the hundred-or-so people milling about near the pub.  I ordered a coffee at the bar but they couldn't be arsed / weren't bothered / were too disorganised to take my food order for a mid-day desert so I downed my coffee and left - without actually having sat down at all.  Before locking up, I remembered to go back in to fill up my Camelbak then set off towards Todmorden after a long chat with a toothless man who "fancied doing what I do" but also thought that I might get attacked.  I was starting to worry that men aren't very brave at all.

Stoodley Pike in the distance
Stoodley pike in the less distant.
It was great to ride away from a pub full of screaming kids and poor service but I was conscious that I didn't have much food with me and it was 5:30pm.  I bounced over the pennine bridleway for a while, finally dropping down towards the Rochdale canal around 6:30, just above Walsden.  As I sat down to eat a cereal bar, a couple of mountain bikers approached from behind me.  Just a couple of mates from Walsden out for an evening ride.  A week earlier we'd been in the 3 Peaks cyclocross together.  We had quite a long catch up as they offered me tea and plied me with Colin the Caterpillars and I munched on nuts and cereal bars.

I tried not to get distracted by the job in hand though - getting home before the rain on Sunday.  I politely declined accommodation and continued on my way with directions to a local pub for dinner.

Unfortunately I passed the local pub at speed and decided I could still go another hour on a belly-full of caterpillars.

All was well until I dropped down from the Nirvana of the Pennines to a slightly disconcerting Littleborough.  My first intro to the town was a gang of yoofs, complete with grey hoodies and white face masks throwing stuff at eachother across the street.  I'm sure they were just cold and having a game to warm up but I was tired and not in the mood for gaming.  Thankfully, they weren't interested in a middle aged woman on a crap-splattered bike, wobbling through their midst so I continued along the bike lane with the stoners and the drunk guys before drizzling out onto Hollingworth Reservoir.

It was just as busy as the Stoodley Pike pub but more adult this time and brilliant news, there were a pair of bike packers sitting at the far end of the beer garden out front.  I rolled up with an, "I see my people" and we settled down to chat about our day, the Highland Trail, work life balance, beer, chips and other bike-packing topics.

It was a fine evening, though they were staying in the campsite up the road so settled in for the night.  They broke the news to me that the weather forecast had changed (it seems me and bivi bags are cursed) and attempted to persuade me a stop would be a good thing.  However, I was still a little shaken from my Littleborough adventures and decided my lock was a bit shit for a night in a relatively populous campsite.  Besides, I still had that long ride home and two more Pennine crossings to do.

The "where do you go from here?" conversation was quite vague in that I was still just following a pink line on a map, plotted hastily on Friday night.  It involved hills and South but apart from that, I didn't really know but hoped it would get wild enough to camp again soon.

I recounted my tales of middle-aged men calling me brave all throughout my ride which made my friends gaffaw into their beer.  "He thought I was afraid of being attacked!"

Pffssst, "Who by?  The sheep?".  A new armoury of response.

I had my dinner (a little too much after all the Colin) and then set off down the road, returning a few minutes later to retrieve my credit card and pay my bar bill.

Good evening Rochdale!
From Hollingworth lake the crossing of the M62 is much nicer, a long meandering up hill from the pub on a closed road which down grades into open double-track. The weather held off and I summitted back onto the Pennines at around 10pm. A gig in Rochdale drifted up on the dark air and I listened to a warbling rendition of England's "Green and Pleasant Land" before enjoying the fire works display as I picked my way across. The hills somewhat belittling the whiz pop below.

As I realised I was back out on Saddleworth Moor, I realised there's one thing I'm irrationally scared of and that is the ghosts of dead children as I was chillingly reminded of the Moors murders in my dark and lonely world.  I tried to focus on the wildlife, the heather passing, the quiet munching and farting of sheep.  It didn't help returning to civilisation by a house on the A672 to a 40" TV screen image of a large, anguished child in some pokey TV drama.  I shuddered and concentrated on the main road crossing ahead.

An (I'm assuming) couple who had stopped to (look at the view) chose that moment to turn the headlights back on full beam and I tried my bestest to keep my eyes on the trail and ignore the dazzling flickering lights as someone wandered around the car to relieve themselves in the long grass.

Down the hill was a little tedious from here.  I couldn't decide whether to continue following the Pennine Bridleway or give up and get on the road.  Every time I pondered a road I was nervous of ending up in a town filled with drivers and drunk people so I just kept following the line on my map which seemed a good pick to be honest.  I kept expecting Mossley to show up at any time but it was a good 2 1/2 hours before I found myself somewhere I vaguely recognised on the map - except for riding past Diggle, whose reservoir I had slept at 20 hours earlier.

I was still outside of Mossley though when my Garmin finally died its death and I dug out its replacement.  I committed to sticking on the pink line though instead of riding around the border villages of Tameside and worked my way back up onto the Moor.  A "No cyclists" sign on my route had me a bit confused as there are quite a few pleasant bridleways around there but I dutifully dropped down and climbed back up again to Higher Swineshaw res before stumbling across the perfect bivi spot just as I was starting to get properly sleepy.  My plan to ride as much as possible to get dry riding done had worked and it was time to bed down before the rain came.  It was 1:30am.

With rain on the way, I was happy to find that the Thermarest just about fit inside the bivi bag with me and my sleeping bag in it too.  It was a tight squeeze but it just went.  I spent most of the night asleep with my face open to the elements (a first for me) except to sit up at 4am and retrieve my midge net as I was getting bitten on the face.  Netted and hooded I went straight back to sleep and woke up to the drizzle at 5:45.  I pulled the bivi over my head and closed it off except for a 12 inch breathing hole.  The perfect fit over my shoulders meant that very little condensation from my breathe made it past my shoulders and into the rest of my bag so when I properly woke up at 6:30am to heavy rain I was still relatively dry.  I waited out the worst of it then decided I'd better get up in the drizzle and pack away in a weather gap.

A beautiful spot

The other way
Deep rumbles of thunder in the distances added an urgency to my packing and I was lucky enough to get my sleeping bag packed up before the heavens opened for a few minutes, soaking the bivi and mat.  I was OK in full waterproofs this time (learning from the Peak 200 attempt) and even my shoes didn't seem to wet out too much.  It eased to a drizzle at I headed down hill to Tintwistle.

Dropping onto the main road I checked the route.  I was about to leave civilisation until getting to Penistone about 50km away.  I definitely needed to find breakfast.  It was 8am on a Sunday morning.

A few glances down side roads revealed nothing but a corner shop/paper shop and then I found this wonderful place.  I called in the door to check they really were open and a cheery "Yes" had me beaming from ear to ear.  I locked up and fell short of ordering myself a "Full" or "Monster", instead going for the "veggie" which she hadn't done in a while so I had to remind her what was in it.

With "no eggs" and "a bit of extra everything" I tucked in.
The only downside is, there was still no decent coffee - it had been 24 hours since my last coffee at Meltham but I could not complain.  I stuck £2 in the charity flapjack box and headed out on my Sunday bimble home.

As Pennine Bridleway became Transpennine and I wiggled my way over to Dunsford Bridge again, the rain actually ceased enough for me to remove waterproofs and enjoy the final passage over the "hard bit" in the company of sheep and a good wild pee stop.

From Dunsford bridge it was like the home run.  Gently downhill all the way to Penistone and lunch.  Pie and peas are the best at the Penistone caf.  More tea and bants with some ageing road cyclists heading the other way.

The hill climb through my local Wharncliffe woods, wearing my patience a little thin and I had little time for the horse riders who had been "going for ages" and needed to know how long it would take them to get to the pub.  At their plodding pace.  Their whining almost made me feel guilty as I plodded away at speed.

Home.  I wasn't looking forwards to the climb up the hill.  In the end the only climbing I did was to get off my bike and push as soon as I ran out of momentum.

I bartered with the rest of the clear weather and sat in the garden to drink a cup of coffee (finally) in the last of the glorious weekend weather, before retreating to the bath and then the bed.

A fucking brilliant weekend out.  200km 4000m.