Follow Tom and Lorah's adventures as they go bikepacking through the Yorkshire Dales. Equipped with Styrkr sports fuel. A must-read race report from Dales Divide 2022!
Tom's Dales Divide 2022 Race Report
Me and Lorah entered late to the Dales Divide, honestly, I only heard about it when trying to organise a ride the same weekend and all the friends capable of the kind of distance replied the same; ‘we’re riding the Dales Divide that weekend’. Thanks to organiser Chris for squeezing us in last minute. True to form in our ramshackle attempt at the race, Lorah built up her new bike the night before and I had only just replaced all the broken bits on mine. Fortunately, Lorah had found a bike bell in a box of bits which was the shape of a massive blue googly eye. Little did we know that this ugly (soz) piece of plastic would become our charm against low spirits, the sleep monster and pedestrians. Ding dong!
We stayed on a mate’s floor in Kendal (thanks Chloe, sorry for waking you up) and after a reasonable 6 hours of sleep we got up, kitted up, mixes were mixed, bottles filled, snacks packed and off we went to the start line… near the start line. We arrived nearly on time and unleashed a tsunami of faff which meant that we arrived half an hour later having entirely missed the ceremonies. Luckily, we weren’t the only ones, a couple of women racers seemed to be waiting for someone, so we stopped for a chat. They were very friendly, and one turned out to be Emily Chappell, who, slightly embarrassingly, is a hero of mine and whose book could be blamed for me lining up in the first place. They say never meet your heroes, guess that means they need to pick their heroes more carefully as mine was charming, slightly reserved and chatted easily over the first few miles until the currents of the race separated us. It felt like a good omen, and we continued catching the back markers as the beautiful Lancashire and then Yorkshire countryside rolled by. Pleasingly we then bumped into our friend and fellow Styrkr athlete Claire Frecknall, who after a quick chat waved us on saying she was saving her legs for the following weekend. Funny way to save your legs I thought, if this is her idea of tapering, I’d love to see her hard training sessions.
Now both Lorah and I were born in Yorkshire, so a return to the motherland is always a great feeling. Not only that but the route goes through my home town of York, past my school, past the house I grew up in and passes within 3 miles of where my parents currently live. However, there was no temptation to pop in for a cup of tea as they were in Wales that weekend and had seemed totally uninterested in following our dots.
After a refuelling stop at a Tesco in Boroughbridge where we bought more food than would fit on our bikes and had to eat a heroic volume of carbs to diminish it sufficiently, we pressed on towards Scarborough. I think at this point Lorah might have been feeling a bit cracked as she’d bought a large box of gummy fried egg sweets as a present for her boyfriend and only reluctantly left them behind.
For me the approach to Scarborough was the hardest part of the whole ride. I love climbing, enjoy technical riding but can’t stand shitty bridleways and the grassy, bumpy, slow rolling verges round the edges of fields seemed to go on unrelentingly to the extent where we were literally shouting at the moon and cursing Chris the organiser (a theme which will be continued throughout the race).
We reached Scarborough annoyingly early, just before the cafes opened, and in desperate need of coffee and food. I had visions of croissants the size of pillows and an oat milk flat white you could drown a horse in. The only place we could find was a kiosk surrounded by old men who obviously came daily to chain smoke and heckle each other. Still, it was food and very nearly coffee. Fed and watered we set off only to round the headland and find the delicious looking, hipster cafes we’d been dreaming of, despite this oversight we were stoked to be halfway and still feeling pretty good on no sleep and a sausage sandwich.
Getting out of Scarborough and starting to get into the moors was beautiful and we started to recognise places around Whitby from last years PubDuro, much more sober on this occasion and pushing hard, we started to feel the heat which was welcome but unexpected and much water and ice-lollies were needed as we traversed the wide open moors.
On long rides like this it’s easy to forget that energy isn’t just a tank which drains as the time passes but it ebbs and flows, a wave of energy would sweep us along, legs powering up the hills, conversation effortless and giggles filling the air between our bikes. At other times the waves would sweep up, leaving our wheels heavy and slow, brains full of a sullen fog, unable to speak apart from to voice the source of our latest pain of irritation. This was my first time riding this kind of distance with another person and I knew I’d been right to ask Lorah to ride as a pair. There is literally no one else I know I could have done this with, we had no arguments (a miracle really), when one of us flagged and forgot how to read a GPS, the other picked up the slack and when one ran out of food, the other one shared. It also became apparent that Lorah is much more competitive than me and her constant checking of dotwatcher.cc kept us moving to the extent that when fatigue started playing tricks on her eyes she started seeing other riders in the distance, straining to catch us up. “Come on Tom, I think I can hear someone’s freewheel.”
Approaching the second night we knew we needed to eat a proper meal and stopped in a little town to get fish and chips. We weren’t the only ones and there was a pile of aluminum, steel and carbon outside the chippy. Munching on our soggy chips we chatted with some of the other riders who were surprised to hear that we’d not slept yet and weren’t planning to for a while- they’d had a luxurious 6 hours the previous night and were planning on another 6 that evening as well! I started to question our tactics until they told us that they were doing the short route. After a surprise reunion with some old friends, Stuart and Helen, who had recently moved to Yorkshire and had been stalking us via our dots we opted to press on into the gathering dark.
The second night is a bit of a blur, highlights consisted of suggesting to a hallucinating Lorah that we should sleep only to be told that she was enjoying seeing umpa-lumpas and we should continue, climbing the horror climb that had made a friend of ours cry and call his mum for support on our November ride of the Second City Divide- it was every bit as brutal as you might think, the weird bird calls which sound like a radio being tuned and have been the soundtrack to many moorland overnight rides (Lapwings the internet tells me) and finally bedding down for 30 minutes sleep only for Lorah’s post covid snore to force me to hop like a worm in my bivi bag to escape, waking her in the process. As broken as our mini-sleep was, we both woke up much clearer in the head and continued to turn the pedals and were delighted to see the dawn.
Pleasingly we were the first pair to finish in 52 hours and 28 minutes and were the joint 14th people to make it back to the pier. Immediately we stopped. I already wanted to be doing it all over again. The route was spectacular and as ever, the feeling of rolling endlessly over the hills is seductive. Having time to ride your bike without thinking about what comes next is one of the greatest things about these rides and sharing it with Lorah who is cut from the same cloth was incredible. Finding people who want to ride their bikes no matter how hard it is or how tiring, or even because of that, who want to sleep in a cave, in a wood, on a moor or not at all, people who see the glass as perpetually half full is the biggest win I’ve taken from bikepacking. Like I once drunkenly whooped; slithering down a grassy bank, to a bivi by the sea, ‘I’ve found my people.’
Lorah's Dales Divide 2022 Race Report
I noticed ‘LONG RIDE?’ was pencilled in the diary on 15th-17th April, so I made a poor attempt at trying to organise a few friends for a Peaks200 attempt. Turns out a few were already doing the Dales Divide that weekend, so me and Tom Hall decided to try and hustle in on it too. With only two weeks before the start date - it hadn’t occurred to me the scale of the ride we were signing up for.
The only way to start any multi day ride is to have a monumental faff. For me that is. Tom on the other hand is an extremely organized and punctual human being - especially when it comes to snax.
Not only did I think it would be a great idea to build up my A.L.I.C.E. Pipedream before leaving, but I was still packing up my bike outside the car at 8am on Friday when everyone else was set to commence the race.
We rocked up at the pier (a very empty looking pier). Where were the hundreds of people that were rumoured to start? Instead, we flapped about with GPX files, and joined a loan Emily Chappell trying to work out how to upload the route to her navigation device. If it wasn’t for my failings at being organised, we would never have had the pleasure of talking to such an influential individual.
We all pootled along, chatting over the sound of Tom’s brake pads dragging on his rotors. Joking at how many km this noise would be acceptable, and how it may add an interesting rhythmic layer to any sleep deprivation hallucination come 3am. However, it was a mere mechanical woe which eventually disappeared on its own accord. Thank fuck. It wasn’t long before we approached a few more riders up a technical muddy climb. We said our goodbyes to Emily and carried on.
The vibe was great, the weather was great. We took so much enjoyment out of being able to play on our bikes all weekend, in the sun, on amazing terrain, that we lost any sense of pacing. I’d thought it might be possible to finish in 2 and a half days. Tom reassured me that sleep and stopping are not essentials. And those are the things that are oh so believable when you are loving life in the hot sun, only 120k in.
The great thing about riding over a huge distance, is the people that you sync with on the route. As the day went on, we caught up with friends and riders out on the trail. We exchanged excitement over the route and mechanical woes, then we pressed on. Reaching more riders on a long rocky grassy climb, which would then descend towards Ribble Head viaduct, it dawned on me that regardless of setting off late we were gaining and closing gaps.
We pushed the pace, soaking up the views of Malham Tarn and hit the prime gravel descent down Barden Moor into Bolton Abby. As we parked up excited to top up our supplies, we were met with closed signs for both the cafe and the shop. We rummaged in our bags, got the baby food out, topped our bottles up with our mix90s, and carried on slightly deflated; we'd just missed our fuel stop.
We finally bumped into Taylor Doyle in the dark, somewhere near Bishop Thornton - all slightly confused as to where the route was taking us. A common theme for the whole of the Dales Divide. We indulged in the awesomeness of riding off road and learning tricks and skills on the trails. Making loose promises to meet up on the big squish bikes and throw ourselves off things.
Knowing we were going to keep on riding till the early hours of the morning, me and Tom made the decision to peel off just south of Boroughbridge to have our dinner and restock at Morrisons. We arrived within 10 mins till closing. We grabbed water, orange juice, salmon, potatoes, spinach, nuts, bananas, sweeties, and the bulkiest, calorie poor packet of lentil cakes.
The next 100 miles was a blur. A relatively flat blur. We passed through beautiful York at sometime around midnight and killed a good 30 minutes going round in circles before Tom’s GPS spat us out and we were back on track. A peddling blur of muddy field after muddy field. Gate after gate. And I’m not talking about those easy to open SDW gates, I’m talking about the heaviest, difficult ‘get off your bike and manipulate your whole body to open this piece of shit’ gates. We had originally agreed that it would be wise to get some kip around 4am and snooze until sunrise. 4am came and all that lay around us was those dew-covered muddy fields. We agreed ‘Fuck getting the bivvy out’ and rode on to Scarborough for breakfast.
The sun rose and the birds sang all around us. We enjoyed the bulky lentil cakes. Faces emerged from every hedge; voices came from behind us. A quick eye rub, and a glance behind. No one was there. We entered Scarborough. So happy to feel tarmac under our wheels. We found an outside cafe, filled up on jacket potatoes for breakfast and looked at our phones. An influx of messages came through. We were up in the top 10. A position I knew wouldn’t last, but an injection of race adrenaline me and Tom knew would carry us through to the finish.
I changed my bibs, and finally removed the packet of Haribo I’d been sitting on for the last 6 hours to take the edge off my saddle sore. I can’t even remember when it started, but those Haribo did the job. I couldn’t bring myself to eat the contents of my arse mushed jelly babies. I said my goodbyes to the sweets and voile strapped a DIY hoodie pillow to my saddle until I could find some sudocrem.
Going through the NYM was some of the best riding of the trip. The day was heating up, and it was refreshing and comforting in our sleepless states to be back on our old stomping ground. We topped up with food at Grosmont to the sound of a steam train leaving the station and rode off, necking hot coffee and sarnies on the bike.
I was starting to notice pain in my ankles and in my right knee. It wasn’t long before we hit a long awaited bog section, tedious and stinky. My bad line choice saw me arse over face. It was the nearest to reaching a sense of humour failure. ‘Who would even put this in the route?’ I asked Tom. ‘This is exactly the kind of thing you would put in a route, Lorah’. Touche, touche.
We emerged back on to the tarmac to be greeted by an ice cream van shaped holy grail. We bought lollipops and water. Beaming at the sheer beauty of the day, and our victory over the bog.
Eventually we got to Blakey Ride - the Lion Inn. And stopped for caffeine, orange and topped up our water again. We couldn’t drink enough, and we hadn’t realised that we were soon to become dehydrated. Our lack of sleep had resulted in forgetting to top up our salts.
You’d think Tom and I would have learnt how to keep hydrated by now. Anyone who knows us is familiar with Tom’s trough drinking tendencies, and my emergency breast milk intake when caught out on the SDW mid-summer.
North of Chop Gate delivered the goods and served us up some dusty single track. I forgot the pain. It was technical, fast, relentless, and fun. My brain engaged and I managed to keep a line that let me flow over the whole section. Pumped, I wanted to turn around and ride it again. I waited at the gate for Tom. He was bonking hard. The Kendal mint cake came out.
Growing up in Yarm I used to spend most of my summer youth playing in the moors around Osmotherly. ‘Sheep Wash’ we used to call it. Floods of memories came back as we rode through. I thought about my own children. About my parents. My nana. My Northern friends. All those have been and gone. Our experience of time, and the sharing of experiences. I felt comfort and sorrow. So close to home, yet so far from those I love.
Entering into Osmotherly I had secretly hoped that my parents would have followed my dot and were waiting for me with a bag of fruit and nuts and some dark chocolate. Instead, we were met by other riders outside the chippy telling us how they had made a lovely long weekend of doing the shorter loop. We looked crazed as words failed us, rushing to order fish and chips and a cuppa. Our fuelling stop got a little too comfortable and we must have spent an hour eating and chatting. I went to the toilet to emerge feeling rather confused that I was looking at someone that looked a lot like Stuart Wilson - a friend that used to work at Rayment’s back in Brighton. I had to double take as I wasn’t sure if I was tripping out. It was him! And Helen Keller! They had come to give squeezes of encouragement to riders they had been following. A much welcome show of love for me and Tom, and it made taking an overindulgent break all the more worth it!
As we left Osmotherly we put our lights on and managed to hit Northallerton Spar just as it was shutting. I couldn’t really work out what I would need to get me through the next part of the ride in terms of food and it left me wishing I had written a list to remind myself in these moments of dazed confusion. I bought plasters for the blisters forming on my heels, some sour watermelons and a bag of crisps. I would later realize that this was clearly not enough.
The next X number of miles was a blur. Tom tried to convince me that we should sleep in a small, wooded area by the side of the road. I was more eager to press on, enjoying the trip of no sleep far too much. As my average speed started to slow down, I couldn’t understand why Tom was far ahead of me. I was watching his light get further and further away.
Was I cycling backwards? My body didn’t feel attached to my bike anymore. I thought about my kids. A deep sense of guilt flooded over me. I was miles away from them. This was a good trip going wrong.
I made some phone calls to hear familiar voices and read messages of support and encouragement.
We stopped, ate yogurt, ate muffins, and ate sweets. And I hated every moment of it. My mouth was full of blisters. Nothing was satisfying my hunger.
I let myself peddle out the uncomfortable feelings. I thought about difficulties I’ve recently had in my life. This ride wasn’t unbearable in comparison. This was that place you find yourself when something isn’t familiar. There’s an excitement and a fear of unknown territory. I know what stopping feels like. I know how it feels to take the short route, or finding the nearest train home, or claiming defeat. Right now, I’m in the unknown, and there’s a vulnerability and freedom that comes with being here. It’s a privilege to ride my bike. The shift in the landscape and the daylight is what I pine for when I’m not riding. As Rilke once wrote ‘Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.’. I know this wobble is temporary. I know my body and mind need to pause to continue to appreciate everything around me.
We were on MOD land. There was nowhere we could really stop and crash out for a while. So, we pressed on.
Suddenly, we could hear radios being tuned in. The crackles, and electronic interference are so loud and strong. Surrounding us. Later we would realise that the noises were the ground nesting birds, Lapwings.
Someone was behind us. But no one was behind us.
‘What did you say Tom?’ ‘I didn’t say anything?’
’What?’ ‘I didn’t say anything, Tom.’
We entered a field, and as I rode on black figured shapes moved in front of me. I felt fear. I froze. Trying to make sense of who would be up on the moors at this time, I turned around to tell Tom. He was still at the other end of the field. Once my eyes were diverted away from my Exposure light, I could appreciate the huge moon illuminating the trail. My eyes tried to adjust. I could see him with a giant box. Picking up small Umpa- lumpas, washing them in soapy water and placing them inside the box.
Our sleep deprived minds were serving us up some top-quality onboard entertainment.
F**k. We should get some rest.
320 miles in, at 1.15am on Sunday, we stopped. I set the alarm to wake us at 2am. I woke to the sound of Tom rustling around and trying to throw himself over the wall of the field. Apparently, I had started snoring and Tom was trying to get away from me. I closed my eyes again, and then woke to the sound of my alarm. 30 minutes rest and we were back on high alert. We jumped up, refreshed and ready to roll. We knew at least 3 people had overtaken us during the brief rest as we heard them go past just as we started to close our eyes.
Riding until sunrise was an incredible feeling. Strong and focused we pushed the pace again, rolling over nature's gravel pump track.
The next 50 miles that followed was a beautiful, dehydrated, false sense of a victorious home run. Piss and pedal was the pace we were setting.
We hit a climb that had challenged a group of us on the Second City Divide back in November. Memories from riding this section back then were still strong, but right now I was zoning out. Numb to the fact we were pedaling for nearly an hour. Confused, thirsty and hungry. We were desperate for a fuelling stop. We shared the last of the water and Styrkr salts. We would spend the last stretch of the ride pushing on through. I could feel myself struggling to keep the momentum. My ankles were sore again, almost unbearable to pedal. We finally hit the road, and our spirits were lifted. Never have I been so happy to be riding on the road. Beautiful rolling lanes, and the cool morning air.
And all good things must come to an end. It wasn’t long before a few more Pierre type stingers were thrown into the route. A pointless muddy hill to push the bike up that dragged on for an eternity, and then a boggy section that saw me getting off to push as my line choice was clearly worse than walking. By this point I was peddling to stop pedalling. The end was in sight, and I wasn’t taking in the views anymore.
I’d noticed me and Tom weren’t talking much anymore. It was a comfortable silence. I was proud of our team effort, and our ability to give each other respect and support under pressure. I’ve always admired Tom as a rider. His enthusiasm and ability to be selfless in these situations made me feel lucky to have crossed paths with him. I knew he was capable of putting down more power than I was right now, but he steadied the pace to ensure we both finished as we had started.
Suddenly familiar views. Parts of the route we had previously ridden. My car! The roll down to the pier we had made in a mad panic two days earlier. The Pier! The sea! Riders! We’d fucking made it! 2 days 2 hours and 28mins. We’d bloody done it. Whooping and some very tired hand clapping greeted us.
Adrenaline kept me fuelled to ramble aimlessly at riders Carl Hopps, Donnacha Cassidy and Meg Pugh. All on the pier basking in the sun and elation of finishing.
Tom walked in the deli, and I stumbled in behind him. We ordered food. We parted ways to seek some rest in our preferred spots. Tom slumped in the shade outside a café, and I headed down to the beach to lay out. I shut my eyes and dozed to the sound of civilization and the smell of the sea. I felt pain and satisfaction. I felt comfort in knowing I was closer to getting home to my kids. But deep down I know that no feeling is final.
(1st Pair with Tom Hall, 14th Overall)