Facebook is responsible for a lot of things – clickbait news stories, photos of food, and in this case, suggestions for long rides. February is definitely the right time to complete a hilly 200km, right?
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Four members agreed that it was an excellent idea. We set off from Halifax at 8am on a misty Sunday morning, towards the Yorkshire Dales over the iconic Fleet Moss climb. Saddlebags were packed, overshoes and winter kit deployed and we were off. The main road out of Halifax was quiet as we rolled on to Skipton via Keighley, but this route comes into its own when you head north from Skipton.
At around 9.30am we entered Wharfedale, with a gradual incline up the valley. Still cold, but a hint of sunshine broke through the clouds ahead and there were patches of snowdrops by the roadside. It turns out that this time must be peak traffic for the walkers heading up the dale, as it was surprisingly busy. However, by Grassington the traffic had subsided and soon we began to spot the local chain gangs from Chevin Cycles and Ilkley Cycling club who were tearing up and down the valley a lot faster than our “randonneuring” speeds.
The sun broke through and it looked as though the ascent of Fleet Moss would be accompanied by fine views of the road ahead, removing any doubt about how long and hard it is.
Passing Kilnsey Crag, the sun broke through and it looked as though the ascent of Fleet Moss would be accompanied by fine views of the road ahead, removing any doubt about how long and hard it is. We paused in Buckden to top up with food from saddlebags, and a man in the car park foolishly showed some interest in what we were doing. Quick as a flash, Robert unveiled his brevet card and explained the bizarre world of audax, long distances punctuated by cafe stops and receipts.
One of the finest sections of the ride follows, with a ribbon of road that parallels the river through Langstrothdale. Settlement names like Yockenthwaite highlight the Viking influence in this high valley. Kevin and Robert chatted about the caves and pot holes that permeate the valley, some of which are serious and tough trips even for experienced cavers.
At Oughtershaw the climbing begins in earnest. Robert was off the front, and Kevin played the role of lanterne rouge. A couple of Ribble Valley wheelers flew past us near the top, and the obligatory summit pictures were taken, with snowbanks melting in the spring sunshine.
The descent follows the line of the old Roman Road, straight and fast, but with a poor road surface and the infamous suicidal sheep so some use of the brakes is the more sensible option. In a few minutes we were in Hawes and at the Penny Garth cafe for a major feed and receipts. We chatted with the two Ribble Valley lads for a few minutes and congratulated ourselves on completing the crux of the route.
Forty minutes later we left, and set off up Widdale towards Ribblehead. This is not a tough climb but rolls and climbs gradually towards Newby Head at 430m. We all set slightly different paces on the climb, before regrouping across from the Ribblehead viaduct. A turn left towards Horton and the bulk off Pen-y-Ghent loomed in front of us and we we descending towards Horton in Ribblesdale.
Settle followed shortly afterwards and we stopped at the garage, raiding the fridges for chocolate milk, brownies and coke. The glamour of audax! As we were set to leave the Dales, and head for the Ribble Valley, it began to feel as though the tough stuff was now behind us. At around 4pm we left Settle and made our way through a string of charmingly-named Ribble Valley villages: Rathmell, Wigglesworth, Sawley, Grindleton, Waddington.
We made full use of the route sheet advice in Waddington “turn easy to miss”, so we did miss it and a couple of free extra miles followed before we set ourselves straight. The control at Great Mitton is the church and we must have looked like Church of England groupies as we scribbled answers in our cards. A decision was made to eat/drink in Whalley and we arrived there as dusk fell. Sandwiches, flapjack and malt loaf topped up flagging energy levels, especially as the route sheet’s intruction told us “Left at mini roundabout and climb”.
Fortunately, it was a short climb and the road rolled on towards Burnley.
The climb from Rose Grove lay ahead and was not welcomed by any of us. It is not particularly steep, or challenging but takes on a different character when there is around 150km in the legs. A search for the low gears, gritting of teeth and muttered expletives saw us toil away to the top before the descent towards the outskirts of Towneley Park.
The climb to Cliviger gorge is well graded, and punctuated by short sections of down as well as uphill. Over the top and a rapid descent towards Todmorden follows, except that “the bonk” had grabbed hold of one of our number. There was an enforced stop as we searched out energy gels, chocolate and water and in a few minutes they had begun to kick in and we were off again.
Into Todmorden and just the road along the valley before the final ascent to Halifax. A ride on the cusp of spring that offered the promise of better weather and ticked all the boxes.
If you want to enter this event, you can enter through the Audax UK site here