A late start Saturday morning meant we were battling congestion in a desperate plea to get out of London and hit the M1. It didn’t really matter though; the car was packed full of food and beer, bikes were strapped on tight, and tunes were a go. Nothing was going to wipe the smiles off the faces of me and my ‘driver’ – best mate, Josh Munns.
The planning of the trip – our first dedicated foray for Up and Doing – really hadn’t had much love and attention paid to it. Having ridden very briefly in Skipton last year, I knew the roads around the area were awesome. And so a map was opened, a pin dropped and off we headed. We both wanted to commit the weekend to racking up some good miles. For Munns this was going to come as a huge relief after months off the bike following a crash. And for me, a reminder that there’s more to riding than laps of Regents Park and chance to get some miles down to set me up for the summer.
We’d set our minds on riding the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France on Sunday, a 180km route from Leeds to Harrogate that would be bookended by more leisurely 80-100km days, rolling from pub-to-pub.|
Arriving in the awesome little village of Embsy, just as golden hour was casting its reach across the dales, we couldn’t have kitted up quicker. Bikes were thrown together, bib shorts snapped up and off we sped onto the smooth Yorkshire roads, only stopping briefly for a local rider (and ex-Londoner) who was curious to where we were headed and keen to share his favoured quick ride. Route memorised, we rode into the afternoon sunlight, cheeks already aching from the huge grins forced on us by the roads and scenery.
Barely 10 minutes in, and before we had even stretched our legs, we were accosted by a typical Dales climb. The 10% gradient lasted just over a kilometre and saw us up into Eastby, its sting numbed by the most incredible of descents: touching 80km/h for what felt like minutes and after scaring Munns to bits by hopping a cattle grid mid-corner in the descent, we made it down, stopping and screeching at each other in amazement.
After another 15km or so of rollercoaster riding, we became all too aware of the slowly fading light. Our total lack of preparation for eating or sleeping that night meant we had to regretfully turn around and begin roll back to the car, recounting our favourite sections of road from our first hour in the saddles.
Casting an ominous shadow over the next day’s ride – and perhaps setting a world record – Munns managed to bonk somewhere along the route back. I was pretty sure that 25km of steady riding isn’t even enough to deplete the energy of a 7-year-old girl, so I was surprised to see my friend pedalling in squares and mumbling something about hating me after such a distance. But I know the feeling well, so I empathised with him a little, especially when we returned to the car to find a hot-boxed VW pulled up right next to us.
Watching Munns forcibly inhale the puffs of second-hand weed from their car, along with protein bars, tea cakes, flapjacks, wine gums and anything else that stood in between him and the use of his legs, was hilarious though. He made the stoners munching in the other car look like amateurs.
Whilst this was ongoing I collected a pile of wood and headed around to the other side of the beautiful reservoir to scope out a suitable place to pitch up for the night. The pictures really don’t capture the dramatic atmosphere which the still water provided but it was truly, truly amazing and gave the impression of being in a remote Nordic drama – finding a nice place to set up our tent was no difficulty.
Aware of the not-so-legal nature of wild camping in the UK, we kept our campfire small so we were pretty shocked when a lone beam of light projected eerily over at us from the opposite side of the reservoir. With no buildings in sight we were quite wary (shit scared) but continued to drink our continental lagers and enjoy our first proper meal of the day – a massive Chili con carne, laden with jalapeños, but low on kidney beans – It turns out blunt axes are no substitute for tin openers.
After an hour and a half of chatting shit and laughing hysterically, we couldn’t ignore the intense light of ‘Flash Gordon’, our newly termed friend across the way who was still flashing manically. It suddenly struck us; the whole while we’d been using our phone’s lights to illuminate the food (not that it made a lot of difference, it was still burnt) and to take terrible, drunk photos of the fun we were having – it must have looked like we were trying to communicate back! Terrified that we’d just inadvertently lined up a dogging meet we extinguished the fire and retreated to the tent to get some sleep, not before I’d staggered, knee-deep in to a bog. Wicked.