Aldbrough Grimpeur

Grimpeur - a word used in Audax circles to describe a ride with a lot of climbing, and also to describe the type of cyclist who completes these hilly challenges.  I'd like to extend a big 'thank you' to Nigel Hall for organising the "Aldbrough Grimpeur"; a 100km bicycle ride in the North Yorkshire Dales through isolated and quiet country lanes.  Stephen, Jonathan and I signed up for this ride because of how much we enjoy riding in North Yorkshire, and because Audax events promise us unexplored new roads, in this case to be combined with some hilly riding in the dales.
"Before you ask, no, I don't want to ride to the start." said Stephen. But, but, but... it's only 40km from Ingleby Barwick. (Mental note to subversively work on Stephen) Jonathan was up for it, so at 7am we left the Fox Covert and took the Leven Bank, Yarm, Aislaby, Neasham, Croft and Barton route to get to Aldbrough in about 1hr 20mins. Jonathan believes we could have stayed in bed half an hour longer, but I like arriving early, so in a way he compromised more than I did. Stephen was waiting for us, with Paul, a fell runner accidentally converted to cycling, and also an Ingleby Barwick resident.

Nigel had set up a 'marquee' in the form of a white transit van in the car park of the Stanwick Inn and was handing out our brevet cards.  There were a lot of riders gathering for the 100km Grimpeur and also the 50km 'Cordilleras' (billed as a "fun" ride - but with a heck of a lot of climbing too!)  We chatted while waiting for the off; and I met riders from Whitby over for the day and also Charles who has signed up for my 100km "Keep to the Roads".  I took the sneaky opportunity to promote the Ralph Cross, KttR and Tees&Cake.  I didn't see Deano, who had said he was riding.  It turns out he arrived just 5 minutes after us.

At 9am we headed out and immediately a brisk paced group formed with Stephen and I at the front, Jonathan and Paul just behind, then several other riders, however the road rises gently, and the pace was enough to give some warmth to the legs, so by the time we'd covered the first 11km to Washton we'd thinned a little.  This was not intentional.  Stephen and Jonathan ride together a lot, and a 60 mile Sunday ride is typically at a brisk pace, regardless of hills.  So in a group there was a little bit of unintentional half-wheeling going on - I was guilty of this too.
Leaving Washton I had the wrong page on my route sheet showing, and tried to go right instead of left at the first junction - thankfully for the series of GPS beeps behind me we were alerted to the mistake.  Our next section was to the Dales Bike Centre near Fremington and we had the climbs over Feldon range and Hard Stiles to get through.  The names of the climbs add to the sense of adventure; "Hard Stiles" doesn't sound like a gentle pootle!
We had now settled into a group of five, joined by Colin, a man of two qualities - experience and strength.  A little older than me, but with a helium like ability to go uphill and a descending ability which left me standing.  Thankfully Jonathan wasn't going to be outdone on the hills and happily rode along next to him asking open ended questions.  Of course I got well and truly dropped on anything over 10%.
Looking to our right as we climbed, on the opposite side of Swaledale we could see a road we'd be 'struggling up' later in the day, the ascent of Feetham from the Punchbowl.  The views into upper Swaledale past Gunnerside and Muker into the remotest parts of the Dales were dramatic.  The day was not warm, but as we climbed I could feel the heat building in my arms and legs.
Finally, after the climb over Hard Stiles and drop into Fremington we reached the Dales Bike Centre, which was hosting an MTB event with a party atmosphere.  Lots of young and old MTB'ers were out, and there were marquees so this must have been a major happening.  We all had out Brevet cards stamped by the guys at the centre.  I bought one of those "Mule Bar" thingummys after reading about them in Cyclist magazine.  Something nourishing and tasty I hoped. (And it was.)

Leaving in a southerly direction we turned at Grinton, but instead of climbing Grinton Moor, we immediately took a right for Fleak Moss.  This climb was a classic, "never reach the top" climb, as around each bend the road kept going up, and of course I found myself off the back again.
Over the top and another hairy descent, this time to Askrigg in Wensleydale.  We had some discussion about what the lake was in the distance.  I couldn't remember the name, but I knew that Carol, Katherine, Edward and I had done a walk around there last year - it was Semer Water.

We didn't stop at Askrigg, but ploughed through and onto the back road on the north of the river Ure, opposite the A684.  A road familiar to cyclists in the Dales, it is used on the Darlington "Hell of the North".  This was a good fast rolling section, although into a headwind so we took it in turns on the front and kept the pace down as we knew Buttertubs was ahead.  As we passed Hawes I snapped a photo of Stephen, we were enjoying ourselves on this ride.
We hit the bottom of Buttertubs and again I fell away from the group - up ahead I could see them split too, with Paul and Stephen together and just ahead of them Jonathan and Colin.  I know this climb of Buttertubs, I know that once the steep bottom section is over that the road is much more like Clay Bank and a bigger gear is possible, so once I was passed the hardest section I changed up and rode hard.  I thoroughly enjoyed the speed I managed to the top, even though I had a bite of cramp at one point I ignored that and promised it some salted peanuts in Muker.  I pushed hard through the first crest and kept the speed as high as I dared through the sweeping and pretty dangerous section to the top of the final climb.
The barriers did not look like they were cyclist friendly, so riding fast and taking photos was challenging, however, once over the very top I hit the brilliant descent keeping the speed high.  I knew Colin would be catching me, but I also was wary of the sharp bends and made sure I braked early and hard before each turn.  As I reached the bottom and turned right for Muker, I checked my shoulder to see I'd been caught.  I had to concentrate though due to the resurfacing and the deep piles of gravel roughly glued to the road surface.  We stopped in Muker for a control point.  I'm sure it said control 'pint'.
After a good stop for perhaps 15 minutes we were off again, at a more cautious speed due to the loose gravel which lasted through Gunnerside and almost as far as the Punchbowl.  We were back in Swaledale of course, and heading for the climb we seen earlier in the day, ascending Feetham.  The route sheet helpfully says, "Struggle up Feetham", which I duly did and I'm going to have to report to Nigel that the others had ignored his instruction and breezed up Feetham.  Later in the day we agreed that this was the hardest climb of the day, and the ford added just that touch of danger that was needed.  This was the only time it rained on our ride, but the drizzle was appreciated as it cooled my arms and head.  The only downside to the drizzle was the care I had to take keeping the rear wheel from spinning on wet tarmac.

After the descent into Arkengarthdale we had the rewarding sight of the climb to 'The Stang' visible.  This is another climb I had done before, so I knew I could pace myself slowly at the bottom, then ramp the speed up as the gradient reduced.  Unfortunately I forgot just how long the climb went on and I ramped up my pace too early, losing speed on the very last section.  I was deep in the red when I passed over the top and caught my first glimpse of County Durham for the day.
What followed was a fast and steep descent, with sharp bends, but by keeping the speed as high as possible I was able to roll through each uphill section with very little effort.  It was like riding a rollercoaster, but without rails.  We regrouped at the final information control and had only another 15km to get back to Aldbrough.  The rest of the route was easier, with undulating hillsides that could be powered through with effort.  We all had tired legs (at least I had tired legs), but we pushed faster and faster in a paceline drafting each other in turn before Jonathan and Stephen had a sprint for the finish line by Nigel's house.
Absolutely shattered; we sat in Nigel's garden, enjoyed beer, cake, banana loaf, cherry pie and more banana loaf while recounting the fun we'd had.  Audaxes are not races, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a fast blast with friends.  It was really nice to meet Colin and Paul, and I hope to ride with them again one day.  Colin is off to do a LEJOG in the next couple of weeks - I hope he enjoys it as much as I did.
Thank you to Nigel, a brilliant ride, wonderful cake and a much appreciated beer at the end.  Thank you to Jonathan, Stephen, Paul and Colin for the group ride experience.  Now all that remained was for the 40km return journey to Ingleby Barwick... with Jonathan teasing me that I'd be wanting to add 20km... cheeky.

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