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The Ice Cream: A 300km DIY Audax in the Dales

As you may have heard, we love to help our fellow riders with crazy challenges. Especially when they combine a relentless pursuit of new roads and they don't stipulate "flat" as a criteria!

Our friend Toby Willis approached us and asked if we'd help him plan a 300km Audax in the Dales - "lots of climbing and I need to go up Great Dun Fell" - OUR PLEASURE. This was the resulting pain that we dished out, as described by the man himself:

The Ice-Cream.

3am. I am gently awoken by the mellow tones of Tommy James and The Shondells singing Crystal Blue Persuasion. I hadn’t slept particularly well with my mind already buzzing about the day ahead. The lyrics incredibly apt and supplying the soundtrack for my journey North as the sun below the horizon gave the sky a deep blue tint.

I arrived in The sleepy village of Orton, unpacked my bike and got the last few things sorted. I was well prepared and had time to sit down on the boot of the car and enjoy a coffee while my heart rate fluttered with excitement and fear. Although there was a reassuring sense of calm in the air, today was going to be hard. Thankfully the weather was playing along and I was grateful for the first real feeling that summer was finally arriving.

Rolling out and into The Great Asby Scar Nature Reserve a wry smile crept across my face as I fought clear of a freezing damp mist and rose up the sun lit road ahead of me. I caught my breath only to have it taken away again by my spectacular surroundings. A Hare darted across in front of me, rapidly disappearing into the mist. My Tortoise pace would win out with a day like today already unfolding before me. Great Dun Fell’s Radar Station sitting high upon its throne waiting patiently for my arrival later. The jewel in the crown.

The roads were narrow and quiet, the houses still to wake. Birds sang loudly and my free hub hissed as I approached the days first test. Percentage signs warning of upcoming gradients.

OFFICIAL 100Climbs No78. Lamps Moss. The initial ramps warming the legs for what lay ahead. As the road veered skyward and the town of Nateby fell away I grinned and gave a nod to a route that had already overwhelmed.

The wild and windswept heather moorland tops were blissfully tranquil as I rolled past row upon row of dry stone walls between Dales and ancient woodland. The sheer vast expanses giving a real sense of perspective that I tried my utmost to appreciate. Passing Currock Force and it’s many waterfalls the road contorted it’s way up again and back into what felt like unspoilt wilderness. The hazy blue sky and warm sun a more than welcome pair of companions as the Tan Hill Inn appeared on the horizon.

Sandwiches and Soreen consumed before moving on once more. Bouldershaw Lane Climb Cat 4. Satron Moor Climb Cat 3. Relentless Steep gradients, both up and down continued as the routes most common theme as I looped in and out of the hectic Hawes. The spring sunshine welcoming so many.

OFFICIAL 100Climbs No50 Fleet Moss was now stretching itself as far as I could see way up into the sky. Taking the shortest route possible over the featureless ridge, it ramped and ramped again and again wrestling myself up and over akin to playing tug of war between leg and bike. The views over the world below as stunning as the road itself.

Another loop back into Hawes after completing another pair of Cat 4 climbs and another water bottle filling stop. I departed along a road that careered and swooped like a giant rollercoaster.

I whooped and cheered as the thrill of such descent took control of my emotion. Yorkshire stamping its authority on me with aplomb and yet more Cat 4’s before briefly entertaining Cumbria. This truly is Cycling country. OFFICIAL 100Climbs No73 Garsdale Head was in my sights. My now heavy legs pushed me up the fine surface and I allowed myself a slow steady ascent to admire the history surrounding these untamed lands.

The sun had past its peak and was now peeling its way back toward the horizon. The day was long as it was enjoyable. The route proving to be as tough as it was beautiful. I felt honoured to have experienced the ‘Happy Place’ that is Barbondale and then back once more to Hawes via a Category 2 Westgate Lane & Thornton Lane Climb. More 3’s and 4’s were to follow.

The chaps at ColdDarkNorth really are wickedly brilliant if not slightly evil (LOL - Ed).

My kind of friends. Reward was only just around the corner though as Newby Head descent loomed. One of the finest descents I’ve ever had the pleasure of, and a final stop before tackling Buttertubs Pass.

For once I was extremely grateful to be tackling a climbs easier slopes. I still had a date with the infamous Great Dun Fell and the sun was now setting faster than I’d have liked.

Checking the weather forecast as I approached the base of GDF I found that Thunder and Lightning had been forecast for 11pm. It was almost 9. I told myself that I’ll be up and down before it arrived but knew that I was taking a risk. Nothing was going to take the completion of this route away from me however and I began the long climb to the summit. Darkness had well and truly fell and as my heart pounded with the effort required to keep climbing and the anxiety of imminent lightning I kept going. With the Radar Station in view and clouds gathering I told myself not to hang around. Take a photo and go. It wasn’t going to happen. Suddenly, out of nowhere and far too close for comfort a huge lightning strike and deafening crack roared downward from the clouds lighting up the entire mountainside.

I did not hesitate in the slightest. My heart rate now through the roof, I spun my bike and headed down in the darkness as quickly as my shaking legs would allow. I didn’t notice the slight incline and it didn’t slow my descent as another bolt streaked across the sky before connecting Earth and Sky with a terrifying but ultimately beautiful show of power.

I sheltered in the nearest pub for an hour until the storm passed before making my way back to Orton feeling both physically and mentally drained.

It had been a day of awesomeness that would take a while to sink in. For now, I was heading home to eat the entire contents of the fridge before sleeping for as long as my aching legs would allow. As usual it wasn’t long. Revenge is a dish best served cold. I knew however that I would have the last laugh already contemplating what The #ColdDarkNorth would create for me next.

If you need help planning a route in the #ColdDarkNorth, get in touch, we'd be delighted to help you find the best roads and the finest ways to get to them. Safe miles. And don't try this route at home, kids (but you can download it here).

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