The Big Day Off

One for the freelancers, skivers, furloughed and free.

Fleek Moss looking North (Photo: James Ward)

A 126km (3,300m^) day out in the Yorkshire Dales taking on Buttertubs, Oxnop Scar, The Fleak, Grinton Moor, The Stang, Tan Hill and Buttertubs again (plus two proper stabby climbs we didn't even know the names for!). It's a Big Day Off.

The Plan was really simple. I had wanted to ride all of these climbs for a while. And whilst it was stupid to try and do them all in one ride that was all I could manage time wise in terms of a day off from work and the family.


So a BIG DAY OFF. As is often the way with our slightly ad hoc group rides - We're riding it anyway and its always nice to have some company. In the end, 17 riders turned up and we all got round. In my case, only just...

We met in the sleepy Yorkshire Dales market town of Hawes (at the foot of Yorkshire's highest road, Fleet Moss - not on the menu today). A roll out from Hawes straight up the easier (Tour de France) side of Buttertubs was an eye-opener for the speed of the riders up the road. We wouldn't be seeing much of them again today! After the sharp descent of Buttertubs toward Thwaite (we'd be seeing that again later!) we turned immediately onto the 25% gradients of Oxnop Scar and then followed that up with a sharp turn onto The Fleak - after 35km and 3 of Yorkshire's finest hills we finally hit a flat bit of road for the first time and promptly parked at the Dales Bike Centre and Cakery. #LocafKnowledge



Make no mistake, this 35km was up there with the hardest you can do in the UK. And it was only the first 1/4 of the ride.


After what can only be described as a savage start to the ride, a few riders were looking a little shell-shocked as the faster group set off again and we saw them rising into the sky line over Grinton Moor (Greets Moss) in the distance from our seats at the Cakery. After tackling this ourselves in the slower of the groups, really painful cramp in both legs that had threatened earlier really started to kick in - 40km in and just 85km to go. This was going to be a VERY Big Day off.



Next up were the uncharted (and basically unexpected) climbs of Scarth Nick up to the (active!) MOD firing ranges across Whipperdale and then on to the frankly unpleasant Cordilleras Lane. The descent of this last unclassified climb took us briefly into County Durham and then onto the infamous "The Stang". This long ascent up through the Stang Forest back into Yorkshire was really hard going given the now excruciating cramp and the fact that it signalled the start of the last 45km into a headwind. Oh and the 20%+ gradients too.


That headwind was never more apparent than after the slight turn at the base of the descent and the sign telling us it would be an 8 mile false flat into a gale to get to the next stop at the Tan Hill Inn. Even more disheartening given the decision to skip the caf at 75km. Fools, never skip a caf. Now nearly 100km in and having been without water for the best part of 30km, the climb to the pub was even more torturous than usual.


By this point, the very generous and considerate slower group of 11 other riders had long since made the correct decision to stop waiting for my cramp addled body to join them about 20 minutes after they completed each climb. So when my final ride companion disappeared over The Stang, I thought I was in for the longest and loneliest 30km ever with the prospect of walking much of the steeper side of Buttertubs still looming. And with a relatively slow 16km/h av speed it was getting later and later in the day.


Then, over my shoulder as I approached the pub I saw a lone rider gaining on me. I thought nothing of it - I needed water, maybe this was a cycling mirage? When I arrived at the pub I have probably never been so happy to see a familiar face. Andy had stopped at the pub in the village before the Tan Hill climb (to consume a frankly hilarious list of liquids and foods) and I'd snuck past him. The stuff of tortoise and slightly faster tortoise fables.



Reunited, we descended Tan Hill to Keld and then very slowly rode (him and me for a bit) and walked (me) over the steeper side of Buttertubs. The hug we gave each other at the top of Buttertubs was warm with the knowledge that only a 6km fast descent to the car park awaited us. After carrying debilitating cramp for 70-odd km it was frankly hilarious to see Andy's cramp (he'd kept it at bay for the same sort of distance) kick in when he shifted position on the bike entering Hawes. Oh and then the cobbles. Urgh.



There, waiting for us in Hawes were two of the group who'd gone on ahead (and a few messages to check we were ok also arrived when we got some signal back).


Ouch. That was a really (slightly too) Big Day Off. Without the cramp it would have been one of the toughest rides I've ever attempted. With it, well, it was a bit too much. Beautiful, wonderful, vast and fun. But also awful. The drive home for an hour with locking cramp in both legs was also not an experience to repeat.


Thank you to everyone that joined us for the day. Apologies for the severity of the route (blame Band of Climbers, it was their (way easier, lol) version that inspired us to get it done).


If you fancy doing the route yourself (you don't!), then you can download the GPX at bit.ly/BIGDAYOFF or you can see the route here on Komoot. You can also see the real time pain unfolding on our Instagram Stories Highlights reel from the day. Ouch again.



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