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Northern Dales Audax: view from the rear – a pensioner’s story by Mike HutchinsonThe Northern Dales Audax events, a promotion on behalf of the C.T.C.’s Lancaster Section. and its D.A., have been running since 1990. The original routes were drawn up by Barry Donaldson and Ben Stevens and both the event HQ (Arnside Youth Hostel) and the bulk of the two routes have received relatively minor changes over the following years. I took over as event organiser 12 years ago and Barry has usually helped at the start and finish. No Barry and Cathy this year as they had moved to Hampshire. John Gibbs and his staff at the Youth Hostel have always provided us with splendid facilities both for an overnight stay and for the finish and this year was no exception. Following the precedent set five years ago, I swapped roles with my wife in order to celebrate a key stage in my personal development. Instead of riding the Populaire Anne was checking riders at the start and I was entered for the longer of the two events. In the year 2004 the ‘key stage’ is O.A.P.status.Some while ago I used to race. I am a life member of the Westerley Road Club and did lots of club riding with the Edgware CTC. My preferred race options used to be l2 and 24 hour time trials and the last open time trial was in 1967. The following year ‘my visa ran out’ so to speak and I moved back to the north where ever since, but for a brief spell in Bristol, Anne and I have enjoyed the delights of Lancashire. Initially I gave up cycling in favour of fell walking graduating to becoming a fell runner for the local athletic club. Completely by chance, when incapacitated by one of many stress injuries acquired as a consequence of running, I discovered that so long as I could pedal over top-dead-centre I could get out on the old bike. By 1984 I had ridden the 7 miles between Caton and Lancaster University to and from work for 5 years in all but the depth of winter and that summer I received an invitation to attend the Edgware CTC’s 50th re-union lunch. Whilst there Brian Curle (seasoned Arrivee readers will remember him?) introduced me to Audax UK. Now, some 140,000 miles to the good and with a stack of validated brevet cards, seems a good time to recount my impressions of this the 121st of these rides.The current route for the Northern Dales 200km Audax first takes the riders in a vaguely SE direction crossing the River Lune at Loyn Bridge near Hornby, then following the River Wenning to Wennington before the first big climb: Ravens Close (1st checkpoint). After Ingleton riders head NNE to Hawes via Ribblehead and they then cross over the River Ure and ride through Askrigg and Redmire en route to Leyburn (2nd check, 90+km). From Leyburn the route takes riders over the army ranges and on to Grinton and Swaledale. At Reeth they head N then NW through Arkengarthdale and then along the formidable moorland road to and beyond the Tan Hill Inn, England’s highest pub (Info point at 122km). The return to Arnside is via Kirkby Stephen (checkpoint), then S and SW through Sedbergh, Kirkby Lonsdale and Burton in Kendal. The weather forecast for Sunday 12th September was simply horrendous – strong SW winds rising to gale force with heavy rain due by the late morning. In two ways it might be said that I came ‘well prepared’. I had ridden the middle section of the route from Hawes on the previous Tuesday – although admittedly with a strong breeze coming from the opposite direction – and of the 11 events ridden so far this season I had only managed to avoid rain on 3 of these. Surely anyone who had experienced Shropshire’s Long Mynd in April or Cheshire’s Bob Clift Cycleway Ride in June could manage a further wet ride? As 08:00 approached it became obvious that discretion had become a keyword for many of the entrants for the 200km event. Several riders had opted to transfer to the 110km Populaire and the list that I took with me for the checkpoint marshals to give them the numbers of the riders participating was a bit thin. Out of 38 entrants only 18 had set off by the time I left the Youth Hostel.It wasn’t a bad start – just a bit of headwind, quiet roads and a generally pleasant route towards the Lune valley. I arrived at the foot of Ravens Close before 09:30 to find that there were only 17 riders ahead. Sheila and Allen assured me that everyone so far had been pretty nippy - intent upon getting to Tan Hill before the rain started. Where was Steve Ginty? He had checked in at Arnside. I rode up the hill and on to Ingleton, past White Scar Caves and on towards Chapel le Dale when I was caught by three riders. Steve Ginty and two team-mates from Southport gave a cheery hello before disappearing up the hill past the Hill Inn. That solved that little problem – there were 21 riders in the event and yours truly was at the back of the field.At Hawes I stopped to buy a drink and to take on some food. Steve Willets [Bury CTC] was already in a café and then, somewhat to my surprise, Terry Bolland arrived. Presumably he had had a pit stop because I couldn’t remember overtaking him.From Hawes the passage through the roadworks at the river bridge was straight forward – lights having replaced the road closure notices that had prevented motor vehicles going through earlier in the week. The following wind through Askrigg, Carperby, past Castle Bolton and through Redmire and Wensley made for exhilarating riding but I was becoming all too aware of what might be in store for us over Tan Hill. Don Dalton and Eileen were marshalling at Leyburn and here they reported a retirement – a damaged rear wheel following from a faulty gear change with the rider already hitching a lift en route home. 12:33, I was last. 1 ½ hours to spare perhaps but is this a sign of anno domini? I’m the only O.A.P.in this event and I was the last to arrive at Settle in the Dales Grimpeur in June. Peter Pan? – am I due for a reassessment?It was already raining but the route to Grinton was not as bad as expected. I stopped at Reeth at the same shop used the previous Tuesday. A nice bench and table outside, but I didn’t sit down. It was sunny on Tuesday and the bench was dry – today was different. Reeth is just over half-way at 104km. Riding up through Arkengarthdale is far from easy, especially near Langthwaite, but it could have been worse and on turning left after the CB Inn it was nothing like as bad as I had expected. I could see Steve ahead and there was less than 12km to the Tan Hill Inn. It was only at 3km to go that it really became a struggle, Steve just in sight, and by the time that I arrived at the Info Point there were lots of riders huddled at the door. Info. (immediately above the door) – name of proprietor: answer Margaret Baines. 122km covered: time14:53 – 1 ¼ hours to spare.I left the pub before the rest of the throng and rode/struggled NW. There are three further moorland climbs after the inn before the general descent towards Kirkby Stephen. On the summit of the 3rd of these, Molds Hill, the road is especially exposed to cross winds. No problems on Tuesday – but then there had been a following wind. This time I was having enormous difficulty in controlling the bike as the gusts of wind were taking the bike across to the right of the road. There are many (uphill) advantages in weighing in at just over 9 stones but in conditions like these not so. Eventually I was flattened and forced to walk the next few hundred metres before remounting. A number of riders passed me here showing concern at my plight and, at long last, we were able to move once more as we descended towards Kaber. I had posted a warning about the pot holes in minor road to Winton and this was safely negotiated by everyone before the triumphant entry into Kirkby Stephen. Here Joan and Brian Cornish were waiting in the town square and we sheltered under the archway. I bought further drink, ate more food, had my photo.taken for the club slide show and left a short while after the others. The time was 15:53 – 1 ½ hours to spare and there was just one rider left to come. One member of the group decided to retire at this point and the rest went on ahead of me. By now the rain was lashing down and the wind was quite ferocious. The next 10km were harder than I had previously known along this stretch of road. I was using a granny gears when riding past the Fat Lamb and it was none too easy riding down into Sedbergh. It was sometime later from this section of the route that the rider who was last on the road, by now some 1 ½ hours adrift, phoned Anne to report his retirement.Although the weather got no better the riding was easier after Sedbergh and I was able to make reasonable progress towards the finish. Info. point at the pub at Middleton (more food), I got the front light out of my rack pack at the loos at Devil’s Bridge (again more food), and I was back at Arnside at 19:37. Steve arrived a wee bit later having stopped en route for a meal. Steve has successfully completed the Northern Dales Audax on all of the 14 occasions that it has been held. Everyone safely back to base with all 48 riders having completed the Populaire. Steve Varney got round the long event in 8 hours 20 minutes: well ahead of the rest of us. It had taken me an hour longer than I had managed five years before – same bike, same Anquetil blue flam.frame with chrome ends – just that my legs are showing signs of ageing.Overall the 2004 Northern Dales rides had been a success with 66 riders completing one or other of the courses and with no untoward problems. With better weather we do get more riders participating – between 90 and 100 in the previous two years – but the overall result was encouraging. Also, from my personal point of view it completed the year’s objective which was to qualify for this season’s CTC’s Mille Migli gold award [1,610km / 1,000 miles of DATC events].I have two further personal reflections. Weather conditions during September can be surprisingly severe. In mid September 1978 runners experienced similar conditions in the Langdale fell race. I was one of those who suffered from hyperthermia in what was to prove to be my final A category fell race. This year, four layers of clothing underneath my Goretex, was to prove just about adequate. [Everybody riding our event seems to have been pretty well equipped for riding in the conditions forecast.] Should I still be around at three score years and ten I may consider favouring a ride in the Populaire.