Slowly Bikepacking Watching Bikepacking Faster

Slowly Bikepacking Watching Bikepacking Faster

In a world where everything seems to be moving faster, slowing down can feel unproductive. Amidst friends gearing up for the Dales Divide race, I faced a dilemma: compete or do something for myself. Despite the excitement, I knew 600 rugged kilometers weren't for me at this time of year. FOMO nudged, but I realised I craved a different adventure—one where I could set the pace without pressure, enjoy the journey, camp under the stars, make some art and most importantly, have quality time with friends I don’t get to see much.

I wanted to cheer people who were racing through our local landscapes, turn gritted teeth into smiles from those competing but also have fun riding bikes and camping without burying myself or suffering with the pressure of being within a race. I put the thought to my colleague Joe Barker, Harianne Milburn and Michael Drummond, before I knew it, it was in everyone’s calendar and the plans were in motion echoing excitedly through the group chat.

I curated a three day route that zig-zagged in and out of the official Dales Divide course between train stations and dependable resupply points so that we could maximise our Bank Holiday weekend with fun over suffering.

Our adventure began at Ribblehead where we arrived by train giving us a 55km head-start at 9am on the Friday morning. While admiring the dramatic backdrop of the famous viaduct and surrounding shadows of Ingleborough, we made our way up Cam High Road where I was already cursing my 34T front chainring.

It wasn’t until 25 miles into our ride before we saw Alex McCormack and Josh Reid thundering through the mud, leading the race with over an hour time-gap to the next participants. We stopped for a short break while Michael took some photos and I sat against a dry stone wall admiring the view and trying my best to replicate it in watercolour.

After belly’s started to rumble and we admitted to each other that maybe we didn’t pack enough snacks for bog-trotting the dales, we made moves to ride to the Craven Arms, a 16th century pub moments off the route in Appletreewick. This wasn’t without obstacles, we had a long muddy climb to the top of Embsay Moor and the weather was looming on the horizon. It was here that the next group of racers would start trickling through and we were able to give our friends Carl Hopps & Rich Rothwell a cheer before we tackled a windy hail-storm and quickly descended the rocky muddy trails towards the pub.

Here we enjoyed a pint and hot sandwiches next to the fire, allowing ourselves to dry off and reassure each other that we made a great call on not racing this wonderful landscape. We then set off with the other side of Pateley Bridge as our next destination where pints and sandwiches would be awaiting us from our friend Cedric who runs Ye Olde Oak pub.

Once we arrived after another band of rain fell from the sky in full force, we got comfortable for a long evening of dot-watching, seeing friends come and go and enjoying the comfort of a fully stocked bar. Once Cedric’s bedtime rolled round, we got back into our kit and rolled out into the night to a nearby spot to camp. Once set-up, we all drifted to sleep with smiles across our faces looking forward to another day of the same.

Promptly waking up to the sound of nature calling, I decided to spend my time wisely and finished some more watercolours before everyone was stretching out their tent doors and it was time for some coffee. We packed up and began our journey to Harrogate Train Station where we would portal ourselves to Northallerton and continue on the Dales Divide route with the hopes of catching more racers rolling through the return journey from Scarborough.

We had a long easy road section to Leyburn where we’d be stocking up on supplies for the night before our final destination of the day, the larger second bothy of the route at the very top of the Dales. The journey onwards was slow and steep but while the views opened up as the sky transformed from blue to pink, we couldn’t help but feel lucky to be outside riding together. The terrain turned from tarmac to rocky farm tracks and it wasn’t long before we were flying down the chunky gravel feeling like we were truly isolated and on top of the world.

After a quick moment to admire the views and savour some single malt, we rolled on to find the first of the two bothies where we assumed most of the racers would end up resting for the night. We continued on as the sun-set and finally caught a glimpse of our stone-built shelter for the rest of the evening. The standard practice of descending just to climb again was resumed with our bags filled with beers and food while we ushered comments to each other about how lucky we felt to be in this moment. The stoke was high.

As we pulled up to the bothy, we excitedly went straight inside to admire the considered yet minimal features of the purpose built shooting hut. We agreed it would be the most considerate to sleep outside so that any racers that were relying on it for shelter would have enough space to bed down so we promptly got our tents set up outside in front of the quickly setting sun before we’d have to faff in the dark.

The rest of the evening took shape around cooking together by candlelight, enjoying our well travelled beers and refreshing the tracker awaiting the expected waves of company. The first of which was Mike Sheldrake who kindly told us some stories of his previous days before he set his bed up for a recovery kip. This was our cue to collect our things and make our way to our tents to not cause disturbance.

After a few hours of restful sleep, the sun came up and softly illuminated the wilderness through the low-hanging cloud we rolled out of our tents to. We packed up quickly while wearing as many layers as we could before they were stuffed into the final spaces of our bags and set off on our gnarly descent out of the clouds.

As our direction forked away from the Dales Divide route again we rolled through the quiet roads to Hawes after stopping to quickly remove the multiple layers causing an effective pedal fuelled sauna against our skins. Our next stop would be Dent where we would be able to see racers coming through again while we awaited our return train to Leeds.

Without prior warning, Hari’s freehub completely gave up while we were cresting a climb. After we all had a go at playing the role of a clueless mechanic armed with google and an agreed opinion that “it shouldn’t do that”, we realised that Garsdale station was only a mile away and that was on the same line as Dent. We wouldn’t be able to do any more live dot-watching but we’d be able to at least get home safely.

After a combination of us slow pedalling while Hari scooted and coasted towards our way out of the Dales, Joe decided to try giving a tow up the final climb where the freehub somehow reengaged and Hari was able to offer a final few pedal-strokes to the station with half an hour to spare before the next train.

Our sleepy journey back to Leeds was full of elation. We had turned the fomo of an event that none of us were capable of into an inspiring and enjoyable weekend bikepacking around beautiful, yet challenging countryside with each other while taking time to have a laugh, enjoy the ride and support our friends along the way.

So here's to slowing down and to finding joy in the simple act of adventure. Maybe a specific race or event appeals to you because of it’s route but you’d rather not hammer yourself into the ground doing it competitively and you’d rather do it with a group of friends at your own pace. Who knows what escapades will unfold? The only way to find out is to grab your bike, gather your friends, and set out on your own unforgettable trip.


Written by Alex Dyson
Photos by Michael Drummond & Hari Milburn