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TransEngland 2022: Nicky Shaw

Words from Nicky Shaw on riding the Racing Collective's Trans England last month. A self-supported, choose-your-own-adventure, checkpoint Trial all tracked via timestamped photos through Twitter.

Nicky’s wheels
All Road wheelset
with white reflective decals
Hope RS4 rear hub, red
SON Delux front Dynamo

Some water has passed under the bridge, but I wanted to share my experience of racing TransEngland earlier this month. Perhaps you are just starting out in the sport of ultra cycling, and this account may help to give an insight. Perhaps you are a seasoned pro, and can hopefully relate to some the rookie errors I made during the ride! TransEngland is one of a series of trials organised by The Racing Collective.

They describe their reliability Trials as training rides to test mind, body and equipment ahead of the summer ultras such as the Transcontinental. They are held on the first full weekend of the month from April to June each year. I had planned to kick off my Year Of Big Rides with TransEngland which is the first trial of the year. It took place on a cold and wintery weekend, and might as well have been December. But I wasn’t going to be put off that easily; my new Stayer All Roads were awaiting their debut ultra…

 

The concept is simple: a start point, 6 checkpoints and an end point. It is a free route, similar to The Transcontinental in that the rider chooses the route to pass through all checkpoints. I scratched in 2021 after suffering a gravel navigation nightmare and chucking my toys out of the pram (conveniently) near Malton train station. Therefore, the primary goal in 2022 was to simply finish and have a blast, whether first or last. Heading to work on the morning of the trial this goal already seemed distant; the snow was coming down thick and fast as I pushed my bike over Lendal Bridge in York. Snow in April, and a 300km trip across the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors planned for that night. Thankfully it wasn’t settling, and it was forecast to clear up later on. I’m not easily swayed once I’ve set my mind to something, and I also wasn’t wasting my train ticket to Lancaster.

Work done, I headed to the station to find that my train had been cancelled. Perhaps this was the universe conspiring against me, and it wasn’t such a good idea after all. But the sky was clear now and it was shaping up to be a beautifully clear and crisp night. I hopped on the next train 40 minutes later. Some other riders were on the same train from Leeds. The bikepacking brigade are an obvious bunch with their overpacked bikes adorned with gizmos. I met Carl and together we cruised through Lancaster to the start point at Morcambe Pier.

21.43pm – Start

Timestamp; GO! The first timestamp starts the clock; it was a fast ride out of Lancaster and into the night. The climbing started good and proper once past Settle, which I consider a gateway into the Yorkshire Dales. You usually get an idea of what you’re signing up for just by the road names in the Dales; High Hill Lane is a prime example. The climb out of Settle is a real test with gradients between 15-20% for the first kilometre, which helped to wake me up and get the legs burning. My saddle slipped mid grind and the nose was suddenly pointing downwards. In that moment getting to the top was much higher on the list of priorities than fixing the issue, albeit out of the saddle. I pulled over after cresting the climb and forced the saddle back into a more comfortable position, too lazy to locate the correct allen key in the dark. To my surprise (and satisfaction) the new position felt more comfortable than it had in the first place, and didn’t slip again for the rest of the ride. Apart from the saddle mishap, I didn’t stop and reached the first checkpoint 2 hours and 46 minutes after leaving Morcambe Pier.

00.30 – CP1 – Janet’s Foss

I arrived at the gate which leads down to Janet’s Foss, bumping into Maja and Tamzin which was a delight. Tamzin was already well into an eventful ride, having accomplished some roadside mechanics to encourage the jockey wheels to keep moving for the remaining 230km or so. From the sounds of things, it’s a wonder the bearings weren’t already scattered throughout the Dales. I hiked/stumbled down to the falls which looked rather foreboding in the dark, a world away from when I had been wild swimming there previously on a warm summers day. Back up on the road and having shoved some food in, I bid farewell to Maja and Tamzin who headed off in the opposite direction to me. They had opted for a gravel shortcut en route to the second checkpoint, while me and my 25mm tyres were sticking to the road. I know from experience that British ‘gravel’ is rarely that, in the same way that a ‘shortcut’ doesn’t necessarily mean a faster route.

Shortly after Hawes and having ridden 113km I hit Oxnop Scar, an unrelenting 4km climb out of Askrigg. It wasn’t exactly flat up to this point, but Oxnop was a shock to the system with it’s 25% ramps. Buttertubs Pass runs parallel to Oxnop, and it probably would have been the ‘easier’ option in hindsight, although with additional distance. My gearing was inadequate for the 25% ramps and I stopped to walk a couple of times. There is absolutely no shame in walking up hills, especially during ultra distance when it can help to stretch the muscles. Although in hindsight, it would have been a wise idea to purchase that 11-34 cassette well in advance of the Trans England hill fest. I was making do with 11-28, which is unadvised unless you want to punish your knees. Kids, don’t do what I do.

Having conquered Oxnop Scar I was nearing Crackpot Cottage, deep in the Yorkshire Dales. It was the dead of night, and the snow flurries which had threatened as I descended into Hawes earlier had cleared. It was eerie but also incredibly peaceful and I felt very happy to be there alone in that moment. I have one particular recollection of an owl taking up flight beside me for a good 30 seconds, gliding peacefully above the dry stone wall beside the road as if to guide the way.

04:12 – CP2 – Crackpot Cottage

I love The Racing Collective trials partly for the challenge of locating the checkpoints, the most inconspicuous of which always seem to be in the middle of the night, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. And it’s always a joy to meet other riders at the checkpoints, mainly as a reminder that I’m not completely crazy in these endeavours of endurance. I arrived at what seemed to be a nondescript collection of farm buildings. I was happy to meet Jade there, who was taking the time to locate some evidence that Crackpot Cottage did in fact exist. Before too long I gave up fumbling around in the dark and opted to take the photo by the signpost a few yards away, as an alternative reference point. Meanwhile, Jade’s persistence paid off and she had found the ‘Crackpot Cottage’ sign. We set off at the same time and it was nice to share the road for a short while.

By now I was really looking forward to my planned stop for breakfast, which was in the form of a 24/7 McDonalds 30km down the road in Catterick Garrison. I arrived at 5.30am to find that it was closed! Obviously, it didn’t open until 6am. I was unwilling to hang around for 30 minutes and pushed on to Plan B, which was a Co-op 25km away in Northallerton.

I was having problems charging my Wahoo and phone from the power bank which had seemingly gone to sleep. Concern was mounting by the time I reached Northallerton, and there was just 14% battery left on the Wahoo with still no response from the power bank. I knew that the freezing cold temperatures during the night was likely to be the problem, so I took some time out at the co-op to get some food in while warming the power bank under my armpits. Luckily the staff didn’t mind me loitering beneath the heater by the entrance, considering I’d already bought a family sized pavement picnic moments earlier. The irony of the situation was that I have a Son Deluxe dynamo rigged to the front wheel, which had just come along for the ride instead of providing any useful charging assistance. The general plan is to rig it up to a USB-Werk AC charging port, so hopefully by the next write up I will be talking about that instead of any power bank related issues! With 130km still to go and the North York Moors to traverse, I was anxious to get rolling again as soon as the power bank came to life. The armpit trick worked a treat. Bidons filled with water and pockets loaded with snacks, the Wahoo was charging again as I set off towards the Moors. It was a whole new day, the sun was shining and life was good again.

I didn’t get too far until the next disaster struck. Having passed and climbed out of Osmotherley, the roads were lined with snow and covered with ice and slush in parts. I descended down a short dip in the road which had a pool of water at the bottom, assuming the meltwater had formed a large puddle. I rode straight through it and BANG!.. straight into a huge pothole which was lurking beneath the surface, awaiting a cyclist victim. It was such an impact that initially I feared for the carbon rims. Having stopped immediately to check, both front and back tubes had blown but the wheels remained totally unscathed. I’m a big advocate of tubeless tyres and it would have saved me on this occasion. The risk to have tubes on this occasion didn’t pay off, and for the rest of my races this year I will be running tubeless. A good 30-40 minutes spent changing both tubes and I was good to go again; checkpoint 3 was eagerly waiting just 5km down the road.

08:57 – CP3 – North Yorkshire Moors Signpost

Next on the menu was checkpoint 4: St Nicholas’ Church near Cockayne. An isolated but beautiful place, it is positioned at the end of a paved road, accessible from the north only via the Clevedon Way. Therefore this meant a 24km out and back in order to stay on the road, and a few other riders clearly had the same plan as I crossed paths with a few en route to Cockayne. It began to hail during my traverse of the barren landscape over the moorlands. This was no problem and I would take hail over rain any day; the hail bounces off and you don’t get anywhere near as wet.

CP4 – 11.19 – St Nicholas Church

The final leg should have been a doddle; just 36km to the finish in Scarborough via the Moorcock Inn. From Cockayne it was a fast decent off the moors down into Kirbymoorside, before joining the A170 for a short while en route to Levisham. My destination for checkpoint 5 was Levisham Train Station; a quaint and sleepy place tucked away at the bottom of a steep valley. This was another ‘dead end’ place, although to remain on the road meant a long detour down to Pickering and back up the valley which would have added a good hour onto the trip. Instead I opted for a 1.2km off-road shortcut down the side of the valley; so short I couldn’t resist. I had originally pledged to stick to the road, but how bad could it be? Unfortunately it was gnarly MTB terrain, and the 25mm tyres (sporting emergency tubes) weren’t happy about the situation. A grassy bank funnelled down into what was apparently a track, which I can only describe as part river bed part Glastonbury mud fest. I picked my way down and eventually made it down to join the road, amazed that the tyres were still intact and grateful to my prior self for forgetting to change the worn out cleats before the ride. Tyre levers are useful for all sorts of things, one of them being gouging out the mud from cleats. I tried to douse my drive chain with half a bottle of water, and in the process somehow managed to add grit into the bidon which didn’t prove to be a pleasant hydration strategy for the remainder of the trip.

Despite all this, I was a happy as a pig in, well… mud.

CP5 – 13.19 – Levisham Station

Having cleared enough mud to at least get us rolling again I climbed out of the valley (on the road this time), and the view behind was pretty special. Thankfully this last leg was less eventful, and I was able to enjoy the serenity of Dalby Forest which seemed suspiciously quiet for a Saturday afternoon. Perhaps the hordes of tourists were all hiding in Scarborough; I would find out shortly. There is something thoroughly satisfying about the final hour or two of a long ride. I suppose it’s because so many things could potentially go wrong, and it’s not until this point that one can start to revel in the satisfaction of finishing.

CP6 – 14.56 – The Moorcock Inn

If you have read this far, congratulations – a feat of endurance in itself! We are nearly home and dry. I had hoped for a cheeky pint of coke at The Moorcock Inn, but the place was completely closed up and not a soul to be seen. There was nothing for it but to crack on to Scarborough, chips by the sea beckoned and I could practically smell the sea air. The roads in these parts around Hackness and Forge Valley are really quite delightful. Incredibly quiet and smooth, you would be forgiven for thinking you were still in the heart of the North York Moors rather than a few miles west of Scarborough.

It wasn’t long before I reached the centre of town, picking my way through the traffic to the sea front. The cars were bumper to bumper but I was able to glide past on my way to the finish, which was the Diving Belle statue at the end of the pier. Mission accomplished. Despite a few hiccups along the way, I had fulfilled the primary aim to simply finish. My time was good enough for 10th overall and 1st woman. However it’s only ever a race against myself, and there are several obvious things that I need to refine on the bike in order to have a smoother ride next time. This is one of the things I love about ultra racing which keeps drawing me back: the endless pursuit of greater efficiency and enjoyment, which is a great analogy for life itself.

15.44 – Finish

Groadinger UG frameset
1X or 2X | do-it-all Gravel & Adventure bike
All Road wheelset
25 int | 45 deep | 700c
Gravalloy wheelset 
25 int | 22 deep | 650b or 700c

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