We started with a short road section from Reeth to Grinton, just long enough to warm up the legs ready for the slog ahead. Taking the Grinton to Redmire road we climbed and climbed and climbed. It seemed like it would never end, every time a welcoming looking bridleway left the road we'd pass it by and continue climbing. It was a climb to sort the men from the boys, and fortunately only men had turned up, the boys had decided to stay at home today.
Eventually, after about 1.5 miles of road climb, we took a bridleway off to the right. This didn't make life any easier, as the gradient stayed the same but was now on damp, slippery, energy-sapping grass instead of lovely tarmac. Eventually, after a total of 1100' in 2.5 miles, we reached the summit at The Height Of Greets. 1100', that was half of the day's total climbing done on the first hill!
Well, if this was the summit then the only way from here was down! Down we went to Dent's House, 500' of descent on fast, stony double track. There was some strange undulation going on here, a series of small, sharp bumps that reverberated through your arms despite the fork's best efforts and it felt really wierd. I guess I don't have my fork set for optimal small bump compliance, and Neil reported the same sensation.
First photos of the day at the bottom of this descent and then it was off again, though not straight back up as I'd expected, but a right turn and a little bit of (almost) flat before the climb steepened again up to Apedale Head.
From Apedale Head it's another fast plummet, not quite as fast as the last one because of the twisting nature of the track (though it looks straight on the map!) but all the more interesting for that and with a nice little splash through a ford near the end. The attention I'd paid to the "How To Keep Speed In Corners" section of the Dirt School DVD had obviously paid off as I had to wait a fair while for Neil to arrive at the bottom. Nothing compared to how long we waited for Tony. I had my phone out and was calling Dales Mountain Rescue when he eventually appeared, quoting "loads of photo stops" though knowing Tony this probably meant "fell off".
A brief lunch stop and then off again, taking the tarmac to the right as we followed the road to Grinton for about half a mile before taking a bridleway on the right. This starts off quite easy going but eventually turns into a right slog as you work your way at 45 degrees through a field towards a gate in the far corner. It's uphill, riddled with molehills and covered in half dead vegetation. It's horrible. Beyond the gate it doesn't get much better and soon we were all off and pushing as we trampled through the worst of the heather on a barely discernible track.
Glad to be able to get back in the saddle (I hate pushing) we joined the main track running along to Harkerside. Half a mile of easy going brought us to Blue Hill where we were saying goodbye to Tony for now. I was going to introduce Neil to the delights of "The Pipeline" and given Tony's variety of skeleto-muscular problems and his propensity for falling off, he'd decided not to risk this part of the route. So off we went, another lung busting climb (though thankfully short at only a couple of hundred feet) took us to the start of the bridleway to The Pipeline. This is just about the most indistinct bit of track we ever ride, and even locked onto the GPS trail we still had no idea where we were supposed to be headed. Sam has an uncanny knack of being able to ride straight to the start of the descent, without him Neil & I weaved about a bit until we found the cistern, the man-made landmark that marks the starting point.
Seats down and off we went. The pipe seemed even more vicious than usual, determined to send you off in directions you didn't want to go as you switched sides to keep away from the worst of the rocks. Part way down we hit an unexpected hazard - snow. A shady gully harboured a patch of soft, deep snow that came up to your nadgers and meant that cleaning The Pipeline was out of the question today.
After a bit of a lark about in what is hopefully the last snow we'll see this year, we set off again. I got an action sequence of Neil taking on one of the tricker, rockier sections of trail, one of those bits where you just know that any sort of fall is going to hurt. A lot. I love the way his facial expressions seems to change from coolness to concentration to panic in the space of a few seconds.
He admitted later that "he was a bit scared". The Eston Mountain Man, scared of a few sharp rocks! Off we went to complete the lower section of the descent, nothing sharp in the way anymore, just a nice, fairly speed heather singletrack with a few hidden boulders. The whole thing was big fun, I love The Pipeline.
Nothing left now but the road back to Reeth, starting with the almost 40mph tarmac downhill to Grinton. If not for the narrow bends and the danger of cars coming the other way this could be one of the fastest downhill sections anywhere.
A quick change back at the car then for me & Tony it's off to The Dales Bike Centre for scones and a latte. For Neil it's off to work, no rest for the wicked. First scones of the year for The Bike Centre, and a damn fine effort.
Reeth - Apedale - Harkerside:
14.1 Miles, 2262' of up/down, 3 hours dead.
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