Yes, I know I've used the title Ice Road Truckers before but there was nothing more appropriate to call this ride - Ice Road Truckers summed it up perfectly.
The snow of the last few weeks had led Tony to design a route that involved quite a bit of tarmac, the plan being that the tarmac would be easier than the snowy off-road sections and give us a decent ride in a decent time. Overnight rain and sub-zero temperatures put paid to that plan - what we found instead was roads that were sheet ice and barely rideable, and in such a treacherous state that progress even when going downhill was painfully slow.
Four of us set off from the parking area at Marske, leaving till later the obvious problem that the van was not going to get out again given the amount of ice, and headed north out of the village. This is generally uphill, and difficult going in the ice, but the occasional downward undulation proved even more tricky.
On the first downward section I couldn't control my speed at all with the rear brake, the back wheel just skidding on the zero friction surface. As my speed built I decided it would be best to bail before things got too fast, so I laid the bike over and slid down the road on my side. This was my first (and thankfully only) off of the ride, but it was an early indication of how bad it was going to be.
After almost three miles we turned offroad, left into the woods and onto tracks that were much more rideable.
There hadn't been much through there ahead of us, mainly deer and rabbits by the look of it, but we got good traction on the soft, virgin snow and made decent progress. Until Tim noticed he had a puncture...
... which turned out to be 2, front and rear. 20 minutes later we were on our way again, leaving the woods and crossing open countryside on nice, frozen tracks that felt very safe after the ice sheets on the road.
We crossed the Richmond to Kirby Hill road and went straight ahead back into the woods on the opposite side. We passed a forestry worker in there who told us we were mad to be in there, with all the ice that there was. We told him it was preferable to the tarmac and continued on our way - he wasn't the only person that day who'd tell us we were mad.
Emerging from the woods we continued on for a bit before taking a left fork and emerging back onto tarmac hell at the outskirts of Washton. At this point we'd done 6 miles in exactly 2 hours - slow progress and not boding well for our 20 mile ride! Would we get back before sundown?
We climbed slowly and carefully up to Kirby Hill then descended just as carefully back down the other side, through Gayles and towards Dalton - 7mph top speed on a downhill tarmac section!! After that, two miles of continual climbing that gained us almost 800 feet.
The higher up we got, the more the ice turned to snow until eventually we were riding in nice soft stuff a few cm deep!
Somewhere on this climb "Mr Angry" stopped and had a word with us. We were totally irresponsible being out in these conditions - and what would happen if we fell off in front of his car? We waved him cheerily on his way as we continued on our way, not bothering to ask him what would happen if he was to skid off into a ditch or through a wall.
Eventually the road ended with a choice - bridleways to left or right. We plumped for right, which took us across a totally virgin field of drifted snow, a foot to 18 inches deep.
There was no option here but to push, until eventually we got to the point where the ground began to fall away and the drifting stopped. The snow became shallow enough to ride and as we descended further all but vanished. Eventually we emerged at the road once more, turned left and followed it, undulating at first before plumetting quite rapidly down to Helwith. At various points down there we hit the heady heights of 17mph - Yee Ha!
We crossed the river via the bridge and were then faced with the long, steep push up the snowy bridleway on the other side. This was the most arduous part of the ride but thankfully was soon over, after about 15 minutes of pushing.
Back in the saddle once more it's now down hill (more or less) all the way back to Marske. I couldn't resist one last photo...
That pretty much summed up the ride!
First job back at the car park was to push the van into a position where we could swing it round without ending up in the river. We did it without much effort, thankfully! Unfortunately there was to be no post-ride scones, or refreshments of any sort, the Tea Rooms in Marske being shut (presumably all winter?).
Marske - Washton - Dalton - Helwith: 19 miles, 4 hours 50'. It would be considerably faster in better conditions.
Route, stats and download available on GarminConnect.