The Pennine Rally – ‘Riding the rough with the smooth’

The Pennine Rally – ‘Riding the rough with the smooth’

‘Rough with the smooth’ means you have to accept the bad or unpleasant things in a situation as well as the good things.

Who knew that June would be such an epic adventure into the unknown: With a love for nature, mountains and the great outdoors… when I was asked by Alison Dex to take a last-minute place in the inaugural Pennine Rally organised by Rapha – a self-supported adventurous pedal that goes mostly off-road from Edinburgh to Manchester, 15th to 19th June 2021 – I naturally said “yes” then promptly thought about the logistics of making it happen! But happen it did…

Our adventure begins

Generally speaking, I’m more creative than a numbers or stats person, but when it comes to long distance cycling the numbers stack up. For all the stats lovers out there, this will give you an idea of what The Pennine Rally equates to when it comes to digits, from the start in the Gamma Transport Division café in Edinburgh, to the finish at the Rapha store in Manchester.

For me personally The Pennine Rally translates to:

• 523.84 kms ridden
• 9,566 metres climbed
• 39 hours, 17 minutes time in the saddle
• 41 hours, 41 minutes including commuting and registration rides
• View the full route from Edinburgh to Manchester on Ride with GPS here

An introduction to hike a bike

I was intrigued by the coincidence and repetition of the number 4141 so googled their meaning:
• Number 1 – Helps you discover yourself. It represents personal growth., personal strength, success, goals and ambitions. It also represents new opportunities, a fresh start, a new phase, and a positive attitude.

• Number 4 – Carries the vibrations that symbolise spirituality and balance in life. It helps you understand and appreciate the importance of inner peace. It emphasises that these two concepts, spirituality, and balance, are very significant in your life. Helps you turn goals into reality – through hard work and determination you have an opportunity to make your life better.

• Number 41 – Live a genuine and authentic life.

I was a bit blown away at how these numbers and their meanings resonated with my feelings and thoughts towards the challenge completed. I do strongly believe in balance in life and for me, spending time in nature creates that. Moreover, participating in these rides really does take me outside my comfort zone, they do require a positive attitude and a high degree of resilience – without these attributes I’d not make the finish line.

A sneaky peak inside each day

Me and my pedal partner in crime agreed that photo stops were an essential part of capturing our journey so throughout the ride we took lots of photos – I’ll do my best to share a couple from each day in the hope that they convey some of the experience we shared together.

Day 1: Edinburgh to Selkirk

• 86.33 km and 1,706 metres climbed

Today in five words… excited, smiles, rocks, headwind, laughter.

I’m now beginning to understand the description given on the Rapha website when they said “Only the hardy need apply”…

The rough with the smooth… bike hike into a headwind

In five words the day has been incredible, adventurous, hilly, windy, brutal. The hills are relentless… everyone walking (I’m not the only one) and the headwind is something else.

The scenery is utterly breath-taking… endless rolling green hills that keep on giving, steadily rolling into the distance. The people are super friendly. The vibe set this morning in Edinburgh was one of friendly, informative, helpful and fun. All encouraging each other as we reach the top of the climbs and chatting along the way.

This evening we enjoyed a fish and chip supper – local Eyemouth catch – followed by homemade apple pie and custard. My tummy needed a feed!

@alisondex you are an excellent co pilot.

Still smiling…

Day 2: Selkirk to Bardon Mill

• 136.32 km and 2,449 metres climbed

Today in five words… forest, moss, remote, breath-taking, fun.

In just under 12 hours we’ve ridden from Selkirk to Hadrian’s Wall… it’s been a rather mental day on two wheels! A complete mix of terrain from logging trails, mud paths, cuttings through the trees, forests with millions of pine needles and beds of spongy moss, and lots and lots of hills.

Heading deep into the woods

One tumble for me coming through a 4-inch gully and thankfully a soft landing in the grassy peat where I met a few black squidgy slugs. No damage done.

This evening we stayed at YHA The Sill. A very welcome lasagne with garlic bread followed by sponge pudding and custard… delicious. Clothes washed and having a spin in the tumble dryer.

We’ve burned through so many calories it’s impossible to consume. A few cokes, one coffee, two Snickers, one bar, one gel, two sandwiches… porridge and a full English for breakie… so I’ve had a good go!

Painkillers and a big sleep, in preparation for tomorrow.

Discovering the thick of the forest

Day 3: Bardon Mill to Keld

• 107.72 km with 1,552 metres climbed

Today in five words… beautiful, scenic, pine needles, cuckoo, wild garlic.

It’s been another rather epic day in the saddle… more variety of terrain, country lanes, disused railways tracks, gravel, rocks, headwind, tailwind, hills and a few more hills.

Viaducts and valleys

Being able to see so many remote parts of our wonderful country is something quite special. The expanse of the views, epic viaducts, the sense of space, the smell of wild garlic, everything is so green, the birdsong is so varied too – cuckoo, warblers, I’m turning into a twitcher! Yesterday we enjoyed the smell of pine needles, the forest floor and fresh cut wood – every day is different.

This evening we dined and stay in a lovely place called the Bunkbarn – a very welcome sight it was too! We’ve been warmly welcomed and served a delicious dinner with a glass of red.

Big shout out to my co-pilot @alisondex – we’re still smiling and we’re rocking this!!

Two days to go until we celebrate in Manchester.

Kevin & Pixie rest while we are having our second breakfast

Day 4: Keld to Gisburn

• 109.98 km with 2,302 metres climbed

Today in five words… brutal, epic, fatigue, hills, wept.

Another monster day, lots of 25% climbs, lots of walking, epic views, feeling privileged to see so many beautiful remote spots and hidden gems.

This morning brings some bridge climbing too

Brilliant seeing the @rapha_uk van out on the road… great for coffee, coke, Tunnock cakes, pretzels and chat with other riders – helps to keep the spirits up and to exchange lots of lost and found flip flops en route.

Always fun seeing the Rapha guys in the van

Big thanks to my partner in crime @alisondex and to the wonderful group of @bella.velo.cc ladies riding @helebridg, @carolyngreensmith, @clare.liley, @helen.sharpie who helped get me functioning again after my crumble and face plant on the table on arrival at the pub this evening.

Quote from the waiter at dinner…

“Is she OK? We don’t want any dead people in here.”

Waiter

Arriving and having a warm welcome at the Foxhill Barn B&B was fabulous, just what we needed, now for sleep.

There was a sneaky flat route under the viaduct… we obviously opted for climbing the steps and whizzing down through a field!

Day 5: Gisburn to Manchester

• 83.49 km with 1,557 metres climbed

Today in five words… cobbles, smiles, hills, memories, happy.

I was slightly hesitant starting our fifth and final day, and also somewhat relieved as my body was feeling a little beaten up. However, once riding it didn’t too long to warm up as the 25% plus hills came thick and fast. To keep myself going I often focus on four pedal revolutions then have a little celebration to myself – then hit repeat. Four is an achievable number that’s totally replicable. Alison adopted my crazy method for keeping our legs going – it really does work!

As we climbed and pushed our bikes up the hills, clambered over rocks and navigated a gazillion gate ways, we slowly reached an old cobbled roman road along the ridge as we approached Manchester. It was magnificent seeing the city get closer and closer. Having completed all of the climbing for the day in the first 50 km, the final 30km rewarded us with the gentle, flat canal path as we meandered into town. A rather fitting end to complete the rally along the canal as it mirrored the start in Edinburgh.

The end has arrived… our epic off-road adventure from Edinburgh to Manchester is complete. The sun has shone, the sky is blue, the cheers on arrival at the Rapha store were just brilliant and to see so many smiling welcoming faces. The beer and arancini were delicious too – followed by rose and pizza to celebrate our pretty special achievement.

A quick bite and a beer were very welcome

@outdoorprovisions – you mapped out a truly fantastic route… twists and turns, full range of every terrain going – cobbles, canal paths, rocky ascents and descents, grass verges, and everything in between.

Thank you!

A few more rocks and gravel to navigate!

A team effort – “Thank you”

A massive thank you to Alice Fowles for letting me have your place. I know you’d much rather have ridden with Alison as planned, but your help in transferring your place to me and your continued support throughout the event was incredible and much needed to keep our morale high – you were with us in spirit for the entire journey and adventure.

Getting to the start line was took some serious plate spinning and help, particularly by my friend and super star mechanic Rohan Dubash – without you pulling out all the stops to service and practically rebuild my bike (a Pearson gravel bike called Rough with the Smooth) there’s no way I’d have made it from start to finish. The hills were punishing, the off-road was utterly mental, and throughout the entire ride I had no punctures or mechanicals!

To my pedal partner in crime Alison Dex, you are a total legend! And together we have achieved something quite extraordinary! Before we started you shared with me some priorities, passed to you by our friend and fellow rider Helen Sharp, they were…

  1. Have fun and remain friends
  2. Get to the finish
  3. Finish within the timeframe set

We scored 100% and with beaming smiles too!

We’re on the Roman cobbled road… exhausted, happy and smiling.

At the moment I’m struggling to find the words that convey what we’ve just achieved – perhaps it’ll sink in over the coming days. One thing I am sure of is how proud I am of you, of me, the Bella Velo riding crew, and everyone else we shared the experience and the adventure with along the way.

Right from the outset, the vibe set by organiser and UK activation manager Louis Van Kleeff, Rapha, for The Pennine Rally was chilled, friendly, collaborative and fun. It’s a tough balance to strike yet he struck it perfectly. Of the 80 rider places available it was fantastic to have parity with 40 places being allocated to women and 40 for men – it’s not often you see this in cycling events so a great example for rides to come, I hope.

There’s a whisper in the air

Usually, when I finish a multiday ride, I say to myself “never again”, yet thoughts and ideas for the new adventures are already beginning to form, particularly something of the off-road self-supported variety. I did have plans to ride the King Alfred Way this summer so perhaps that’ll be next to share with friends who share my love of nature, cycling and the great outdoors.

Let’s see where the next chapter takes me. Who fancies coming along for the ride?

Manchester awaits..