The Crossing - A 200 mile off road adventure
The build up
Having done a couple of 2 day adventure races previously, I knew I'd need to get myself organised for this event as for the first time I'd decided to go completely self supported and also camp between the stages.
In terms of kit, my main issue was not having a mountain bike, but as booked to hire one (through the recommended suppliers), I wasn't too concerned. I put road miles in over winter and spring, and a week in Mallorca with a couple of long days thrown, including Sa Calobra left me in reasonable shape. My main concerns were bum and back.. Three consecutive 8hr days would be a new experience.
The race is 3 days, 200 miles point to point from Whitehaven on the North West coast across 3 counties to Scarborough on the East coast. Logistics of getting there, getting kit there and back all need to be considered, and there are a couple of ways the organisers help with coaches.
On the thursday lunchtime, I was dropped off at the finish point by family and with all my bags and kit loaded, got on board the Organisers coach transfer which was taking us across to Whitehaven.
The scale of the challenge becomes clear when we're told the transfer takes 4.5hrs on the coach, so it was sit back and relax. After a comfort stop half way, we go across the pennines and then as we come into the Lake District, the skies darken and the rain comes down.. and down harder and harder.
The forecast for the first 2 days is really wet and windy, but the wind is generally going to be running in our direction, so it's not the worst it could be.
We park up in Whitehaven harbour and everyone races to pick up bags and bikes and tries to stay dry. Registration is easy to find, well organised and instructions are all clear.
I pick up my bike from the hire company who have a fully covered tent at the start area and test it for all of 5 seconds, getting soaked in the process.. and then get to my "air bnb" accommodation for the night..
The Start - Whitehaven
Great news.. waking up, the rain has stopped for now..
Early breakfast at the airbnb was great and I was dropped down at the start about an hour before the off. Finalising what I take in my backpack, I drop off my tent and main bag into the transfer lorry and will meet up with it again at the end of the day...
I have time for a coffee and a final check, before we get to the start.
My goal... finish... I've got no ambition on placing or times.. looking at previous years, I'm going to be on the bike for about 7-9 hours each day..
The start is busy, but quiet.. the weather is blustery, dark skies and rain in the air.
The tannoy announcement gives safety instructions and the head of the bunch set off in groups of about 10 at a time with a couple of minutes between each group. As we get to to the start line itself, we are given instructions on the route, safety, signs and with that a "Good luck" we dab our timing chips and off we go..
Day 1 - Whitehaven to Shap - The Lake District
We rolled out through Whitehaven town alongside early friday morning traffic before hitting a cycle trail that took us away from the coast and towards the hills of the Lake District...
Looking back at the event now, it is quite difficult to remember specifics.. but day 1 felt like hills... hills and more hills..
You cycle around and through the lake district, so you are presented with a variety of fabulous views across the steep green hills and dark waters. The day is a mix of road and off road and I'm surprised at how much walking with the bike I have to do...
My legs feel ok, but steep uphill slopes, stones and my lack of mtb skills mean I'm often off the bike and pushing..
But the upside is flying down the hills.. I'd forgotten how frightening, exhilarating downhill mountain biking can be and even though I'm slow old man compared to the others, it is great fun.
The riding is tough, challenging, but manageable and the views and countryside make it an enjoyable day, and the signing is clear, so even during the times when you feel you are riding alone, you're not worrying about staying on course.
I finish day 1 in just over 8 hours, tired, but my body holding up quite well. I drop off my bike with the guys from Callendar for a quick check, pick up my bags and go about setting the tent up.
I'm lucky that the rain holds off, and I'm able to get my tent up in about 15 minutes, despite a strong wind and I go off to find the showers.... and Oh my goodness, they are fantastic..a big truck converted to shower units, the water is hot, pressure is good and I come out clean and feeling fantastic!
Dinner that evening is in the Rat Race food marquee... which is a huge structure with a fully functioning kitchen. I have the Tartiflette - a gorgeous mixture of potatoes, ham, onion, cream along with a hot and cold drink.. good hearty food to end the day.
Sitting at any table, people are all friendly and sharing stories from the day
I walk back to the tent, and have a quiet evening... there is no mobile signal, and I'm hoping I can stay warm and have a comfortable night.
Day 2 - Keswick to Northallerton - The Dales
The longest day in terms of miles started too early for me. I bought a thin, blow up mat to lie on and was advised they were really comfortable, I slept badly and woke up tired. Crawling out of the tent, I go to get breakfast from the food marquee and enjoy a bacon and egg roll with a large coffee - a great start.
Back to the tent and I put on the clothing for the day before packing up, taking my kit bags to the lorry and rolling out to the start - through the timing chip and day 2 is on. The forecast for day 2 is pretty grim, chilly again, despite it being the end of June, strong winds again and heavy rain forecast. It starts spitting as I'm leaving and gets steadily worse for the next hour - I was glad I'd gone for a full jacket and trousers.
Day 2 - is through the Yorkshire Dales and finishing in the Vale of York. Plenty of hills, including one horribly hard road climb, but it is through beautiful countryside, dry stone walls and picture perfect views - James Herriot country..
I'm feeling pretty good until about 3 hours in when my enthusiasm and energy take a dip. I've been cycling with a group of about 5, having quick conversations with new people is all part of the fun, but going across some fields, I remember how slow cycling on grass can be, and this is combines with a quite technical section of singletrack through mud and I fall behind.
I have a miserable 15 minutes on my own, until, after a fast rocky downhill section I come into a small village and as I look to re-join the main road, see the local shop is open.
The best £1.50 ever spent.. 2 cold cans of coke give me a rocket boost and my spirits lift. My legs re-appear and I make it to the pit stop for a proper re-fuel.
The second part of the day has some dry spells and even ends in sunshine and again has a great mix of off road and quiet roads. The hills of the dales quieten as we get towards Northallerton and I finish the day in 7hrs 40mins - tired legs and really need some sleep, so I get the tent up and have a quick snooze before tea!
Day 3 - Northallerton to Scarborough - The North York Moors
After another poor nights sleep, I'm up early and pleased to see the skies are bright. Forecast for the day is dry, but again we'll have winds and it's cool for the time of year.
My body is tired but not trashed and my back and backside haven't given me any problems so far, so I'm looking forward to the day.
Rolling out of Northallerton we have a rolling roads before the first off road section features a steep, walking climb and we then continue to go up and on to the top of the North York Moors. There is a long section of narrow track riding with the moors to your right, and a great view down and across the Vale of York to your left.
The organisers have spent time thinking about the route overall, as each day has a distinctly different feel, yet they all have a great mix of off and on-road riding.
Day 3 takes me 7hrs 35mins and for the last couple of hours I really enjoy myself as I know I'll finish, the sun is out and I'm still feeling pretty strong.
Riding into Scarborough the finish line is well sign posted and full of supporters. As with all other parts of the race it is well organised and riding through, you have your photo taken, and you get your token for the delicious free ice cream.
Just over 25 hours of riding, just under 200 miles in total - mission accomplished.
If you fancy trying out a multi-day, then I'd recommend this - its proven, well organised and fun!
What would I do differently?
Swapping the tent for a camper van would be the one luxury I would change, but that would need a backup team and driver.... Any offers??
Overall Score: 9 out of 10
Would You recommend this to a friend: Yes