Having been involved in two fundraising events for the Mend Our Mountains Cut Gate campaign (MTB Dolly's Mixer, riding from Hayfield to Lady Cannings just outside Sheffield, and the Steel Valley Ride, a circular route starting and finishing at Fox Valley Stocksbridge), I thought it was time for me to organise my own.
Wracking my brains as to what I could do, I literally had that Eureka moment while soaking in the bath.
I thought why not link my two favourite biking destinations, the Dales Bike Centre in Reeth, North Yorkshire to Cafe Adventure in Hope, Derbyshire. As a bonus it would also mean linking the various advocacy group areas along the way.
I decided to name it the ‘Advocacy Way’.
Not long after coming up with the idea, I made my plans known to Cut Gate campaigner, and member of Peak District MTB, Keeper Of The Peak. That was it - no going back, although I still had to create the route and pick a suitable date in which to do the ride.
Now everyone loves a good map and lucky for us we have an account with Ordnance Survey so we have the whole of the UK at the click of a mouse.
After a few hours staring at the screen, I had a line on a map.
Although the route would be going through areas I knew well, over 50% of the route would be unknown ground. I had no idea what to expect, all I knew is that I had to stick to bridleways and byways, no cheeky footpaths (except in emergencies).
Over the summer my better half, Jacquie Budd Outdoor-Girl.com, and I honed our bike packing skills with a few local trips, plus a 10 day trip to the Outer Hebrides.
To give me the best chance of completing the route it was decided that the August Bank Holiday would be a good time and with the weather we've enjoyed all summer, I was hoping for good conditions.
With our accommodation booked for the Friday night, I set up a Just Giving page and watched as the donations came in.
In the weeks leading up to the start I had a few anxious moments about the enormity of the challenge I had set myself, but on the whole I was excited at the thought of the adventure ahead.
Friday the 24th August came around soon enough and with the van loaded, we headed north on the A1. We were soon clear of all the traffic heading to the Leeds Festival and with the A1 upgrade complete we made good time getting to the Dales Bike Centre.
After a good meal and a few pints in The Bridge Inn, Grinton, it was back to the DBC for a final kit check and to sort out the maps I would be needing for the trip.
If you've only ever visited Dales Bike Centre on Ard Rock weekend, you’ll not have experienced the peace and quiet that the place has to offer - and the fact it has dark sky status means you're pretty much guaranteed a good night’s sleep.
The plan was to rise early, load up the bike and head off straight after my coffee and obligatory bacon butty. However, this went out of the window as other guests readied themselves for the day ahead and we all got chatting about our plans for the day.
In the end I left DBC a little later than planned. At just after 10.00am, I rolled out of the car park and made my way south. The first hill of the day was a real wake up call as I pedalled up past the YHA and out onto the moors.
The weather could not have been better, beautiful blue skies with just a scattering of fluffy clouds. A perfect day for a bike ride.
As my legs warmed up I settled into a steady rhythm. Dropping down past Castle Bolton I headed for the river, with Stu's [Dales Bike Centre] words ringing in my ears. Having seen the route I’d planned, he remarked that he wasn't too sure about the stepping stones over the river. I took his comment in jest.
The bridleway to the river was stunning, an old sunken lane with clapper bridge over a small beck. My mind wandered until I rounded a corner and there they were - or there they should have been, had the river not been high enough to completely cover every single stepping stone.
I stood and weighed up my chances, until finally common sense prevailed. I got out the map and looked for a detour.
Taking a diversion through the tourist hotspot of Aysgarth, I was soon back on track. After a fair stretch of road work I was began climbing up onto Walden Moor. Indistinct bridleways made route finding tricky and slow going...but it was never meant to be easy.
The descent into Starbottom was a treat, made all the more exciting with a fully loaded bike.
Out onto the road I was now heading into familiar territory.
I rolled into Kettlewell much later than anticipated and had a very late lunch at the cafe.
I also took this opportunity to check in with Jacquie who was a little concerned that it had taken so long to cover the first 25 miles. I reassured her that now I was on familiar ground the miles would soon fly by.
Leaving Kettlewell I cycled past Kilnsey crag, with climbers hanging around on my right and the show field getting prepared for the upcoming Kilnsey Show on my left. I was soon back climbing again, this time up Mastiles Lane - or ‘the wall’ as I like to call it as it stretches out in front of you, with your neck craning to see the top.
Under normal circumstances I relish these types of climbs, but with a loaded bike and many more miles still to go I knew that I had to pace myself, so I pushed the final steep section before rolling over the crest and descending the other side.
Onto Gargrave, I had a pit stop at the Co-op before heading for the canal. By now I was eating up the miles and my thoughts were turning towards finding a spot to bivvy for the night. I reasoned that as I hadn't planned to cycle through the night I would pedal until it was dark and find a spot in a suitable field, and so I pressed on.
I knew a large section of this part of the route would be on the Pennine Bridleway and found it to be well signposted, although its reputation for having lots of gates was proving to be true.
With darkness falling, I found a corner of a field suitably tucked away and settled down for the night.
Super Noodles and a hot chocolate were to be my treat of a supper but sadly my stove decided otherwise and failed to light. I had plenty of gas, it was the ignition system that failed. I even had a back up piezo, but even that wouldn't light the thing. So it was no hot meal for me, just a half eaten pasty, a snickers and a slurp of water.
I lay there thinking of the day’s events, and what was to come.
An almost full Moon rose over the horizon with Mars for company as I slowly drifted off to sleep, waking occasionally to the sound of owls screeching and foxes yapping.