Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

November 15, 2011

Mary Townley / Pennine Bridleway MTBike Loop, 46 miles

To make the weekend a bit more epic, after the Six Dales Circuit on Saturday, the Mary Townley mountain bike loop was in the cards for Sunday.   I slept in my car the night between, to save myself some mileage on the car, and got to try out my newly-won Rab MM sleeping bag and Klymit Inertia X sleeping mat.  They are both great items of lightweight kit for Mountain Marathons and other ultralight travels.
My adventure racing teammates Jon and Tony showed up before the sun did, and after a bit of frantic kit shuffling (why are they always ready before I am?), we were pedaling off and immediately on our first hill of the day.  The first of many, I should say. 
The Mary Townley Loop is a path which mostly follows the Pennine Bridleway.  Meant for walkers, bicyclists or equestrians, it is a demanding loop, which takes in the great scenery of the South Pennines and perhaps every hill in the area!  We followed the loop in a counter-clockwise direction from Waterfoot, and were soon hike-a-biking up a steep hill.  I’m not sure if there is a preferred route direction, but it did seem like we hiked up a few (ok, a lot) of steep hills, and then had nice gentle descents down some great sections of both singletrack, gravel, and stone causeways.  So I think we picked a good direction as I prefer long, flowing descents.   
I wouldn’t call it a fast loop, though, as the mud, rocks, and uneven stone causeways made for some tough going.   There weren’t many easy sections and the hard stuff never seemed to let up.   From previous visits to the area on the Wuthering Hike and Calderdale Hike, I knew that the views were lovely and the hills all looked scary from the bottom!  Unfortunately, it was foggy almost the whole way around, and we could see nothing but the track ahead of us.  The wind picked up a bit on the tops as well, so for rough causeway sections it was difficult to keep from getting blown off the stones. 
After only 20 miles and almost 4 hours I was starting to wonder if we were going to get back in daylight, and hoping my teammates wouldn’t leave my flagging legs too far behind (they had the maps and the bike tools).  Luckily Unfortunately, my bike chain broke about halfway around, and we spent quite a few minutes trying to force on a quick link without removing too many links.   It was a good chance to catch my breath but the stop got us quite chilly in our damp clothes.   I was secretly hoping the broken chain wasn’t entirely due to the fact that my chain was almost entirely devoid of lube, as I had forgotten to reapply it after the last bike bath.  Oops.   Although calling my chain “dry” when it was constantly coated in water and mud, is something of an oxymoron. 

There were plenty of puddles enroute, which after the first shocking splash can actually be kind of fun to ride through.  Makes us all feel like we are 10-year-old kids again, as if we would would admit to that.  My bright yellow windbreaker was soon mostly brown, and I actually felt proud of how dirty I was getting.  Hmmm.  What I didn't appreciate was the grit that coated my drinking tube, my gloves, and every bit of food that I tried to open with my dirty gloves.  Gummy bears are not supposed to crunch. 
With 10 miles to go I actually started to believe that I would make it around, and I think the trails got a bit less technical and incrementally faster.  Luckily our vehicles were parked in a valley so the last couple of miles were guaranteed to have mostly downhill!  
We arrived back at the car (in daylight!) after 8 hour 35 minutes.  We were completely coated in mud (the splatters on my face lasted until after I arrived home so my husband could laugh uproariously at me!)  In fact there was so much dirt soaking my tights that it acted as an extra layer of warmth…except that it was wet.  Well.   At least my feet were warm, thanks to my vapor barrier sock liners which kept the worst of the cold mud on the outside. 
Would I ride the loop again?  Well…perhaps if I was forced to do so by my teammates in the name of “good training”.   Or perhaps if the views were…visible.  I did carry the camera the whole way, but neglected to ever get it out because: one, we never stopped; two, my hands were too muddy; and three, we couldn’t see anything but our muddy selves.  Let's face it, I'm just not cut out to be a photographer.  If I was sensible I would find someone else to ride with me that both liked to take photos and willing to carry the weight of a camera.   Volunteers?

Also preplanned unfortunate was the fact that my tubeless tires had picked today to suddenly stop self-sealing, and I several times needed a bit of wind added, although the slow leaks were better than having a total flat.  Definitely need to get more goo tire sealant into them before my next ride race. 


  1. You frighten me with this activity :-)

    Running then car sleeping then belting around the loop!!!

    Terrific stuff, hope we catch up soon ...

  2. Mike, I definitely feel I'm really living when I have weekends like this...but it's always great to get home to a hot shower as well.

    I've washed my bike twice trying to get this mud off, and it's still dirty!