All Points North: The Rookie and The Pro

All Points North is a self-supported, free-route event that starts and finishes in Sheffield and takes riders on a 1,000km loop of the north of the UK. Challenging enough to attract some seasoned ultra-distance pros, the event organisers also seek to make it accessible enough for first-timers and those wanting to take their first steps into the discipline. We speak to Pawel and Josie, a “pro” and a “rookie” respectively, who are both taking part in this year’s event, to learn about their different perspectives and goals for the ride.

Reading time: 6 min

 

Introducing our riders:

The Rookie
All Points North is Josie’s first bikepacking race but she’s no stranger to long days in the saddle. Weekenders and overnighters in places like the New Forest and South Downs at party pace, with friends have fuelled her desire to dip her toes into the world of racing – and after years of talking the talk here at Apidura as our Social Media Manager, she felt the time was right to walk the walk!

The Pro
Pawel has extensive experience on and off road at events the world over, including the Transcontinental Race, Indian Pacific Wheel Race, Transiberica and two previous editions of All Points North, winning in 2019 and finishing second in 2021, just 30 seconds after the first-place rider. He also organises his own race, Race Through Poland.

Why All Points North?

So what is it about All Points North that attracts such a diverse field? The organisers, Ang and Tori at A Different Gear have worked hard to create an event that is inclusive and accessible, with an early start for rookies and a keen focus on keeping the event challenging but less intimidating than longer ultras, ensuring newbies and old hands alike can make the most of the event.

For Josie, picking her first ultra was a big deal and something she has been considering for while. “All Points North appealed to me for a number of reasons – the fact that, as a first timer, I could apply for a “rookie” spot and get an extra 8 hours to complete my route and avoid the night start was a big draw, as well as it not being a crazy distance… even though it’s wild to me that 1,000km isn’t considered a crazy distance! It’s also remote enough to make it feel like a proper challenge, but not so remote that it makes being self-supported really difficult. In this regard it felt like it was a sensible event to make my first proper one! Not to mention that it’s women-led, organised by the inspirational Tori and Ang.

For our more experienced racer, the appeal is simpler. Pawel loves the race format and riding through the English countryside.

Packing for adventure

Packing is something that is perfected over time and is deeply personal to each riders’ comforts and fears.

For Pawel, the racing mindset prevails and his main focus is efficiency and keeping his packing list to the bare minimum. “I try to balance taking as little as possible and ensuring that I have everything I might need. I take some risks sometimes to make the bike lighter, but I’m always trying to be aware of possible issues that those risks can bring.”

Josie’s packing concerns are bigger than Pawel’s. With only social rides and years of looking at high performance kit on our ambassadors kit grids, she’s doing her best to focus on carrying enough to put her mind at ease without breaking the bank sourcing new gear.

“They say you pack your fears on trips like this, and my current fear is not having enough power to charge my devices. I’ve been obsessively googling power banks and trying to calculate how many Milliamp Hours I’ll be using up across my GPS, phone and lights. I know it’s ridiculous, but I guess it’s not the worst thing to pack too many of, even if I know logically that I definitely won’t need the 3 power banks I currently have on my kit list…

I’ll be riding my Canyon Ultimate, a bike I’ve had for a while now and a bike I know I’m comfortable riding. I’m lucky to already own such a lightweight bike, but I’m in the process of changing the gearing to something a little more hill and endurance-friendly! Thankfully I have a great local bike shop who have loaned me a sub-compact crankset from their parts bin, especially useful while bike components have been hard to get hold of recently.

I’m trying not to spend too much money on new kit because it’s easy for it all to rack up quickly, and I’m very mindful of showing that you don’t need to spend mega bucks in order to take part in events like this. This means that I’m picking and choosing the kit I buy and take with me very carefully, focusing on the essentials I will absolutely need and not the nice-to-haves! I’m hoping this will translate into me ending up with a sensibly sized final kit list, but we’ll have wait and see whether that actually ends up being the case. I know for sure that I’ll be using the Apidura Racing Long Top Tube Pack and the 9L Expedition Saddle Pack, but I’m still undecided about the rest of my setup.”

Route planning

Route planning is the great leveller, no matter their experience, both riders are thinking hard about the best route for their style of riding and obsessing over distance and climbing statistics.

Josie tells us that “one of the other reasons All Points North appealed to me so much was the fact that it’s self-routed. I love maps and route planning and can happily spend hours poring over a map trying to find the best and most interesting route from A to B. I’ve decided on the order I’m going to do the checkpoints and have a route I think I’m happy with. The only danger is that I’ll get caught up too much in the detail and miss the bigger picture, which over 1000km could be problematic!

I started by plotting a rough route on Google Maps to gauge the distance and elevation, which I then fed into Ride With GPS for tweaking. A lot of route planning apps have ways to distinguish between paved and unpaved surfaces which I found really helpful, because I don’t want to find myself on an unplanned gravel track in the middle of the night on a full loaded road bike. Once I’d done that, I used B-Router to really fine tune it. It helps find the best route based on your preference for things like distance and elevation, so that’s where I’m at right now. I don’t mind climbing, so would be happy to do less distance if it means an extra hill if it seemed worth it, but it’s all about finding that sweet spot – I’m not sure I love climbing enough to always have that be the case.”

 

At the other end of the spectrum, Pawel is routing based on years of experience balancing speed and enjoyment to create a route that is efficient and fast – but also pleasant to ride.

“I’m usually pretty happy with my routes, and I feel like this is actually one of my racing advantages. My biggest worries are always about making silly mistakes, like miss-click, forgetting the simplest solutions, etc. This is why I check my routes multiple times.

Efficiency will be the priority, but I also try to care about the quality of the route I take. Being stressed in heavy traffic can be very tiring, even if the main road route is shorter. I try to know exactly where will I stop, for how long, and what will be the reason for this, including some emergency stops, etc. Obviously, it is not always possible that this will all happen, but I’ve learned with my experience, that the more you plan and research the easier it is on the road.”

The 2022 edition of All Points North starts on June 2nd.