TVAM 3Rs – Up North Edition, October 2018
As summer began to fade into memory and autumn took hold, 30 hardy TVAMers gathered in Oxford for a 3-day trip to the Yorkshire Dales. Smaller in scale than 7Ws, but no less ambitious for fun, 3Rs is TVAM’s bi-annual trip taking a group of Associates, Green Team Members, Trainee Observers and Observers away from the familiar stomping grounds of the Thames Vale and taking in the wilder, twistier bits of the UK.
The destination this time around was the Yorkshire Dales, with its wonderful combination of breathtaking scenery and technical, twisty tarmac. Thanks to a dedicated team of organisers, our intrepid riders were all prepared, packed, briefed and ready to go from the ever-popular Oxford Sainsbury’s on the Friday morning. The weather gods had smiled on us and held the rain off, but thermal linings, heated grips and winter gloves were high on the list of vital accessories for the trip northward.
Two runs set out around 9am for the 200-mile journey to our base for the weekend; a hotel near Kelbrook, north-east of Burnley. Our fine run leaders had carefully selected their routes to take in some tremendous roads, with the absolute bare minimum of dual carriageways and the maximum quota of enjoyment. For a mixed group with a range of abilities, marking was generally excellent and almost all of our band of riders managed to follow the guidance faultlessly. I say almost, because one of our number, James, can tell you first hand how important good marking is and how failing to take in what they are telling you can result in spending an eye-watering 3 hours stuck on the M6.
That minor mishap aside, we all arrived safely at the hotel just after dusk. Though the rides had been fun and scenic, I think we were all glad to be safely there and we soon assembled in the bar for the tall tales of which a group of bikers like ourselves are so fond. Once fed and watered, we were briefed on our rides the following day. We were also forewarned that awards would be handed out on Saturday evening.
Bright and early, and following a hearty breakfast, we assembled in the car park to head off for the main rides of the weekend. Our run leaders had reconnoitred the routes in advance and selected some of the most thrilling, challenging, technical roads you could wish for, through some of the most beautiful scenery in England.
The ride I was on led us past Malham Cove, a natural inland cliff-face carved out of limestone. I’d visited this famous landmark some years earlier and had said how great it would be to ride our bikes on these roads. To have that wish come true was an absolute treat. After plying our way along rolling, twisty moorland roads we arrived for our first stop in Hawes, home of Wensleydale Cheese and several pretty tea-rooms.
Coffee, tea and cake were taken and we took the opportunity to talk over what we’d seen and learned. Personally, with all the bends, blind summits and hidden dips, I can vouch for the lesson I got on ‘dead space’. These dips and curves were more than big enough to hide cars and vans from view. This really drove home the valuable advice I had received a few months before… “Never put your bike anywhere your eyes haven’t been.” I wish the two oncoming ‘numpties’ who flew towards me had been applying that knowledge. Still, no harm done, but the near miss reminded me that this is not just a jolly, but also the most beautiful classroom you can find.
This first leg was just the taster. Dry-stone wall lined roads, cattle grids, frisky sheep, recently fallen leaves and traction-control invoking hump-backs featured throughout the day. There were also two long spells of riding in the cloud base on top of the moors requiring us to keep our wits about us.
However, none of this did anything to dampen the mood. Rarely is applying the learnings of Advanced Riding so much fun. There was even the chance to show off our motorway skills. Motorway, on a TVAM weekend, I hear you ask? Yes, but trust me, there probably isn’t a more attractive piece of motorway in the UK than the M6 between J37 and J39. It is one of the rare sections where the carriageways are a couple of hundred yards apart and the views are stunning.
Our lunch stop was a lovely country pub with a roaring fire and welcome delicious food. With full tummies, we climbed back on our trusty steeds and continued our odyssey around the moors. The varied roads, weather and surface conditions meant that lessons continued to be learned. Again, for my part, the importance of taking the prevailing light into account was driven home in dramatic fashion.
As I turned right onto a dual carriageway, I’d failed to make allowance for the unusual half-light being cast by the sun streaming through low cloud. This peculiar light, combined with a grubby visor meant I failed to spot a black car with no headlights coming from my right. His quick actions saved me and I made damn sure to pay extra attention at junctions, flipping my visor open if my vision was even slightly compromised.
Our final coffee stop was as Aysgarth Falls, another tourist spot I’d visited on a previous holiday and just as beautiful when viewed from astride my motorbike. Scrumptious cakes were consumed before the final leg of the day back to the hotel. And so, 200 plus miles and around 8 hours after leaving the hotel that morning, we returned, tired but exhilarated from our day out in England’s green and pleasant land. Our gratitude to our run leader, Kelly, and patient back-marker, Paul, was matched by stories we heard from the other group who had been lead hither and thither by Nigel and back-marked by Bob.
It cannot be over-stated how grateful we all were to our run leaders and back markers. Trips like these cannot succeed without them. As an aspiring run leader myself, having taken the Run Leader/Back Marker course, I see the dedication they have and the hours and days they put in preparing. I can vouch too for the effort it takes and would encourage as many of you as possible to join their ranks.
Saturday Night meant our second dinner at the hotel, where the theme of good solid food in large portions continued. More stories were told and award nominations submitted ahead of the medal ceremony. I shan’t name names, but the Numpty award involved overcooking it on a cattle grid. The Poor Marking award went to the chap who didn’t notice he was being asked to go down as a marker and instead shot past the run leader. Diamond Geezer went to the very kind hearted Gary who took Nina pillion all day after she fell ill overnight. The lesson here of course is that she correctly applied the final S of the POWDDERSSS check, ‘Self’ and remained safe by not riding when she felt too ill.
Lastly, a brief mention of the Most Improved Rider medal which was very generously awarded to me. As Coral explained, a couple unfortunate experiences meant I lost a lot of confidence earlier this year. But, with the support of my fellow club members including Colin Wheeler and taking part in training weekends like this, I am once again in love with Ulysses, my faithful BMW S1000R.
Tired and happy, we retired to bed after a thrilling day, ahead of the ride back South on Sunday. Again, our thanks go to those who volunteered to lead us on the homeward journey. They too ensured fabulous roads and fuel and food on the way. As the groups headed home I can imagine they all went home feeling grateful, happy and full of the joys that only a 600-mile training weekend can bring.
Finally, a huge thank you to all involved in the organisation of this fantastic weekend. Hotels don’t book themselves, routes don’t appear out of thin air and emails don’t write themselves. Coral, Brian, Kelly, Paul, Anthea, Andy, Andy, Nigel, Bryan, Bob, Piotr and Anetta, thank you for making all this possible.
First published in Slipstream November 2018