4 July 2007

4: Planning

To take on a ride like this requires a certain amount of planning. We needed to gather information about the Leeds Liverpool canal, we needed a good map and as much information about the condition of the towpath as possible. We knew what we were up against along the Aire Valley section from Gargrave to Leeds, but none of us had even seen the Lancashire part of the canal at all...let alone ride it. We had ridden as far as Marton, near Gargrave and that was it. This meant that there were 90 miles of towpath that were a mystery to us so far as it's condition went...was it a good path?.. was it a mud bath?..we needed answers to these questions so we set about the task of gathering the info.

The first thing we noticed was that there wasn't anything about cycling the towpath in one day..well, if there was we didn't find it. We searched on various websites, British Waterways, National Cycle Network...all useful in a way, but they only told us part of what we needed to know. We weren't 100% sure that you could actually cycle the whole length of the towpath and we didn't know anyone who had done it before to ask. Then we found the website that was to give us the answers to all our questions, it's called Towpath Treks. This is the most comprehensive website that we found on the subject. Not only does it give a detailed description of the condition of the towpath, mile by mile, but it also has many excellent photographs showing the canal and it's surroundings...and by looking through these photographs we could see the path and, more importantly, it's condition all the way from Liverpool to Skipton. Best of all, the website has a map showing the whole route of the canal from end to end...a map that can be enlarged. The website has been produced by a man called Peter Robinson and to anyone wanting to do this ride it's a Godsend.

We were able to print out a copy of the map and have it enlarged even more, this enabled us to see every town and village on the route and from it we could work out the distances from place to place. We worked out where our stops would be, how far we would have to cycle between them....after seeing this we became more confident.

We decided to start the ride in Liverpool and finish in Leeds because we wanted to finish near to home. We didn't want to stay overnight anywhere so this meant organising some transport over to Liverpool on the morning of the ride, and it would have to be early...very early. Luckily for us one of the members of Team Aldi has a courier business and he arranged for a friend of ours to drop us of at the start of the canal in Liverpool in one of his vans and then drive it back home...perfect, that was our travel plan to the start sorted out.

We also decided it would be best if we had a support team to meet us along the way at various points, this would enable us to have some food and drink, sort the bikes out and have some spare kit at hand, plus, if any one of us got into difficulties they would have a ride home. The task of supporting the team fell to our wives, girlfriends and families and, as it turned out, it was the best thing we did....they were brilliant.

On looking at the map, we all agreed that our first food stop should be Wigan at 37 miles. We would carry enough food with us to refuel there, plus snacks along the way, so we didn't need the support team to meet us there. The next stop would be at a place called Church, near Accrington because this is the halfway point along the length of the canal at 63 and a half miles, this would be where we would meet up with the support team for the first time. Here we would have some warm food and a breather before setting off towards Gargrave, 93 miles, where they would meet us again. From Gargrave we would ride to Shipley, 114 miles, meet them again and then ride the last 13 miles to the finish in Leeds where there would be the support team waiting to transport us, and the bikes, back home. On the day our plan worked well so it was worth all the research beforehand.

We know others who may do this ride might do it with less backup, or none at all but we felt that was the best way for us to get the job done. As it turned out, with the rain, it would have made the task even harder than it already is had we not been able to link up with our backup team. We were able to refill our drinks bottles (it's thirsty work) because, even though you are riding alongside millions of gallons of water, a fresh supply is hard to come by and I don't think you could carry enough on your own. Forward planning is essential, even if you intend to stop off at cafe's or pubs along the route (and there are many pubs on the canalside) you need to have a plan...and stick to it as rigidly as possible.

Finally, you need to keep an eye on the weather as the ride approaches. As we've mentioned before the weather can change very quickly along this route, it passes through an area renowned for it's rainfall. You can watch the weather forecast on the TV which isn't bad, but we found the best ones on the internet. Sites like AccuWeather, Weather Underground and Netweather.tv all give very detailed long range forecasts....keep informed of the weather.

We've put links on this blog for all the websites that we found useful so if you're planning on doing the ride, take a look. One of them, Cycling Permit, is an Adobe PDF file. You should, by rights, carry a cycling permit with you and you can download one for free here. We have never been asked to show a permit to anyone...ever, but you never know so it might be an idea to have one with you should you be challenged.


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