sloeadventures

New Border Raid 600 km….Super Randonneur!

14-15/07/18

 

The roads at around 380 km were those I used to pedal in my youth, riding down to swim in the river, and then up what I thought at the time was a hill to get back home, or just going for a bike ride with my siblings, creating legends such as ‘the dog house’ and ‘the dark woods’.  A bit older, but still on the same bike, I commuted to work on the Ayrshire coast and, depending on the weather, enjoyed the views (or not) of Ailsa Craig.  Secondary school was in Dumfries; Duke of Edinburgh expeditions took in Galloway Forest.  There was something special in finally completing a 600 km and an SR series that took in these places.  If I’d been able to tell my often uncomfortable (and certainly much less fit) teenage self that one day I’d be passing through as part of a ride like this I’m sure they would have been astounded.  If only I had bumped into my old PE teacher…

Accommodation at the start and finish was excellent, right on-site and cheap, it was at a college which did some sort of animal husbandry so there were some very noisy peacocks (and possibly other mystery birds that I couldn’t see behind a fence), they were still active when I arrived about 10 pm but fortunately shut up once it got dark. And we had to be up early anyway… There were several bikes in the shared kitchen when I got there but I didn’t meet any of the owners until afterwards.

accommodation, NBR 600 km Kirkley cycles, NBR 600 km Kirkley cycles, NBR 600 km

 

Kirkley – Dumfries: the Bad Patch

I usually have one, so maybe it’s best to get it out of the way early on. The first bit of an audax is often uncomfortable, ‘warming up’ I suppose even if that does extend to 100 km.  I just wasn’t in the mood really.  It was technically a lovely morning early on as we gathered in Kirkley, and riding along Hadrians Wall should have enthused me more than it did.  I tried to keep an eye on the ditches and occasional bits of actual wall.  You can certainly see why it was built here, with the land dropping away to either side of this straight east-west road.  The world to both sides seemed to be brighter but we were in a bit of a cloudy fug with a headwind.  I don’t imagine it was much fun as a Roman sentry either.

Along Hadrians Wall, NBR 600 km Along Hadrians Wall, NBR 600 km

This was a long stage at 140 km, a cafe had been highlighted but also sounded like it would be slow which is the last thing a full-valuer like me needs early on, so I plodded on a bit further until I felt really quite crap and stoped for my flapjack.  I had wanted to hold on until Longtown but had a stop there too, at the petrol station which might not be the nicest but I have grown attached to from previous visits.

The rest of the stage was at least flat and now sunny; after Gretna the road was unfamiliar and I had a short period of panic that I’d missed the info control and my 600 km would be invalid…then I remembered that Bankend was near Glencaple which is near Dumfries and so I’d just been expecting it too soon.  It was obvious in the end.

The advised control was St Michaels petrol station but I had planned to go to Morrisons and use the cafe and toilets, then at the last minute I remembered there was a Costa and I really craved a cold coffee/milkshake thing, so weaved through Brooms Road car park to the centre.  I was served by Margaret who was in my youngest sister’s year at primary school and whose family lived around the corner from mine.  I’m sure she didn’t know who I was, I’ve changed a lot more than she has.  I don’t think a chocolate muffin was what I was going to order but it was all a bit weird and the first thing that came out of my mouth. I got my frosty-coffee thing at least so was happy.

Dumfries, NBR 600 km

 

Dumfries – Newton Stewart: the Queen’s Drive and the quietist A roads

The food and proper sit-down perked me up and the bad patch was over.

Leaving the ‘fries I saw Bob Bialek walking with his bike up past the entrance to Dock Park, towards the petrol station control, so I wondered if he’d missed it and had to go back, although to be going at the same speed as me would be pretty unusual.  I think I heard afterwards that he packed so maybe he was going to the train station.  I don’t know what happened but I think he’d done 1000 km the previous weekend, and obviously ridden to Kirkley from Halifax.  The man is a legend.

I was a little unconfident in some of the route sheet instructions out of town but eventually convinced I was on the right ‘military road’.  I thought this was entirely unfamiliar but passed a house that I remember from visiting on Spring Fling (local art festival) with stone sculptures. Crossing the road at Crocketford was definitely familiar.

I stopped in New Galloway and after going up and down the high street spotted a community shop which actually looked amazing; I just had a can of coke.  Later on at the finish I heard Aiden’s (the org) story of stopping at a garage here in the dark in search for oil for his chain which resulted in ‘controlling’ at Newton Stewart police station.

It was a great ride on to NS, this is an A road and was in good condition but so quiet.  Galloway forest park is a dark sky area and I started thinking about whether this could be incorporated into a night ride.

Clatteringshaws loch

 

Newton Stewart – Girvan: descent towards the sea and Ailsa Craig

I had had studied the route for this ride more than any before, possibly just because I’d had the time.  I’d looked at each control on google street view and had found the Co-op in Newton Stewart which I headed straight for (it’s not on the route but not far off it). Co-ops are what I always look for. This one had a bike rack in front, and I sat on the pavement for a while with my standard fuel (cheese savoury sandwich).  A bit after I arrived came Leicester Forest man and Bahamas woman, who I would see and occasionally pass regularly for the rest of the ride.

This really was ‘retrace to R sp Girvan 50 km’ (or whatever), just follow another very quiet A road all the way there.

My brain was doing a bit of juggling now, and I was remembering hearing Trembling Bells’ ‘Christ’s entry into Govan’ on radio 6 and getting this a bit muddled with what I was now doing, which was an excellent descent into Girvan (for clarity I was not assuming the position of Christ), complete with views of what I thought was Arran but looking at the map was more likely to be the Campbeltown peninsula, and then Ailsa Craig.

 

Girvan – Dalrymple: regulars and company

At Girvan Asda (not Tesco as suggested by the routesheet, I was glad I had done my homework as these seemingly minor things can be unreasonably disturbing when totally fucked) a few of us had gathered. Someone spotted an outside tap although there was no indication as to what it dispensed. One chap was keen to head off in company and (much as it is against my usual desires) I was also ready to go, and we ended up riding to Kirkonnel together. I think his name was Martin but then most people’s names were.

Dalrymple is a little place so they may have been surprised by the plague of locusts.

 

Dalrymple – Kirkconnel: towards Chilli

Arriving in Kirkconnel I was again glad I had spent time swotting over google streetview. We hadn’t been given an exact location or name of the hall, but looking at the main street there seemed only one possibility. I would never have spotted it in the dark without my homework.

Inside was a wonderful welcome, and some very nice chilli.

Chilli

Martin (and many of the others arriving around the same time) were stopping off here at the ‘official’ sleep stop (and bag drop location). I had other plans so after eating left alone for a fast straight ride as far as Auldgirth, after which there was a more lumpy section taking me off-route to my childhood home, a bed settee and a few hours sleep. I got into bed about 2.30 am (ahead of schedule) and knew I had to leave by 7 am to be sure of making the next control at Lockerbie truck stop. My parents had wanted to see me before I left so I took them a cup of tea at 6.30 am before raiding the muesli supplies.

B&B

 

Home – Lockerbie – Melrose: a new day

It was a little odd being on these familiar roads in an unfamiliar situation. The morning looked like rain might have been under consideration. I passed Julian (of VC167) on my way to the control, he’s a proper ancient but also an unusual example of someone who is a little slower than me. I wondered if he’d slept at all. The control at Lockerbie Truck Stop was almost bounced as I’d only been going about half an hour. There were quite a few riderless bikes outside. I was a little unsure of the next turn off on the route sheet so decided to stay on the lumpy boring road straight to Moffat. Next stop would be St Mary’s loch, where I made use of the picnic tables outside the cafe. A few motorbikers stopped too and we had a quick chat, one of them admiring my ‘cycology’ cap. I have absolutely no interest in motorbikes but I think in some way we were enjoying the same things.

Scottish Borders sign

I could have taken a main road short cut towards Melrose but I need to be really confident of these things before I go off-route. I hate having to retrace my steps so rarely risk it.  Got to Melrose Co-op around the same time as a few others, again it’s become ‘the’ Melrose control for me so I didn’t bother looking for a cafe, even if that might have been nicer.

 

Melrose – Kelso – Wooler – Alnwick: the Learning Phase

The road surface out of Melrose was disgraceful.  I hadn’t been to Kelso before and sorry to say I didn’t really see much of it this time, apart from a visit to a huge supermarket to use their toilet and fill my water bottle.  I did buy an apple but they probably made a loss on me.  Leaving I passed a posh car dealership being built…it looks like the place is ‘on the up’ but I’m not sure where the jobs are around here to fund it.

Scottish Borders/Cheviots

By Wooler it was baking hot, which I didn’t really realise until I stopped.  There were a few of us at the Co-op with ice creams, I huddled in the shade of a doorway for a while.  I donated some suncream to a couple of others; for me it needs to be high factor and slathered everywhere, they just wanted a bit for their noses.  There was some discussion about the routesheet instruction to turn left ‘opposite’ the shop, which was not entirely clear. Anyway since those I had been in disussion with left before me I simply waited until they didn’t come back, at which point I decided that was the correct road after all.

Wooler

Now I had studied this route really well.  But I was entirely unprepared for the stupid hills on this section to Alnwick.  I believe my words on arrival in the town where a couple of others had stopped were “what the fuck was that about?”  It was ‘rolling’, by which I mean it was all either up or down, the downs were never that good and the ups were always of the kind that greet you as a vertical wall of tarmac as you approach.  My brain saw each one and told it where to go.  But somehow my legs were acting independently and kept going again and again. It’s good to know they can do that.

 

Alnwick – Kirkley: home straight

Quite understandably there isn’t much open in a small north east town on a Sunday afternoon. But I spotted a Costa in Alnwick and secured (in the loosest sense of the word) my bike to a drain pipe outside. One of the others overlapped with me here who was also called Martin.

I don’t recall much about the final stretch, I had already ridden from Morpeth to the Arrivee on Friday evening so while it was familiar it also seemed to drag on. We finished where we started at the cafe at Kirkley cycles, where the proprietors had opened both early and late for us.  Beans on toast with cheese was much appreciated, along with a beer.

This was my aim for the year, an SR.  It seemed a bit of an anticlimax, certainly compared to LEL which I didn’t complete; finishing this was a bit meh from an achievement point of view.  But it was a great route and I’m thinking it might be a good one for qualifying for PBP next year…

 

Staying at the college was excellent, knowing there was a bed there and being able to leave stuff in the room while we were away took a lot of potential organisational stress away (no doubt merely transferred to the org). I had planned on going to sleep ASAP but ended up on one of the picnic benches outside with a few others helping to minimise the number of bottles of beer that Aiden had to carry back with him tomorrow.  And of course the peacocks were still awake.

 

New Border Raid route

600 km, 37 hours 30 mins

Avalon Sunrise 400 km (DNF)

In Bath

Not a bath, which would be much more appropriate, coated as I am in sweat, sun cream, oil, general road dirt and dead flies. I’m waiting for a train to return me to Taunton so I can cycle up a fuck-off hill (again), to spend a night in my tent before going home tomorrow without a wash or change of clothes (my own fault, I was being minimalist in terms of luggage. This is why we have a sleeping bag liner).

dirty legs

I’ve been pretty impressed by my body today. I had a ‘general discomfort’ moment but after a stop and some food it was fine. My legs could have finished the ride, they just kept going. But I haven’t slept for 36 hours, and while I haven’t been nodding off on the bike instead I’ve been mentally spaced out (had this on BGB), it gets scary and doesn’t feel safe. Perhaps coming to do this ride was a mistake, given the way I’ve been feeling recently and that I’m only a week into this lot of medication. But I thought I was being lazy thinking of not starting, that it would be good to do some hard-core exercise and be outside.  And no matter how much I might hate it at the time, if I complete a ride the sense of achievement is inextinguishable.

Anyway I’m not supposed to be in Bath. I should be ‘next door’ in Bradford-upon-Avon getting a receipt and then setting off on the final stage of this ride, which is 100 km (longest stage on LEL was 97 km iirc and that was the first one when you have all the enthusiasm). I missed the Bradford turning but that only served to make my decision to DNF easier. I’ve done 300 km to here (still in time) but somehow it’s not much of an achievement when you’ve set out to do 400.

 

The morning after I have a couple of hours to kill in Taunton before my train home.
Clayhidon Church
Clayhidon Church
View from the Half-Moon pub, Clayhidon
View from the Half-Moon pub, Clayhidon

Hearing Sarah describe how she kept going to finish an hour over time put me to shame this morning. I thought yesterday that it had been a mistake to start, but now maybe just a mistake not to finish. Which is better I suppose. Ah well, hopefully I’ve burnt a few of the extra calories I’ve been eating recently, and maintained fitness for the 600 km I’m aiming for to get an SR this year. I should get myself an emergency bivvy bag so I can be more confident about just keeping going, knowing that I can stop as often as I need. This ride could be done as a perm starting wherever appropriate in the morning to align the timings with this one…stop it!

Last night on the ride up to Clayhidon I caught up with Hugo who was walking (I’d had 2 hours rest in Bath, food, and a nap on the train. I’m not sure I’d have made it without walking otherwise). He said he was broken and never doing it again. Now I think about it, I wasn’t thinking that when I was struggling; more sadness that once again I couldn’t keep myself awake enough to do it.  But yeah, I will do ‘it’ again.

A couple of chaps came over to speak to Marcus, Sarah and me while we were packing up this morning, Rob and Sh?, who lived near Chippenham. They’d ostensibly come over to look at my tent and then Rob was asking about my bike. I’m never sure when folk are interested in it if that’s a good thing or not. My Cheviot seems to be a little alien for audax, which makes me want to keep it and do them all on it. Someone in the coffee shop I am currently twiddling my thumbs in has just been explaining to his companion that the bike he wants is described as a “cafe racer”, and now I’ve looked it up the term seems to refer to motorbikes, but I did think that an audax bike may be best described as a “24hr garage racer”.

Campsite

Campsite at 9.50 pm
Light at 9.50 pm

So after the 22:30 start, when it hadn’t finished getting dark, we had a quick control in Tiverton. Then it was a simple matter of riding up the Exe valley with the sky still not quite black (it never really was), some stars out including a big yellow/orange one near the horizon – a planet? The over-half moon was bright to the west and glistened off the river in places, which was pretty special.

We had a control in someone’s house at 1:45 am – it was the home of the organiser’s mother, with his wife and daughter helping out. I didn’t know that until later, at the time it was just surreal to be parking bikes on someone’s front lawn and sitting in their living room eating flapjacks in the middle of the night. Riding up out of Minehead, after a while I realised that the light in the sky was getting brighter and so must be the first signs of dawn rather than the last glow of the previous day. To my left I thought I could see mist in a valley bellow, but then realised that it could be the sea and the lights beyond it the coast of Wales (it was).

As dawn proper came, I was on flat deserted roads and surrounded by mist. Sun was up by the time I passed Glastonbury but it was still misty and I couldn’t see the Tor until some time later when I was higher up at the edge of the Mendips. There was an amazing moment around Glastonbury riding through the mist which was bright and hazy, and approaching a darker patch suddenly the sun disappeared and I realised it was the shadow of a hill that I couldn’t see at all before.

Chedzoy Church
Chedzoy Church
King's Sedgemoor Drain
King’s Sedgemoor Drain

Fields in the morning sun Misty cobwebs

I missed the Esso garage in Nunny Catch (wins place name of the ride) but felt audax-enough to stop at a shop in Frome for a receipt and knew that it would suffice. I’d been physically uncomfortable leading up to this stop (neck especially) and spent a while eating and having a rest off the bike. Fine after that although I could feel a bit of saddle rub and made sure to put some more conotrane on when facilities permitted.

The Bath-Bristol tunnels were fab – several of us seemed to really enjoy these although I find it hard to explain why, but I’m pleased that I wasn’t alone in my geekiness.

The Severn bridge was both a highlight and marked a turning point, although the cycle path was badly signed and we went around in a bit of a circle; funny to visit Wales for about 15 minutes then leave again. Just over the bridge Sarah and I got mixed into a group ride and one of the leaders said ‘let the audax riders through’ which pretty much made my day (also they pointed us in the direction of Tesco which probably saved a lot more faffing). I didn’t stay long as I’d had a quick petrol station stop about 20 km before and was feeling good, and decided to have a proper stop at Wooton-under-Edge.  Although once I set off that didn’t last long and started to feel tired and spaced out again. Had a good hour in Wooton and ate too much.

Severn Bridge Severn Bridge

Feeling woken and rested by the Wooton stop didn’t last long, it was only 38 km to Bradford but I had to stop in Chipping Soddbury for half an hour before I did something stupid. I still wasn’t nodding off but just felt really out of it, very distant from myself, although still going on autopilot and managing to pedal and change gear as normal. I think the heat was getting to me now as well, it was baking, the sky had been clear since the start of the ride. Enough brain remained to know I wasn’t safe on the road, especially as some of these were A and B roads. Even when I felt more awake later I was taking chances at junctions that I wouldn’t normally.  I had half an hour lying on the grass in a park but didn’t really sleep much. Felt ok enough to continue for a while. Missed a turning for Bradford-upon-Avon where I’d pretty much decided to call it a day, I could have just followed a road sign further on to get there but the road I was on was familiar (the Exe – Buzzard went in the opposite direction) and I knew I could just stay on it to Bath. And then I could find the train station.  I had to wait 2 hours for a train with a bike reservation, although top marks to the station staff (GWR?) for being able to book a space at very short notice.  Then that ride out of Taunton again, up the never-ending hill, to the Half Moon pub.

As I am sitting writing this a bunch of Santas on motorbikes (and a few pillion elves) just rode through the middle of Taunton. In a heatwave in June. I’m pleased I can still tell the difference between sleep-deprived hallucinations and general human weirdness.

Avalon route

305 km, 19 hours 

Bike fit

Before LEL I saw lots of folk singing the praises of having a bike fit, and wondered if I should have done that but figured (a) it was a bit late by then, (b) £, and (c) it sounds like it might be bollocks. Well LEL left me with Achillies pain (after a couple of weeks they were ok) and nerve damage in my hands (which took about 6 months to recover from). I’ve also never been quite comfortable with my saddle, feeling like it is the least worst that I’ve tried. So I decided I would have a bike fit before doing any more silly distances. This sort of co-incideded with my birthday, so I was able to put the parental cheque to a specific use.  Of course as soon as I started looking all I could see were comments about bike fitting as being a waste of time.  I’m sure there’s a word for that – seeing what you either want, or don’t want, to see, and not seeing the rest.  Anyway if you think it’s bollocks and/or has been a waste of time, maybe you are lucky enough to be a shape that’s close to the ideal that bike manufacturers adhere to, or you are very experienced and know exactly what you need.  I’m neither of those things.

After consultation with a local fellow LELer I booked myself in for a basic fit with Stephen Jarmuz at Yorkshire Bike Fitting. Stephen is very friendly and put me at ease straight away.  He is interested in the type of riding that YOU are doing and wants to help you be comfortable doing that.  He was entirely non-judgemental about my bike and myself.

My bike is a Hewitt (tourer) and I had a fit as part of buying it. It was my first drop bar bike so when it felt weird I chalked that up to unfamiliarity.  Now I think that the fitting template that is used there was not right for me.  I fitted a shorter stem myself fairly soon after I got the bike, because I felt too stretched out.  Now, after my bike fit, I have an in-line seat post which unstretches me even more.  I also have a new saddle to fit my sit bones and a changed cleat position. So far I’ve done 100 km, and a further 40 km with my new wheels.  It really was like sitting in an old armchair…but one that encouraged me to get out of the saddle and honk up the hills.

Bike after bike fit

(It doesn’t usually come with a spare wheel attached).

40 km to test new wheels

The next big ride is a 400 km and I really shouldn’t be doing that without checking that my new wheels – built by my own (unfair) hand – are not about to turn into Pringles; nor that my new electrics won’t fail or mud guards fall off.  Well none of those things happened, despite being reversed into (at low speed) by a shiny Audi in Poole.  I hope it put a dent in her bumper and scratched the paint, but as it seemed to cause no damage at all to my wheel I suspect not.

View south from the road across Otley Chevin
View south from the road across Otley Chevin

The wheels seem fine.  I’ve gone from the touring rims that the bike came with to Mavic Open Pros, 32 spoke, front a Shimano DH-3N80 dynamo hub and rear a Shimano Deore LX.  Tyres not new, Panaracer Pasela Tour Guard.

Looking south to Wharfedale
Looking south to Wharfedale

It feels really different.  When I got out of the saddle on the hills there was a lot more wobble. I was more worried going over potholes and lumps than usual, but that’s because I made the wheels and so have no reason to be confident in their strength…but if they can cope with being reversed into by a car they are probably ok.  But they did feel faster.  It was an easy ride.  I got up those hills heading home towards Eccup without a problem and found myself doing weird things with my leg muscles going up King Lane. I can’t separate improved fitness (which I probably do have) from bike fit and new components, but the sum of these is comfort and confidence in riding.  That 400 km is something to look forward to rather than dread, and the 600 km is achievable.  I hope so, because it’s now all that remains between me an a Super Randonneur.

bike ride to Otley

40 km at 21 kph or summat like that. On new wheels.

100-odd km ODL ride

02/06/18

 

I’ve been a member of Outdoor Lads for about 5 years, and I used to do some hill-walking with them, but once I got a bit more serious about cycling it kind of dropped off.  They do more cycling events now and I saw this one which was local and a nice route, so I went along.  For me it was sensible to ride to the start at Ilkley, although I took the minor roads and lumpy route which was slower than calculated (not helped by forgetting to take any water and having to go back home after about 2 minutes).

 

We started from the station in Ilkley, with a mixture of folk arriving by train or driving.  There were six of us which was a really good number, small enough to stand a chance of name-remembering (although I was the only newbie and several of the others already knew each other).  The first section was familiar, past the golf course and then Bolton Abbey.  It had been raining, albeit lightly, from the minute I left the house, but it was warm and I was in shorts and short-sleeved jersey all day. Waterproof socks and a cap kept me happy.

 

The planned route was longer but given a slightly delayed start and the weather we cut it short, and Pateley Bridge was our lunch stop and turning point.  I had sworn never to ride through here again after the Way of the Roses, but I couldn’t ride around the Dales for too much longer without a visit.  It was fine, although a little scary on the descent when I saw Dean in front me having a rear wheel skid on a bend.  The section after this was new to me but soon joined up with previously ridden roads…nice to be there in the daylight in some cases.

 

Downhill to Ilkley and we found an ‘informal’ pub for a pre-departure pint.  As the ride had been shorter than originally planned I was keen to ride home (which made it over 100 km), so in retrospect I should have avoided beer.  As it was I had to stop about a third of the way up Otley Chevin for a wee, a mouthful of water, and my emergency rations (a Boost bar).  After that I was fine.

Bike route in Yorkshire

110 km, av 19.8 km/h (this is interesting because although I could keep up I felt it was faster than I would have gone by myself)

Not Quite the Spurn Head 400 km (greenfly edition)

12/05/18

Mytholmroyd Community Centre

If certain residents of the Yorkshire village of Moss had reason to peer through their curtains shortly after 2.00 am on a Sunday morning in May, they would have seen four people sheltering from the rain at a bus stop, introducing themselves having already ridden together for several hours, eating, squeezing the water out of their gloves and weeing without bothering to find a bush to hide behind (not necessarily in that order).

Still weather, Spurn Head 400 km

I rode the first part alone, feeling as the rest of us did like a piece of fly paper as we ploughed through the clouds of greenfly.  I’d sort of joined Eddie on the skirting of Hull, but we weren’t quite riding together as such, mostly because I don’t know how to technically, but also because I’m socially incompetent (sometimes that is an overwhelming anxiety but at the moment it’s just uncomfortable).  He was a nice guy and I was touched that he remembered me from my aborted 600 km last year – I recognised him but couldn’t have placed him, but he’d seen me having a minor meltdown and migraine under a tree in Pocklington; I remember someone waving at me and I just shook my head.  We ate together at Spurn Head but didn’t really chat, and I thought he’d already left but when I went to go he was still there, wrestling with leg warmers.

Spurn Head Spurn Head visitors centre

Mike was also preparing to leave and had parked his bike next to mine, and seemed keen to join us so we made a little trio without really trying to.  We didn’t ride that close together and I think I went out a bit too far in front sometimes, but I was trying to stay with them but also go at my pace. They both had GPS although Mike’s only seemed to be useful for telling him when he’d sailed past a junction that Eddie and I had turned at (and not knowing someone’s name makes it harder to call after them); however I have my suspicions that this may have been if not operator-error then at least operator-can’t-be-arsed-to-pay-attention-when-they-can-just-follow-someone-else.

We stopped way too long at Leven petrol station, I was about ready to go when Mike Wiggly appeared; other Mike had been riding with him further back and decided we should wait and take him with us.  They phoned wives and girlfriends to check in and report on progress.  I didn’t.  Mike W clumsily commented on my rainbow sew-on patch and I clumsily replied.  I asked for two carrier bags with my smoothie/flapjack/eccles cake purchase, and they stayed on until I got back home.

Second socks

Timing was good, better than last time no doubt due to the kind wind.  I remember it being pitch black on arrival at McDonalds then, whereas today there was still some light in the sky.  There was also water falling from it, which had been light enough that I hadn’t bothered with the waterproof but after this it would be needed for warmth too, plus that rain was setting in more permanently.  Mike W decided to stay for another coffee so the remaining three of us reluctantly made a start on this long dark leg. Negotiating Goole we picked up Carl, who had been ahead, but lost confidence in his navigation, and turned back.  It was good riding with others in the dark, the extra lights are helpful (although Mike’s strobe on the front was bit too disco for me).  I liked the flat Kings Causeway section although I think some of the others found it mind-numbing. This ride has an almost constant stream of routesheet instructions, there are hardly any long uninterrupted stretches.  Apart from a couple of junction confirmations with Eddie’s GPS, and one that I missed, I pretty much took the front and did the navigating.  It reminded me a bit of LEL, and the night I rode silently with a group from all over the world, weaving across the road as they either nodded off, forgot which side to ride on, or possibly both.

Mike came off going over a railway line in Thorne which crossed the road at a stupid angle, so we all stoped and Mike W happened to catch us at the same time. He seemed ok but we made him stand still for a little while to make sure he wasn’t going to keel over. A car actually came by just behind us, as he was still lying on the road, and didn’t stop.  Around here I started to wonder how safe this pastime of ours is…it was cold, wet, and dark.  We were in a village and I dare say could have woken up a household if needed, but there was no sign of (awake) life and no shelter.  I thought of the riders doing the Old 240 and where would they be at this time of night?  I don’t know if I could do that ride, I wouldn’t feel safe.

Mike W shot off and the rest of us wound our way on, via that bus shelter in Moss.  I’d stopped there last year too.  I thought we’d been doing a reasonable 20 kph average on the flat but soon the hills started and we slowed right down. Unusually for me I felt I could have gone faster, and found myself slowing to let the others catch up.  But I was glad of their company, not being scared of the shadows this time.

Eventually Woolley Edge services appeared.  By accident rather than design we arrived at 3.50 am which was exactly on my approximate schedule, although again we stayed longer that I’d have liked.  But now there was only 35 km to go, and the dawn to look forward to.  Mike was nodding off but the rest of us seemed ok.  We chatted about bikes and riding.  It was Carl’s first 400 km.  He said my navigation was excellent which I really appreciated.  He and Eddie exchanged numbers on the basis of a potential bar-end shifter sale.

Emley Moor

By the time we set off the sky was already lightening, and a rather nice morning was underway.  Mike and Carl both knew their way round a slightly longer but flatter route via Brighouse, so Eddie and I followed them, Carl and I seeming similarly paced and the other two a little behind (a sort of taking-a-leak time delay which was convenient). I didn’t think we’d manage, but we got back just before 7 am.  There had been a time when I thought 24 hours was possible, but the slow night leg and longer stops prevented that. But it was surprisingly nice to ride with others for once.

Spurn Head route map

410 km, 25.5 hours

The Laminator ate my Routesheet: Beyond the Dales We Know 300 km helper’s ride

21/04/18

 

I’d left myself some things to keep me occupied the evening before the ride (or you could consider that I’d left somethings until the last minute), so it was that I was laminating the route sheets. The first one got stuck inside.  I could have gone back in to work, printed it out again and used the work laminator but the thought of going back there again, especially on a Friday evening, was too much. Fortunately I had (a) a spare paper copy (although half the size so reading it might be challenging) and (b) a bar bag with waterproof map case. When it had cooled down I took the bloody thing apart and retrieved the unusably-crumpled sheet, but I didn’t want to risk the others through it at this point.   So all was well apart from the fact that I’d have extra, unattractive, luggage, and the final stage which would be ridden in the dark would rely on rather small font. I took maps as a back-up anyway but marked on this final stage in case.

Laminator

I rode this last year and this time Dean had asked if I would stamp cards at the Markington checkpoint, so this was ridden as a helper’s ride; effectively a perm in the fortnight before the event. To aid logistics I opted to start and finish at Ilkley, which is the closet point to Leeds. My aim was to get back in time for the last train home (I did NOT want to be tackling the Cow and Calf/Otley Chevin/Pool Bank in the dark with 300 km in my legs to get home). Some planning based on 20 kph riding and realistic but not too generous stops meant that I’d have to leave home at 4 am. I re-wrote the route sheets to make home – Ilkley part of the ride, and re-set the distance to zero at the start of each stage, which I’d found beneficial on LEL.

morning
This is what audacious looks like

I slept badly and was only dozing when the alarm went off at 3.30 am.  My clothes were ready but I still needed to make the final decisions on outer wear, and after feeling the temperature outside opted for winter gloves and shoes.  The last couple of days had been a ‘heatwave’ (for April) but with the clear sky the night had been cold. A first outing for the LEL jersey (an attempt to humble/ridicule myself into continuing when the going gets tough) and I was happy to see that it fits better than it did when I got it before the end of last year. Jumper and short-sleeve high vis/windproof gilet on top and leg warmers I though I’d be fine, with enough bits to take off to be flexible. The forecast was for warm sun with thunder and rain by the evening. So a waterproof and rain gloves went in too.  In fact I took four pairs of gloves with me (this is what happens when you take excessive luggage – more than LEL or BGB) – you fill it up. In the event the only pair I didn’t use were the wet ones.

It was chilly heading down to Ilkley, as it’s mostly downhill so not much opportunity to warm up. Being audax-o’clock I took the A roads which were fairly deserted.  There were a few cars and I did see one other cyclist.  The petrol station control in Ilkley isn’t 24 hours and its external cash machine wasn’t working, so I continued on the town centre for a cash machine and receipt. I was impressed that it read 5.01 am which made me look very organised. I had done a good check on the map of the centre and how to get back on route because getting lost so early on would make me excessively grumpy.

There was already a dull green glow in the east, and soon I didn’t need my head torch to read the routesheet, which was a good job as the batteries were struggling. After some lanes out of Ilkley (featuring suicidal bunnies) the route follows the Wharfe up the valley past Bolton Abbey.  This is a nice overalll climb but not much silly steepness. Despite climbing I was colder now, and there were a few patches of frost on the roadside leaves in the hollows.

Wharfedale Wharfedale

The sun was catching the hills to my left, and eventually it came down to meet the road and I bathed in its warmth. Not exactly; at this hour it was a psychological heating rather than anything else. I could have put my waterproof on for extra warmth but I was nearly warm enough and knew it would improve soon.  The valley was gorgeous, with the dawn light and dewy fields. At the other side of the river I saw the campsite and pub at Craven Arms which we passed recently while Springing into the Dales, and eventually joined that route at Burnsall Bridge.

Then it’s in the general direction of Grassington, then Kettlewell, which aren’t quite visited (Beyond the Dales You Know, see), branching off for Arncliff and Littondale.  The first control is the Queens in Litton, definitely not open at 7 am, so photos taken for proof of passage.

Queens Arms in Littondale Queens Arms in Littondale

This side of the valley was in the shade so I kept going a bit further, to the turnoff at Halton Gill, before I stopped for my breakfast of supermarket sandwich brought with me. The extra luggage was actually quite useful throughout the day as essentially a larder, doing the ride from an alternative start buggered up some of the carefully selected controls as far as food went. This well-prepared audaxer returned home with more food that he took…

Halton Gill

I’d remembered the climb out of here as being a bastard, and it does have some steep sections (featuring an up-hill cattlegrid which is tough, they are much easier to speedily freewheel over), but the steep sections are short and the descent to Stainforth is long. Pen-y-Ghent Gill carves a lovely deep gorge down to the left, as the pass travels between Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent.

Littondale Halton Gill - Stainforth

Then it’s the main road up through Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Ribblehead, again it looked like there was a three peaks event on, with lots of cars and a gazebo in the field in Horton.  I wasn’t expecting the burger van at the Ribblehead junction to be open at my target time of 9 am and was pondering my stop strategy, but it was there so I pulled in. However although it was there, the side open and the radio on, the proprietor was absent; according to a couple having their own brew in the car/van parked next door she had taken her dog for a quick walk before opening (it was about 8.50 am). Although I’d really fancied a coffee I didn’t want to hang around so just had one of my flapjacks and got going. It was beautifully sunny and clear, I’d already stopped to take my jumper off (and remove a fly from my eye, multitasking stops are always good) and I was feeling like I was going well.

After a gentle climb the cars became sparse again and the turnoff for Dentdale appeared. This is a great descent which provides views from above the viaduct and later below, the former would have been a nice picture but it’s not an easy place to stop.

Dent viaduct

I remembered that I’d been particularly miserable here last time and was feeling quite the opposite.  You barely have to pedal for a long time. It was on the approach to Dent that I suddenly remembered it has cobbles, and changed down several gears and braced myself. My bike and wheels are quite chunky, and I wonder how slimmer models manage over this. Dean had helpfully noted that there are toilets and an outside tap here, the latter especially useful as I’d had no options for refills until now.

On through Sedburgh, one of the bigger towns visited, but feeling no need to stop I began the climb up Howgill Lane.  This was less painful than I remembered too, I don’t know if this is because last time was further through the ride, or I was more cheery this time, or just that I’d done it before so I could do it again.  A couple of more speedy riders came passed me along here, I was quite happy to be overtaken and probably still retaining some smugness that I’d got all the way here from Leeds and it was only 10 am.

“Everywhere that air of conspiracy which generates amongst people who have been up since dawn – of superiority almost, derived from the common experience of having seen the night disappear and the morning come” The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John le Carré.

The descent alongside the Howgills was even more enjoyable than last time in the crisp sun.  I almost waved at a train speeding south along the west coast main line such was my delight (but apparently I gave up waving at trains when entering adulthood).

Howgill Lane Howgills and the River Lune

I feel sorry for Tebay, I suppose its position is not unlike Moffat in that a motorway has removed much of its passing trade, but Moffat retains the A701 route and has gone upmarket since I was young, but Tebay just looks tired. I was pleased to see some non-lorry traffic at the services, including a hen party. I had a decent length stop here, it was warm now so arm and leg warmers off and sun cream on, and a reapplication of Conotrane while I had suitable facilities.

At Tebay services
Ever glamorous

I’d remembered the first bit of the next section, where the route heads up and through unfenced moorland. There was a particularly magic moment when I crossed a cattle grid and as soon as the noise of it ceased so did the roadside trees and fences and it was suddenly open and quiet. Stopping to take one of many photos along here I was caught by another cyclist who stopped to ask where I was going.  He had heard of Audax and had a suspiciously tatty Carradice.

Nameless moors near Great Asby Scar

Through Great Musgrave, recalled after the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Musgrave Ritual’; I checked last time and in the story they are in Surrey, never mind.  After Brough came the climb to Middleton-in-Teesdale which I hadn’t remembered until I saw the junction.  It’s lovely, but manages to combine a steep up-up-up climb with an up-down-up descent, so there is not much time to relax.  Middleton soon arrived and I’d already planned a visit to the Co-op, remembering that I would need sustinence for the next control(s) too.  Here was my mistake. I thought I’d learned my lesson on overeating, but it turns out that a Mars Bar ice cream AND a hot cheese and onion pasty (in that order naturally) still counts as too much.  To Staindrop was ok, just feeling a little stuffed. I stopped to take a photo of the church as time evidence, but also noted that although I didn’t know the info control question here I knew its location and took an educated guess that it would be ‘name of fish and chip shop’ [Chip in Dale; it was].  Either way I’m sure my passage through would be suitably evidenced.

St Mary the Virgin, Staindrop

The route was flatter now but I started to feel sick and had a headwind which did nothing for comfort or morale. The nausea was fairly convincing and I pondered my best options to pack – not far to Northallerton and still plenty of time to get a train back to Leeds.  But I really wanted to finish this; remember you are wearing your LEL jersey, keep going and see how it goes.

I felt rather sorry for Dean around here because the roads and signs must be changing almost constantly and keeping the routesheet up to date must have been a nightmare. I got through without any wrong turnings so he must have done a good job. I had also studied the route quite carefully beforehand, because I got lost near the end last time and didn’t want to repeat the exercise. So I had a pretty good idea that I was going in the right general direction all the time.  The A6055 follows the A(M)1, and may be able to become the new B7076 in terms of ubiquitousness and boredom, but it has a damn-site better (new) road surface. I stopped on one of the bridges over the motorway and had my carton of chocolate ‘milk’ (soya) which I know my stomach likes, and a little feeling-sorry-for-myself break. Heading off again I felt a little better and thought I’d make a decision on packing when I got to the road which could lead to Northallerton. I don’t think that I ever actually made a decision, but ended up turning off anyway at Ainderby Steeple for Newby Wiske (they do like their double-barrels around here). Shortly after I met some people at the roadside wrestling with a bike and with a jauntily-parked car; my initial though was ‘accident’ but when I asked if all was ok one of them said they had a problem with the chain, so I stopped to investigate. It was a lad with his bike and his parents or friends who had come out to rescue him in their car. The chain was not only off the big ring but also over the crank and pedal and one of the assistants was trying to puzzle out how it went back on. I managed to sort it and the rider seemed keen to cycle home, so we suggested he do so in a middleing gear and not try changing it to be on the safe side. It didn’t take long and was a sufficient distraction (probably because I had successfully managed to help) that it gave my brain a bit of a kick and so while my stomach didn’t feel right for the rest of the ride my head at least did.

The control at Newby Wiske was a bit weird because even though I knew it wasn’t the end of MY ride I knew it was the end of THE ride. I stopped for another selfie by the village sign and had half a sandwich, which went down ok.

Newly Wiske

It was flat and not far to Boroughbridge, where I thought the traditional remedy of coke and salt and vinegar crisps might be a good idea. They were, although the Spar receipt was useless not having a location on it. The cash machine just over the bridge earlier would be a better option. I took yet another selfie when I turned off on the distinctive road ‘St Helena’ which I thought would suffice.  Arm warmers, gilet and lights went on here.

Boroughbridge

It it was only 15 km to Markington, where I would be stamping cards next weekend.  I actually had no recollection of this on last years ride, and still didn’t recognise it when I got there. I took another photo, noted the location of the campsite where I plan to stay on Friday night, switched on my headtorch (having put the new batteries in I need at Tebay) and pressed on.

Markington

On leaving I was half an hour ahead of my schedule and had that ‘I’m actually going to do it’ moment. I had two things in mind, completing within time (definitely possible as the minimum speed is low) and getting my train home, which was more debatable but held considerable mental weight. I kept telling myself that validation was the more important thing and that it was hardly the end of the world if I had to get a taxi home from Ilkley, or worse, summon the courage to ride.

I’d forgotten in my time calculations the slowing which happens in the dark; I find descents challenging and never make it to the big ring. I do think my light could go a few degrees upwards which would help. But still, this last bit had some hills and I couldn’t make up any time on the descents. I was also now using my tiny-font routesheet with map back-up, and although the routesheet was ok I did have to stop to read it at each instruction, the road vibrations being too much for clarity. The very straight but horribly-surfaced road by Fewston barracks was at least not too bad at this time of day as it was quiet, and I was able to ride in the middle of the road to avoid the worst of the potholes. The steep hill after this, climbing after the reservoirs, I hadn’t remembered and could have done without. Although Ilkley isn’t a bad start, Newby is better because you get a flat start and a flat finish.

I could see the lights of various towns in the valley below but was getting worried about my slowness and getting back for the train so was distracted and not able to enjoy the views. I blame this on my bike computer; I had been looking at the distance which had been 17.1 km and seemed very slow to get to 17.2, etc; I thought this was me looking at it too often but after a while realised it had changed itself to read average speed rather than distance. So that meant my average speed for this leg was 17 kph….not good for getting back in time. I didn’t let myself look at my watch because there was nothing I could do about it.

Slowly the route asymptotically approached the lit A road to Ilkley and eventually met the bridge over to the control petrol station.  In the interests of knowing where I was and not faffing I decided to return to the town centre for a receipt and the station; risking a look at my watch it was 10:45 pm, so I bombed it along the road (amazed that I still had the energy and legs) and got back to my starting cash machine. Just under 18 hours and I was very happy, although thought that ‘contingency’ should be a future consideration.  The last train to Leeds was everything I dreamed of, full of drunk people, although to be fair they left me along. A large group of under-20s blokes with a few women, they were very noisy.  The toilet, which unfortunately I was next to, was marked ‘out of order’ but several of them were clearly desperate. After attempts to pee out of the train doors at a station or on the platform (foiled because it didn’t stop for long enough) they forced the door open, at which point it was visited by about 10 of them followed by one for vomiting purposes. I can only hope the defect wasn’t the flush.

The forecast thunder kept its distance, it started to rain as the train pulled out of Ilkley and had apparently just stopped when I got back to Leeds.  Couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.

The final ride ride home was the usually dodging of revellers through the town centre, uncomfortable in backside (mostly) and legs. But Carr Manor Road seemed tame in comparison to some of today’s hills. I got back and had a shower to remove the sun cream-adhered dirt that I didn’t really want in my bed, and had a cup of tea to try and rehydrate, even did a few back stretches, so wasn’t in bed until 2 am. 22.5 hours, and only on checking the following day have I realised I did 200 miles, which is rather satisfying. I’m very glad that I got through the rough patch.  At the time of writing (the next day) I feel like I’ve been through the mill, arm and chest muscles hurt as well as knees and thighs. It’s real step up from 200 km.

Beyond the Dales route

 

333 km (207 miles), 17 hrs 45 mins, 3,725 m climbed

The event
27-29/04/18

The ride itself…cycled up to Markington in the rain, which stopped on arrival.  Tent up and finally in the pub (The Yorkshire Hussar) by 9 pm, in my wet clothes to just about dry off.  Busy and a bit posh but there was a little back room with a chap watching football and another sitting at the bar, so I joined them and we ignored each other for a couple of hours.  Very nice Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker accompanied the reading of John Buchan’s Huntingtower on my phone, as I had disappointingly failed to fit a book in my panniers.

Beer in the Yorkshire Hussar

Next morning after coffee and porridge I was in position at around 7 am for the first rider at 7.20 am.  All in good spirits if a little cold, which it certainly was.  The wisdom of a situation next to the defibrillator was noted.  The final rider came through just after 8 am, all still close together as only 42 km into the ride.  It was good to put names to some now-familiar faces from other events.

Camping stove Bike and control at Markington

After a second breakfast I packed up, failed to warm up, and started off along the route in reverse to Newby Wiske.  It took a long time before I had warmed up enough to take a layer off.

Milestone

Arrived at HQ around 12 pm to an alien invasion, and to find the hosts having the slight problem of no electricity to the building.  They soon fixed it and I went off in search of beer supplies for later.  Then it was a case of waiting for riders returning, ringing cow bells at them and drinking beer.  Dean’s photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30024450@N04/sets/72157666457595807

Tents

100 km or so over the weekend

Spring into the Dales 100 km

08/04/18

I last did this three years ago shortly after moving to Leeds, then 2016 was a year of surgery and no rides, and last year I ended up on the shorter Leap into the Aire after a travel-to-the-start cock-up.  The train from Leeds arrives in Mytholmroyd 6 minutes after the start, so I was always going to be ‘behind’.  I was happy that the ride up out of Hebden Bridge and down to Oxenhope was easier than on the first occasion.  Mist was lifting out of the Worth Valley ahead and the views were great.

Worth Valley from Cock Hill

The rest of the hills, of which the ride is entirely consisted, were hard going.  I got to the checkpoint at Earby around the same time as a few others, but got going again as quickly as I could, pausing only to down a banana.  The first control proper was at Gargrave and again I went into the Dalesman Cafe and wondered why there were so few of us in there, although this time my beans on toast were quite slow coming and rather low on the beans, so I’m not sure I’ll visit again.  By the time I left the controllers were also leaving and there was no sign of anyone else on the ride, so I started to worry that I’d be brining up the rear for the rest of the day.  Once off again I took a right turn prematurely but happily realised very soon and only added an extra km.  Some nice lanes around here.

Tea at the Dalesman Cafe Yorkshire lane

I saw a few other riders but wasn’t sure if they were actually doing this ride or just happened to be going the same way.  I lost a couple of them near Bolton Abbey where we crossed the Wharfe so maybe the latter.

Bike at bridge over the River Wharfe

Blimey that bar bag is fugly.  Arriving at the control in Keighley I was happy to find quite a few others and felt like I was on a calendar event after all.  Rossi’s cafe is great.  The person serving took a bit of convincing that yes I did want a large coffee; it was a small bathtub but I had found the ride hard going and it was just what I needed.  With that and a chocolate-topped flapjack I was ready for the final 20 km back over Cock Hill.  I actually enjoyed this climb both ways, it’s long but doable, in contrast with some of the steeper hills on this ride which in the latter stages had me asking “what the actual fuck?” when I saw the walls of tarmac coming nearer.  I did make it up them all though.  It’s not quite the hilliest ride I’ve done (the Season of Mists is a 2.5 AAA and got me a gold badge), but it is fairly early in the year, and they are just unrelenting.  Thus my top-of-cock selfie is no reflection on Calerdale, which I was quite happy to be welcomed to.

Top of Cock Hill Top of Cock Hill, looking south-ish

Spring into the Dales 2018 route

117 km, average 18 kph (oh dear), riding time 6:29, total time 7:51, 2.25 AAA

Scottish Borders Randonee 200 km

24/03/18

An adventure often calls to mind, or requires, or both, a book.  This ride was to be a little adventure, and a little book was borrowed from the library; John Buchan’s John Macnab.  Sir Edward Leithen and friends are experiencing what would probably be diagnosed today as ‘mild to moderate depression’ and end up playing poachers on three Scottish estates.  Being away from their usual surroundings, physically challenged, and engaging in (what they perceive to be) a high-stakes game has the effect of making them feel ‘alive’ and improves their mental health. Now I find it an over-simplification to say that cycling keeps me sane, or that getting out on the bike makes me feel better; my current bout of depression started while I was riding more last year, increasing my distances in preparation for LEL. The lead up to and start of a ride are usually stressful times, not so much a question of physical ability (I’m reliably full-value, reasonably confident in my own slow ability) but social anxiety.  The early stages can be uncomfortable with riders in close proximity, but as groups form and people find their pace I usually get my own little space and settle in to riding alone.  Seeing people up on the road ahead, out of touch but a reminder of being on the same ride, is all I need.  In general I find audax psychologically beneficial on a longer timescale than the ride, and sometimes not during the ride at all.  It’s the sense of achievement, and in retrospect the shear bloodimindedness of it all, that I value. Some rides I hate the majority of the time I’m there (I won’t name the only one that I’ve resolved never to do again), but other times I do experience absolute joy in the moment. Like Leithen and his friends, once we sign up for a challenge something about the commitment keeps us going, no matter how foolhardy and indeed unnecessary it is.

cycling silhouette

So it was that I came to be emerging from my frosty tent on Selkirk leisure centre’s campsite one Saturday morning in March. There were no other campers and I had the newly refurbished facilities to myself, indeed I should have come in and slept in the warmth of the toilet block, but instead I wriggled into a down jacket and woolly hat at 4 am.

Selkirk campsite Selkirk campsite

After the past few weeks of cold and snowy weather which had resulted in a number of audaxes being cancelled and the innvocation of the ‘severe weather policy’ it was a pleasant surprise to see the sun. It was too late for the original route of this ride though. We were riding the ‘snow edition’, with the road from St Mary’s Loch over to Tweedsmuir remaining closed because of snow. We missed nothing though, this was a cracking route and that sun stayed out all day. There were a couple of ice patches in the morning where the road was in the constant shade so I could see how those high narrow roads could easily stay blocked for some time.

A708

Navigation was not demanding on this ride, and a good part of it was familiar. Essentially ‘left out of Selkirk sp Moffat, 53 km’ was the first section. The A708 is a great road, I’ve ridden it in the north west direction twice before so it was great to be going the other way – of course you see everything from the other side, but also the climbs where you can see the landscape more slowly are reversed. The sun was high enough and the road often on the southern side so that we were mostly riding in the sun. My left foot was quite happy but my right in the shade was still numb with the cold. The roads were in pretty awful condition in many places, here the problem was less large potholes but more the general overall lumpy surface. The route slowly climbs through snowdrop-filled Yarrow, then becoming more moorland.  The hills slowly closed in, but stilll the narrowing burn flowed down, down; back the way we had come.

St Marys Loch

Eventually the top arrived, and the border with Dumfries and Galloway. Here were a few patches of ice but I was happy enough that just going straight and braking in between them would avoid any problems, especially with the road quiet enough to move right out when needed.

Top of the Pass of Moffatdale

There were patches of snow on the hills all day and at the tops of the passes we rode alongside them. Keeping the right temperature was a balance all day long, climbing in the sun was warm but as soon as a shadows and descents appeared zips were pulled right up again.  Stretches of the road around Grey Mares Tail had been fully resurfaced recently and the previous vibrations were soon forgotten, although there were still a few lumps and after one I noticed a rubbing noise. I’m having an ongoing battle with rear mudguards and on stopping in Moffat I realised this was yet another break.  This is my third rear guard of the same type…what’s the definition of a fool, someone who keeps doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome?  I think I should just switch to gaffer tape suspended by mudguards stays, which is more or less what I have now, albeit interspersed with bits of actual plastic.

Moffat was a trip to the Rumblin’ Tum, reliable as a quick provider of nice grub and possessor of a stamp. The controls were nicely spaced on this route, all about 50 km apart and before a climb. This climb was the Devils Beeftub (A701), local from my youth when I was fat and unfit, and being driven/driving up this way I always dreamt of riding up here one day. Having done this with 600 km in my legs on LEL I knew it would be fine, and it really is a great climb, on and on but never too steep.

Devil's Beeftub

Over the top and the road meets the start of the Tweed, to be followed now as far as Innerleithen. I thought about crossing it yesterday by train in Berwick, and wondered how long it would take the snow patches that were melting today to end up in the sea off the east coast.  We briefly cross Scotland’s watershed on this ride, which coincides with the regional borders around Moffat.  I wondered whether it would have been any different in Buchan’s day; probably not much, the snaking burn and road and the shape of the hills must be fairly unchanged.  The roads were still quiet, among the few cars passing I noticed a Bentley.  After a little while I met it again along with another car, stopped in the road, and realised there was a third in a low ditch on the other side. It had gone through a wall and was lying on its side with the windscreen smashed out. I stopped to see if I could help but they said they were fine, there was someone still in the car but they seemed to be engaged in banter with one of the others (“at least it’s not raining” etc) so I hoped that was a good sign. Soon after I set off an ambulance passed and then a couple of police cars.

Just before Broughton we turned off and I was now on unknown roads towards Peebles. There was a mountain bike event on, and I think full suspension would have been useful just for the road surfaces here. I was generally uncomfortable now and a little miserable, and looking forward to a stop in Innerleithen. I’d calculated that Melrose, the final control, would be too late at my speed for a cafe so wanted to sit down and have a warm drink here.  Some sort of cyclists’ gravity means that those of us who are slower needed to ride further to find a cafe with space, but the Whistle Stop Cafe was a nice find even if their till clock was running an hour fast on the receipt (stilll within time limits!). My back was sore, which I know is because I had done no core exercises recently, so I had some ibuprofen here (bad habit from LEL) and it was much better for the rest of the ride.

Out of Innerleithen and we were again on a bit of LEL. This had been the end of a beautiful stretch back then, and I remember how weird it was descending these deserted moorland hills to suddenly find a golf course. Again it was great to experience the roads in the opposite direction, and as the road climbed along the Leithen Water and the hills drew closer in I decided this is definitely one of my favourite roads.  The sun was sharp on the moorland hills and the roads empty, and I choked up a bit at the beauty of it all. It seems that the only thing that makes me cry these days is cycling and associated reminiscences.

Leithen Water Dewar Swyre

Then we turned off towards Heriot for an info control, before heading south for Stow. We followed the railway line for a while, which had brought me down yesterday and would take me away again tomorrow. This is the most ‘new’ (previously Beeching’d) railway line built for a considerable time, and if it didn’t exist I wouldn’t have been up here riding. Thanks to the Scottish government, and David Steele if I remember correctly.  So far the route had been steady climbs and descents but after Stow (unless going off piste which was an entirely reasonable option, good choice Lucy McTaggart) there was a shocker of a hill which had me cursing at the org at the top. Apparently this featured in the Scottish hill climbing championships in 2017. I soon forgave him as there were some great views here.  Passing a wind farm I heard the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh as the blades of a close mill rotated.  I’d heard similar before, unheralded, in the dark, but never before had I ridden through their shadows, racing towards and through the shadow of my bike going in the opposite direction.

Now we could see the Eildon hills above Melrose which would be visible for most of the rest of the ride. I got a bit confused with the route sheet (my confusion not the directions) and then there was a road closure but the guy working on it let me through and a local reassured me I was going in the right direction. I’d had a walk around here when I camped for last years Moffat toffee so once I could see the Chain Bridge I knew where I was going and headed straight for the Co-op, and crossed paths with Lucy. I’d done pretty well so far not to over-eat but here I had a sandwich and a big twix which I pretty instantly regretted; riding on a full stomach is never comfortable.

Eildon Hills Bridge over the Tweed

The final leg went out to another info which was a bit confusing as the route sheet described it as a T-junction, which did exist a bit further up the road. It took me a while further along the route to be convinced that I’d made the right choice. Lucy had left Melrose before me and arrived at the finish shortly after with an extra few kms so it seemed I had done. As usual the final 10 km seemed to go on forever but once again there was no navigation required so I didn’t bother with my head torch and so couldn’t see how far was still to go or how fast (or indeed slow) I was going, I just practised a bit of being in the present, which I’ve been working on recently. Keep going and you’ll get there. Sure enough almost out of nowhere a T-junction with the A7 appeared and there was the arrivee right next to it – I’m glad I was paying attention and didn’t sail on back down the hill to the town centre only to have to climb back up again, like a few others. Plenty of food at the finish which was great, and I did it in 11 hrs 30 which I was pleasantly surprised by.  Then a freewheel down to the campsite, shower and bed. I was quite happy that the clocks went forward as it meant one hour fewer in a frosty (again) tent before getting the first train to Edinburgh from Tweedbank the next morning.

John McNab

Leithen and his co-conspirators fully exercise and exorcise themselves in John MacNab.  Taking themselves out of their usual surroundings and putting themselves ‘in danger’ was sufficient to shift their minds.  I was actually surprised by the turns the story took in the later stages; [spolier] the recognition of friends and the security that their place in society provides (so not actually ‘danger’).  You can’t read John Buchan now without gagging on the racism, classism and misogyny, but this one has a strong female character and at least some self-awareness at the end.

It’s an over-simplification to suggest that feel bad -> go for an adventure (long bike ride) -> feel better always works.  Perhaps it’s rather that making myself do these things keeps a wolf from the door.

Scottish Borders 200 km map

207 km, average 21.6 kph, 9:42 hrs riding time; 11:30 total time