audax from train stations

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 

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

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

 

Mini-north west passage 120 km

17/02/18

Last year I did the longer (200 km) version of this ride; looking at the route is hard to believe it’s only an additional 85-ish km.  This was far more pleasant, starting and finishing in the light.  It was certainly long enough for me to be doing having not ridden anything long for sometime.

You need to be fairly confident riding in traffic for these rides as they are mostly A roads, and I did have a number of daft overtakes and close passes.  Eavesdropping on a conversation at the cafe control one bloke was saying that the 200 km is thought to be the oldest on the calendar and probably originated as a local club reliability ride pre-Audax UK (est. 1976), but no one remembers.  Certainly the roads would have been quieter then.

It was cold and wet at the start and riders were coming and going, some seemed to be on the 200 km (which started an hour earlier) and only just starting, so at 8.55 am I decided to get on with it rather than wait around.  Perhaps I missed some information about a road closure (which turned out to be passable by bike as is often the case) but I don’t know.  The route follows canal and railway line through Littleborough and Todmorden then head up to Holme Chapel and Clivinger, which is a nice section, the steep valley sides had a dusting of snow on the top.  Then through urban Burnley and Nelson before Blacko, where I stopped to take a photo for comparison with the last one.

Bike and signpost in Blacko Signpost in Blacko Bike in Blacko

The weather was backwards on this occasion, it got better as the day went on.  Over the highest point of the ride then down to Lisburn for an info control.  This was nice steady climbing.  Then a lower flat section, where a road closed sign blocked the route but I continued on and there was still half the road left (and no work being done at the time).  Unfortunately the road surface was littered with debris and I soon heard a noise coming from my front tyre.  I stopped just 3 km short of the control to find a piece of glass and a slowly bubbling tyre.  I don’t get many punctures so I’m not very fast at changing a tube.  I managed to break a tyre lever, and the roads weren’t very clean so I was spreading mud and probably worse over my hands and tights, but at least it wasn’t raining now.

Tyre levers

Eventually I got to the Country Cafe control in Waddington, recently visited on the Season of Mists.

Tea and pot

After this a nice profile of Pendle Hill is available when there is less cloud.  It did lift later.

Pendle Hill

Back over the Ribble and around the edge of Blackburn.  Here the route directs riders to turn right at a roundabout for the M65, which was horrible last year so I had spent a bit of time on google street view and found that I could cut it out by going along the towpath underneath (Leeds and Liverpool canal).  The sun was putting in an occasional appearance now and there had only been a few spot of rain (and hail) so I stopped to take off my waterproof and replaced it with a windproof gilet.  Up over Oswaldtwistle Moor, where I thought I might expire last time.  So much tamer in the sunlight and it was easier than I was expecting.  Another ‘highest point’ of the ride (303, 297 and 295 m peaks).

Oswaldtwistle Moor

Through Haslingden and Edenfield, then the final climb up to Ashworth Moor Reservoir.  I was looking forward to this as it had been one of the few highlights of last years ride.  It’s a nice road with good views but the overtaking traffic took some the enjoyment away, especially on the fast descent when a car came past into oncoming traffic then promptly turned left, causing me to brake.

On the last section through Rochdale I was unsure of a junction (named destination on route sheet wasn’t on the sign) but fortunately another rider appeared at the red light and said his GPS was indicating right.  Maybe this is where I went wrong last year.  We got separated at other lights further along (where a driver stopped and asked me if I would send my camera footage to the police if he went through the red light – I was able to reassure him he was quite safe as the thing on my helmet is a light, but the fact that it can be mistaken for a camera is no bad thing), but he kindly waited up ahead to make sure I was still on track.  The last few junctions were a repeat of my way in from the station but when I called a left (which cuts a little corner off) he decided to go with his GPS so I arrived a couple of minutes before him.

Howard, which his name turned out to be, and I both took advantage of the veggie pie and peas option laid on for finishers at the pub.

Pie and peas

Back to the station and there was some very nice light on the hills we’d just come over, and the last of it did its best to make Rochdale look appealing.

Bike at Rochdale station

Establishment-names of the ride: Fecit Farm, and Only Foals and Horses stables.

Mini-north west passage route

122 km, 7 hrs 32 mins, average 9.9 kph

Peculiar Old 200 km

28/10/17

I had some quite bad head stuff going on during this ride so I haven’t written it up properly. It was a corker though. Incidentally that Snickers lasted me up until Melrose on the Scottish Borders Randonnee (24/03/18) at which point I chucked it in the bin because I’d had a vomiting-incident a few data before after over-consumption of peanuts.

Very strong easterly wind, the leg from Fishburn to Middleton was right into it, lucky not to be blown off.  According to People Who Know we are talking 35 mph: https://www.windfinder.com/report/copley/2017-10-28. Some nice tailwinds after that.

Langleydale, Middleton-In-Teesdale Langleydale, Middleton-In-Teesdale Lunch in Middleton

River Tees, Whorlton River Tees, Whorlton Signpost

Peculiar Old route

200 km, 11 hrs 45

Blackpool – Glasgow – Blackpool…no SR for me…

22/09/17

Train to Blackpool; at Hebden Richard gets on and squeezes his bike in the passageway, this being one of the refurbished northern trains with a bizarre bike enclosure where two bikes can barely be properly contained, and there is no flexibility to add a third. Still at least the train staff don’t seem to mind. We get into Blackpool in plenty of time, I had planned on twiddling my thumbs in the station waiting for HQ to open but it’s fairly deserted and we head straight to Bispham Community Centre and discover we’re not the first to arrive. Plenty of time for faffing, tea, and an ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ sandwich.

At 10 pm we start, the group of twenty-something staying together for a little while, setting a fast* pace. I soon find myself at the rear and concentrate on following the person in front as I think we’ve detoured from the routesheet and I’ll be screwed if I get lost. Me and the person in front are going at a similar speed, and after a while I become aware of a light behind. A late starter? It turns out to be Richard who must have taken a slightly different route. He and the chap in front (who I realise must be on fixed going by his downhill cadence) settle together at a speed slightly above me, but remain in reassuring sight for a while. At one point I am sure we are about to witness a smash; a car begins to overtake me on a blind corner, I’m far enough around it to see there’s a breakdown truck coming the other way. Surely it’s going to plough right into the front of it?…I brake, the truck brakes, and the car squeezes through between the two in front and the truck, and speeds off to live another day. But not many more driving like that. It takes a while for my adrenalin to subside.

I stop to turn my route sheet over can see the pair in front no longer. After Kendal it’s a long but steady climb up and over Shap summit. I try to use the big ring on a rare dip but the chain comes off so I pull in at a farm entrance to replace it. I’d just replaced all my cables but hadn’t had enough ‘breaking in’ time, and they behave rather differently on a stand than when used in anger. I’m worried about it coming off the other side as well so as it turns out I don’t use the smallest cog the whole ride – there are no really steep sections and in fact the worst turns out to be going up to Dalruscan from the A701 when I went off-piste for a sleep.

Going up and up the A6 and there are only a couple of vehicles. It starts getting misty. I have no idea where I am relative to the summit, and stop in a lay-by to have a drink of water (descending the next day I spot the lay by and realise this was almost the top). It is thick fog here now. I am aware somehow of a steep drop to my left. There is a patch of world illuminated in front of me by my light, and a feeble red glow at the rear, but behind that absolute nothingness. I am aware that I exist only in this tiny impenetrable world, and no one else is aware of my existence.

I move off again and soon the fog thins and the pedaling gets easier. Was that the top? I have no way of knowing. I am enjoying night riding this time; in contrast to sections of twisty minor roads, on this A road I can see further ahead, there are white lines and cats eyes, and even the occasional car, and we have mutual and advanced awareness of each other. I love my water bottle glowing in the light of my headtorch like a G&T under UV, and the tiny fireworks that drops of water form as they spray off the front wheel under the headlight.

The first control is Penrith, and I stop at an Esso garage where a few others are.  They seem to have had almost all of the sandwiches already, so I opt for crips and coke. The very friendly guy working there has learnt all the rules of audax by the time I approach the till and I have no need to ask for a receipt.

Riding through the centre of Penrith I recognise it slightly from my JOG trip, and especially the climb out of town where the peaks of the lakes would be visible in the daylight.  It’s a short stage to the next control, a 24 hour Asda on the northern edge of Carlisle. This being England, 24 hour in fact means that it closes some time on Saturday evening and has to keep Sunday hours before opening again early Monday morning. It seems I’ve already lost track of what day it is, and reading the opening hours expect it to be closed. One of what becomes the advance party is sitting on a mobility chair waiting for the others, fearing they have become lost in the hugeness of the supermarket. He reassures me that it is open, and I remember that it is early (5 am) Saturday not Sunday. I go in search of what I would really like, which is coffee and a croissant, but it’s a bit too early for the bakery counter so I come away with a sandwich and flapjack. The supermarket is occupied almost entirely by staff, filling the shelves.  Later another rider says we should have just ridden around the aisles. There is a guy in front of me at the till who is clearly plastered, buying a litre of vodka. The only other customer is a Stobart driver, who during the course of my conversation with the checkout-assisting member of staff (fortunately she reminds me I need my receipt, which I am on the verge of forgetting) comments that buying food in Abington services, the next control, is best avoided for financial reasons. The others have left so I take my place on a mobility scooter seat and enjoy my sandwich.

Sitting on a mobility car in a supermarket

Leaving, the birds have started but it’s still pretty dark. The road out of Carlisle is familiar but only as a busy car queue, one of the main routes in and out of the centre. Now it’s deserted. This section is familiar from my trip to JOG, and I stop once again at the Welcome to Scotland sign.

Welcome to Scotland, Gretna

After Gretna we’re on a section of the LEL route, it seems strange to be here again. It’s proper dawn now and I keep looking behind me to see the growing glow of the emerging sun. Again (after LEL) I notice a splendid tower/castle and make a mental note to look at a map and work out what it is, I think it’s Robgill Tower but I’ll look into it properly. Soon we go through Lockerbie and I make a point of going through the town centre just because I know it and I can. Then it’s the tortuous B7066 to Beattock; featureless apart from the road surface, which has way too many features, every centimetre or two…the only consolation here was that I knew I wouldn’t have to take the same route going south.

A mental switch happens at the Beattock roundabout where the route shrugs its shoulders and settles in for the journey north, along the valley which is shared by the M74 and the west coast main line. I love this corridor, it’s familiar but enchanting.  I always like riding routes that I’ve worn well by car or train, to experience them at the ‘proper’ speed of the bicycle is to properly enjoy them, and the next time I’m passing on the train or the motorway I’ll be eagerly looking out of the window and saying ‘I cycled along that road’ to any unsuspecting travelling companions.

Beattock summit

Somewhere along here we pass the house I vaguely remember from LEL with the wooden orang-u-tan in the garden. It’s a bizarre marker of the worst road surfaces. At Abington I catch up with the advance party, which turns out to be a pattern over the next few controls. Being cheap (remembering the advice of the driver in Carlisle) I opt for a filter coffee and this turns out to be an expert move as the waiting time is much reduced, and I’m most of the way through my fruity toast before Richard’s latte appears. The effect of a proper stop and food should not fail to be appreciated, I felt at my best just after this stop here and on the return leg.  I leave alone feeling slow, although I see Robbie (who I met at the start) and riding partner arriving just as I go.

After a little while I’m not too far behind another rider, but never too close. We flirt with the cycle path, constantly checking whether it or the road offers the most comfortable ride. Faithfulness is impossible until after Lesmahagow, where a splendid new section has been laid and can be committed to. Slowly civilisation builds, and eventually the route becomes a string of traffic lights, often challenging as ‘straight on’ requires taking the right lane.

Glasgow is another Asda, in Toryglen – a less likely name for an area of this part of the country I cannot imagine. The advance party are here when I arrive, and leave before me. It’s around 13.30. A couple of local boys ask about the ride and I do my best to enthuse them, one of them tells me about his wheelie expertise so I bow to his greater skill. I feel no great achievement at this point, it’s just a case of turn around and get on with it.

The next control is Abington again, so onwards and upwards. On the climb out of Glasgow I start to feel very strange, disconnected from myself. My body is doing all the right things, my legs keep pedalling as I know they will, and even my head is processing the routesheet instructions as if on autopilot. In part this is good, because I’m sufficiently spaced out that any pain or discomfort goes almost unnoticed.

But I don’t really like it.  I remember a conversation at the start where someone talked about singing, so I try that. Now I can’t sing at the best of times, and now I’m out of breath and I realise I don’t know enough words, but it is more or less doing the trick and I feel more normal. It only works when I’m at least mouthing, if not singing the words out loud; just humming a chorus isn’t good enough. I discover that I really don’t know all the words to anything, but the best I can do, and so becomes my repertoire, are: Bread and Roses, Dream a Little Dream, and No Children. I resolve to properly learn these and others for future reference.

I see other bikes at Abington, but not their owners until they leave. A visit to Burger King takes a bit longer than I’d like but it’s worth it for something warm eaten sitting down. Down to Beattock, some of this stage is nice and fast. Here I leave the route and stay on the A701 towards Dumfries, to my parents house.  I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this road as the traffic can be fast and it isn’t that late, but taking the back roads involved too much faffing and risking wrong turnings in the dark. It’s ok and goes by fairly quickly. After the traffic lights at St Ann’s three deer run along on the other side of the road, going my way, before jumping over into the field. The turning off presents the steepest hill of the ride and it’s a fair honk up without my smallest chain ring. Then the nice descent home, it’s 8.30 pm and my parents are away so the place is in darkness and deserted. Not even the cat appears. This is good because I don’t want her to sneak in and then to spend my precious time-in-hand chasing her out again. The aga is on so I take off my damp bits (there has been a bit of light rain, but it’s mostly just general sweat and outdoor sogginess) and hang them up. I’d planned to just get a blanket and sleep on a sofa but I see the bed that my mum has made up and decide I can’t resist, so climb in as soon as I can with my alarm set for 12.30 am, having calculated that I need to leave at 1 am to make the next control before cut-off. As soon as I hit the pillow my brain stars whizzing, and although I fall asleep fairly quickly even my dreams are busy.

Clothes drying

The alarm goes and I jump out of bed before I can reconsider. I try to be as quick as possible with a cup of tea and bowl of muesli but still leave a little later than planned. It’s warmer than I was expecting and I have to stop and remove a layer at one point. The little roads to Lochmaben are of course deserted at this time in the morning, and the A709 to Lockerbie is very quiet (again I wouldn’t fancy it during the day). A bonus of my detour is that I miss the tortuous B7068, and it probably brings the route over 600 km: Andy Corless the org had struggled to convince the good people of AUK that his original route was over distance and so had been forced to give us a little detour into Longtown to make it up, which of course I still had to take, but maybe next time I could offer to run the ‘rents place as a control?!

In Longtown the petrol station (of an LEL visit) is long closed but I spot a slightly dodgy looking cash machine on the outside of a nearby shop, and obtain my proof of passage. I don’t normally look at them but this time I glance at the place and time info, and am surprised to see I’m 6 minutes over time at the control (3.26 am). The last stage hasn’t felt fast but I didn’t think it was that bad…maybe my calculations were wrong. I’m not sure how fussy Andy, or AUK would be about this sort of thing, but I am already formulating my excuses (mainly centring around the very last minute route info – I was laminating my routesheets at work at 4 pm before the 10 pm start).  I see another rider, going the wrong way so I assume he is searching out the cash machine, but when I turn back to wave he has already disappeared.

Now it’s off to Carlisle, I’m happy that we don’t just retrace the last little bit because I always hate doing that (…ok, it’s an out and back route, but that’s not quite the same), just follow the A7. No need to control in Carlisle so the next stop is Penrith. After we cross the motorway I spot another rider (igauk from yacf I think) and pass him as he stops. There’s a bit of a climb before we get to Penrith; the traffic is sparse. The sky is clear now and I tilt the brim of my cap up so I get a better view of the stars. I’m getting sleepy, try a bit more singing and also slapping myself in the face. Focus on Penrith as a nap stop – maybe there will be somewhere to sit and nod off at the petrol station? Back after leaving Longtown I spotted a couple of randonneur-occupied bus shelters, but there is nothing here; each lay-by has a bus stop sign but nothing else.  That is until I approach one and notice a large black object in shadow at the far end of the layby, possibly in the adjacent field…maybe a bit of farm machinery? Suddenly it’s alive, a glowing, sparkling almost, white dragon…so vivid, believable and disturbing until the last minute when I pass it and it resolves itself into a tree, illuminated by the headlights of a passing car. The shock of realisation wakes me up for a while, and I’m a little pleased that I’ve had my first audax hallucination.

Glowing dragon

A while later and I’m sleepy again, when my steering feels odd. I’m just passing an isolated house so I stop and take advantage of their outside light. My front tyre is soft, but not flat, so I pump it up and hope it will get me to the Penrith control where I can change the tube. Again this wakes me up and I get to the edge of town, but then it’s suddenly very flat and I have no control, so stop annoyingly short of the petrol station and sort it out. Checking the tyre for sharps I discover that it’s actually worn through at a spot, so deploy an emergency boot of section of old inner tube plus gaffer tape. I can’t have refitted the wheel very well because now I have a rubbing brake.  Clearly I’ve also done a shit job on the brake cables, as the straddle cable on the canti is simultaneously slack and almost too tight to use the quick release. Sunrise and daylight happens while I’m fiddling, I turn off my head torch part way through.

At the petrol station I meet igauk again, he’s almost ready to leave. Chatting it turns out that he lives in Glasgow, so he’s driven to Blackpool, cycled home for a few hours kip and is now cycling back to his car…we are an hour out of time by this point but he needs to get back to the arrivee for his car whatever, and I reckon there is enough time for him to get there within the cut-off. There’s a costa machine so I enjoy a hot coffee and a sandwich while considering my options. In theory I should be able to cover the remaining 100 km in time, but I’m not sure how I would stand with the out-of-time controls, and I know that theory doesn’t always hold up when you’ve hundreds of kms in your legs and you’ve had less than four hours sleep over the past two nights. Also the way my bike is feeling at the moment I would have no confidence in going much further. As an extra minor irritation my bike computer (cheap Halfords cable model bought in an ’emergency’ come time ago) has stopped, reading 499 km.  Penrith has a main line train station, and I’ve learnt my lesson and haven’t left anything in Blackpool so I could head straight home (but this may be expensive). Igauk leaves, and I remove and refit my front wheel, taking a bit more care to tighten both side nuts evenly. It spins without rubbing on the brake blocks. How about the tyre boot, will that hold? I realise that, after LEL, I have a strong desire to complete the distance even if I’ll be out of time. And I have all of today, Sunday (it’s currently 7 am), to get home, plus Monday off work. It’s also a gorgeous morning, and I’ve got a ride that takes me through upland England…it would be daft to miss out.

I decide to press on, and see how the tyre and wheel feels; if it’s no good I can just head back to Penrith. I’m now resigned to ‘tour’ back, and I stop in a layby to let Andy know I’ll be a DNF, but the theoretical possibility that I can still finish on time stops me sending the text message. But I’m clearly in touring mode as I stop to photograph the hills to the east, I reckon Yad Moss must be in there somewhere.

Pennines from Penrith - Shap road

I’m also tired again, so I stop in Shap to make use of the facilities: recently repainted interior, stone flagged floor, wooden bench, east facing so some nice morning sun but a little noisy from passing traffic and pedestrians. No buses. This time I do send Andy a message to tell him not to wait for me, especially as his hire of the hall in Blackpool only lasts until 8 am so he’ll be sitting in his car waiting for the stragglers after that.

Next it’s the climb over Shap Fell, with its warning road signs about bad conditions in winter. I think this is my favourite bit of the ride. I’m piecing together my experiences of the way north on the previous day (or day before, who knows at this point) in the dark and the fog, with the clear daylight and the views that are here now. It could be another world, but in time I spot the place I stopped, isolated from the world by fog. The road is quiet, the views are splendid, the hillsides wild, just as I like them.

View from Shap Fell, east View from Shap Fell, south

Over the moorland top, down into the next valley it seems like another world. This is the descending I like, the road is safely wide with good visibility. Then through Kendal, where I lose touch a little with the routesheet but following signs is good enough and I’m soon on the way to Carnforth. Here the control is at a truck stop, and I no longer bother to ask for a receipt. The woman running the shop is friendly and talkative, it doesn’t sound like she’s had that many of us through (not sure of this is because they came through earlier before her shift started, or they have stopped elsewhere) but she seems unfazed by the oddness of the enterprise.

I leave a little uncomfortable and tired, for the final section. Navigating through Lancaster poses a couple of problems but it is me at fault. At one point I just don’t have the energy to move across a couple of lanes of traffic to take the correct position at some lights, so stop and go via a pedestrian crossing. Then I turn too early, resulting in catching up with the chap who I spotted in the darkness of Longtown. It turns out that he’d missed the final version of the routesheets, so had passed Longtown then somehow learnt that it was a control and so headed back, doing an extra 30 km in the process. Now he’s going much faster than me so after a brief chat and some encouragement that he can get back in time I leave him to it.

The last section, as almost always, is a struggle.  It’s now normal-people’s daytime and the road is busy.  I experience the highest concentration of shit driving ever, with so many close passes including someone who seems to be attempting to shave my legs with their wing mirrors. A couple of cars have stopped at the side of the road and seem to be doing the exchanging-insurance-details thing, which comes as no surprise. This is a flat section and I’m unpleasantly reminded of the LEL Fens. Similarly tired now I take a turn off for some villages near Pilling – or maybe Preesall? –  to have a snooze on a bench next to a bus stop sign (very poor accommodation but it’s dry and the sun shines on my face).

On the final stretch to Blackpool I start to follow signs for the seafront rather than the routesheet, and finally get there about 3 pm, an hour later than the arrivee closure. In some ways this is better than I thought, probably without the flat tyre and with a little more effort I could have finished in time. But I didn’t, so I haven’t managed an SR. That was my aim, but I’m not too upset, and happy that I pressed on and at least finished the distance. I turns out that Blackpool on a Sunday afternoon – during illuminations season but too early for the lights – is a bit weird. I get some chips and a cup of tea near the tower, and eavesdrop on the conversation of the lad serving and his two mates loitering for free food; it sounds like a tough place to grow up.

Blackpool seafront Blackpool Tower

Heading back to the train station for home I have trouble locating the entrance, and a woman passing notices my confused expression and offers help; so I am reminded of the friendliness of northerners, even towards the Lycra-clad.

* or ‘relaxed’, as another rider’s account described it. Bastard.

Blackpool - Glasgow- Blackpool route

618 km, 41 hours

Exe-Buzzard…just Ex

08/07/17

Last chance for a 600 km before LEL.  This is an x-rated event and in retrospect maybe I needed a bit more TLC on my first ride at this distance.

I travelled down to Exeter the day before the ride and had time to visit some old haunts, including my favourite pub, the Double Locks.

Colleton House, Exeter Exeter Quay Double Locks pub, Exeter Double Locks pub, Exeter Exeter

Then I made my way (using the train to Digby and Sowton which looked easier than navigating dual carriageways) to the Travelodge at Exeter services where the ride started the next morning.  I’d originally booked another bed near Reading, but when I took a detailed look at the route and my schedule I realised it would be the most expensive bed per minute, so cancelled and took a bivvy bag, mat and sheet liner instead.

There must have been around 10 riders in the car park next morning.  I spoke to one (Hugo?) briefly but didn’t see him again, he looked fast.  A few of us kept similar pace for a while but I rode alone.

I’d spotted this feature, the Burrow Mump, on the map when looking at the route, noticeable as the few contours for miles around.

Burrow Mump, Somerset Burrow Mump map, Somerset

The route takes a fairly straight line through Devon, Somerset, Bath, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.  The first control was in Wells, where I joined a chap from Audax Bristol in Costa.  I left before him after chatting to a couple of non-audaxers cycling outside, but taking a wrong turn by the busy market (I went through the wrong arch and did a few circuits of the centre before finding the right one) he must have overtaken and I didn’t see anyone else on the road at any point.

Wells Wells Cathedral

I was worried about getting lost in Bath, remembering that I’d got through it on my trip to Lands End purely on luck, but the routesheet proved fine.  I did have to walk, very carefully, down this street, it was so steep.

Bath

Somewhere on the way out and up I wasn’t sure I was still going the right way, but eventually the routesheet made sense again.  The sun was hot and there was quite a long climb which I’d have hated to back-track on.  Next control was just through Cirencester at a services, and a few other riders arrived while I was there.  My feet were painful, ‘hot foot’ I think, so I made the most of the time off the bike here and took my shoes off, and lay down and closed my eyes for a while on a small patch of grass.  I’d fitted a new saddle (Brooks Cambium) for the previous weekend’s rides, and while I found it comfortable it seemed to cause sores very quickly so I was doubly uncomfortable and not enjoying the ride.

After Bibury (very busy) we entered Oxfordshire and the road surface deteriorated to that all-over very rough covering that can’t be avoided.  I noticed a new rattle and stopped in Buford to find my rear mud gard had broken where it was bolted to the frame.  Some tape was sufficient to keep it together, but didn’t stop me internally grumbling that this was the second rear guard that I’d destroyed.  To be fair to SKS, both have been a result of user-abuse; the first went where my saddle bag was bouncing on it, and this break was from an extra hole that I’d had to make to take the bolt.

Broken mud guard Burford, Oxfordshire

It was now becoming a nice evening, but approaching Charlbury I was struggling as well as feeling fed-up.

Oxfordshire Charlbury, Oxfordshire

I turned off-route to the village centre and a Co-op, for coke and crisps.  After some thought I decided to quit, and head back to Burford for the night, then on to Cheltenham the next morning for a train home.  I cancelled my second night’s booking in Exeter, and was glad that I’d had to get an open return train ticket as it wouldn’t cost me any extra to get back to Leeds.  I ended up in my bivvy bag in a field behind a car park, glad that the night was warm and dry.  The A40 to Cheltenham the next morning was nice and quiet, if a bit of a slog.

Exe-Buzzard route

242 km, DNF