audax from train stations

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

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

Three Coasts…a DNF

First attempt at a 600 km.  Started a migraine about 50 km in, visual disturbance meant I couldn’t see where I was going properly.  I managed to find some paracetamol in a village and stopped for a while to give it a chance to work and for my vision to clear, then reached Pocklington and a petrol station control.

Impression of a migraine

Very fuzzy headed and probably rude to everyone there as I felt totally out of it.  Sparkly disturbance came back and I realised I wasn’t going to be able to continue.  I sat on a bench for a while, one of the riders came past (going the wrong way as I’d gone off-route to the high street), it was all could do to shake my head in a “sorry I can’t speak” gesture.  It was very hot and bright, I retired to Costa for a good while until I felt ok to ride out to York for the train.  My house keys and bedding were in Mytholmroyd, and the control wouldn’t open for several hours (the route is two loops and HQ is also a mid-ride control, with the opportunity for sleep and, I should imagine, packing), so I had to hang around Leeds centre for several hours, very frustrating being so close to home.  I’ll never leave my house keys again.

Not Quite the Spurn Head 400 km

27/05/17

I had originally registered for the Old 240 400 km, but after reading Chris Crossland’s ride notes (“the route will take you to remote and inhospitable places (e.g.Yorkshire)”) decided that it was a little ambitious for my first go at this distance, so switched to this flatter and less remote route.  I’d love to ride the Old 240 though, maybe next year.

Accommodation was provided in the Mytholmroyd Community Centre the night before although it didn’t seem that there were an awful lot of us taking advantage of it.

Mytholmroyd Community Centre

Many more arrived the morning and I met Raj and Osian from the Wiggy 300 km, plus Bob Bialek who always make a point of making sure he’s remembered both of my names whenever I see him, which is very nice.  He was doing the Old 240 of course.

A loose group of us rode together for a while, through the main roads and dual carriageways of West Yorkshire, eerily quiet at this time on a Saturday morning.  The first control was at Busy Lizzies Cafe in Castleford, a great place for it with just the right sort of food at just the right speed.  Shame about the bog though.  Two male cyclists seemed to be using it simultaneously before me; maybe safety in numbers.

Shortly afterwards, and probably due to the debris on this bridge, I had a rare puncture.  I noticed it not be feel but the noise of escaping air.  Probably because I don’t get them that often I’m not the fastest at fitting a new tube; Osian came past but I told him not to wait.

Old bridge over the Aire at Ferrybridge

We crossed the Ouse at Boothferry, from where the M62 crossing looks rather impressive.

M62 crossing the Ouse

A little lump over the south end of the Yorkshire Wolds then it was flat again all the way out to the Spurn Head; it’s Not Quite because some severe storms have destroyed part of the spit.  Nice to have ridden to the coast though, and a good cafe as the control.

Spurn Head Spurn Head

I really enjoyed the first bit of the return journey, riding past gas terminals on the lonely cost roads was rather eerie.  Soon though the wind made itself known, and it became a hard slog.  The next control was a petrol station and I caught up with a trio who would remain not far ahead of me for the rest of the ride.  Banter seemed strong here and I think kept them going.  Next I got lost in Beverly and spent ages going round in circles unable to find “L by Minster sp. Howden B1230”.  I don’t know how much time I lost, I even went to the train station to look at their map of the local roads to try and figure out where I should be going…maybe I was tired and would have managed under normal circumstances, although it must only have been around 8 pm.  Eventually I found a sign to North Cave which was the next place listed on the routesheet, and once on the road I realised it was the one I was supposed to be on.

After North Cave the route rejoined the one we took east, until near Goole where it diverged again and a 24 hour McDonalds provided a welcome control and feed.  It was hard going and I was really looking forward to this by now, not my usual diet but it was just the job.  The three other guys from the last control were here, one of them chatting to a member of staff who he recognised from doing the ride the year before; she was full of stories about wet damp cyclists (it sounded like another audax uses this place as a control too) and late night visitors on their way to the hotel over the road after nights out.  She seemed to really enjoy her job, seeing all sorts coming though the door, both regulars and randoneurs.

Control at McDonalds near Goole

The return leg was now south of the trip out, with an info control in Crowle.  It was properly night now, and I was riding on my own all the way.  It was a struggle, I felt like I was going really slowly although I’m not sure if I was.  Overall average speed was just over 20 kph so not the fastest of my rides.  I was easily spooked, I kept seeing shadows or lights up ahead, or noises from behind, that I thought were people – although quite who’d be sitting on a park bench in a village or lurking behind a tree at 3 am I don’t know.  I thought about stopping to have a nap but I didn’t think I’d be warm enough having nothing to lie on.  I did stop in a bus shelter but just had a bit to eat and a rest.  And got spooked because I thought someone was watching from the house opposite.  Eventually the sky began to lighten and the birds awoke.  This was my first experience of origin right through the night and I can’t say I enjoyed it, I just kept going as there didn’t seem to be any other option.  I also hadn’t appreciated before the decrease in speed because of not being able to go downhill as fast as in daylight, my light not illuminating enough of the road up ahead to be able to descend confidently.

Eventually the welcome sight of Woolley Edge Services, where I found the three amigos again.  I had something to eat from Costa and a sleep on their furniture.  I had managed to nod off leaving my wallet and phone on the table to anyone passing to help themselves too, but happily the two blokes who came over to ask about my bike and what I was up to were entirely trust worthy and just told me off for not being careful.  I think I misread my watch and thought I had less time than I did, in reality I had plenty of time for the last 30 km at this stage although I was feeling pretty knackered.  One of the others guys commented at the end that there had been a lot of ‘experienced audaxers’ having a good break here when with only 30 km left they’d normally be cracking on, and that the wind had really challenged all of us.

The final section had a sing in the tail for me in the form of Halifax, where I got lost having missed a turning.  More time wasted going up and down, back and forth…I don’t fully trust the map on my phone as th compass is dodgy so it takes a while for me to get my orientation even if I know where I am.  Eventually I worked out a way out and down some A road or another, getting onto the A646 back to Mytholmroyd. I pulled into HQ in a somewhat grumpy mood, with about 10 minutes to spare, another Lanterne Rouge for the collection.  One of the trio came over and we had mutual congratulations in a dazed way, he looked as bad as I felt (I didn’t venture near a mirror myself).  Also Osian was there and hadn’t finished much before me, he’d been feeling ill and I heard later he’d had several days off work with the large so he did really well to finish.  Raj was back too and about to head to Hebden Bridge with another rider to wait for the first train home.  I had hoped to be able to sleep a bit at the end before going home (first train back to Leeds was about 10.30 am it being a Sunday) but as the control closing time had come folk were packing up and heading off.  I ended up gingerly riding to Hebden too, for lots of coffee that didn’t seem to have much effect.  I don’t remember feeling particularly pleased to have completed a 400 km, just exhausted and still a bit annoyed with my two lost episodes.

Spurn Head 400 km route

415 km, 26 hrs 40 mins

Beyond the Dales we know and the Wigginton 300

29/04/17 and 13/05/17

Written for Arrivee, I might even send it…

 

Chalk and cheese in God’s own country.

 

“Right, piss off”. And so around 40 riders were dispatched on what is hopefully the inaugural Beyond the Dales We Know 300 km. Some of us had arrived the night before and camped at Mike and family’s farm, which they had generously opened up to us as HQ. The finer details had not gone unnoticed, including the provision of a cockerel alarm clock to make sure we were all ready for the 6 am start.

Waiting for the start of Beyond the dales we know Waiting for the start of Beyond the dales we know

[These two photos have been nicked from Facebook and I can’t remember who took them, sorry].  Although I had entered a somewhat tamer ride – complete with Travelodge accommodation before and after – to be my first 300 km, plans had been thwarted, as is often the way, by life, and so it was that I found myself approaching this ride, which would take us over some 3,500 m of climbing, with some apprehension.

Beyond the dales we know

The route was pure genius, with flat sections at the start and finish and many lumps in between, over some of the best roads this part of the country has to offer. First we headed down to Ilkley, which was the nearest point to home for me, but I hadn’t been on these roads before. Next we turned north, passed Bolton Abbey and into the Dales National Park.

Beyond the dales we know

The Tour de Yorkshire was coming along some of these roads later in the day and there were lots of flags and painted bikes hanging out, although I was disappointed that we didn’t receive any applause. The route turned up Littondale, and here was a section I recognised from a walk in the area a couple of years ago. I remembered that I’d always wanted to continue up this way, and here I was. A control at the Queen’s Head pub was a nice place to stop, just tea and crisps for me. I believe I missed a harmonica rendition. A few others were here around the same time; Andy and Rob (Rob doing his first 300 km too) and Steve? who’d started at 1 am from home that day on his way to yet another SR in a month.

After this it got lumpy. The road up from Littendale over Pen-y-Ghent Gill to Stainforth is beautiful. A tough climb, so I was quite happy to stop for a photo half way up.

Beyond the dales we know Beyond the dales we know Beyond the dales we know

Then a gorgeous ride down to meet the ‘main drag’ towards Horton in Ribblesdale. The majority of the roads on this ride were deserted, so it was a bit of a shock to arrive in Horton which was full of cars and people and tents, there being a big three peaks race on over the weekend. I’ve walked them on separate occasions but have never felt the need to exert myself over such a prolonged time, through darkness, cold, rain, in a limited time…oh.

My right knee became painful at this point, and I began what turned out to be a prolonged period of doubting whether I’d finish, and general misery. The route passes close to train stations along the Settle – Carlisle line but after Dent (England’s highest station) bailout option are non-existent. Well maybe you could try hitching a lift at the Tebay truck stop. Such things occupied my mind for quite a long time.

After the bustle of Horton the road quietened down a bit before reaching Ribblehead, again also busy. A burger van was mentioned on the route sheet and provided much motivation at this point; I promised myself a stop here as bribery to continue. The fried egg roll was one of the nicest things I’ve ever eaten, in the way that just what you are craving is when you’ve been riding for hours. I saw a train leave the station heading south…the way home…no, keep going.

Now the road down through Dentdale is no doubt one of the ‘rewarding descents’ promised by Dean. Unfortunately I was at my most miserable here, my knee seemed to get better and I was fine for food, looking back I can’t quite explain it but I felt thoroughly unpleasant. I was conscious that if I was going to pack it had to be now, up the steep (of course) hill to Dent station. This is a beautiful place, but that was failing to make an impression. I thought about having to call Dean to tell him I’d quit, and would crawl sheepishly back tomorrow to reclaim my tent. I thought of how I’d feel instant relief now if I could stop, but that I knew I’d regret it later. My LEL dreams would be realised as a volunteer rather than a rider [thanks to Pete who later provided me with a kick up the arse by way of ‘I want to be stamping your card not having you stamp cards!’ I hope to be stamping in 2021]. I thought about that road along the Howgills on the east side of the M6 – when would I ever get the chance to ride it again?

At no point did my mind shift, I never thought ‘get over yourself and get on with it’; I just kept going and kept hating it.

Eventually I got to Sedburgh. On my previous two visits it was absolutely bucketing down so this was a nice change. As I prematurely took an ‘easy to miss’ turning Andy came out of a cafe and said a few of them were having a bite to eat, but I put my polite hat (helmet?) on and said “Thanks but if I stop now I’ll never get going again”.  Really I meant “don’t speak to me I hate you all why I am doing this”?  On finding the right road I followed Howgill Lane which, as the name suggests, is not an easy freewheel. At some point, and I’m not sure where, it stops becoming a green climb and turns into a moorland descent, full of sheep and grass in the middle of the road. About now and despite my best efforts I started to enjoy myself. I’d ridden up to JoG a few years previously and the route had taken me north up the other side of the M6. I’d loved it then, it’s a magical enough passage when driving or in the train, and being there by bike makes it even more ‘earned’. And now I was at the more remote side, dodging sheep.

Beyond the dales we know Beyond the dales we know

On arrival in Tebay truck services I was happy to see a few now-familiar faces. The cafe had recent closed but the shop was still open and the woman on the till was full of enthusiasm about our next roads, being a regular rider of them. This next section, from Tebay to Brough, was one if my favourites. Maybe I’d realised that although I might not ‘finish’ (be back at HQ in time) I wasn’t going to pack (really there aren’t any options) and so I relaxed a bit. I love riding over moors like this; very few (not quite zero) cars, just snow poles and the unfenced road.

Beyond the dales we know

I reached Middleton-in-Teesdale still without full confidence and seeing the prospect of ‘hotel’ I was still considering the options for stopping. Happily I followed the others in front and visited the Co-op, which offered no such distractions. Dean had asked that we report in at this point to give his crew in Staindrop an idea of their schedule. And the arrival there was wonderful! Cowbells, tea, and flapjacks. At this point with about 50 km to go, I must have realised I’d make it. I also knew there were at least a couple of riders behind me and some not too far in front, so I didn’t feel too out of it.

As I said the beauty (ok one of then) of this route is the flat start and finish. I was feeling pretty good, knowing I was in target to actually complete the ride. In the last few km I had a route sheet confusion and ended up on a dark road, somewhere near HQ. Reluctantly (as I don’t like to rely on it) I consulted the map on my phone and figured out how to get home. The map is all well and good but the compass function is not to be trusted and as it turns out I was about to head off 180° in the wrong direction. Fortunately the local constabulary passed at this point to check I was ok. Since there is a police centre at Newby Wiske they were able to point me in the right direction. Eventually I rolled into the Arrivée as Lanterne Rougue, to the confusion of Rebecca and Co who I’d been ahead of at the last control. I’ve never finished a ride to a round of applause before! As lots of people were staying over there was a certain amount of beer consumption already in hand, and I was lucky enough that a can of Green King had remained intact. After enjoying that and a bit of a chat with the assembled company I retired to my tent and left them to several more hours of revelry.  The next day (Sunday) morning was bright and sunny, and a spontaneous breakfast was cooked up by Mike.  I felt not-too-bad, and rode the few miles back to North Allerton station for the train home to Leeds. The next day was a bank holiday and very fortunate too, by then the ride had caught up with me and I slept through the whole morning.

Two weeks later, having recovered both physically and mentally, I found myself in the surreal situation of lying in a village hall on a Friday night before the Wiggy 300 km with three other snorers riders, trying to sleep while bathed in the eternal dawn from an emergency exit light. My accommodation of Thermarest and sleeping bag seemed fairly luxurious compared to Raj next to me (a blanket) and a chap who’d retired to another room and was sleeping on whatever soft material he’d put his bike on in his car. Andy and Rob from Beyond the Dales were also staying over, and a couple in a camper van in the car park. I had my ear plugs but didn’t sleep particularly well, no doubt being conscious that we would be up at 4 am kept my brain active. All good LEL practice. It’s great being able to stay over before a ride, I don’t have a car so would have to find a B&B otherwise. Someone’s alarm went off but I’d already woken and got up, and was busying myself ejecting a slug which was attempting to take up residence in my panniers.

It was gloomy but dry as we left, and within the first half hour the sun broke free of the horizon, briefly visible as a huge red orb before being partially hidden by clouds. This route was quite unlike Beyond the Dales, being fairly flat in the main but with a final hilly section of 66km. The routes shared a short section near Boroughbridge but otherwise explored very different landscapes. The first control was in a cafe in Malton, approaching which and passing Morrisons I realised I’d stopped here before…maybe on the one previous ride I’ve done from Wigginton. The cafe was a lot nicer than the supermarket, and I was happy to discover that I really can do 100 km before breakfast, powered only by a strong Brownian motion producer.

Bike and signpost near Hutton Cranswick Food after 100 km at Malton

Raj joined me and we discussed our onward travel plans, he found that his last train home was going to be relatively early and so pushed on as quickly as possible; my last one back to Leeds was after 11 pm which at an average riding speed of 20 kph should have been fine, but if not I’d ‘only’ have to wait 3 hours in York for the next service, which wouldn’t be the end of the world, so I was trying not to feel any time pressure. The next section was due west to Ripon, a place I remember from touring the Way of the Roses because I ended up riding round the centre in circles attempting to follow the NCN signs (a classic, where signs for the route point both left and right with no indication of which is the east and which the west direction).

After the first long stage the route was nicely divided into ~50 km sections which I found ideal. The next control was a cafe in the park which was shared with riders on the Wiggy 100km. Raj and I left and rode together for the next section, north to Richmond. Here we tackled the climb up to the historic market town; a pilgrimage to Greggs where I explained to the person serving why she’d had a large number of requests for receipts. Here I chatted to another rider (Ossian as I now know) who was also preparing for LEL, this was only his third audax so I think he’s on track! We discovered we’d both registered for a 400 km from Mytholmroyd a fortnight later, a first for us both at that distance. Raj and I set off for Stokesley, the last control and the beginning of the scenic section. We chatted about our riding experience; Raj is from a costal part of India where he said you can do a 600 km without encountering any hills. Although that meant a lot of experience of riding into the wind! He’s also worked and ridden in a variety of places including Canada and Singapore, so when I asked what he thought of British drivers he was very impressed with the consideration and respect experienced – which certainly puts things into perspective. On arrival in Stokesley around 5.40 pm we dropped into the control cafe but the proprietor said he could no longer offer us any food, as it was a Saturday evening and he was booked up, having expected us all earlier. He was however happy to sign our cards and fill water bottles, which was excellent and I explained that we were the slower end of the field. Raj set off as soon as he’d had his bottle filled, but I was happy (and needed) to take a longer break. There was a Co-op for sustenance and as it was now turning into quite a nice evening I had a wander around the town centre.

Packhorse Bridge in Stokesley Packhorse Bridge in Stokesley

Now the hills of the North York Moors that so far had been gradually approaching as grey silhouettes became real, with colours and shapes highlighted by the evening sunlight.

North York Moors

I hadn’t been around this area before, which may have been a good thing; I’ve found tackling hills in ignorance is often best! A few km after Stokesley we had a relatively steep drag, before an eye-streaming descent towards Chop Gate. The chap I’d spoken to in Richmond had left Stokesley just before me and mostly he was in sight, we were going about the same speed so it was nice to have company in that distant sort of way; experiencing the same roads but independent in our own little bubbles. It was now a cracking evening and for all looking at the elevation profile this was the section to dread it’s also (imho) the most beautiful and it was certainly my favourite.

Cyclist silhouette North York Moors, Bilsdale

On the next hard climb we caught up with Raj, and although I felt bad passing him I also needed to go at my own pace [edit: on LEL, which he finished and I didn’t, he commented that he’d learned to ride up hills since we first met on this ride].  Eventually arriving in Helmsley I recognised the centre having stayed in the youth hostel here a couple of years ago. A number of VC167 jerseys and their occupiers were taking a break in the town square. This leg was 66km and I thought I might need to take a break at some point, and my Greggs chocolate cookie was waiting in my rack bag if needed, but I pushed on. It got colder but I was just warm enough and reluctant to stop. As with every ride I found the last bit hard and felt like I was slowing, I don’t know if that’s real but it always drags. Beardy chap and two VC167 riders caught me up in the last 10 km and I managed to hang on to the back as they pushed fast for the Arrivée. I know I could never have put in the effort I did to hold on if I’d been riding alone; it’s all in the mind by this stage. The two VCs (Denise and Les?) even put in a sprint finish. I was happy to be back, ahead of my guesstimate schedule of 10.30 pm, at about 9.15 pm, plenty of time to enjoy the copious tea and several species of cake on offer. I thought I’d have plenty of time to get a train home but when I got to the centre of York (now full of Saturday night merrymakers) both road and pedestrian signs were useless; for a place with such famous rail heritage it would be nice if the train station was a bit easier to find. In the end I had to consult both a kebab seller and the map on my phone, and got to the station in time for the last couple of trains. The passengers consisted of a lot of drunk people, and me, dead to the world.  Some very loud blokes got on half way home, I could hear them and was vaguely aware that they were being pests but it was only when we arrived in Leeds that I realised they had entertained themselves by removing my bike from the storage space and bouncing up and down on it. I ended up with a lift home from the train driver (who cycles with a Wakefield club, what a star), and straightened my bike up the next week.

 

Two very different 300 km rides exploring Dales, Moors, Wolds and Hills. Yorkshire has a bit of everything (plus coast, to be experienced in my next ride…). I found the second ride more ‘achievable’ than the first (never say easy, it’s an audax); it was certainly flatter but I think a lot of this is psychological – I’d done a 300 km before so I could do one again. The first time, it was a new distance with all the uncertainty that goes with it. The second, perhaps I let myself relax and enjoy it a bit more as there was less pressure. Many thanks to Dean and Co for truly making an ‘event’ and not just a bike ride for my first 300 km, for me it really felt like an achievement and the atmosphere was wonderful. And to Keith and Ann – who provided constant tea and cake despite sporting a sling from a recent off – for a splendid tour over some lovely wrinkles and then through the Vale of York, before a sunny evening through the Moors.

 

Beyond the Dales: 300 km, 18 hrs 20

Wigginton: 300 km, 16 hrs 30

Route map of 300 km Beyond the dales we know and Wigginton rides in Yorkshire

 

 

 

Leap into the Aire

09/04/17

I was supposed to be on the 100 km Spring into the Dales (again) but rail replacement buses and getting lost caused me to arrive at the depart just as the Spring riders were being dispatched…the ever-accommodating Chris Crossland transferred me to the 50 km ride which was no stroll in the park.

Train lines and platform
Waiting for the train to Mytholmroyd on a sunny morning.
Towpath by canal
This turned out to be the slow/lost route from Halifax to Mytholmroyd.
Old cycle club building in Keighley
Keighley.
Cyclist at Calderdale sign
Top of Cock Hill.
Cyclists at the top of Cock Hill
Fellow travellers on Cock Hill, about to start a fantastic descent.

Leap into the Aire 50 km route

57 km, 4 hrs 30; 110 km all together

Port Navigation

01/04/17

 

I saw this event on the audax calendar some time ago when I was planning the year’s rides (with LEL training lurking in my mind). It was both on my 40th birthday and visited Mull, where I had a fantastic holiday a couple of years ago, so I couldn’t resist.  Clearly a long weekend would be required, and when I looked at train tickets an even longer one was needed to avoid the cyclists enemy, the rail replacement bus service.  If my LEL preparation had gone to plan I would have completed one if not two 200 kms by now, but life being what it is I only had my disastrous painful slog to go on.  But I had done one before, so I ‘knew’ I could do this.

Friday was spent travelling by train to Fort William.  Not the best of beginnings, as I had mis-remembered the time of my train from Leeds by half an hour and had to make use of my ‘contingency’ time; thinking that getting up at 5.30 am would allow me a leisurely preparation it became a case of having to forget about that second cup of tea.  It takes a long time in Leeds station to get up and down in the lifts so an early arrival is necessary.  Train one, Leeds – Edinburgh, was an old Virgin with those doors that need to be opened from the inside via the window, which although rather nice are also rather deadly and I thought had been outlawed some time ago.  Bikes in the ‘guard’s van’ which was also doing time as storage space for bottles of water, one of which was in the way of the bike rack and happily found its way into my thirsty pocket.  No problems unloading in Edinburgh and I had intentionally booked trains to allow plenty of time to change.  Then a short trip to Glasgow Queen Street for the connection to Fort William. There were a few other cyclists at Queen Street and I started to wonder how we’d all get on the train, but it turns out they have superior capacity with 6 bike spaces (per 2 carriages I think, certainly 6 to Fort William on this one).  I had an advance ticket and hence a booked seat, so I didn’t see the other cyclists once I’d sat down.  The journey north past Loch Lomond, on to Crianlarich and then across Ranoch Moor is splendid.  It was pretty wet but I did much more window-gazing than book reading.  There were lots of deer, mostly stags, not easy to spot as they are the same colour as the land.

Rannoch moor from the train Rannoch moor from the train Corrour from the train

Arriving in Fort William I did a decent amount of faffing but it still continued to rain as I left the station, which seemed rather a convoluted route through the nearby supermarket car park, and although I came straight out onto the A82 I was keen to make sure it was going in the right direction!  Riding out of town I was amazed at all the B&B and Guest House signs displaying ‘No Vacancies’ (how many people are riding this audax?), it was only much later that it occurred to me that they were still closed for the winter.  Not the nicest of roads as the traffic was quite fast, and it was raining quite a bit so just a case of head down and get on with it.  About half way the rain stopped and by the time I got to Ballachulish the sun was out.

Approaching Ballachullish

I spotted the turn-off that I’d need tomorrow to find the start, and the campsite I’d identified wasn’t much further on. Invercoe Campsite is open all year and the owners seemed very relaxed, I had to make a point of remembering to pay before I left.  Beautiful location and nice facilities.

Loch Leven from Glencoe Village
Loch Leven
Loch Leven from Glencoe Village
Loch Leven

My parents were not letting me entirely ignore my birthday so had planned to come up from their home in Dumfries and Galloway in their camper van and visit.  Usually anything involving timings goes to pot but they surprised me by driving past my campsite (they were staying at a different one) just as I had started putting up my tent.  Once they’d installed themselves we had a few drinks in the Glencoe Gathering pub before a not-too-late night.

I was woken a few times in the night by rain, which was still falling on and off when I left for Ballachulish Village Hall.  The campsite had a shelter, intended for barbecuing when the weather has other plans, but the owner recommended it as somewhere to keep bikes overnight and when I went in to get mine I found a couple of other randonneurs having a fight with a stove in an attempt to cook pre-ride porridge.  I hadn’t brought any food or cooking stuff with me, and had spent the past three weeks mostly avoiding carbs, so this was to be a ride without relying on sugar and starch if all went to plan (although I had emergency jelly beans and gel in the rack bag).  I was at the hall in plenty of time and had a couple of cups of tea, before heading off in the first batch of riders dismissed by organiser Graeme.  This was a logistically complicated ride but it had been very well explained by Graeme, with ferry times for fast, medium and full value riders indicated, however we were all supposed to get the same first ferry, the 7.50 from Corran to Ardgour (mainland to mainland).  When I heard that we’d all (about 70 riders) fit on the one crossing I was surprised, but there was plenty of room and the ferry staff, who had been well-informed of our arrival, were excellent all through the ride.

Riders on the Corran ferry
Corran ferry
From the Corran ferry
From the Corran ferry
Riders leaving the Corran Ferry
Riders leaving the Corran Ferry

Somehow I managed to be first off the boat, but keeping out of the way to let the few motor vehicles off I ended up towards the back of the pack.  And there I was to remain!  Graeme had come over on the same ferry by car and passed us before heading to Lochaline to sign brevet cards at the first control.  On leaving Ardour we had the option of following the routesheet, which directed us via the more scenic route towards Strontian before quite a climb, or taking a flatter coast road which we were warned was of very poor quality.  I didn’t see anyone taking the second option.

Cyclist on Ardgour
Ardgour
Cycling on Ardgour
Ardgour

Having been warned of a ‘bastard hill’ I thought the first one wasn’t too bad, but I was soon to realise which was being referred to.   Once the road turned south-ish towards Lochaline it went up, and up, and up.

Looking towards Strontian
Highest point of the ride (272 m) and tough climb up to it

Eventually it must have started to go down but I don’t remember that quite so clearly.  I’d passed a couple of riders (unusual for me) but coming over the top and feeling a bit of rain (and not being very warm) I stopped to put my waterproof back on and they went by. Sometime around here I started thinking about the next ferry; I’d thought that I’d make the 10.35 am from Lochaline to Fishnish (Mull) based on my usual speed, but I could see it would be tight.  As it was the rear doors had just been raised and the boat started to move as I descended to the control…very frustrating.  But Graeme was there to not only stamp my card but impart relaxing words, and I was soon joined by Marcus, another rider.  It turned out that two people had made the early crossing, everyone else was on the one we’d just missed, and there would be two of us bringing up the rear for the remainder of the ride.  The folk running the cafe at the Lochaline ferry terminal were just getting their breath back after the onslaught of most of the field so I think were quite pleased that it was just the two of us now, and we had plenty of time to wait for the next boat.  I looked for a low carb something to eat so went for lentil soup, and a coffee, because I think I should need one at this point.  I had a marmite cheese that I’d brought along with me too.  It didn’t take long for me to start feeling sick, and there were moments when I thought I would suddenly reproduce the soup on the nice clean gravel outside the cafe, but it stayed down.

 

Once the 11.10 very arrived we were asked to board before the cars and put the bikes in a couple of wheel racks – goodness knows where everyone secured them on the previous boat.  We’d been instructed to buy a ‘hopscotch’ ticket onboard which would get us back to Oban later, at £5.60 this is the same price as a foot passenger.  Once on Mull I recognised the roads for a short time until we turned off for Salen.  I’m not very good at riding with other people and found I was going very sightly faster than Marcus, although he would catch me on descents, but after a while I had lost sight of him so I waited at a junction so we could continue together.  After Gruline the road clings to the coast and we were treated to some great clear views, although the wind was not exactly helping.

Shore of Loch na Keal, Mull
Shore of Loch na Keal

The Treshnish Isles were visible in the distance, some distinctive outlines which I recognised from my previous visit. The road then turned inland and we started playing hare and tortoise with a van full of birdwatchers for the next little while.  I lost sight of Marcus again but decided to press on and wait at the next control.  On the whole the descents on this ride were excellent, as the road ahead was in full view so no braking was required, but in this stretch a heavily pregnant cow and later some calves caused some cautious slowing down.  The road meets the shore of Loch Scridain and then the main A road.  Our control was at the Pennyghael Stores, and once again I recognise the road from my earlier bus journeys.  The shop had a very friendly ginger cat, as well as stickers to mark our passage and tea/coffee plus a roll which was included in our entry fee.  This is the sort of thing that I’d never ‘expect’ on a ride and is much appreciated.  As it was I just had the tea, and feeling better had some nuts and a bit of cheese.

Pennylghael stores, Mull
Pennyghael stores
Loch Scridain by Pennylghael, Mull
Loch Scridain near Pennyghael

I had previously travelled the whole of the next section to Craignure by bus, during which gradients are of course less noticeable, but the climb up Glen More was a pleasant one in the continuing sun.  I passed the lochs that I’d walked along on my previous visit and then Loch Spelve where I’d waited (quite happily) two hours for a bus.  I arrived at Craignure a little before Marcus, we’d both realised at the previous control that there was no chance we’d make the previous ferry so it had been a fairly relaxed leg and we had a bit of time for a cup of tea from the shop.  The ferry staff asked how many more of us were expected (none) and commented on how many riders had been on the last crossing.  We were entertained by watching the ferry approach, trying to work out which end was going to open and being amused by the technique of making contact with the jetty and using it to pivot around to line up with the landing stage.  There was a section for bikes in the centre of the vehicle deck, again I wondered where they had fitted everyone in on the previous crossing.  Marcus and I went upstairs for a comfy seat and discussed how we’d got into Audax, followed by discovering we have a few colleagues in common.

Craignure ferry, Mull
Craignure ferry

Back on the mainland in Oban and we knew we had 60 km to do in x hours, which was achievable for us both although we couldn’t hang about.  Out from Oban the route follows a road to a car park and then an odd section of cycle path to rejoin the A85.  The cycle path had the most crazy steep sections, including the final bit where a boy who saw us struggling opened the gate to let us through.  The final crossing of the day took us on Connel bridge over Loch Etive, then all the way along the side of Loch Creran to answer an info control.

Head of Loch Creran
Head of Loch Creran

Soon it began to get dark, and it was just a case of head down and keep riding. Sometimes I’d pass Marcus on a climb and then he’d catch me, eventually I pulled ahead but could see him not far off when the road allowed.  At last I arrived at the road works outside Ballachulish centre, and I thought Marcus would catch up while I waited at the red light, it would have been nice to finish together, but I rolled into the hall complete with fairy lights at 9.xx pm.  Marcus eventually arrived with literally minutes to spare, having had to stop for cramp near the end.  Graeme and crew fed us, I had some soup but still felt nauseous so didn’t risk the cake.  My parents who turned up to wish me happy birthday were generously looked after, and we celebrated properly the next day.

Loch Leven from Glencoe Village
Loch Leven
Daffodils by Loch Leven
Loch Leven

Birthday cake and champagne

At Glencoe visitor centre
At Glencoe visitor centre

An early start on Monday morning to catch the first train back home and another fantastic journey for window-gazing.  A different route home taking the Carlisle – Settle line which had just reopened a couple of days before.

Deer running from the train, Rannoch Moor
Deer running from the train
Railway between Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum
Railway following the contours between Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum
Garsdale station
Garsdale station

Route of Port Navigation 200 km ride

200 km, 13 hrs 50 mins