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

Slightly longer pootle to Tadcaster and Bolton Spa

04/02/18

A cold day, glad of my four top layers and thermal tights. Toes never had feeling.  Routes around this way are very much dictated by river crossings; Tadcaster (no photo) and Thorp Arch, just after which I recognised a control from Goodbye Xmas Pud.  Happy to report that although it was a slow ride my hill climbing and weight are both improved since then.

River Wharfe at Thorp Arch/Boston Spa Near Bardsey Stocks near Wike

Route map

51 km, av 20 km/hr

Ingleborough again

07/01/18

Off the bike and a fantastic weather forecast, so revisited Ingleborough although this time a linear route from Ribblehead to Horton. It was a Sunday so the trains were few and far between…happily the pub was open, and the waiting room in the station was warm and dry.

Whernside and the Ribblehead viaduct Pen-y-ghent Path up towards Ingleborough Towards Whernside Ingleborough

Top of Ingleborough Top of Ingleborough Top of Ingleborough Top of Ingleborough Top of Ingleborough

Ingleborough Limestone pavement near Horton-in-Ribblesdale Paths in the Yorkshire Dales

Route map

Ingleborough: Hewitt, HuMP, Marilyn, Nuttall; 724 m/2,375 ft

Season of Mists

08/10/17

 

Last year I rode Mellow Fruitfulness (50 km) as a sort of ‘return to audax’ after time off the bike recovering from surgery. This time I went for the 100 km option, knowing I’d be behind from the start as the first train from Leeds gets to Mytholmroyd just after 9 am (the start time). Happily I wasn’t the only one, there were two others on the train and several more at the start, including Bob Bialek who was changing an inner tube at 9.10 am.  It was a mild day and the only thing that could be claimed as mist was a little low cloud on first entering Lancashire. Later it was sunny and the arm warmers came off. The ride starts as it means to go on, up to Heptonstall and over the cobbles. I stayed on the bike this time, although it was bloody hard work. Then it’s the Long Causeway, which has entered my ‘favourite roads’ list. Great views looking back into Calderdale.

I was riding ‘blind’ in a sense (although less so than last weekend when the routesheet was distance-less), and relying on mental arithmetic based on 20 kph to work out approximate arrival times at route instructions, after my computer died. Average speeds are not particularly helpful for short stages over hilly roads. Well that’s my excuse for missing the first info control anyway; by the time I realised, I’d climbed and descended again, and I wasn’t going back. I did take a photo shortly after the info in Cxx which I hoped would provide a proof of passage if it cames down to it, although I’m enjoying the ride so much that I don’t care about the AAA points on offer (edit: actually I did a bit).

The Long Causeway, Colden The Long Causeway The Long Causeway The Long Causeway

Travelling through the back streets of Burnley involved a bit of traffic dodging where priorities seemed to go out of the window, then it was up and along a ridge south of Pendle Hill.  The sun was out now, it was a cracking day.

Flanks of Pendle Hill

After a ‘R @ T’ I was faced with the view of a crazily steep road…surely we’re not riding up that?  Of course we are, is always the answer.

Sabden and Nick of Pendle

Down past the slightly battered gradient sign into Sabden and then up, up and a little more up over the Nick of Pendle.  This is a beautiful road, and the descent equally good, with a road wide and with enough visibility you can just let go.  Passed a ski centre as if the hilliness isn’t obvious enough, and then through Clitheroe.

Immersed in my mental arithmetic I couldn’t quite understand how the Mellow Fruitfulness ride fits into this one, but I had assumed they used the same first cafe control which isn’t the case. We stopped at the Country Kitchen Cafe in Waddington; when I arrived there were loads of bikes and it was pretty busy, although by the time I left there were only a few steads remaining. The cafe are obviously regulars at this sort of thing – in fact it sounded like the owner is a cyclist going on an eavesdropped conversation – an did an excellent job. Beans on toasts for me, I didn’t bother looking at the menu.  Climbing again after the control, and I was soon passed by a trio who were getting ready to leave just after me. I felt especially slow, I don’t think I passed anyone unless they had stopped for some reason.  Great views looking back towards Pendle Hill.

Pendle Hill from Waddington Fell Waddington Fell

Somewhere along here was another info control which asked how many chimneys were on a farmhouse. Now there were two brick chimneys, incorporating three chimney pots, plus another from a boiler or similar, so I just took a photo.  Poor Chris Crossland at the arrivee had clearly had queries from many riders and was accepting all possible answers.

Info control: chimneys

I noticed the development of a new noise which sounded like something coming loose, so I stopped in Slaidburn to check the bolts on rack and mudguards, these being things that have wobbled in the past. No sign of any problems. Slaidburn passed quickly, I felt like I’d already stopped too many times to take photos to do so again here. Then the route turns to head for home, south east and over the other side of Pendle Hill.  All afternoon the weather remained very clear, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent were visible in the distance.

Looking towards the Yorkshire Dales

Soon the source of the noise became clear, as a loud rattle caused me to look at the rear while riding, and I could see my mud guard had broken. I resolved to stop at the approaching T junction where I joined a group from Calderdale CTC who I’d been playing leap frog with recently. I am having no luck with mud guards, these were new just before LEL…I was expecting it to have gone at a self-drilled hole again but this fracture was straight across the top where there is nothing else happening. I was going to gaffer-tape it together but one of the others suggested cable-tying the stays to my rack which was a far batter idea (although it did then continue to rattle for the rest of the ride). My choice of red cable ties was questioned but I pointed out they matched my frame. As I whinged about this being my third failure, and the inability to purchase single guards (so if anyone wants a front one met me know) the chap wondered if the weight of my rear light (a bit like this although an older model) was causing the problem. I’d gone for a rear guard mounted light as when I bought the bike I intended it having a touring and an audax mode, the difference being the removal of racks and a change of tyres. In the event I’ve found it incompatible with decent sized saddle bags (they break mud guards…) and so the rear rack has become a permanent feature and one that could happily host a light. Actually it’s been doubly important in allowing me to add panniers for pre-audax camping.

Mudguard suitably botched the next stop was the control at Coldwell Activity Centre.  There had been an increasing number of people coming the other way on muddy off-road motorbikes bearing numbers, and this seemed to be an HQ for them too, after bombing around some fields here.  After two bits of cake AND a bag of crisps I felt ready to tackle Widdop.  I knew what was coming from Mellow Fruitfulness, but I was happy to make it up without stopping, making the most of my triple.  The rusty car from last time was still lying down the steep hillside.

Descent from Widdop Crimsworth Dean

The descent from the top is great but there are a few little ups to keep the legs working, and a crazy zigzag at the start of Hebden Water, before arriving at the Slack junction and rejoining the outward route.  I momentarily considered taking the signed and more major road to Hebden, avoiding those cobbles, but at the last minute went with the devil I knew better and back down through bone-shaking Heptonstall.

I rolled into the community centre while there were still plenty of people and bikes about, including this epic:

Recumbent trike

I don’t use Strava that much, as my phone can only just cope with 200 kms, but I did have it on today and happily that was enough to make up for my missing info control.

I spoke to Nigel and Bob, including more LEL debriefing.  Slightly less comforting was the Calderdale CTC chap, part of the group I’d seen several times, who came up to shake my hand and asked if I was new to this sort of thing.  Now I’m a long way off being an experienced audaxer, I know he was being friendly, but this sent me into an ‘I really am slow’ meh…it would be ok if I could cope with the sleep deprivation but LEL and BGB demonstrate that I can’t, so I do need to work on that time in hand.

Season of Mists route

106 km, 7 hrs 40 mins, 2.5 AAA

2016 – 2017 audax season

17/10/17

At the start of the season I got back in the saddle with a hilly 50 km.  Entering LEL in January got me planning training rides, ideally doing a Super Randonneur series (SR; 200, 300, 400 and 600 km rides in a season) in preparation.

LEL training graph

After a real struggle on an early 200 km I finally got back to the ranks of Randonneur on my 40th birthday, in the amazing surroundings of Mull.

Birthday cake and champagne

After that everything was progress, my first 300 km was splendid but definitely ‘type 2’, the second much more manageable.

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

A 400 km was my first experience of riding through the night, and became a real slog toward the end; finishing with around half an hour to spare was a bit too close for my liking.  A 600 km pre-LEL wasn’t to be (twice), so I found myself at the start feeling inexperienced, amongst other things.  But LEL, even un-finished, proved to be an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience (even if I do it again I’m sure that first time will never be matched).  It was a real shift in my psyche, although it’s been a challenge to maintain.

JJ start, LEL Innerleithen hills sketch Climbing Yad Moss Peter and Erica at Brampton LEL brevet card

I thought I might have had more than enough of cycling for a while afterwards but that proved not to be the case, and I was keen to at least get my SR award this season.  Well, it didn’t happen, but I thoroughly enjoyed Blackpool-Glasgow-Blackpool nonetheless.

Blackpool Tower

Post-LEL I still have numbness in the thumb and first two fingers on each hand, and the left is pretty pathetic in terms of strength and dexterity.  I plan to get a bike fit (and possibly ahem a new different bike) once I get properly back in the saddle.  I did lower my saddle a little to try and prevent the recurrence of Achilles tendon pain (so far so good), and rotated the bars forwards slightly to try and keep my wrists linear while on the hoods.  There’s no way to tell if the latter has helped while I have continuing numbness, I just hope I haven’t caused any more damage.  I know nerves take a long time to heal.

I’m managing a few rides early this season but November will bring a challenge of a different kind with more surgery and the mind (and fitness) -rotting recovery that accompanies it.  The nature of it is such that I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back on the bike, and it might be best to try and get my final operation done as soon as possible afterwards and have an extended pause rather than off-on-off-again.  If I can help out at some rides during this time I’d love to.

I found some great software to create a heat map at https://erik.github.io/derive/.

2016-2017 heat map

Points: 14

AAA: 7.5

Distance (actual ridden, including DNFs): 5013 km (3053 miles)

 

The Beast of Bolsover

30/09/17

Last ride of the season…and I hated it. This was one I’d heard of years ago when I first became aware of Audax, it probably stuck in my mind because of the name, which is certainly appropriate. Maybe it was a bit too soon after last weekend’s 600 km, or perhaps it was the unrelenting up-down-up-down, no-chance-to-enjoy-the-descents nature of it that caused it to be a slog to finish just for the sake of it.  I wouldn’t want this to reflect badly on organiser Matt; the ride is exactly what it promises.

I also had an impression – that I can now identify, having done a few longer rides – that the 100s and 200s can sometimes be so dominated by riders from the local club that it feels to a random Auk like me that it’s a club ride that we are guests on.  I know that this is most likely to be a reflection of my own insecurities; Matt seems like an extremely ‘audax person’, and some of the local club folk asked if I wanted to join their table afterwards…maybe it’s more of a numbers thing, when there are lots of people in matching jerseys who know each other, ride more quickly than me, and ooze extroversion I immediately want to hide in a puncture. But if by some miracle someone is reading this and wants to get into the longer distances, I would say it’s worth persevering at the 100s and 200s, because once you get to 300+ the field is quite different; etiher they’ll have done multiple LEL/PBP or they’ll be preparing for them, and you’ll be able to be in awe/compare notes/receive support as appropriate.

Anyway I think this would have been an ordeal whatever the environment…I remember very little of the route.  Perhaps that’s it, there were no distinguishing features, no major climbs, just always up and down.  I can claim a sense of achievement, and a couple of AAA points, but I won’t be riding it again.  It’s just not my thing.

Cyclists at a cafe Cyclists in a cafe Info control on the Beats of Bolsover

 

Beast of Bolster route

100 km, 2 AAA, 6:52 hrs

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