Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Two wheels and four legs

Our first tandem ride! Yay!

Lesson One: Stoker can ride no handed.
Lesson Two: Pilot ought not to belch.
Lesson Three: Pilot's descriptions of the road ahead need to be less 'sight-seeing' and more practical.
Lesson Four: Stoker works harder than me.

Aidan and Lynn have kindly lent us their well-loved and cared-for tandem for a little while. We caught a bus down the Lanchester Valley from Durham to meet up with them. After a bit of fettling, Aidan took me for a test ride; him as Stoker and me as Pilot. He taught me how to balance while the Stoker gets comfortable, how to set off and how to stop. All straight-forward but I was nervous before he showed me. Once we were riding he then showed me what happens if the Stoker decides to throw their weight about - I had almost no control over where we were going!


Next it was Carol's turn... balance and push off... we're rolling. This is easy! She is so much lighter than Aidan and already knows exactly how to remain balanced neutrally (experienced gained on horseback and riding pillion on a motorbike). We did a minute or two up and down the cycle path before thanking Aidan and Lynn for this chance to try a tandem; and then we were off!

Our first ride on the tandem was a modest 12km along the Lanchester Valley Cycle Path back to Durham. Firstly on the hard-gravel-packed route to Langley Park, then onto the cycle path beside the A691 to Witton Gilbert and finally uphill to Durham and back home. This was a blessing of a route as it was fundamentally flat and straight - not too much required in terms of technical negotiation of corners and traffic.

Carol slowly found herself relaxing a little by little. At one point she took her hands of the bars and sat up - no handed - and there were shouts of glee from behind my back. I passed her the camera for evidence purposes. It was weird having her voice right behind my ear. I turned and looked back at her: aargh! you're so close!


Clearly her view ahead was restricted, and I needed to inform her with a running commentary of what was happening in front. Apparently I'm useless at this - she doesn't want to know about the interesting post box, or good view... she wants to know about bumps, when I'm going to make a sudden move, or change gear, or brake. She needs to know what's ahead because I'm in her way: I hope to get better at this for her.


At Witton Gilbert we took a breather at the Traveller's Rest; pint of beer / glass of cola-drink. Onward again and we had the only uphill gradient, the gentle climb from Witton Gilbert to Durham. I burped and Carol was surrounded by a cloud of beer-breath. Oops.

We selected a gear and I found that I couldn't talk and pedal, I had to concentrate hard to pedal in time with Carol. Once we reached the top of the hill and the road flattened a bit we joined the road proper and changed up a few gears... and really started to fly along! We reached 25mph, without even trying, and sped along past the fire-station and back into Durham. Motorists gave us a massive space, which surprised us both; perhaps the 'lumberjack' shirt Carol was sporting / and long flowing red hair was intimidating.

Carol's pedaling was like an electric motor, the bike had an energy of it's own, as I was whooshed along by my Stoker putting some effort it. Brilliant!


45 minutes to cover 12km: not record breaking, but absolutely wonderful. I think it would have taken longer on two solo bicycles; we got a good head of steam and Carol was encouraging me to change up gears quite a lot. I'm sure she gained confidence the longer we rode, and apart form one moment when we both checked over our shoulders at the same time, and drifted right... apart from that we seemed to work well together.

I needed to get some dinner... and grabbed my road bike to nip to the shops. I stood on the pedals to climb the short road to the shops thinking that it would feel lighter... only to discover that nobody else was pedaling and I would have to do all the work myself! How quickly I have become lazy. Tandem riding - absolutely brilliant... can't wait to go out for another adventure with Carol.

Addendum: "The view from the back"

First impression - not happy. I didn't like the lack of control, I didn't like being wobbled about. As we talked to Lynn and Aidan, I grew in confidence that this was going to get easier...after all, others ride tandems; it was time to give it a chance.

As we rode further and started and stopped, I grew in confidence; but the cycle path was so dull. (Something we both agree on) - and on top of this I couldn't see beyond Graeme's broad shoulders.

I noticed that Graeme's three back pockets would be handy to keep sandwiches and a flask of tea in. Perhaps something to read.

I was surprised how easy it was to get going, and how easy to stop. We found some good communication but I had to keep reminding Graeme that I was in charge of the pedals.

I felt we could go faster and wanted to change up - but Graeme kept saying we were going as fast as he was comfortable for a gravelly cycle path - so once we hit the road I wanted to go a bit harder. I really didn't feel we were going fast at all, but Graeme says we were doing 25mph - it really didn't feel like it.

I felt happier on the road on this tandem than I do alone; I felt safer with Graeme, I felt that we could have gone faster! I want to do it again!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Border Raid

The Border Raid Audax
608 kilometres. 378 miles.
40 hours allowed
35.5 hours used
~5000m climbing
~12,000 calories used

The data for the Border Raid 600km Audax is loaded with factual meaning, but barren of emotional content. What does it feel like to ride a 600km Audax?

It starts with butterflies and anxious energy, with the seemingly boundless energy of spinning cranks by supple legs. There is the camaraderie of the group and the fleeting distance to the first check point. Decisions decisions: to carry on alone or stick with a group. There is the headwind and the hills. The early tiredness in the face of the longer distance. The questions asked of yourself. The hills. The wind. The sun. The fields. Getting lost. The endless road. The second check point. The wait for food, the food, the escape. The hills. The wind. The sweat. The views. The endlessness. The balance point where you find you could ride forever. The tiredness. The third check point. The dusk. The hills. The reformed groups. The dark. The lights. The rain. The speed to the fourth check point. The exhaustion. The food. The decision. The doziness. The restart. The rain. The hills. The wind. The long road. The views. The other riders. The empty roads. The pre-dawn quiet. The fifth check point. The shops yet to open. Its all downhill from here. The hills. The wind. The sun. The heat. The cold. The views. The groups. The riding together. The sea! The downhill with the wind in your hair: arms outstretched. The joy. The thankfulness. The fast road blast. The sea. The sixth control. The fish and chips. The last leg. The hills. The wind. The sun. The tiredness. The pub stop for a beer. The burst of energy. The hills. The tiredness. The end is in sight. The jubilation. The final check point. The coffee. The cake. The celebration. The mutual understanding.... The sleep.


Although the nuance of each rider's audax experience is varied, they share the camaraderie of endurance. We will all have experienced the tiredness and the joy. The hills and the wind and the rain and the sun and the quiet and the noise. The exhaustion. The sense of achievement which wipes out the mid-ride doubts. Many people have written that audaxes are not races, and this is of utmost importance to communicate. There are minimum and maximum time limits. It makes no difference whether a rider finishes before everyone else, or finishes in the closing seconds; the event is complete, the experience has been shared.

Perhaps I think too much.


It was a six o'clock start from Kirkley Cycles, and of the 69 people who paid to ride, 42 started. The collection of machines included a recumbent, a trike, a tandem and a tandem trike. The eclectic choice of machines representing the diversity of riders styles and preferences: from lightweight carbon-fibre, fully loaded with camping gear; fixed gear steel; titanium; dynamo lights; GPS or route sheet "held to forearm with elastic bands". There is no 'right way' to audax. Audax: do it... or don't.




There was a super fast dash past St James' Park football ground and over the High Level bridge across the River Tyne. I was in a group with two members of the cycling club VC167, Dean and Steve, along with two other riders. The roads were empty and I was able to cross the High Level bridge in the middle of the road.



Through the empty streets of Newcastle and Gateshead we kept together and climbed past the 'Angel of the North' before dropping to Chester-le-Street and joining the A167 southbound. There is a cycle path next to the road, but with two nice wide lanes and very little motorised traffic we just decided to stick to the dual carriageway. There was no sense of danger as anyone with a motorcar gave us wide berth. We did get a little split up here and I chose to drop off the pace of Dean and Steve as they are both much faster than I am.


The sun was out and the day was warm. It was glorious enough for me to be in short sleeves, shorts, and fingerless mitts. I felt really happy to be riding again and the fears of the Mosstrooper were ebbing away. I was confident that this would be an easy 600km cycle, with only the crossing of Garsdale Head (between Hawes and Sedbergh) to trouble my climbing legs.

After 40km I passed my front door in Durham and continued along the A167 to Tudhoe and the climb past Kirk Merrington; this was to be the only significant climb between Kirkley and our first planned stop at Topcliffe (127km in to the event).

As I was off the back of the lead riders, I was caught by the second group on the road; Gordon's posse! Another large VC167 turnout were motoring along in a double paceline and I was swept up and onto the back of this. I met with Rob, Paul, Gordon, Dave and several others who's names I've lost in a mind-fumble. As we rode on together I gained some confidence and took a turn or two on the front. This is nice when riding in pairs because you don't have to work out the pace alone.



There were some jokes about doing 30+kph (20mph) on an audax, but at this time we'd the benefit of a side breeze and undulating roads on very familiar ground. Not only had we passed my house, we seemed to be passing a lot of VC167 homes. We were also the first group to cover the 127km to Topcliffe and the first Control which was hosted by Lynn. As with a lot of audax rides, the volunteers had provided a fully catered Control for us; I chose the lentil soup instead of the tomato soup, and the bacon sandwich. Pudding was a banana and flapjack, washed down with a can of sugary fizzy pop.

At the Control points some riders were charging GPS devices from portable power packs, I was running a usb charging cable from the Luxos U switch to the GPS. The Garmin 200 will last a good 8 hours even with the backlight running, but for an event like this I had chosen to keep it topped up along the way. I had also left my smart phone at home; I only wanted a phone for emergency contact so brought my battery-efficient Nokia. Text only communications with Carol allowed me to keep her posted with my progress and reassure her I was okay.


We knew that the next section was likely to be tough. The weather forecast predicted strong winds from the west, and we had 90km to ride westbound - to the next Control at Sedbergh. I didn't meet anyone keen to ride it alone, and I looked to stay with the group I'd joined down to Topcliffe. I was fooled by the conversation about "taking it easy into the wind". Cyclists have no frame of reference but their own, so when they tell you its "all down hill", or "I'm going to be taking it easy"... don't believe them! 



Steve, Rob and Paul took long turns on the front of the group and we negotiated some of the wiggly country lanes to cross the A1. There were some discrepancies between the GPS track and the route sheet instructions, but we avoided joining the A1(M) southbound at Rainton. We also nearly reached Ripon, and nearly reached Masham, but while taking the shortest route to Middleham, we found ourselves on a narrow singletrack lane with lots of horses coming the other way. We slowed and gave them plenty of space and eventually realised we'd missed a turning. The good news was that Rob had a GPS track which showed we could take advantage of a better shortcut and join the main road further along. Brilliant; except that we were being warned by the horse riders that the road ahead wasn't a road... it was off-road. commonly known as "Comedy Off-Road" (or COR).



We were out to ride 600km, and after only 140km Rob, Steve and I were negotiating a muddy lane. I was certainly pleased to have 700x28 touring tyres and super-low gearing to get me through the mud. We agreed after this: no more short cuts! The COR had whittled down our road team to Rob, Steve and I; and this was going to be a problem because they are both so much stronger than I am.


I really enjoyed riding with Rob and Steve. We crossed into Wensleydale and the route sheet instructed us to "Turn left and continue straight on for 51km"... this would take us along the A684 from Wensley to Sedbergh, through Hawes and over Garsdale Head. Along the road, on either side, travelling people had set up camp as they headed for Appleby Fair. We even had to overtake a few horse drawn caravans which were making their way along at walking pace. At Hawes Steve decided to continue and Rob and I chose to stop for a bite to eat. I really wanted a coffee, but instead ordered beans and egg on toast at the 'Penny Garth Cafe' - I was very tired and no longer able to contribute to the pace.

Garsdale Head isn't a difficult place to cross, I've cycled over there several times, but this time it felt much harder than before. Rob was really helpful and kept me company on the climb, we chatted a bit as I had breath available and I reassured him of the "all downhill" section to Sedbergh.

I must have something wrong with my head. I'm sure it is all downhill from Gardsale Head to Sedbergh... but for some reason on Saturday I found much more uphill than I had ever seen before. So much that I wonder if the road has been moved. I've cycled down this hill numerous times and absolutely nailed it to Sedbergh, but this time I found climb after climb and continued to lose speed. I was now looking for a proper rest at a proper Control!


Cafe Duo had an influx of smelly cyclists this Saturday afternoon. I ate again, just soup as I hoped the beans and egg from earlier just needed to be digested to give me strength. I didn't want a full tummy before the climb up Ravenstonedale past Cautley Spout. It was about 4pm and we'd covered 217km (135 miles).

All audax rides are different, and cyclists have different strategies to get through them. A 300km event could be a daylight ride if easy enough and at the right time of year. A 400km event usually takes riders through the night. 600km events can be done in one go, but often riders will cover 350-400km and stop for a longer rest, or a snooze, before completing the 250-200km remaining. I had planned to close my eyes for two hours in Lockerbie at the Truck Stop. I'd even booked a twin room with Aidan. There was only 143km (89 miles) now to get from Sedbergh to Lockerbie, but I was setting off at 4pm with 217km (135 miles) already in my legs. This was going to be hard.

Firstly I had to climb the A683 from Sedbergh to Ravenstonedale past Cautley Spout, and past the Cross Keys Temperance Inn. I set off with Rob who wanted to ride at a gentle pace, Dean who was happy to ride with anyone, Gordon, Dave, Paul and a few others. Dean and Rob made the acceleration look easy as they disappeared. Gordon came past and said, "Graeme is my plan B - if I'm in difficulty I'll ride with him." Oh how humiliating - nevertheless, even when you are someone's "plan B" all you can do is get on with it.

The ascent was steady, gentle and enjoyable - not fast - but certainly doable. I actually enjoyed myself and started to feel a bit stronger as I continued. At the top were more travelling people with brightly decorated caravans - I upset one of them by taking photographs as I came past. I think I was too close to the horse - sorry about that.



Surely now we had a downhill section? Surely now we could rest a bit? Not really, the B6261 crosses open moorland and follows the contours of the land. At one point this little lane is surrounded by the M6, with the southbound lane to our right and the northbound lane to our left... cycling in the central reservation! And more and more climbing: Dean and Rob had long ago disappeared into the distance but Paul was in the mood to talk and happy to drop down in pace to match mine.





As we approached Penrith, Gordon, Dave and a couple of others caught Paul and I, and we formed a team to use the A6 across Shap, along the main road and down to Penrith where we stopped to grab a quick coffee from the Service Station. There was plenty of banter between Gordon and Dave. Dave's front light had worked loose, but he didn't have any tools to fix it. Gordon had tools and lent them to Dave, and in true audaxing spirit teased him about the lack of self-sufficiency.

In Penrith we were joined by two gentlemen on a tandem and upped our pace for the section to the official Control at Exelby Services just outside Carlisle. I had basically been riding with others all the way so far; this was a new experience for me. Most of my audaxes have been lonesome affairs. I've not kept with others in a group but this experience of riding along through beautiful countryside for hour after hour with fellow cyclists to keep each other company and to chat about everything and nothing. This was really enjoyable!


At Exelby Services we caught up with Rob and Dean and now had quite a large group. We rested briefly together and agreed to stick as a group on the road at least as far as Lockerbie, this was going to be a night section and we needed lights on.


Riding in a group at night, all lights blazing, loaded with luggage for light touring; I'm sure we looked like something from the past, perhaps from the golden era of cycling when loads of cyclists thought nothing of riding into the night. We were beginning to look out of place as we passed through small towns, passing through Gretna Green, passing pubs with 'normal' people drinking, getting drunk and shouting at us as we silently whooshed through.

Nothing had prepared us for the culture shock which awaited in Lockerbie. Aidan had arranged for us to have a Control point at the 24hr Truck Stop. There was food available all day and all night, there were rooms and showers. What we had not expected was a disco. With a Rod Stewart tribute singer. Imagine the scene: two groups of people utterly confused by each other's presence. Here we are at a Truck Stop in the middle of nowhere. At midnight a bunch of cyclists covered in road grime, sweaty, smelly, tired and with thousand-yard stares arrive at a Truck Stop - a stop for truckers. We are met by a disco, with 'Rob Stewart' singing his heart out and loads of people on the dance-floor. It was a meeting of cultures so totally unexpected we simply had to pretend each other didn't exist!


I had a portion of macaroni cheese. Then I had another plateful. Then a beer. Then a bath. Then I went to bed at 1am and failed to sleep thanks to the noise downstairs. Aidan and Judith; riding the tandem trike arrived and Aidan came up to the room at 1:45am. I finally managed to sleep as I listened to rain and wind batter against the window. My alarm was set for 4am, but I woke naturally at 3:30am, so got up and put some fresh cycling shorts on and headed down for scrambled eggs on toast. Gordon, Dave and Paul had carried on into the night, as had the tandem team: none of them had slept!

I sat slowly trying to wake up properly. My head was fluffy and dozy and I figured the best cure would be to head out into the wind and rain to wake up. Although I had a raincoat and my trusty rain-legs to keep me dry, I had no overshoes. So I put a plastic bag over my socks and then into my shoes, hoping to create a waterproof layer. Aidan was awake, as were Rob and Dean - but I wanted to be alone for this next section. I wanted to ride at my own pace and wake up as I rode.


In the cold morning I felt good wrapped up with lots of layers and waterproof outer garments, but was still fighting off sleep. I relished the rain on my face. I now had the A708 from Dumcrieff to Selkirk to ride, so faced a climb which took me along Moffat Dale and climbing to and beyond the Grey Mare's Tail Waterfall - this was impressively in full flow.


Beyond Grey Mare's Tail Waterfall, the road really started to get steeper. Ahead of me I spotted another cyclist; a gentleman on a recumbent. He was looking very tired and didn't even acknowledge me as I passed and said hello. I was slightly worried that a recumbent looked like a tempting bicycle to fall asleep on while riding. Having said that - it wouldn't have been possible with the rain pouring down on us both as it was. The rain was now quite heavy now and on the descent from the top I was feeling the cold on my chest.


This lonely ride took me all the way along St Mary's Loch on Scottish roads, some smooth, some horribly uneven, through Selkirk to Galashiels and another Control point. It was 8:30am and I was ready for a proper breakfast. 444km (286 miles) covered and at this time on a Sunday morning the cafe in the supermarket wasn't quite open. Dean and Rob and another rider all came in at the same time so we faffed around until 9am when they opened. This was an opportunity to take off my sodden socks, as the plastic bags had not worked. I changed into a dry pair and put fresh plastic bags in my shoes. I added layers of clothing as I cooled down and started to shiver.

Only another 160km (100 miles) left to go. We set off from Galashiels together and while Rob and (I think) Michael from Edinburgh RC found a pace which suited them; Dean and I found a pace that suited us. This audax wasn't following an easy flat route at all. There have been three versions of the Border Raid, and although this wasn't the hardest iteration, I was finding the constant choppy up and down exhausting. I didn't need to try too hard anymore though and settled into a familiar style of riding along with Dean. He was riding a fixed wheel bike as usual and we've ridden many miles together, so knew what to expect from each other. We were enjoying the countryside too. More wonderfully beautiful scenery. Eventually we spotted the sea and Holy Island was before us.


We had now turned south and were following the coast to Seahouses and a final Control before the finish. With a choice between quiet little hilly country lanes, and a short fast blast down the A1, we opted for the A1: it wasn't a long section, the road surface was buttery smooth and wide. Traffic wasn't very heavy. In no time we reached the Bamburgh turn-off and back onto isolated lanes.

In Seahouses we stopped for Fish and Chips: and it was excellent! Not only was the quality good, but the food reached our table before we did - we ordered and paid at the counter while a waitress took our food to where we planned to sit. Brilliant service! Rob and Michael had opted for a cute little cafe and ordered omelette - which seemed to be taking ages and gave us material for banter on the ride away from Seahouses.

Now there was merely 66km (41 miles) left down through Warkworth and Morpeth to Kirkley, but with a strong headwind we found it easier to stay together.



We were determined to stick together and finish as a group; Rob had spent a significant amount of time on the front of every group he'd ridden with and it was only right to give him any shelter he wanted on the final roads. Our spirits were high as we accelerated towards the end. With a kilometre to go we were fairly racing along the approach to Kirkley. We finished at 5:30pm; 35 hours 30 minutes after starting. A warm welcome awaited! Complimentary coffee and cake, hero stories and room to collapse. Tim and family really helped us to unwind and Anne had ridden out to meet us.

I look back on this and remember the most sociable audax I've ever done. I remember feeling utterly exhausted and wondering what I was doing. Sections of road that were 50km long. Hills I struggled up and hills I flew up. Exhaustion and exhilaration.

600km audaxes are not easy. Why do them? I'm not sure I can answer that question - but as I sit at home, intermittently falling asleep on the sofa and looking out the window at the wind blowing in the trees I realise that I feel different. I feel more aware of my vulnerability. I feel more aware of the environment; both the risks of being out alone and unprotected, and the depths we can go in our own strength while still being okay. Discovering how alive I feel.


Oh and by the way... I did get a pint in:
The Hermitage Inn (Warkworth) sells a mean pint of Jennings Cumberland!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Mosstrooper

Having just completed the Mosstrooper 300km Audax, I'm back home with aching legs. Thank goodness today is a Bank Holiday because I keep falling asleep while sat on the sofa. The Mosstrooper is 300km (185 miles) of utterly gorgeous cycling in northern UK countryside, on quiet or empty roads. The climbing is significant but mainly complete in the first 100km, making the rest of the ride a tired but comfortable day out.


The start kicks off from Kirkley Cycles north west of Newcastle. I chose to catch a train to Morpeth, 20 minutes outside Newcastle and cycle 11km to the campsite. Aidan, our host for this challenging audax, was letting me camp with him so I had a drybag of camping gear strapped to the bicycle. This was something I could leave behind when the event started.


There were a few of us at Kirkley this Friday night so we rode to the Beresford Arms in Whalton, 7km from the campsite. Good food and good beer - that is a nice way to prepare for an endurance cycling event. This also gave us an opportunity to cycle the final few junctions of the Mosstrooper event in the dusky light.


Tim, the owner of Kirkley Cycles, runs a nice cafe serving coffee and cakes suitable for cyclists. I hear he might be thinking of a bunkhouse too. We were camping this evening and using the basic toilet facilities. Come the morning we were met with the smiling faces of Aidan and Tim serving good coffee and getting us signed on. It was good to camp the night before because all I had to do was roll out of bed and onto the bicycle.


The Mosstrooper is a 300km qualifying ride for the prestigious Paris Brest Paris (PBP) event which runs once every four years. Those hoping to ride PBP have to complete at least four qualifying rides covering 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km. Aidan handed out our Brevet cards and let us set off at 6am.


The morning was cool and most riders were wrapped up warm. I was about halfway down the field as we stayed together on easy rolling roads through Ponteland and across the A69 down to Wylam where we cycled along the River Tyne for a little while.


We crossed the River Tyne at Ovingham and the climbing started, firstly with a steep climb from the river to the A695 and through the aptly named Painshawfield. The first hills of an audax always split the bunch, and rightly so as audax events are not races. Riders just comfortably settle into the pace they intend to maintain for the day... for the whole day. One thing which marked the Mosstrooper ride was the quality of the descents. Although the uphill was very hard - all the downhill sections were rewarding, so after a little bit of a blast down the A68 the peloton had reached Muggleswick for breakfast. Lynn was checking us in and noting our arrival on her rider list. Aidan and the team were serving pastries, cereal, fruit, hot and cold drinks all inclusive in the entry fee.


It took me a few audaxes to learn how my body likes to be fed. We'd covered 40km and I had started with a piece of flapjack and a black coffee. Here I stopped for a banana and put a spare in my pocket for later, but made sure that my water bottles were full. The day looked like it was going to be hot, so I had brought zero-calorie electrolyte tablets to add to the water in the hope I could fight off dehydration and cramp.

I also know that I'm a slow rider who has to keep my stops brief, so while others were tucking in I headed straight back out and as I rolled away from the control met Dave, an ex-'national level' racer. He wanted some company and was happy to ride at my pace for a while. It was really nice to have his company as we climbed Muggleswick Common on the B6278, cycling over the peak at 476m from Muggleswick at 252m.


I mentioned the descents were rewarding... and we hurtled down over Waskerley Common, through Crawleyside into Stanhope. I passed 80kph (50mph) on the way down and then pulsed the brakes to shed speed before turning immediately right onto the A689. There was a signpost telling us that Alston was 20 miles away; the day was really starting now. Dave was good company, but he was in a performance class way above mine. He said he was happy to ride at my pace, but realistically he would have been better off leaving me. Inevitably, as we climbed through Wearhead and Lanehead towards Killhope Lead Mine, the elastic finally broke and he dropped me.


We still had some of the toughest climbing of the day ahead and I was using my granny gear. (It is called a 'granny gear' because it take wisdom and experience to use... really it is.) We passed through the Weardale forest and the views back along Weardale from Killhope Burn were wonderful. The weather is often windy, often misty or raining; but today the sun was high in the sky and intermittent cloud cover was keeping me cool.


The Killhope Lead Mining Museum is a depressingly named location, and looked no less bleak in the bright sunshine. This museum has a cafe and activity centre and I know lots of school children from around the region come here for some history lessons. The road climbs to Killhope Cross at 623m and we'd covered 80km so far; this was the highest point on our route, even though we had Hartside to come.


We dropped very fast from the pass, down through Nenthead with motorcyclists beside us. Two riders had passed us at the top, but were unable to drop us on the descent, and even held us up slightly on the approach to Nenthead village - we were moving fast!


It wasn't plain sailing down to Alston, the road undulated enough to slow me down a bit. Eventually we experienced the physical suffering of the steep downhill cobbles of Alston Front Street, but no rest; our next 'Control' stop after Muggleswick was going to be Penrith, so we turned left onto the A686 and started our climb to Hartside. The sun was beating down on me for the entire ride up this pass between Hartside Height and Fiend's Fell. Motorcyclists were clearly enjoying themselves, as were motorists taking the chance to drive with the soft-top down. I didn't have any trouble, I was given plenty of space and just plodded up as best I could. This was where Dave finally had to leave me and I was happy to stop holding him back. I'm sure he completed the ride in something silly like 13 hours. The road climbs from 283m to 575m and is well surfaced, it is much easier than an alpine climb - it just needs a pace that can be maintained. Two faster cyclists caught me just before the summit, so I circled round to photograph them.


At the Hartside Cafe I had to stop and refill my water bottles, so I also decided to grab a quick sandwich. I'd been cycling for 5 hours and covered 100km (62 miles), but at least the majority of the climbing was over for the day. All downhill from here (as they say).


What an amazing descent - it bears saying many times: The Mosstrooper's climbing isn't easy but the descents are fabulous! On the road down from Hartside I passed a great many cyclists riding uphill, presumably doing the C2C. I also knew that later the same day there would the riders from an even harder audax cycling up here. The Old 240 - a 400km audax - was running the same day as the Mosstrooper and I knew several people on that ride. I hurtled downhill, swept around hairpin bends, and kept pace with the motorised traffic pretty much all the way through Melmerby. That was very exhilerating! I was now cycling into the Eden Valley, and on this beautiful day it really felt idyllic. The next 'Control' was Penrith at 120km, and I was ready for a proper rest. Unfortunately I had an attack of cramp on the short sharp climb of Beacon Edge on Penrith's approach and limped to my nearest service station. I'd finally covered the first 120km and the time was 12:06; 6 hours and 6 minutes since I'd set off. Audax food is what you make it... and if you're tired then sitting on a petrol station forecourt eating crisps and sandwiches is about the height of haute cuisine.


I rested for a good 30 minutes before setting off again, then was soon into the flattest section of the day; from Penrith to Dalton just south west of Carlisle. Aidan's route was on totally deserted country lanes - it was like closed road riding. We crossed the M6 and cycled along slightly to the west of it. While hard climbing, fast descending and atrocious conditions make for interesting reading... I have to say that I was ready for some 'boredom'. The mountains of the Lake District were to my left, and the Fells of Cumbria were to my right for 35km (21 miles) as I enjoyed the sheer beauty of the day. I was singing songs of praise in solitary isolation and happy as I could be.


I was drinking a lot in the heat of the day, and needed to stop at a service station over the M6 outside Carlisle for a couple of bottles of water. I was carrying the zero electrolyte tablets in my Carradice Barley saddlebag along with some clothes for the nighttime section. While at the services I met two Audax Ecosse riders, one of whom is Martin, the events secretary for Audax UK. We talked about sugar intake and the fact that cats cannot make taurine. I'm not sure why - but I now understand that Red Bull don't employ cats. As we sat chatting we notice a peloton shoot past, obviously some of the riders had grouped together to make the most of the flat section. 150km (~92 miles) covered so far: we'd reached half way.

Leaving the petrol station there were yet more flat roads alongside the River Eden through Wetheral, past Carlisle Airport and on to Newtown. The climbing was about to start again as we headed for an 'Information Control' at Bewcastle Cross. The fields were giving way to moorland and the environment was beginning to gain a bleak edge to it. In the fields next to me a Buzzard landed, and then was immediately mobbed by two Crows.

I hadn't really noticed much of the flora or fauna today. My thoughts had been absorbed by the beauty of the English and Scottish geography which I'd experienced both visually and physically. As I cycled on, the road was becoming slightly more crinkly; each undulating uphill was slightly harder than the one before.


I met Thomas here, he'd been with the peloton but when his water had run out he'd lost contact with them. Thankfully he was able to refill at the church because what followed was a long and totally isolated 25km to reach the next cafe 'Control' at Newcastleton. I had been thinking about how hard I was finding the ride, and that the word 'endurance' describes an event which will take time and push at physical and mental limits. I was feeling the full reality of the word endurance at this point. The road was getting harder to ride, yet with one final steep drop and crossing of Kershope Bridge before the climb past Carby Hill: there was nothing left but another great descent to Newcastleton. Martin and his fellow rider caught me right outside Copshaw Kitchen.


Copshaw Kitchen was buzzing with riders and it was really nice to see I was still in the field. About 20 riders had ridden through already. It was nice to see Anne (of VC167) and I found out she'd ridden in with the large group that had passed me outside Carlisle. Thomas had made it too; we were all ready for something to eat. We'd covered 200+km and if this had been a 200km audax many of us felt happy to call it a day. But we had another 100km to ride and we needed some energy. I arrived at 16:25 and after soup and a sandwich, left at 17:15, this was quite a long stop for me but I left feeling much stronger.


The route took me north through the Scottish Borders on the B6357 until I took the last major direction change and headed back east alongside Kielder Water. I was grateful for the dappled shade from the pine forests as I'd been baked by the relentless sunshine all day. Finally I began to cool down and my pace picked up. The views north across this massive reservoir were brilliant. I'd like to come back here on a camping holiday some time.


Perhaps the Mosstrooper is an easy audax? There was more descending to come; leaving Keilder Water I was now riding just behind the Audax Ecosse posse and we flew down more wonderful roads through Stannersburn, Donkleywood, Greystead and Charlton into Bellingham. Then up again, only now the true extent of my tiredness was taking its toll as I crawled over Troughend Common.

Surely time for another descent? Okay... and wow did I fly downhill towards Otterburn. I shot past Anne and Ulrich freewheeling on an uphill part thanks to the massive momentum I'd carried from the drop. I'd started to eat Jelly Babies to give me some much needed energy, but the highs and lows of this sugar intake were matched by the highs and lows of my speed. Gravity was playing me like a yo-yo as I crawled up and plummeted down.

The penultimate 'Control' was at the Impromptu Tearoom in Elsdon, famous among local cyclists. Many riders have this as their target for the day, and the walls inside are covered in cycling memorabilia. I was relieved to arrive and be treated to fine coffee and excellent "beans and egg on toast" - exactly the food need to tackle the last big climb of the day: Winter's Gibbet.


There were maybe only 10 riders behind me on the road as I left the Impromptu Tearoom and started the climb of Winter's Gibbet. It was billed as the last big climb of the day and everyone knows it has steep ramped sections, false flats and false summits... but truth be told I found it straight-forward. I'd expected something worse and after the brief rest a moment ago I wasn't crawling anymore. However, I wasn't fast either: not with only 30km left to get to the finish after 280km riding so far.

Looking back the sun was just setting as I crested the top of Winter's Gibbet.


Looking forward I was faced with the famous Gibbet - thankfully long since empty.


Believe it or not, the easiest 300km audax ever finished with 25km of high speed downhill fun. From the top of Winter's Gibbet, the Mosstrooper route hurtles the riders home in double quick time. I caught Ulrich and Anne, who'd left the Impromptu Tearoom about 5 minutes ahead of me.


Aidan had suggested that I'd struggle to be back in Kirkley by midnight, but at 22:00 I was back to Whalton and within spitting distance of the finish. Aidan had specifically teased me that I'd not get a beer from the Beresford Arms; so I simply had to stop and prove him wrong. I even had my photograph taken with Jack Charlton.


Beresford Arms at 22:00... back at Kirkley for the final 'Control' and Arrivee point by 22:20! A warm welcome waited from Aidan and Bronwen. Coffee. Beer. Cheesy-beans-on-toast. A wood fire and great company. I have been asked why take part in an event if I ride alone for so many hours. The answer is the camaraderie of being on the road at the same time, of experiencing the same hills and the same descents, of seeing the same countryside, of getting to the end and sharing the joy of having completed the same ride - a shared knowledge of how difficult that was. Endurance. Pow.