It started with an invitation to a surprise 40th birthday
party in Glasgow, and the crazy idea of cycling there. I was desperate to complete an Audax after
missing so many calendar events due to illness or bad timing. However, phrases like, "I could ride
there" should really be treated with caution and suspicion; just because
you can doesn't mean you necessarily should.
I don't remember why I shared the idea with Greg Melia, but he was
immediately supportive and offered to join me, so via facebook we made
arrangements. This was my first DIY and
my first Audax, so Joe Applegarth had an opportunity to demonstrate patience
and grace in guiding me through the administration. Although "my house" to Glasgow was
almost 300km, it was actually about 296km; so I needed to plot a route which
was a little further. By setting my
start point about 14km south of me, in Stokesley, I was able to ensure a
guaranteed 300km minimum distance, and I set my check points at Ferryhill,
Alston, Brampton, Moffat, East Kilbride and the city centre of Glasgow;
ViaMichelin gave it as 302km.
As I was going to a party there were several
- I needed to carry a complete set of smart clothes and
some shoes so my Carradice Barley wasn't going to be sufficient. On went the rack and two Ortlieb panniers,
perfect for touring.
- If you have luggage space you tend to fill it. I did.
- It would be a Saturday late night party with a bar, so
I needed to make sure I got to Glasgow early and had some sleep. I aimed to get
there at lunchtime.
Greg and I calculated a 19:00 Friday start from Stokesley
to allow plenty of time and for the extra fun Greg decided to make his ride a
DIY400 by riding up from York to Stokesley. We'd meet at 18:30 so he could eat and then
get moving again on plan.
I mentioned that illness or bad timing had stopped me
getting to the start of my other Audax rides; I failed to start the 200k Roses
to Wrags because I'd been working away from home a lot and needed to spend some
time with my wife and kids. I failed to
start the 300k Plains because I had a nasty cold which wiped me out for 2
weeks. I failed to start the 400k Severn
Across as my wife was suffering from the
same cold that ruined my 300k Plains and I wasn't about to abandon her. So fitting in Audax around family and work is
just not easy and family comes first. Sure,
I might have been a bit teenager-stroppy at missing the rides but I managed to
get over my selfish behaviour eventually.
In the week running up to this DIY300 all was going fairly well, until my
wife Carol thought she needed a decent head injury to spice up matters. She’d passed out in a secluded location where
no one could find her but thankfully the cut to the head didn't need stitches
and with a week before the ride she was glued back together. I had a week working from home and was able to
keep a much closer eye on her after this, so by the Friday morning of the
Stokesley/Glasgow ride I was happy that Carol and the kids were happy and well,
I'd done the weekly shop, tidied the house and got everyone as comfortable as
possible. This felt like a green light
for a bicycle ride! With a 30 minute ride
to Stokesley from my home, I was just about to apply the Assos cream and get
into my cycling gear when Greg phoned to say he was an hour late setting off,
so could we meet later. Okay, no problem,
we had plenty of time in hand.
At 19:30 I was standing in the cold easterly wind in
Stokesley square when Greg's second phone call came through. The strong winds had slowed him a little
coming over the North Yorkshire Moors and he was going to be late. I have to admit to being surprised he'd chosen
to ride over the moors as his first 100km when a route around via Thirsk and
Northallerton would have achieved the same distance and especially before a
planned night climb to Alston Moor, but Greg is clearly a tough rider so I
didn't question his choice.
My parents live in Bishop Auckand, just near our planned
route along the A689 and they had kindly offered coffee and thick bacon rolls
as a treat before the isolation of the Stanhope to Alston section, so Greg
suggested instead of waiting in the cold at Stokesley he'd catch up with me
I set off from Stokesley at 19:44, with a receipt from a
cash machine to mark the start, and followed familiar home roads over Seamer
hill and Leven Bank to descend into Yarm. I was cautious through the busy Friday night
pub crowds and then swept out north along Durham Lane towards
Stockton-on-Tees. Turning towards
Longnewton on Darlington Road and then crossing over the A66 onto Sandy Leas Lane
at the cycle crossing took me onto the peaceful country lanes towards Sedgefield. The wind was blustery from the northeast and
kept me pegged back to 25kph. I joined
the A689 at Bradbury to cross the A1 and then took Gipsy Lane into Ferryhill. As I climbed Broom Road to Ferryhill centre I
realised I'd packed for a touring holiday not an Audax.
With a cash machine receipt obtained after 36km in Ferryhill
at 21:42, the now friendly tailwind took me effortlessly to Bishop Auckland
through Kirk Merrington in 30 minutes.
It was 22:10 and I was happily settling into the warmth of my parent’s
home with fresh coffee and tasty bacon in a brown roll. Thanks Mum and Dad! I was warm, cosy and well fed. The easiest thing would now be to cancel the
ride, sleep at my parent’s home, ride back to my house in the morning and drive
to Glasgow for the party. The longer I
waited for Greg to join me the more enticing that became. It was about ninety minutes later when Greg
arrived for his turn at my folk’s hospitality and I tested the water by
suggesting that we call the rest of the ride off. His look was enough to persuade me
otherwise. I would have bailed if I'd
been alone, but being with Greg sort of ruled that out so at 00:15 we set off
into the drizzle and the cold.
Our route was an easy one to navigate, following the A689
all the way to Brampton. Although it was slightly drizzling with rain, the wind
was to our backs and we made good pace to Stanhope where we stopped to don rain-legs
and extra layers. Our next section involved the climb through Weardale Forest to
the summit of Alston Moor. The rain was
much more consistent now, but Greg's unfailing conversation, jokes, and
encouragement kept me in good spirits.
In the dark we were trying to guess where the top of the climb would be
and we knew that the chevrons on the map had indicated a decent incline, so we
also kept wondering whether each climb was enough to justify the chevron. Soon
I realised I was cycling along in a cloud of my own steamed breath and some of
the rain wasn't falling directly down, it had a snowy zigzag look to the way it
was falling. As we kept going my misty
breath was joined by actual clouds but the warmth of the effort was keeping the
cold out of my bones.
As we passed the Killhope Lead Mining Centre I thought we
must be getting near the moor top. In
the dark and the clouds it wasn’t possible to see anything other than the road
in the headlight. I was surprised when in
the clouds above us lights appeared, high enough above us that it must
obviously be a light aircraft. It immediately
swooped down towards us on a strafing run, disappearing briefly below us and
then reappearing again directly in front and coming straight at us. Okay, it was a car. So now we knew exactly how steep the road
ahead was. Click, click, click - down went the gears.
It was a pure slog to the summit. Greg had no gearing choice but to shoot up the
road ahead of me.
One of the best things about cycling uphill is the view
you are rewarded with. The next best
thing is the descent. We were treated to
neither of these in this wee small hour of the night. The icy cold rain really goes through you
when descending and on wet roads, in the fog, and in the dark so Greg and I
took it very easy. I remember the 18%
descent sign followed by the road disappearing below my wheel. Those SwissStop Green brake pads are expensive
but worth every pound right at that moment.
My Dinotte headlight was superb too whether on dipped or main beam the
road was well lit.
The road was not all downhill (is it ever), and we
undulated our way to Alston for another cash machine receipt at 03:37 at 106km
covered. Stopping to put more layers on
and eat something I think Greg and I were at our coldest. I was shaking with cold and wet right to my
core, so much so that I decided to don some of the clothes I'd brought for the
party. Anything to layer up. My gloves were the cheap and excellent Aldi
specials. I don't know about Greg's gloves,
but for some reason his fingers were bare; it must have been agony for him.
From Alston we followed the A689 to Brampton and I think
we found the sneaky flat and downhill route out of the Pennines. Along River South Tyne and Coalfell Beck, the
road was those perfect little rolling hills which you can swoop up and
down. In addition the dawn light was
coming on now.
We shared the road with wildlife and the scenery was
05:20 in Brampton and 136km completed, we were too early
for a teashop but at this early hour a newsagent was taking his paper delivery
and the instant coffee from the machine in his shop was exactly what we needed. This was Brampton News on Front Street, the
early opening and instant coffee is worth knowing about because there is
nothing else available.
Off again, this time following the A6071 to Longtown.
Greg regaled me with Time Trial tales from the 24 records, telling me who had
ridden what distance and some of the stories of the quest for the 500 mile
record. Our spirits were rising with the
increasing light and Greg's company was deeply appreciated.
Another town and still too early for breakfast, Longtown
held nothing for us, so on to Gretna. We
made a diversion looking for breakfast at the Outlet Centre, but again we were
still too early. Thankfully just north
of Gretna on the B7076 was an access route to the motorway services and we
finally managed to stop for a proper breakfast.
I celebrated with beans and egg on toast, a sugar free redbull, a coffee
and a smoothie. I topped up the water
bottle and dropped a couple more zeros in.
Before setting off we also did a little maintenance. I was carrying a bottle of oil and some rags
and we were able to treat the rain induced squeaking of Greg's chain.
From here our route followed the A74(M) / M74 mainly on Sustrans
route 74 and the B7076. Only about 160km to go!
Looking at the cycle computer I'd been averaging about 21kph and
estimated another 8 hours riding ahead. This was definitely touring speed and I wasn't
going to be troubling the upper limits of Audax pace.
Our next goal was Moffat at 208km. We passed Lockerbie and the B7076 trundled
straight along switching occasionally over or under the A74(M). The entire stage from Brampton to Moffat was
70km but as it had been broken up with breakfast and plenty of small towns, the
distance dropped away. There were times
when I couldn’t really hear what Greg was saying due to the side wind, or
dropping away from him on inclines, but I found the existence of company very
helpful and we even took turns to draft and conserve energy. I'm afraid I wasn't much to draft behind on
the gentle climbs as my knees were beginning to niggle and my pace was
sometimes down to 14kph. But the weight of the luggage really helped on each
descent, so I could pedal easy and still keep momentum. There are long sections of very straight and
dull road along the side of the motorway, lined with half hearted efforts at
cycle lanes. The usual glass and rubbish eventually did for Greg's rear tyre
and we were delayed for about 20 minutes while he fixed this. From then we just stayed out of these awful
cycle paths. The road surface was not designed for pleasure either; it was that
rough top surface that unrelentingly vibrates every bone in your body.
I had thought of taking Old Carlisle Road into Moffat but
I must have missed the turning as we eventually came to the A701 and approached
with the Saturday tourist traffic. It
was nearly 10:00 and I'd worked out a cunning control point. I wanted to buy a bottle of Scotch as a
present for my friends 40th Birthday, so we called in at the Moffat
Woollen Mill and Whisky shop. The ensuing
tasting session was probably ill advised. A dram each of Highland, Islay and Speyside
was required to choose a bottle for my friend and it seemed sensible to treat
myself to a present from Scotland too.
As I stood at the counter to pay I realised my stomach only contained
So, fully laden with two bottles of Whisky in the
panniers, we called in at the bakers for some warm savoury food and by the time
we were done it was 10:40. Greg realised
that he was now on a very tight schedule to catch his return train and he needed
to average 25kph to make it in time. My
average was more like 21kph so I told him to leave me and try to cover the last
106km to Glasgow in 4 hours. Greg had
been great company and without him I simply wouldn’t have been there, but with
the night complete and a lovely Scottish journey ahead we said our
farewells. Despite saying goodbye, we
immediately hit a long gentle incline leaving Moffat on the A701/B719, so I
could see Greg ahead for a while. I twiddled
the gears at about 13kph the whole way but once over the top it was into the
big ring for a 46kph descent on the smooth swooping surface. The last I saw of Greg he had crossed over on
the bridge ahead and was on the next climb of the B7076. He texted me later to say that he made it
just in time.
It was a long lonely 16km to Abington, although the views
as I passed through the Lowther Hills were beautiful. I was feeling fine and nearly passed the
general store without stopping, but I’m glad I changed my mind and picked up a
BLT sandwich. The A702 lead to the B7078
and the most isolated I’d felt all morning.
It was a long section of perfect constant gradient where I could tap out
a regular rhythm on the pedals. This is one
of the many things I love about cycling in Scotland, the cycling rhythm and the
views while doing so.
Unfortunately the worst section of road was just ahead. There is a dual carriageway section from Happendon
through Lesmahagow towards Kirkmuirhill which I had expected to be fast. What I hadn't anticipated was an almost
abandoned road with practically no surface to ride on; this route cannot
possibly be called a road, off-road more like. Here a full suspension MTB would have its work
cut out keeping the vibration down and I reached the point of shouting
impotently at the world how dreadful the road was, how Sustrans must delete
route 74 from its maps and how much Scotland must hate cyclists and want them
to turn around and go home. Honestly, if
you ever get a chance to ride this section of road, just don't.
From just before Kirkmuirhill there was a short sharp
ascent on Teiglum Road to Strathaven Road and then onto the B7086. The wind which had been from my front left
(the northeast) since Gretna was now behind me and I zoomed up to 46kph all the
way on rolling hills to Strathaven. As
slow and awful as I had felt on the unmade dual carriageway I was now elated to
be riding properly surfaced, fast and grin-inducing roads. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster! After Strathaven I kept a nice 28 to 32kph
into East Kilbride over more gently rolling hill and after 288km arrived at
East Kilbride to collect a 50p Pay&Display ticket from the Sainsbury’s car
park. This was a fast and convenient way
to get a receipt especially as everyone was outside due to a fire alarm in
I knew time was tight and didn’t stop in East Kilbride;
instead I hit the final stage to Glasgow following the dual carriageway A749
and A730 downhill right into Glasgow Central. I stopped at every red traffic light but
enjoyed the cut and thrust of weaving through busy city traffic easily moving
faster than the queuing cars. I sighted
Glasgow Central Station and grabbed a receipt from a cash machine; 302km at
15:44; exactly, to the minute, 20 hours from Stokesley to Glasgow.
Now I just had a late night birthday party to get ready
for! As I was much later than hoped, a
quick internet search on laterooms revealed a good price at Jury Inn next to
the station so booked a room and wheeled my bicycle through the door. The lovely lady on reception did not bat an
eye at my appearance and was even happy to offer a secure place to lock up my
bicycle. I hit the shower, set my alarm
for 18:30 and went to bed!
The birthday party at the Grahamston was wonderful -
northern soul at full volume and plenty of drinks and food. Word was out that I had cycled and I had one
shouted conversation (over the music) after another about just why I had cycled
through the night to get there. Honestly,
I don't think I have a good answer. But
after a few drinks and a few more drinks I couldn’t feel my knees anymore. At 01:30 we said our farewells outside the
Grahamston and I crashed into bed at the Jury Inn.
I popped up feeling rosy at 08:30 so treated myself to an
excellent cooked breakfast. I then
packed and took my bicycle out for a pootle around the sunny and bright streets
of Glasgow on this wonderful Sunday morning.
Before I forget anything, I’m just drafting this story on a blackberry
keyboard while on a Cross Country train down to Darlington. The sun is shining, it is a beautiful day and
the North Sea is glittering in the midday sun.
I’d covered 331km including riding down to Stokesley for the start, been
riding for 15 hours and 31 minutes, burnt 9800 calories and had a completed my
first Audax, a DIY300 in exactly 20 hours and been to a late night party in
Glasgow. What an excellent adventure.
Labels: 300km Audax, DIY300, Long distance, Scotland, touring