600 kilometres is a long way. If you were to drive 600 kilometres in a car you’d probably be really tired when you got to your destination and want a nice cup of tea and a sit down. However, on Saturday about 50 of us set off from Ponteland (near Newcastle), aiming to cover that distance by bike within the permitted 40-hour time limit.
I’d done one 600k audax before, so I knew I could manage this. However, that didn’t stop the nerves. A long endurance ride is going to mean highs and lows, and it’s hard to know just what the lows will be like and when they might come. A long audax is an adventure with a number of variables which could change how goes – how would I feel physically? will there be any problems with the bike? what will the weather be like? Plus, this ride had the additional element of being my final qualifier for Paris-Brest-Paris – not completing would mean having to find another 600 to do.
This ride ended up having three distinct sections: Saturday, Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon/evening.
Saturday was generally uneventful. I made good progress from Ponteland to Alnwick, and then northwest to Wooler and then over the border into Scotland. There are always plenty of riders bunched up at the start of an audax, so there were plenty of people to ride with and chat to. The first proper stop was a pop-up café in Morebattle, just inside Scotland. This stop wasn’t great from a vegan perspective – the only thing I could have was a couple of bread rolls and a cup of coffee. Never mind, I had plenty of food with me, so I ate a couple of bars and carried on.
Soon after Morebattle I got a puncture. Frustrating, but not a big problem. I fixed it and carried on. Shortly after that I caught up with three other cyclists, one of whom I had done a ride with previously. This turned out to be a really good thing. We all seemed to be comfortable at a similar pace, and ended up staying together for the whole ride. As we headed west towards Moffat there was a noticeable (but not terrible) headwind. It’s a long stretch and there’s not much on that road, so we stopped at a pub about 40k from Moffat for a proper meal. Stir-fried veg with pasta was about the only thing I could have on the menu, but it was really good.
Then it was over the hill to Moffat to get a receipt from the Co-op, then up the Devil’s Beef Tub. It’s a long, steady, slightly boring climb, followed by a wonderful descent that seems to go on forever. At the bottom we headed west to Biggar for a quick stop in a pub, and then tracked across to the road that runs parallel to the M74, to go south Lockerbie Lorry Park. It was getting dark by this point, and it was really good to have my fellow riders to chat to on this long, boring road.
Lockerbie Lorry Park is a strange place to be in the middle of the night. You find truckers and cyclists eating vast amounts of food (I had beans on toast and tattie scones), and you might even find karaoke going on in the function room.
This was the halfway point, it was after midnight, and we knew there was still at least another 3 hours of cycling to get to the checkpoint at Colvend where there would be airbeds and blankets. We decided to get rooms and stop at the Lorry Park for a bit, we slept from 1-3.15am.
When we set off at 4am from Lockerbie it was raining heavily and we had a headwind. Suffice it to say that the next 3 hours to the Colvend checkpoint via Dumfries for a receipt weren’t much fun.
It was good to get to Colvend at about 7.15. Again, vegan options were limited, but I enjoyed a second lot of beans of toast. We dried out a bit and then carried on just before 8am.
We had a 100k loop to do before returning to Dumfries. It’s the sort of thing that would have been really enjoyable had the weather been better, however we had heavy rain pretty much the whole way round. The good thing was that for most of this loop the wind was favourable. Half way round we did a quick stop at a community shop in New Galloway; I was pretty happy to find a pot of hummus, some chunky oat cakes and a carton of dairy-free chocolate and orange milk – wonderful! The hummus and oatcakes in particular were just what I needed. There was then a long climb to do, followed by a good descent down to Dumfries.
It was lunchtime when we got to Dumfries, and it was good to stop in a café for some food – potato soup and chunky bread was a just what I needed. The rain had stopped as we left and the sun came out. It got warm, and so we shed some layers. It also felt very windy.
It was initially a crosswind but as we started to turn east, it was more and more at our backs. This felt fantastic. We sailed along to Annan, Gretna and then Longtown for a quickish stop at the garage for a receipt. Despite having only had two-and-a-quarter hours sleep, and having ridden nearly 500k I felt really good. The sun kept shining, and the wind continued to blow us east as we headed towards Gilsland.
I was now on very familiar roads. The final 90k was more or less my old commute followed by my new commute. As a result, I knew exactly what was coming, and so was very well placed to manage my effort. Climbing up Greenhead Bank to the Military Road was pretty tough after 560k but once we were up the tailwind was incredible, blowing us along like kites to Twice Brewed.
The official route suggested we go all the way along the Military Road to Chollerford, and then back to Ponteland via The Ryals. I really didn’t fancy that (despite the tailwind). So I took our little group down the Stanegate, along to Hexham and Corbridge and up Aydon Road to re-join the route at Stamfordham – much less steep stuff to do.
Rolling back into Ponteland I felt really good. This ride had taken longer than the 600 I did last year, and the weather on Sunday morning was challenging, but I was surprised by how fresh I felt at the end. It was encouraging and reassuring, given that in a couple of months’ time I’ll be doing twice this distance in France. As I write this I’m exhausted and I can’t imagine being out on the bike still. However, this 600 has given me confidence. Qualification for PBP is complete, now I need to spend June and July getting ready for the Big One.