To Holl and Back 600

What a great, painful, soul-destroying, thoroughly enjoyable ride, thank you Mike!!  As an X-rated ride, this is one of the friendlier ones with plenty of opportunities to stop.  I didn't have enough sleep beforehand and I didn't feel brilliant on the day, so I was far less conversational than usual and fewer pictures tooken.

Note: this ride report is a mild rewrite of my submission to yacf, here.  Codified names are the nicknames of people on the forum, sorry about that.  The post date has been changed to the date of the ride. 

For the TL:DR crowd: good route, hillier than advertised, plan mostly worked, met new yacfers (Bikey Mikey (properly this time), jogler, jasmine (in passing), and others I am sure: good to meet you all), rode same pace as several riders, although different speeds.  Enjoy the pics, sorry not as many as last time.

For me, all the rides between now and July are preparation for LEL, except this time I was breaking in a full-size B17.  I wanted to experience the flatlands in June before experiencing the flatlands in July.  And I wanted to experience a full overnight, x-rated audax before experiencing The Flatlands in September.  Did I learn anything?  Yes: the bike weighs too much, I go out too quick at the start, I need to sleep!!

1. The start and around Manchester

A bit of an overcast start early on Saturday morning in a car park in Poynton just south of Manchester, 70-something cyclists and a variety of two- and three-wheeled machines gathered to do battle with the lump called Saddleworth Moor and the billiard table known as Holland Fen.

At 6am Mike (the org) quietly announced we could leave: no fanfare, just "off you go, then", and off we went.  My plan for this ride was the same as always: keep it steady at the start and try to stay in touch with the group, climb Saddleworth Moor steadily without honking, stay in touch with the group to Askern, stay in touch with the group to Brough, stay in touch yada yada yada … and as always, didn't work out quite that way, mainly because of the headwind.  However, this time I had a train to catch, so I had a fixed time window to return by, otherwise I'd be staying the night in London under a bridge somewhere waiting for the first train home to Cambridge.

It was a brisk but not looney start: Bikey Mikey disappeared off into the distance and a group of us just made the lights at the A6 and right at the next set before they changed, including the tandemites ChrisS and fboab as well as the Peter-Cook-alike Wobbly (and all the other riders whose names/tags I don't know):

In fact that was one of the features of the first 30km: it was mostly through suburban roads around the south-eastern area of Manchester and the groups were broken apart by short, sharp climbs and lots of traffic lights.  It took yanto and his "orange blob" far longer to pass us than expected from the start and, because of the up-down terrain and a set of traffic lights, it was the only way I could stay with him (for about a minute).  Shortly after the lights turned green a minor disaster for yanto: he confessed elsewhere to trying to do to much in the cockpit and, as you can see in the fourth shot below, dropped his brevet:

I find the idea of a velomobile interesting: to my mind it's not a bicycle of any description, it's too refined for that.  It's also unsuitable for many roads because of its poor climbing ability (but then I know all about that on an upright bike myself) and don't try to ride it through a width restriction.  Yet under the right circumstances it's insanely quick, mostly out of the weather, allegedly quite comfortable, technically interesting, expensive enough to be uncommon and I want to try one tongue  From what yanto reported elsewhere, he had a better ride than I did by about 8 hours total and with an additional 3 hours of sleep!!  Surprisingly, though, I saw far more of the orange blob during the ride than I was expecting.

The ride through Mossley presented post-industrial dereliction and the mood in the weather didn't help at this time: it's a constant worry of mine for my kids that as Britain stops "making things" and continues to move towards a "have a nice day" service-driven economy, where's the real wealth-generation coming from?  There comes a point, surely, when we will all be serving each other and nobody will actually be adding real value into the economy and then it will take just one dark cloud and the whole economy will implode.  But then my name isn't Adam Smith and what do I really know about these things?

(That rider in the photo above I think is the same one who I spotted sleeping in a field just on the edge of Melton Mowbray, happy as Larry, in full view of everyone including the Police.  More later …)

Those of us who had paid attention to the changes in the routesheet had spotted a shortcut around Greenfield by continuing straight on: it didn't save much, only 600m or so, but moved a couple of us from the back of the group to the front, and thereby to the front of the [short] queue to get validated at the first control, a short way up the climb onto Saddleworth Moor:

A very welcome piece of flapjack to go with the validated brevet and it was a few minutes' rest before the main climb of the ride up onto Saddleworth moor.  At this point Mike idly pondered on the noticeable lack of missing riders with a cheery "I'm surprised to see so many of you arriving here safely, since down there is where the Moors Murderers lived and up there's where they buried them"!! shocked  At this point I was at least 15 minutes ahead of my estimated schedule and that gave me a few minutes extra to mount the Moor without killing my legs.

 2. Up over Saddleworth Moor

The climb up onto the Moor was straightforward "pick a gear and spin" territory and we made good time to the top.  As the road levelled I was able to click/clunk up through the gears for the flat section over the top.  It's pretty barren up there, but the wind was mostly behind us and I made good progress. 

The drop off the other side was a bit quick: I got crouched right down with my chin on the map board and elbows tucked in – I haven't seen any pictures of this, but I imagine I look more comical than I usually do on the bike!  The trick seems to be to optimise airflow and then keep everything very smooth around the corners.  A quick hand wave at the van behind to stay where he was and I swooped through the curves that Mike warned about at full tilt left-right-left taking the racing line, overtaking several riders who'd sat up.  I maxed out at 70kph, which was quick enough to bring my average speed right back up after the steady climb thumbs up

The ups and downs that followed had me reaching for bottom gear several times and, in spite of my plan, gently honking some of the smaller lumps.  Apart from the bar tape unravelling on one side, which required a quick stop just under the viaduct at Denby Dale, this next section was uneventful.  The routesheet promised a summit of 280m, but it didn't really arrive as expected, as we were already fairly close to that elevation.

I rode with a fixie rider 10km or so into Askern, as he was using the original route sheet that had been sent out previously and didn't have the info control marked – another of the many riders I rode with whose names escaped me, but we got the job done.  I was now nearly half an hour ahead of my schedule, which itself had plenty of time in hand to catch that train.  A quick stop for a baked-bean pasty (!) in Askern and back on the bike only to stop 100 yards down the road at the railway crossing for what seemed like five minutes. 

3. The flatlands

From this point onwards we were looking at 250km of almost completely flat terrain, only a couple of villages on mounds to break the plain.  I wasn't sure what this would be like: I've ridden Norfolkshire and Suffolkshire and they're known to be "not hilly" but they are still not exactly flat; this was going to be completely flat and in places competing with the strengthening wind. As it turned out I needn't have worried, since the wind was rarely in our faces and was often on our backs and I made good time towards the Humber estuary and my legs still felt pretty okay.

At Howden I decided to take the scenic route, which would involve a bit of loose-surface bridleway, but was out in the country instead of following the shorter, quicker, busier, duller main roads.  This turned out to be a Good Plan, apart from navigation.  I missed the first turn because I had routed it incorrectly into my GPS (my fault) and had to double back and then the measured distances and marked distances were out by nearly 2km, so I thought I was now lost and about to break out the maps.  30 seconds of idle reflection and another rider came around the corner – none other than Bikey Mikey, who I though had been well ahead of me!  It turned out he'd stopped for a bacon sandwich (apparently causing the rear half of one tandem to subsequently demand the same of the captain!) and we rode together with another rider (no name, sorry, although pic below) through some really very quiet, lovely villages along lanes and bridleways all the way to the road into Brough.

At Brough Mikey stopped at a cashpoint and I wouldn't see him for a while.  I stopped at the Morrison's garage and bought too much to eat, weighing me down for the next leg (not that it made much of a difference).  I was over an hour ahead of schedule now. 

4. Over the bridge to a truly flat place

After Brough, it's straight to the Humber Bridge, which is a spectacle all of its own, and a turn south-westwards, meaning we would be heading into a headwind.  A couple of riders on the bridge: one who rode straight past and off, and one who seemed unsure what to do with the westerly path closed.

I made Gainsborough in good time, in spite of the wind, for another Morrison's garage forecourt feast: Jasmine was here in Scottish colours as I recall and rode off as I parked up.  Three of us sat in the sun out of the wind and had a leisurely lunch of cold pasty and milkshake.  I drank a lot of milkshakes on this ride following some information elsewhere on the forum and I have to say they worked for me in the sense that I didn't feel sick after, unlike sweet drinks.  However, I felt dehydrated for most of the ride, even though I was drinking both bidons dry between controls, and this has me a bit worried for LEL.

5. A red arrow to Wragby

The run to Wragby was quick with a tailwind most of the way.  I struggled a bit up the short incline at Scampton, as I could feel 230+km in my legs at this point and we still had 360+km to go, so I took it easy.  And I am glad that I did: a sudden roar and a group of four Red Arrows popped up on my left, then a few seconds later another four, and a few seconds after that the final two roared overhead, really powering along to catch the main formation.  It was absolutely stunning to be so close!! 

I had been riding between groups for a while – on the plains it's quite easy to see them even though they're miles away – but I caught one rider, Mel Kirkland, who I rode with again into Donington.  It's one of the things that sets calendar rides apart from DIYs and perms: you meet people.  Shortly afterwards a jolly "hello" and the tandemites bowled through, presumably baconed-up!

A brief stop in Wragby for a sandwich and more milkshake and then it was time for the main feature across Holland Fen.

6. Holland Fen

Holland Fen is seriously flat!  It's so flat that bridges are like mountains!!  And distances become foreshortened:  I could see a couple of riders just over there, but there was no way I could catch them!!  There had been a warning about the road being closed, and it probably is on a weekday, but not at the weekend, so we were able to pass straight through.

I followed this couple of riders for km after km, gaining slowly on them.  As we got close to Boston, some kids started yelling encouragement "catch him! catch him!" – I did eventually catch him, but only because of a red light.  Did anyone else think that Boston church could stand in for the Eye of Sauron?  Spooky.

A quick MacD's and a posterical-reapplication, and it was back on the bike for the final leg to the overnight stop at Colsterworth. 

7. A ride to a man with a van (and a loo)

I was really worried about this part, because now we were turning into the wind and it had been quite strong all day.  Fortunately it appeared to have abated a little in what was now late evening, so it was a steady run.  I was starting to get the dozies, so about 15km from the control I parked the bike and lay down on the verge – my first proper audax moment!!  And it was lovely: as I got down out of the wind I realised that it was actually really warm and I just dozed right off for 10 minutes.  I was woken by a group of riders passing and got back on the bike to ride with them and caught up with Julian on his Moulton: a lovely machine, proper long-distance little-wheeled bike, I want one (but can't afford one).  We traded notes on the ride to the control.

The control at Colsterworth was a forest car park, where Mike had parked a monster horsebox with the awning out over food, lots of calorific food.  And he'd set up a tent as well as laid out tarps and blankets for riders to get a bit of shut-eye.  I was lucky: as I was wondering which mat to sleep on, another rider relinquished a duvet (!) and I just lay down and went to sleep, without removing anything: complete with shoes, gloves and helmet!!  I didn't sleep amazingly well, or very long and I was back up 90 minutes later with extreme shakes induced by the lack of sleep and the cold air.  I wanted to make a good getaway, because the forecast was for light headwind strengthening throughout the morning.

8. Dawn chorus on our way to Donington

The sky was lightening as I left the clutches of Mike's hospitality at 3am, although we were still a good hour and a half before dawn and it was a lovely ride across towards Melton Mowbray.  In Melton I saw a funny sight: one of our riders, the one I photographed in Mossley I think, was parked in the middle of a huge horse-training field surrounded by houses in plain view of everyone!  I wish I had taken a photo, because it was a brilliant sightsmile  A Police car turned around on the road just below the field where we rode through and returned the other way and appeared to be taking no notice of the sleeping gentleman, but apparently a short while later he was woken and moved on.

I've driven the road from Melton to Kegworth many times, and so it was very interesting to see it from the bike: the hills are steeper and bigger than you notice in a car and the scenery is just different: you notice all sorts of things you don't see from the car.  Yanto and the orange blob caught me napping as they whooshed past at Wymeswold: if I'd seen him coming I would have had the camera ready. 

At the lights in Wymeswold, I think, another rider started telling me he was about to bail: as I was so close to the edge of my endurance at this point, just so tired in the legs and so sleepy tired, I couldn't bear to discuss the possibility of a comfortable train ride home at the next possible opportunity; he seemed determined to DNF, so I left him to it and refused to discuss.  I am sorry to whomever that was, but it's not always possible to be civil and I will pay penance for that lack of selflessness at some point in the future I am sure embarrassed

On the final climb through Kegworth up to Donington, Mel caught me up and we discussed the thickness of blood and whether that's a good or bad thing.  I am still undecided.  But I can say that after about 15 hours I can't get my heart rate over about 135bpm, even when honking my guts out!!  Does that mean I am fit or unfit?  Is it going to be a problem for LEL?  I dunno.

The stop at Donington took a little longer than hoped, but it was nice to get off the bike as the sun was rising and share notes on the ride so far, as well as replace old contact lenses with new.  As we were there, Jasmine arrived (with others) dressed now in Welsh colours and came out a few minutes later back in Scottish colours … eh?

9. All this riding is giving me wind and making me tired

The wind was picking up now and the riding was becoming extremely tiring (more so than usual).  My legs felt like they had nothing left and I dropped back into survival mode, conscious of the fact we still had over 150km to go.  I got off and walked several hills that on Saturday I would have ridden up.  The dozies got me around Hilton and I had a quick lie up on the verge for 10 minutes until Big Saxon passed me again.

After Uttoxeter I had my eyes open for jogler's promised photograph opportunity at the "green triangle", and was passed again by the tandemoes a kilometre or two before that point, but when I got there, no paps.  Mildly disappointed, because I had stopped to comb my hair and apply makeup (that's not true), I rode on, only to spot a couple of VC167 shirts and a long lens pointing at me: jogler had decided to relocate and the tandemistas had stopped for a chat.  I smiled, I gurned, I farted, and I stopped for a rest and a chat.

After moving off with Chris and boab, I kept in their shadow for a km or two, but they soon dropped me, as I was trying to preserve what little strength I felt I had left in my legs.  That was the last I would see of them on the ride.

At the control at Stone it was a wave to Big Saxon as he departed and a quick Coop visit and back onto the bike: this headwind was killing my legs and hammering my averages to the point that I was now behind my original schedule and getting worse: on Saturday I had averaged 23.4kph moving speed, and on Sunday this had dropped to just 18.1kph; that's quick enough for LEL, but not by much.

10. Lonely to Prees with wind

The ride to Prees Heath was lonely: I don't recall seeing anyone else on this stretch.  I've driven the A41 through there many dozens of times and again it was interesting to see it from the bike as opposed to the car.  However, the motorbikes racing up and down was exceedingly unpleasant: to quick, too loud, too close. I chose the garage as a more expedient control than the café.

11. The final leg to home, tailwind-happeeee

The first lane after crossing the A41 at Prees Heath was immediately tailwind happy – wheeeeee!  Absolutely flying!  Couldn't be happier at this moment!!  And then we turned a corner and the tailwind became a sidewind.  And then the hedges got taller and whatever wind it became no wind.  And it felt like in the late afternoon the wind was steadily dropping.  So all that grinding into the wind all day long that should have paid back in equal measure was instead doing its damnedest to hold onto the debt, bastard!

In Nantwich I could stand the dozies no longer and had 10 minutes sleep by the river; BigS disappeared off into the distance.  Once I had navigated out of Nantwich I suddenly found my legs again and the cadence rose, along with the speed and I caught up with BigS just after Middlewich, where he had stopped to eat his sandwiches.  As we set off another couple of riders passed and we joined into a group.  Somehow I was able to maintain a fair average tempo and share the workload, which was a bit unexpected, given how my legs had been not a few hours earlier.  I tried to photo the riders with the humungous Jodrell Bank dish in the background, but couldn't line everything up: I was having to ride the bike and take pictures at the same time!

We came across an unfortunate incident at the junction of Bomish Lane where a car had collided with a cyclist.  The Police had taped the whole junction off, but allowed us around the edge.  The cyclist's bike was folded over broken in half and the windscreen of the car was punched in, so it looked like a direct hit.  No Carradice or anything else audax-like on the bike, so we presumed it was not one of us.  No sign of the cyclist.  Sobering.

For the final stretch into Poynton the three of us moved around, not really as a group, just in front of or behind each other.  The traffic got busier and, to be honest, a lot less tolerant as we got closer to arrivée, and I was nearly mown down by two drivers: riding in London is a far nicer experience than riding in the North West, perhaps because they've been working at it for longer: in Cheshire they just speed by too close and always assume bikes have no right of way, second-class road-users, etc.

12. Arrivée

A few abrupt climbs and the yump over the railway and it was time to get a receipt for arrivée.  I popped into the car park to see whether Mike (the org) was parked up, as he was after Llanfair PG 400, but no bacon and it was back to the NatWest for a withdrawal slip.  Then a quick 8km spin to Stockport station and the ride home (although I felt really antisocial smelling like I'd been on the bike for two days when crammed up against other people on the train, sorry!).

607km in 37 hours 17 minutes, my personal best. 4077m climbed (!). 20,000Cal burned (apparently).  123,000 pedal strokes (no wonder my knees are a bit sore).  More suntan on the tops of my knees, but my thighs are milk-bottle white rolls eyes  My fastest 100km (moving only), 200km, 300km, 400km (moving only) and 600km in one ride!!

That's also my second SR series complete smug

Looking back

Having finished the ride in time and largely achieved my goals I can say that I did enjoy the ride, thank you Mike! thumbs up  The route is very good: a suburban, gritty start through the outskirts of Manchester followed by a stiff, but not particularly long climb up over the Pennines and a rapid run down to some lumpy stuff before the flatlands begin.  Then an unbelievably flat 250km before a few lumps to the horsebox-control at Colsterworth and some typically good Mike hospitality (complete with pop-up loo).  And then lots of Cheshire-sized bumps all the way back to the start.  The controls were well-spaced and none were too far apart.  The routesheet is esoteric, but accurate.  And for an x-rated event, this didn't feel at all difficult, and so should definitely be considered a good first x-rated 600 for anyone looking to step up.

My legs went away again after about 300km, but came back to me after a further 200km and the final run in was quick (for me).  I wonder if this is in part dehydration/heat stroke just from working hard in the sun, or whether it's something else.  I drank quite a lot while riding – about 1.5L every 3 hours – which should be enough, but maybe it's not.

I haven't ridden LEL yet, this is still my first season, but if LEL is anything like this then I shouldn't have too many issues with the ride itself.  There are aspects of personal comfort that still elude me, but I think that's at least 50% due to riding a bike that doesn't, erm, fit very well.  But so long as I can keep a measured cadence and not work too hard on the bike, I think I have the core speed and endurance now to keep up a steady 300km/day schedule, which would give me at least six hours stop time each night.

As for the equipment, the luggage systems I've bought/built work well: it's all waterproof, most things have a place and can be got at quickly (although not when moving).  The lights work really well and I had no complaints about my rears being too bright or annoying*.  I just got a new Nokia phone and I haven't charged it since Saturday morning and it's still at 40% 3.5 days later, so I think I can use a much smaller and lighter battery pack than I currently use and recharge it from the dynamo.  I still need to figure out the camera, because having it hanging around my neck is convenient when using it, but it's awkward to stow and retrieve it and makes me look fat.  I also need to be a bit more critical in what I carry in the bags, because the whole set-up is too heavy and it so needs to go on a bit of a diet (as do I).

I have a Garmin 800 and it did unpleasant things on this ride.  This is the first track over 400km that I've plotted as a single track instead of breaking it up.  That turned out to be a mistake, because the Garmin reported "Truncating Route", which looks like it means "I can't handle that many turn instructions for a single track", and so stopped giving me turn-by-turn at Nantwich, without warning.  So the final 50km were ridden against the routesheet rather than the GPS, which is fine now that I know it.  Otherwise it worked as well as always giving me live stats and logging the data for later analysis, which I find useful.  And I can charge it from my front light in just a few hours, or from a small battery pack in my front bag.  Now that I know all this, I can accommodate it: on shorter rides it's very reliable.

Fuller set of pics here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilky/sets/72157634429019379

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Nick Wilkinson

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