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Here be ye Dragons

Wales and back, 600kms - it’s not Epic, it’s just a long way

As we slowly nose into the dark of the cycle lane dropping off the bridge there is the unmistakable high-pitched scream of a 150cc motorbike being throttled to death nearby and it suddenly emerges from the bushes in front of us in an explosion of noise and light. It clunk bounces up the kerb and heads towards the bridge the way we’ve just come. We guess it’s sneaking onto the bike path to avoid paying the toll, well, that and the motorbike is carrying two passengers, neither of whom is wearing a helmet, although the pillion is wearing a mask, but most probably because the motorbike isn’t actually theirs. Ten minutes later as we skulk through the sodium half-light towards the services at Magor we pass a man walking along the pavement balancing a shopping trolley on his head.

Welcome to Wales. It’s worth the trip.

My friend Gavin and I are riding to Wales and back. From Sussex. Yeah, it’s a long way, we know. There are solid reasons for doing this, it isn’t just a random futility. First on the list of reasons is that it’s the Hailsham 600, an audax route that Gavin wants to complete so he can earn a Super Randonneur badge. Pretty stupid reason actually, to get a badge. Next up on the justifications and probably more important than any badge is that It was decided a while back that we both want to do the Transcontinental race next year and about now we should step up to the plate and see what happens when we clock some meaningful mileage together. Although currently it feels like we’re stepping up to a cliff. We could fly, we could plummet. There are other reasons too but they’re put quietly in the back of the head for thinking about at three in the morning.

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The Hailsham 600 is an audax perm from Hailsham in Sussex all the way over the Severn Bridge to the glory that is Magor services on the M4 in Wales, and back again. Officially it’s 611kms long, what’s ten kilometres between friends, and with about 3,500 metres of climbing it’s not very hilly when stretched over that distance. Small mercies. While Gavin has officially signed up for it I’m less bothered and I’m just going to ride it for fun and reasons. As an audax perm we can do the ride any time we choose, just let the organiser know, pay the £3 and in return get a suggested route sheet and list of controls to pass through. It’s done very much on an honour system, like all audaxes, with the emphasis on self-reliance, navigation skills and a level of independence you’re not going to get smashing round a signed sportive struggling to get a fast bronze time. Gavin says he’s found no evidence of anyone doing the Hailsham 600 for quite a few years, which tells me more than I want to know.

Here be Dragons - Chidden (photo ©Gavin Peacock) .jpg

I’m no stranger to the ways of the ‘dax, I’m the proud owner of a Grimpeurs du Sud badge, an award for completing a series of 5 or more hilly events in the south-east of England. Whilst none of them were long, all hovering about 100km they more than made up for it in height gain. And there’s the thing, I’m quite good at rides that are short and fast, and the most I’ve ridden in a day is 200kms. This is going to be a stretch.

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What I do have on my side is that I have done a lot on a bike, lots of stupid things. I have suffered up climbs, I have crossed mountain ranges, I have endured endurance racing, I have not wanted to ever get on a bike again and had to get on a bike again. I have been cold and wet and miserable and had no option but to keep going. I have pushed myself. There have been tears and swearing. A fat back-catalogue of “is it as bad as…?” to rely on. But all of these things have had rests in them. Tilting at mountains have been single day jaunts, or day on day journeys with proper meals and sleeps in between, the endurance racing has been in teams where again there’s been time off the bike, no matter how brief. This is the first time I have spent so much time in the saddle in one hit, the furthest daily distance I have ridden by a factor of three. I’m convinced I don’t have the mental fortitude to do this sort of thing. Or the physical reserves. Big step. Necessary step. Why ponce about with doing a 300km or 400km ride as a steady progression? A large part of me is deeply deeply shit scared, the other part of me will be massively calling on all of that previous experience, screwing it up into one massive ball and relying on it. But mostly I’m shit scared.

In the days previous I am stalked by fear and haunted by images of 3a.m. mental breakdowns, I even make a list of the things I might find myself sitting in a gutter crying over in the dark, the dim beam of a bike light illuminating my shoes. It runs to a few pages. I have several pre-cries just to practice what it’s like. I’m prepared for Gavin and I to have a proper falling out, although he says it usually happens that audax partners will naturally drift apart in the dark hours to be in their own special space. I load up the credit card so I can get the train back from Bristol, or Swindon or anywhere really.

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Gavin is far better suited to this than I, he is very good at the steady long-haul plod. He has a whole Carradice full of audaxes to his name, 100kms, 200kms and 400kms, I’ve heard stories, not all of them good; there have been tears, dark corners, huddling in bus stops and that staring at shoes apparently. He’s also done a couple of 24hr mountain bike races solo where I have seen him at 4 in the morning, it’s not been pretty. He’s also excellent at navigation, he has many bits of paper and a Garmin. A good man to have around. He also has a dynamo that can power a light or a GPS, which means he’s serious. We’re hoping that our various abilities will meet somewhere in the middle.

We get on well, I think. We’ve ridden a lot together, Gavin usually comes up with a silly ride idea and I’m one of the ones to join in. We’ve helped each other home more than once, we’ll be okay I think. Unless he harbours deep seated and well hidden cauldrons of rage. Probably find out for sure in a black corner of a lane in Wiltshire. A fox’s bark masking the thudding noise.

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The mounting sickening panic of the preceding few days is suddenly replaced by a stoic pragmatism on the actual morning. There’s no time for hand-wringing and worry, we just have to clip in and get on with it really. We train it from Brighton to Polegate in the half-light, spin up the Cuckoo Trail to Hailsham where Gavin gets some money out of a Tescos cash-machine with a receipt to verify his position and start time which he will send off to the route organiser to get his ride confirmed. Whilst waiting I spot a small bag of weed on the pavement by my right foot. Someone somewhere has been patting their pockets, swearing. I hand it to Gavin, this might come in handy later.

We have a basic plan; as Gavin has done more audaxing, audaxes, audices, he’ll set the pace and he’s happy to do the navigating, we’ll stop and eat often and at what would be considered meal times to try and retain some kind of structure and normality to this idiocy. Gavin has printed off approximate timings for the checkpoints along the way with both fast and slow speeds noted down. While we have a plan we’re both happy to deviate from it if needs must. If the worst comes to the worst then we are in the south of England, and never ever really very far from a train station or a Costas or a phonecall to a helpful friend. It’s not the Atacama. We’ll be fine.

Here be Dragons - Jet Wash (photo ©Gavin Peacock) .jpg

We head west out across Sussex and it’s not long before we stop in a services by a roundabout for Gavin to pick up the first of many petrol station receipts as confirmation of his progress. He’s buying car-fresheners as a theme for the day. These early roads are familiar, if underused, we’re on the road that passes through Laughton towards Lewes, too straight in places and taken by traffic too fast to be friendly on a bike, so despite living less than 20 miles away I’ve ridden it but a handful of times, always reluctantly. But today it’s not far past daylight and quiet and with the low sun directly on our backs it’s not a horrendous road. An audax route planner will frequently use busier roads if they know they’re going to be ridden at the less occupied times of day, it makes for faster progress and easier navigation.

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My left knee is hurting, but that’s ok because it hurts a lot these days, I should do my stretches more. My left calf is hurting, it hurts on odd occasions, I should do my stretches more frequently. I’m a bit tired thanks to only managing two hours sleep last night. Did I mention I was shit scared? None of this is ideal for a long day or two in the saddle. Easy gear; spin, spin, spin. Carry on, it’s only the biggest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s a glorious morning in which to ride a bike. Let’s concentrate on that.

I never realized how many second-hand cars there are for sale on the side of the road. This might come in useful later, good job I loaded up the credit-card.

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The first and last parts of the Hailsham 600 are all on well-known roads to us and it eases us into things on the way out, good to just click off well acquainted miles without navigational faff and there’s the thought that some time much later it will help psychologically to know where we’re going, where we just have to return to when we’re tired and broken. Although the temptation to simply turn right and go home will be a tough urge to resist, we joke. We skip along the north side of the Downs; Lewes, Ditchling and Partridge Green, all friendly names, and pull in to the services on the A24/A272 crossroads as the next control.

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As it’s now about traditional breakfast time we wander into the adjacent McDonalds for food. I can’t remember the last time I strolled under the golden arches voluntarily for something to eat, sometime in my teens I think. I’m ready to be disappointed and I’m not disappointed. My McBreafast is limp, small and immensely dissatisfying. Never mind, it is fuel. While we’re there a large queue forms inside while outside there’s a traffic-jam blocking the petrol station waiting for the drive-thru. People have driven to a burger joint on a busy road junction a fair way from any major town to wait in line for a mass-produced nutritionally suspect cut’n’paste breakfast. Is this their Saturday Morning Treat? The dreadfulness of all this, the endless pursuit of mediocrity, fills my head for the next few miles as we continue westwards but veer south for the dog-leg over the Downs into Chichester for the next control.

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Baby ferrets for sale.

At a ring-road Sainsburys we’re a sixth of the way done. Petrol station, air-freshener. We’re ahead of our fast schedule and it confirms my feeling that we’ve been going a little too swiftly for what’s ahead, on the plus side it gives us a nice sleep/mechanical/sluggishness buffer for later. This is time for small celebration and we reward ourselves with tea, an eccles cake for me and a sausage bap for Gavin, served with the kind of heartening lack lustre you’d expect from a provincial town. It is fuel. We have to head out of town on major B roads and it’s not a route I’d choose to ride again with crappy tarmac and whilst not overly busy there’s fast traffic, another time when major roads have to be endured to join the dots, make up time and miles, it’s just the wrong time of day. Gavin has rejiggered the route of the audax perm in places to avoid some of the uglier roads he knows whilst still hitting control points but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Unfortunately this ramps up the distance a few more kilometres, but I think it’s worth it for peace of nerves. Head down, audax two-up, crack on.

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We fall off the map.

Traveling from Sussex to Wales means that we see a lot of countryside, a lot of England, and all the subtle changes of landscape along the way. As we head out of Sussex the trees and hedgerows change shape, and then Wiltshire sees the appearance of metal fences and then all of a sudden we’re into Cotswold stone, all the while the curve of the hills morphs and the corners of lanes follow a different arc. Sheep to cows, back to sheep. Little differences. We stop in Sutton Scotney at about 100 miles to buy another car-freshener in a services and have a pub lunch. Normality. It’s the first of the “Where are you cycling to?” conversations we have. “And where have you cycled from?” They’ve padded out the meal with too much salad, which is a bit limp. We mention we might be back for breakfast, brunch at the latest.

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A field of detectorists.

I ask Gavin to let me know when we’ve hit 200km, that’s more or less the most I’ve ever pedaled in a day before and a non-descript piece of tarmac is the milestone. I now have to pedal the furthest distance I’ve ever ridden before twice more in succession. This kind of distance is both physically hard and mentally challenging. Adjusting the brain to cope with the fact that it’s not doing one of the usual loops from home but going all-the-way-over-there, and then all-the-way-back-again requires some crunching of gears. Traveling 600kms to Wales and back over a weekend is something I’d think twice about doing in a car let alone under my own steam. It helps that the controls are spaced handy bite-sized pieces of mileage apart so we have a succession of  “just get to there”s to deal with, pedalable gobbets, approaching it all in one go would be too much. And so far, it’s been fine. I feel okay. Thanks to audax pace where you never really push yourself and just keep everything steady and the regular stops for refueling I’m not suffering at all. There’s a long way to go though, and the night, things can unravel in the night. This I know.

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“You’ve lost Miffy”

Over the whalebacks of Salisbury Plain. The roads are suddenly wet here and we seem to be riding just behind the heavy showers that were forecast for part of the day. We get incredibly lucky with the weather on the ride, we miss most of the rain although we do get caught in a couple of showers on the Sunday, there is very little wind and it’s warm both day and night. If we’d have got stuck under one of these cloudbursts it would have changed the rides personality significantly. We pass along roads with waves of gravel washed across them and through villages with streets layered with mud and we have to tip-toe through flooding, it looks like we’ve avoided it all by being a few minutes too slow. Yay us.

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A junction that confuses the Garmin, three riders go past fast, girl in front, Ale kit. Flapping gilets. We turn right.

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We pause in Calne as it’s getting dark and stock up on newsagents snacks, the shop owner is impressed at how far we’ve ridden and where we have to get to. Eat, put on extra layers, lights on into the twighlight, final bit to Leigh Delamere services on the M4. We roll our bikes in and despite the few odd looks no-one seems to care. It is a completely alien place for bicycles, they do not compute. Tea and coffee, the only hot food that’s left is the scabby remnants of the day forlorn in the corners of stainless steel trays, three bits of chicken, four wrinkled sausages, not enough chips. We raid M&S.

The annoying endless loop of the Peppa Pig tune from the slot-machine game.

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Emerging from the services it’s time to turn proper lights on, the roads are ours alone, and floating in the middle of the little dome of white merely enforces the bubble we’ve been riding in. A self-contained unit that dips in and out of other people’s lives as glimpsed moments and brief interactions. Now we just have the dark to contend with and chatter turns itself down a notch. Sometimes there is a need to talk, sometimes the quiet is nice. We’re still laughing at things though, we haven’t descended into grumpy silence. This is good. Clipping along, signs for Bath and Stroud, doing a thing that no-one knows about. A46. Lights of Bristol. Secret miles. It’s somewhere before midnight and we’ve been on the move for most of a day so it’s no surprise that a familiar warm wave of tiredness that I recognise from a selection of 24hr races floods over me and it’s both reassuring, like hugging an old friend, and a thing to be aware of. Hello you. I let Gavin know in a cheerful and encouraging manner.

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Long downhills, tightening corners, the arrival of the bridge seems to take forever, cross under the M5, you can smell the cars, until finally red lights in the sky signal the tops of the bridge. It’s an annoying poorly signed fiddle to get onto the crossing but once on the bike lane that runs along the side it all becomes worth it. The road is deserted but for the odd passing artic that rumbles the bridge, and with that and the dark, the tiredness and the realization that this is the destination and it’s a long way from home, it feels a disjointed dream, like watching a film of yourself. 

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After the bridge and the yoof on the motorbike it’s another ten miles to the services at Magor which is a mental struggle. The Severn Bridge has been the destination for the day, in my head that’s where we turn round, to have to pedal almost another hour is a bit of a fight. But there will be somewhere to sit for a bit, with food, and Gavin has done sums and figured that we’re better off stopping here for a while and getting a bit of rest than turning right back round and resting at Leigh Delamere services as was Plan A. I can only agree with him.

A multitude of sportive and marathon arrows. Everywhere.

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We wiggle out way through the maze on a bike that is the entrance to the services, Gavin gets his air-freshener receipt and we take our bikes inside the services where once again no-one really bats an eyelid. We find space down the side, next to the cleaner’s rooms and decamp, out of sight of the kind of clientele that a motorway services attracts at past midnight. I need to eat immediately to have something for my body to absorb while we’re resting so I hesitantly order a chicken burger and fries. My lack of menu knowledge is palpable and annoying to the staff. McDonalds twice in one day. I am ashamed of myself, but it is the most amazing meal I’ve had for a very long time.

Gavin stretches out on the floor and I line up four chairs, scruffle up a waterproof jacket for a pillow and we sleep for over an hour. It comes easy, anywhere off the bike is comfortable. For pre-breakfast we have two McApple Pies each. McDonalds three times in one day, what has become of me? They taste wonderful.

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A change of socks and shorts and we step back out into the dark and head for home. The return has been designed to be shorter and flatter than the way here and we’re definitely quicker as we retrace our steps back to the bridge, nothing to do with wanting to get out of Wales, apart from that bit that was a steep fun descent a couple of hours ago that’s a proper grunt now. We ride to hopefully meet a lightening sky and the hardest bit is done; we have survived the night. There have been no dark moments of the soul, no emotional breakdowns, no black strops and sobbing in the gutter at the futility of it all, well, I think so, I’ve been fine and Gavin’s been keeping it quiet if he wants to just go home or kill me. It’s actually been surprisingly easy, well not easy, but without any fuss. Well done us.

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We cruise straight into a beautiful dawn, the dipping cold of twilight slowly lifting in the bucoIic haze. England is a sublime place. I stamp on a rabbit’s head to put it out of its misery, the blood spits across my right shoe and up my sock. We go and have breakfast.

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Returning to Leigh Delamere services feels like coming home but it’s only been a few hours since we were here last, we wheel our bikes to where we left them last time and sit down at the same table. The rubbish we left is still in the little table-top hopper bin and the table needs a clean. Whilst waiting the five minutes for the breakfast buffet to get up to speed we fetch tea and muffins. The girl at the counter doesn’t seem very impressed that we’re pedaling to Eastbourne. I would have liked her to be.

A full breakfast each, with extra toast, stock up on sandwiches and stuff for the next stretch, that long hop down to Sutton Scotney. It definitely feels like we’ve broken the back of the ride, from here it’s only an Epic sportive distance back home, so just a Sunday ride, should be easy.

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Something happens at 400kms, it seems to be a small breaking point, it’s almost unnoticeable as it creeps in slowly but hills that could have been spun up are now effort, and time along the flat is more stately than steady. But we remember some of the roads we are covering which cheers us along and helps with mile-eating chat, Gavin and I came this way on a jaunt back from Bristol in the Spring, but that day we made it about as far as Basingstoke before train hopping home. We can’t do that today.

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Thanks to the vagaries of on-line route tracking we find ourselves off-road a couple of times, which all adds to the spice of the day. One is a long section of gravel road that would be all romantic if it was in Italy, but it feels like it cuts off three sides of a square which is handy, and another section is thanks to the randomness of the UK’s Cycle Network. A sign-sparse meander through a suburb followed by a tricky hair-pinned ramp onto a disused railway line cycle track that turns quite farm track for too long. And there was that bit where we just seemed to be zig-zagging between fields for no reason.

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We pass through Calne again, stop to punch a frozen Garmin back to life and out the other side into the strong sidewinds of the A4 where we’re caught up by another audaxer, what are the chances? They introduce themselves as Judith and she’s ridden from London to the Breacon Beacons and is now heading home on a lovely celeste and yellow Roberts with matching mudflaps. She is ridiculously strong, climbing this long drag out the saddle, on the drops, chatting. I ride with her to the top of the hill and use waiting for Gavin as an excuse to stop and get my breath back in a lay-by. He tells me that I’ve just met audax royalty, Judith Swallow, a legend of the aiming to clock up 300,000 miles in her riding career variety. Blimey.

Long straight roads, bloody Romans.        

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Get a little lost looking for Pewsey, showers, tired and pedaling into a potential low-point. Silbury Hill. Stop in a bus-stop to gather bearings. Find route thanks to a phone and several bits of paper. Up a long long shallow valley, down a hill, let that pack of roadies pass us, too noisy, around a hill through a sharp shower, nice tree on the left, up, down, up down. I have no idea where we are. Places I think I recognise aren’t.

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Stop in the long grass by a gate that Gavin remembers from last time, we had a pee over there, lie down, sandwiches. Sky, face full of grass, slightly squashed sandwich, clouds going the right way home, half a bag of dried fruit and nuts. Survival. A while back I felt my energy levels tummy-tingle roller-coaster dip and it took the rapid inhaling of a couple of energy-bars to see me back on a level keel. There’s no room for energy deficit here.

As we round a gentle bend I watch a baby Veloceraptor on the right -hand side of the road eat a small tree before disappearing in a puff of light.

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It’s more pleasing to close my eyes than leave them open at the moment, there’s too much information to process even though the edges of my world are fuzzy in a soft vignette so I snatch brief moments of calming darkness before checking on the road again. It’s not long before I am powerless against the comfortable blackness, and I gently drift into the void and across the dotted white line, I open my eyes again and casually return to the left-hand side, my eyes shut themselves again and I blissfully weave across the road, I snap open my eyes. I need to sleep, the two hours I had last night and extended cat-nap in the services were clearly not enough. I let Gavin know and we pull over to a bench sat in a grass triangle in the middle of a junction. Nap. We wake up a few minutes later as a gentle shower forces our return to the bikes and carrying on. We continue to remember bits from the previous time we did this road on the way back from Bristol that time; that lovely church up the avenue of trees, that field I took a picture of, that bike shop in the tiny village.

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Back in Sutton Scotney we’re at about 500km on the clock, only about 100km to go, although I suspect Gavin might be massaging the figures quite a bit to make us feel better. I fill a wire basket with an unhealthy selection of petrol station snacks, Tunnocks for Jenn, carry it out to the forecourt and sit on the kerb by the bagged kindling and work my way through it. It doesn’t take long.

Here be Dragons - Grassy Nap (photo ©Gavin Peacock) .jpg

I find myself falling asleep at the bars again and saying nothing simply veer off towards a conveniently comfy looking piece of grass under the shade of some trees and let Gavin know I need five minutes. He agrees and as soon as my head touches ground I’m asleep. Twenty-five minutes later Gavin wakes me up apologetically and we’re straight back on the bikes. Pedal. Sorry for the delay. Pedal. That’s okay.

The countryside is never ending. Infinite lanes that all look the same. Where are we?

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Gavin is now suffering, his knees are hurting to the point of knives stabbing between the bones, he has moments of good speed but then collapses off the back. He does that thing that tired people do where they even freewheel downhill slowly. He mostly Froomes his stem. I know from riding with him a lot that this isn’t good. We have slowed, we are slow. At this pace it’s going to take us a very long time to get to the finish, even though we’re nudging onto home turf and can carry on without the faff of navigation.

Somewhere before Petersfield Gavin pedals alongside me and says he’s going to have to pack it in. If we carry on like this it will be very late by the time we get to the finish at Hailsham, very late, very dark, and riding into the night isn’t something he wants to do again. More importantly we’ll miss the last train home and sleeping at the station or having to ride back home is something he wants to do even less. All of these are valid excuses, but the main reason is because he is completely broken. Hollow.

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He’s obviously spent some time with this difficult decision hanging over him because he has come up with a plan that might just save the day; we can cut the audax short and divert home and still do 600kms, and we’ll have still ridden to Wales and back. That’ll do. I agree with him. That’ll do. We are incredibly lucky that we have the option of being able to reroute for home. Let’s just get home.

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We limp into Midhurst, the petrol station there is a control so we may as well tick it off. Stare at food inside in a mild panic not knowing what to eat. I pick up and put down a vegetable samosa half a dozen times. Packet of salted cashews, 3 eccles cakes, bottle of iced cappuccino somesuch, a Tunnocks that’s been in my back pocket. Don’t be disappointed. I may have a cry of tiredness and empty emotion whilst I’m looking after the bikes as Gavin’s getting snacks. Babybels. People in smart clothes in big expensive cars buying petrol glance awkwardly at me. We eat in silence. We’ve done about 540kms and we’re bloody well not going to give up now, we can make it from here, we have to. There is no option. 600kms, cling on to that.

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A272 to Petworth to save time. I hate the 272, and even though it’s late on a, what day is it, Sunday, and relatively quiet it’s still hateful. Gavin is dragging off the back and I can’t go slowly enough, or when I slow down so he can catch up he corresponds in speed. Come on Gavin. We’ve had enough of this. It’s shit. This road is shit. At Petworth we duck off and take the pretty way through the darkening dusk of the country lanes and spirits rise. Encouraging chatter. Byworth, back on the busier 283 through Storrington, Washington, Steyning, a well acquanted route we can do with our eyes shut. We then risk the gravelly Downs Link for the last few miles to take us to the pub in Shoreham because it’s flat, although a puncture here would probably lead to fetal position crying, kicking, swearing, throwing the bike in a bush and just walking home.

We celebrate our mild despondence at snatching some of victory with a pint of beer and some peanuts in the Red Lion. A very drunk lady full-body leans on me next to the bar as I’m trying to focus on the money that’s spilled out of my wallet and asks if I can give her a lift home on my bicycle. Polite innuendo-lite banter ensures but Christ, she must be completely pissed because I absolutely stink. Any other day this would be a fun laugh, a cheeky flirt, funny cyclist in tight clothes, helmet, but leave me alone, I’m too bloody tired for this.

And so it is done, we are done. Stare at beer.

I had no idea that I could ride this distance without imploding in a pool of tears in a ditch so it has been an absolutely massive step for me, an immense physical and mental achievement and significant barrier breached. I won’t say that it was easy, it was hard, but it wasn’t as completely horrifically terrible as I was anticipating it to be. I’ve done rides a fraction of the distance where I’ve been far more broken. It could have been a lot worse; it was warm both during the day and at night, we got incredibly lucky with the weather, that would have changed things immensely, and there was nothing in the way of Dark Moments or trying to pedal away from persistent demons in the night, I did have the odd emotional blub thinking about ‘things’ but they were gone in a few stilted breaths. No big deal, those moments can affect me on a sunny Tuesday afternoon anyway.

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It’s not often that you do a ride that totally changes your entire perception of what you can manage on a bike, a new potential. That loop from the house that you thought was a big ride isn’t any more, it’s just a quick jolly. The world seems a different place now, I look at it with limitless eyes. It is smaller, there is a wealth of opportunity and adventure ahead of me now. Thank you Gavin for suggesting we needed to do this. I know we did but I would have put it off for as long as possible. I also owe Gavin massively for route plotting and planning, guiding, garming and holding my long-distance hand, without him I’d have blown up somewhere not halfway, disorientated and whimpering at a Hampshire crossroads, scrabbling about in the verge for a discarded sportive gel for sustenance. I am a little empty and disappointed that we didn’t manage the whole Hailsham 600, I am disappointed that Gavin didn't get his audax badge, he likes his badges. This, this is unsatisfactory.

But we still rode a ridiculous 600kms, and we still went to bloody Wales and back on bicycles. Sometimes you need to fail to discover you can do more than you ever thought possible.

Audax UK

Here are Gavin’s thoughts on the idiotic endeavour.


Bikes and Kit

By accident Gavin and my bikes seem to reflect a traditional vs modern way to tackling an audax.

Here be Dragons - Delamere Bikes (photo ©Gavin Peacock) .jpg

Gavin rode his all steel Singular Peregrine, with a Brooks saddle and a Carradice saddle-bag, it’s almost a caricature, a pretty one though. He’s equipped it with a dynamo that powers the Busch & Muller front and rear lights and in the daytime can switch duties via a Busch & Muller dynamo USB-Werk charger to keep the Garmin 810 topped up. He also packed an Exposure Strada as secondary/back-up light. In his saddle-bag he had 4 spare tubes, a basic tool kit, minipump, 3 x CO2 canisters, Ibuprofen, some gels (unused) and a Clif bar. 2 external phone battery chargers and 2 spare paper route sheets for when the Garmin inevitably fucked up and a gpx file on phone, used often. Plus a map of the whole of the south of England should everything go to complete shit. And a spare tyre strapped to the back. Clothing extras included a gilet and city rain jacket from Rapha and Svelte arm warmers, plus spare Morvelo shorts for halfway.

I was riding a full carbon Specialized Diverge with a bike-packing seat-bag on it, bang on trend. Couldn’t have asked for a better comfy all-day bike, no aches or sores the following days, although I’m still getting tingly fingertips. In the absence of a dynamo I was using a tatty and well used for over a decade of night rides and 24hr races Exposure MaxxD up front with a pair of Lezyne blinky lights in the rear. In my Wildcat seat-harness with dry-bag I had spare bib-shorts and socks, a long-sleeved jersey, a gilet and arm-warmers all from Morvelo and a lightweight waterproof and a Buff for spare clothing. Also stuffed in there were two spare Exposure Diablo lights for emergencies, a tool kit, some CO2, three spare tubes, a bag of energy bars of which I only ate a couple and fist of untouched gels, a phone battery charger and some Ibuprofen (took 2 just to see what happened). 

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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jiberjaber | 6 years ago

Well done guys, a great write up.  Baby Veloceraptor FTW!  That's one of the perks of longer distance riding, I've had baby ducklings, soldiers and horses with reflective nose bags (the later being bollards on a bend!).

Thanks for that!  1


Ad Hynkel | 7 years ago

Great writing, a proper page turner (or is it page scroller on t'interweb?)

Pierre | 7 years ago

Chapeau. Great ride, superb write-up.


the_mikey | 7 years ago


   Thank you for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading about it; Inspiring. 

Harmanhead | 7 years ago

  Brilliant ride and article! Well done guys!!

   Given me something to aid for...or near

wycombewheeler | 7 years ago

some really worrying comments there about drifting across the centre line.

I'd been toying with the idea of doing a 600 this summer but never got round to it (wimped out?). Awesome achievement, even if not the 600 originally intended.

I wonder if you might be better off with a long sleep after day 1. big feed, long sleep, big feed then carry on. getting the carbs back into the muscles and having a proper sleep could well increase moving speed on day 2 and remove the need for lots of short naps.

looking back at my 400km severn across, first hundred = 4 hours, 2nd hundred = 5hrs 40, 3rd hundred 5 hrs 40 and 4th hundred 6hrs 25

I can only imagine continuing past 400km without a proper sleep would see the speed reduce further, losing as much time as sleeping in the end, but being more uncomfortable.

sm | 7 years ago

Well ridden and written. Looking forward to the Transcontinental reports. Onwards...

swadey | 7 years ago

Excellent write up - maybe see if Arrivee will publish it, Audax UK always after articles....

The Rake | 7 years ago

Fantastic. Exhausting just reading it. A proper adventure story

mike the bike | 7 years ago

Loved this, well done to you both.

dafyddp | 7 years ago

An excellent adventure, and equally excellent account - loved it. I've done up to 215k, and daydream of taking the next step. Truly inspiring.

kitsunegari | 7 years ago
1 like

Chapeau VecchioJo, chapeau.

LWaB | 7 years ago
1 like

Congratulations on your first big miles ride.

Just a minor correction,  I think you've confused miles and kilometres for Judith's riding.

Next time, you may prefer three hours sleep to feel better on Sunday. Most folk go through 90 minute sleep cycles and a little more sleep is balanced by not needing naps.

VecchioJo replied to LWaB | 7 years ago

LWaB wrote:

Just a minor correction,  I think you've confused miles and kilometres for Judith's riding.


i have edited for even more factual, thanks

tritecommentbot | 7 years ago
1 like

Strong sock and armwarmer game.




Heroic ride, GJ! laugh

Martin Thomas | 7 years ago

Good grief. I'm speechless with something. I'll let you know if it's admiration or pity as soon as I'm sure.

bendertherobot | 7 years ago



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