This site uses cookies to remember your preferences, log-ins, etc.   

UK Cyclist: Long-distance and leisure cycling in the South-west and elsewhere

Chuffy's account of a painful 400k ride (and Elaine's response below).

B2tS is just one of many long rides I’ve failed on over the years. Anything from 200km upwards is always a bit of a dice-roll, sometimes my legs fall off, sometimes it’s my head and it doesn’t take much to knock me off balance. Last year I got to the bloody horrible hill at Oare (190something km) decided I’d had enough and turned to ride back to my parents. Which was lucky, because my lights packed up after Salisbury, just within range of rescue from Mum. I’d have been completely buggered if I’d ridden on, so yay for being a lazy coward.


Trying again this year was a bit of a gamble. A fast but sweaty 200km two weeks earlier was the longest I’d ridden for nearly a year (including a forced layoff for a broken elbow). Anyhoo, decided to roll the bones and tag along with Ian H and Elaine Jewkes. Turned out they were both stronger than me. Ian was fresh, for a given value of that adjective, from the previous weeks BCM and Elaine is a strong club rider doing her first 400. I fell off the back on some horrible little hill (on the Somerset Levels….) lost them at the subsequent junction and after letting them know I was alive and a mile down the road, bashed on alone to Wells. By now I was already feeling crap, slow and low. Not great. At Wells I eschewed the magnificent cathedral for the equally magnificent Tesco, which sells sushi, fruit and Coke, which the cathedral doesn’t. Packing was a definite option. Rang Baggy, whinged about what to do next and decided to plod on, given that there were plenty of bailing options down the road. In my head I’d decided that making Stow was the decider and that if I got there in one piece, the rest would be fine.

Plodding out from Wells my cassette started playing up. The lowest gears worked, but I had to hold the lever in to keep the chain on. A bit vexing and I still had a few dropped chains to hook back on through the ride. Annoying but not fatal. Passed a chap with the same issue and we swapped places a few time. Might have been you RobD62, seeing as I was probably the Exeter Wheeler you mention.

A low residue food strategy was paying off – ice creams, gels (a recent discovery, Torq rhubarb & custard ftw) rice puddings and pots of jelly, necked on the move. Without the need for full value toilet stops I avoided triggering my Achilles arse, although my shorts & lack of saddle time were doing their worst on the outer periphery of my fundamental areas. More of that later…

Durrington eventually came into view and I was deeply cheered to see a bunch of audaxers & bikes at the local pub. Naturally I carried on to the Sainsburys Local, because standards must be maintained and it’s not a proper audax unless you’re sitting uncomfortably on a low wall eating an egg and cress sandwich. Oh and a pre-mixed G&T. After checking messages and posting on Facebook it was time to press on and try to complete the leg that had beaten me a year earlier. I also sent a video message to a very good friend who is undergoing yet another round of treatment for her terminal cancer. She treats me like I’m some kind of cycling hero, but she’s spent more than half her life dealing with shit that makes her far, far more heroic than some fat berk riding a bicycle, so I sent her a message to remind her of that. She hates being called an inspiration, but she’ll never see this, so I can say it with complete safety. Suck on that, princess… 

Reader: it was not pleasant. But at least I had a dynamo this time. I’d chosen a faster DC route past Swindon, with an optional diversion to a 24hr Mcdonalds. In the end I decided to spurn the hot apple pies & salty chips and press on, which probably saved the best part of 30 valuable minutes. I knew the road from Burford to Stow from previous rides (my first ever century, albeit in the opposite direction) but I wasn’t quite prepared for the utter slog or the badger that tried to kill me. Must have just clipped his tail as he scuttled in front of my wheel, the furry twat. I did know about the Bloody Great Hill into Stow, which was looming large in my mind. However, o happy day, it wasn’t too awful. Granny gear, head down, chug upward very slowly. The garage forecourt looked as glamorous as you can imagine, decorated as it was with smelly randonneurs in various states of decay. I too was nearly reduced to tears by the lack of coffee, but made do with the other accoutrements of civilised audaxing: a cold coffee drink, a prawn sandwich and ice cream. I also bought a packet of smoked cheese to eat the day after the ride when I emptied my Carradice. This is also an important part of my audax tradition YMMV. At this point Ian H and a very knackered looking Elaine rolled in. I comforted her with some kind words: it will get better when the sun rises, there will be good patches and Ian will eventually run out of stories about people you don’t know. Possibly.*

Rolling out felt good. I’d reached my mental milestone, which meant my head wouldn’t fall off later, even if my legs did. The route I’d planned went via the Rollrights, another nod to my very early days of endurance cycling, when I wore modesty shorts over my lycra and a heavy cotton t-shirt. Silly arse. It was a quiet, velvety night, the Whispering Knights were silent and the lanes were nice, with a slightly downward trend. Lovely night-time riding.

The garage on the southern shores of Buckingham was glorious. Never has a pile of bagged kindling felt more like a comfy armchair and even better, there was coffee. Coffee! Hot, strong, sweet and delicious, just like Baggy. The chap at the counter told me that the machine had been out of action for cleaning a few hours earlier and some riders had been disappointed. Hah! Take that speedy bois.

By now I was sort of in terra-incognita, with only a passing knowledge of the geography. I’d buggered about with the route, because that’s half the fun, but not from a position of local knowledge. When I turned up one lane, only to see a sign saying ‘12% ahead’, that was enough to cause a quick revision and a sensible avoidance of Swans Bottom**. What I wasn’t smart enough to avoid was sodding Rickmansworth. Which is on the river and hence at the bottom of a bastarding steep valley. I did the walk of shame up the far side, cursing my stupidity. By now I was out of drink, hot and not in the mood for another gel. The nearest shop en-route turned out to be a crappy Nisa in equally crappy Pinner. However crappy it was, they sold me the nicest Magnum in the whole universe. So I had another and staggered on.

Picking up the A5 at Hendon was a joy. I’d stayed nearby while working in That London, so this was my old commute and I’d been looking forward to riding it again. Even on a Sunday morning it was packed, so it was back to the old routine of filtering through stationary traffic. It had taken me a while to get used to that back in the day, but it was fun, of a sort.

Marylebone was quite lacking in charm (and other riders, although Ian & Elaine rolled in barely minutes after I’d left) and I was lacking in a decent lock, so it was a quick cash-point receipt (11.14, very pleasing) and off to Paddington for a return train. I’ve been on the bike-ticket merry-go-round many times and when you bother to try booking a space, even on the day, they always lie, because computer says no. Bollocks to that. I’ve only once been refused and that was by a Virgin guard at Taunton, may his piles itch for all eternity. The new Great Western trains have saved weight by not painting ‘bikes here’ on any of their carriages, but most of them have those stupid vertical hangers, with space for two bikes. No guard was going to sniff my saddle, match it to my shorts & demand a bike ticket, so I hooked the bike, flopped in a seat and fell asleep. Baggy collected me at Exeter & took me home for a little cry, a shower & a Nepalese curry the size of a very large curry.

It’s taken more than a week to recover. My arse looked like a baboon who has sat on a belt-sander. I’m talking red, raw, weeping and sticking to bedclothes & underwear. Photos are available for anyone with a strong enough stomach...  Even my mum said that she’d never heard of nappy rash like that. After a few days it was scabby & peeling. Which was hugely satisfying, like sunburn only not. Foolishly I started the Avalon Sunrise 400km a couple of days ago, but really didn’t have the legs and rode home after 120km.

All told I was bloody pleased to have had the gumption to finish. It doesn’t always work out that way. Torq rhubarb & custard gels are nice, Wiggle Mocha caffeine gels are good. Banging METAAAAAAAAHLLLLLLLLL is great (Amon Amarth & Powerwolf ftw). Pots of jelly are good ride food, albeit heavy to carry. Always make sure your coffee stops have working machines. And don’t forget your sunscreen.

* - I might be terribly rude to you old chap, but I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for you.
** - I didn't go up Swans Bottom. FFS. I must be getting old. 

Elaine responded:-

Quite entertaining....
Perhaps you could reply on my behalf to say I wasn't feeling knackered, just in a similar-shaped agony to him, requiring (once procured) a hydrogel dressing to avoid said sticking to undies, bedding and clothing, not to mention trying not to appear, by having soggy marks, to have poor continence... My personal baboon was one-sided rather than bilateral, but was just about sufficiently vanquished to not preclude me riding the Chester RC 25 yesterday, though I was utterly, utterly knackered at the end of the day - think it all caught up on me!
My personal "favourite" hill was the FG climb up through Bushey Heath, when I really had reverted to five years of age and "are we nearly there yet?"



Long-distance cycling under AUK rules is often (though inaccurately) referred to as audaxing. Mudguards are not required for any of these events. Use whatever bike suits you. If you don't want to follow a routesheet then download the GPS file. You will need to be fit and self-sufficient. Most of these events, especially the longer ones, are hard. You should be an experienced cyclist with both fitness and stamina. There is a minimum speed of 15kph for all the events of 200km and above. Don't worry about the maximum speed of 30kph, you won't get near it. Prepare your bike and yourself carefully for any of these events. If you do all the distances, you become an Exeter Wheelers Super Randonneur.

DMC Firewall is a Joomla Security extension!