Southern Uplands Audax


Bucket list, do a 400km Audax. Saturday (12th August) was the day to get it ticked off.

3:30am my alarm went off, but I hadn’t slept much, probably a couple of hours at most - thinking about the day ahead, had I got everything I’d need, would my light batteries be sufficient… Quick shower, first breakfast; a peanut bagel and yogurt with muesli, everything in the car and on the road at 4:10.

Musselburgh train station was my destination and location of the start. Parked up and started getting everything assembled. Also second breakfast, porridge I’d made before setting out. Despite a sensible reading on the car thermometer it felt decidedly chilly. Grabbed a muffin from Martin (the organiser) and ate it (third breakfast?) while waiting with around 20 others for the 6am start.

Away we rode as a group with a few chats going on, good to make some new introductions, even spoke to a guy originally from Hartlepool - small world. With the miles that lay ahead pace was steady and my heart rate was down, so I was starting to feel the chill. I progressed to the front and set my pace to get some warmth.

After 10 miles it started to rain, not too much, but enough to stop and put the jacket on. Up the first climbs and very quickly in to rural niceness. It rained lightly on/off until Innerleithen - the first control. Collected a bank receipt, chomped on a banana as the others started to rolled in. We exchanged a few words and I hit the road again.

First stop, Innerleithen, during the Southern Uplands Audax 2017

While stopped I'd checked the weather - this was more rain than I’d been expecting - and it looked like some more was in store for the run to Johnstonebridge, but if I got on with it should be possible to outrun the worst. Good plan. But it turned out to be much more rain. It came down in sporadic bursts, but the road was sodden - very quickly my shoes were filled - probably the single worst thing in my book. Humph. I pressed on and tried to get through it as quick as I could.

Johnstonebridge and (thankfully) the rain had stopped, sun was making an appearance. I stopped, got breakfast number four - a McDonald’s double sausage and egg McMuffin - only because I needed the receipt of course ;) A few more guys rolled in and we chatted while litterally wringing out socks and gloves. Wringing them made them feel better, albeit marginally so.

On the road again, and with the sun the wind had gotten up - a decent westerly that was to keep things honest. I caught up with a couple of guys that had made a double quick stop at Johnstonebridge and we had a good chat about 200s, 400s, 600s and Paris Brest Paris amongst other things. As we turned on to a short stretch of the busier A76 we singled out and lost touch with one another.

Countryside view from Auldgirth, during the Southern Uplands Audax 2017

Moniaive was an informational control, so a quick stop to jot down the answer, and munch on some malt loaf, before continuing on for Newton Stewart and some late lunch. The Glenlee climb out of Dalry was tough but on a really good little quiet road - like so many others on this route, I spent a lot of time talking to sheep! 

Newton Stewart I’d planned an hour stop to have a decent spell out of the saddle and enjoy some proper food. Brew Ha Ha was the cafe of choice, I found their garden and dismantled my footwear to try and let it dry out a bit. Coronation chicken panini, chips, a bakewell slice and a milkshake was devoured in no short order.

The wind had got up and checking my phone had turned from the north west. My next leg was to be heading north west. Much yay!

I headed out and the wind was quickly apparent, but to be honest it could have been much worse, however the gradient with the wind made it energy sapping and slow going. At the same time the road was absolutely stunning and again very quiet so no traffic to be concerned with. Eventually, and it felt like eventually, the hill opened up and a quick (but rough) descent and I was in Maybole.

View from the hills above Dailly, during the Southern Uplands Audax 2017

Maybole was strangely teaming with traffic. I thought the Co-op - where I was headed - was to the left, alas it wasn’t, and it took an age to turn and correct myself - I’d not be exaggerating by suggesting probably more than 10 mins to do a few hundred meters. After the slow run from Newton Stewart this wasn’t what I wanted. I quickly grabbed a bottle of water to top up my bike bottles and some chocolate milk - putting the receipt in the special plastic wallet of Audax evidence.

I was feeling the miles - about 160 at this point - and affect of the last section, but with the wind now being more helpful speed picked up, and with the sun I got quite warm. More remote roads, cattle grids, and talking to sheep, I was heading for Kirkconnel - another informational control.

Somewhere after Dalmellington I caught up with Aelfred, a guy from Glasgow who was doing an admirable job of trying to stop as little as possible. He had a packet of Oreos strapped to his TT bars, and cookies in his pocket - now there’s an idea! We chatted and rode together for a little a while. Once on the A76, a slightly busier road, we lost touch and I ventured for the next stop.

The informational control at Kirkconnel was “What is the name of the chip shop?” - well that was handy, with timings working out getting here just before 8pm it was my plan to grab some hot food before pressing on. So I stopped and had a small portion (turned out not to be that small!) fish supper. While tucking in I saw Aelfred race past.

Fish supper from Kirkconnel, consumed during the Southern Uplands Audax 2017

Onwards and headed for Abington services - the final control. Turning off the A76 was welcome - although it made doing a good speed easier it just wasn’t enjoyable with some quick cars coming past. The B740 that I turned on to was stunning in the light of the setting sun. Rolling hills, road following the river, I passed a couple of clumps of campers enjoying their Saturday evening in the wilderness. Twilight was setting in and at Crawfordjohn it was time for some flashing lights to be lit.

Abington and I bumped in to Aelfred again, quick words and then I set about collecting the last evidence of passage. I got a sugary milky tea and a cookie from Starbucks - it was beginning to cool and I definitely needed a hot drink to set me on my way for the final leg. In the end somehow I took a lot more time sorting myself out than I expected here, and Aelfred was long gone.

I donned all my clothes; baselayer, jersey, gilet, rain jacket, neck thingy, short and long gloves. I cursed my still damp cold feet, and lack of leg warmers. Lights were set set, and off I set. It was now properly dark, and I was going to be relying on my Garmin flashing up route guidance for this last leg - there just weren’t enough streetlights to see my paper ride notes.

It was chilly. My body was warm, maybe too warm, it definitely was a mismatch with my lower half. Navigating, and navigating rough tarmac and potholes was decidedly tough. I’d been anxious about this section all day - a reason I’d been pressing on - would my light batteries last? But I needn’t have worried - I’d packed three batteries for my front light (and a backup light with two batteries) and I didn’t expire the first one! Gradually I relaxed and started enjoying it - well mostly :)

My other senses were heightened in the darkness, I heard more cattle in the fields, smelt at least two pig farms, could tell that a section of field had recently been harvested, and the Saturday night old-man-aftershave-at-the-carnival smell as I rolled through Biggar.

Descents were tough however. With limited visibility and often less than ideal road surfaces it was quite taxing to try and keep the bike on a smooth track. As a result didn’t need any more speed and wasn’t doing much peddling. Cue getting gradually chillier.

As I rode midnight ticked past and the glow of the Edinburgh streetlights grew stronger. I raced through a couple of high streets, crossed the city bypass and I was at the finish - well once I’d found Martin’s house - it turns out seeing house numbers at 1am wasn’t super easy.

Aelfred was there, he had arrived about 10 mins earlier, and we exchanged a few stories and chatted over some hot food and warming drinks. I wearily pedaled back round to the car, threw everything in and headed for home - possibly the hardest bit of the day, I was knackered. I arrived home almost exactly 24 hours since my alarm had gone off the day before.

Bloody hell that was tough. Bloody hell that was good.

Relive videos; 1, 2, 3, 4.

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