The ‘New Border Raid‘ is a 600 kilometre ride from Newcastle, west to the Firth of Clyde at Girvan, then returning across the Borders of Scotland, through Moffat and Melrose, and nearly reaching the North Sea at Alnmouth, before returning to the start at Newcastle. It is an Audax or Randonnée… an endurance cycling event which may seem leisurely with a minimum speed of 9.5 mph – but in reality is exceptionally demanding when you consider that riding at 9.5 mph would involve not stopping riding, not getting off, not even dropping below that speed; for 40 hours. Solid. The on the road distance is 610km if you don’t get lost. And the time limit is 40 hours.
where you come from is gone
where you thought you were going to
were never there
and where are
ain’t no good unless you can get away from it
(Dreadzone, Mean Old World)
These lyrics evoke, for me, my unrelenting Randonneur’s need to keep moving. Reducing my faff-time, quickly collecting ‘proof of passage’: do I ever go to the places on the Brevet Card, or do I merely pass through them? Am I collecting receipts like surrogates of memories? Audax has been likened to fast-touring but it seems to have morphed into just-enduring.
When I first started audaxing I felt like I was on holiday and often stopped at pubs. Time wasn’t an issue because I had a rule of thumb that I wouldn’t pedal if I was travelling faster than 25kph. I had no experience how long it would take me, but I knew I needed to ‘ride within myself’. More recently I’ve been striving to live up to my own achievements: Can I reach the overnight control by midnight? Can I cut down the time wasted off the bike? Can I ride further and faster than before?
I know that I’m going to have to take a break from Audaxing next season.
This isn’t Audaxing’s fault.
It is mine.
The New Border Raid is jaw-droppingly stunning: we cycled through almost car-free isolation across the Borders of Northern England and Southern Scotland – from coast to coast to coast. I loved the Military Road alongside Hadrian’s Wall and the sight of Sycamore Gap.
I loved the company of Dave Crampton, who demonstrated patience with my slowing legs, and with whom I enjoyed conversation for hour after hour.
I loved spotting Ailsa Craig as we descended to Girvan – the cold hard remains of the centre of a volcano and an island in the Firth of Clyde.
I loved the hospitality of Aidan and the team at Kirkconnel, the food and beds which were placed at the perfect distance of 320km. I loved getting up at 1:30am and setting off for an ‘early start’, with my lights illuminating the road like daylight.
I loved the McDonalds Bacon Bap at Johnstonebridge Services and the long hard climb from Moffat past the Grey Mares Tail, crossing the pass at Muchra and dropping down to Selkirk on the other side.
I loved the generosity of the gardener near Wooler who filled my empty bottles with fresh water in the scorching 32oC heat of the early afternoon.
I loved the SubWay sandwich in Alnwick and the ridiculous 13km diversion when I got lost, but didn’t care because I felt amazingly strong. I loved that I cycled to the North Sea near Alnmouth unnecessarily but ensured that I had genuinely cycled a Coast to Coast to Coast across the Scottish Borders.
I loved the Shilbottle climb, the sting in the tail of the ride. I love that Aidan routed us that way on purpose.
I loved the free food and beer at the end – the wonderful accomodation at Kirkley Hall Zoo and the screech of the Peacock which had no chance of waking me up in my utter exhaustion.
I loved this ride. It has been the best 600km audax I’ve ever done and I would love to do it again.