Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Moonrakers and Sunseekers 309km audax 19th November 2021

Next time I’ll do some training.

My first 300km audax and first time riding over night (and into the next night!) Jelly baby reflux is a thing. What did you do on Friday night?

Spoiler alert - my completed brevet card

Why? I was not certain I could do it. I was very certain 300km as a daytime distance in summer was a possibility back in 2019. That was the year I pushed myself way beyond what I thought my limits were and completed my first RRtY (12 consecutive monthly 200km rides.) I signed up for Moonrakers and Sunseekers in 2020 after a reasonable summer of pushing myself on longer multi day solo camping trips. A 300km in November is mad. For reference I have a 14 yo right knee replacement that I want to last as long as possible. There is also the slight problem of being partially sighted which makes night riding extremely hard (almost impossible in rain) and slows me even more as I can't let go downhill. I'm slow enough anyway. We all know Moonrakers wasn't held last November as we were in national lockdown (I had covid, we forget it was lockdown everywhere as we didn't leave the house for nearly 3 weeks) and that was the start of my fitness flight. I totally forgot about Moonrakers until I realised it was on my Audax UK list in September. I had let my second RRtY "go" in July so my last 200 was June and I'd ridden one 100km ride in the previous six weeks. I would not be starting unless the weather conditions were as-perfect-as-you-can-get in November. No rain, ice nor wind could be mentioned on the forecast.

The weather forecast was perfect, very low chance of rain and 9-12 degrees for the whole of Friday night and into Saturday evening. After backing out of an overnighter earlier this year when the weather conditions were also good, I had to go for it. 

I packed my disabled rail card and battery bank. Jelly babies were stashed along with cheese rolls, cheddars, marzipan, cereal bars and salted peanuts in my bar bag. There were 3 overnight controls with food available but as ever I made sure I had enough to survive. Imagining all the worst case scenarios I had a padded jacket, ski gloves and commuting rain jacket in one small pannier. If my night was to be spent in a ditch or the colder weather forecast for Sunday moved in early, I would survive.

I volunteered Steve to help at the depart/start, mainly so I had no excuses to bottle. We rode slowly into Bristol for 9pm to settle my nerves, following the last 10km of the route I'd be doing tomorrow and know well. I would be riding past home at 298km. After all the hardest part is starting. It was great to see a few familiar faces and collect my brevet card, knock back a mug of tea and munch a banana to calm the nerves.

21.40 group start aka the fast ones (my start was an hour later)

I started in the last bunch to be let loose (170 starts in 4 groups from 21.40-22.40) so already I'm an hour down. In theory it doesn't matter, it's not a race, but when you know you will be riding full value on the limit of the audax time limits it is a demotivating fog to wade through. Immediately I was phased by flashing rear lights of some of the other riders and I didn’t jump a red light to stay with the bunch, so that was it, at the back after 5 minutes and still in Bristol. I resigned myself for a steady warm up to Devizes, not caring about resorting to the granniest of granny gears for the big pull out of Bath. Conditions were very good and warm. An occasional late starter wafted by and eased off into the distance. 

After a short optional tour of Devizes, I found the Moonraker pub at 51km which was the first control. More friendly encouraging kind people stamped my card and handed me a kilo of flapjack. A couple of other late starters caught up. David left the control with me and we rode all night together, we were total strangers at that point. It was awesome. I was extremely close to just turning right and heading home. Thanks to David I didn't.

I watched David power up the inclines on his fixed gear, obviously capable of powering off into the night and being back in Bristol for lunchtime. We talked about many of our cycling experiences. Tales of iconic ultra distance races; Trans Continental Race, Pan Celtic, Pyrenees (David) and All Points North (both of us) The stuff of cycling dreams. A quick stop at an audax hotel to bolt some carbs but no time to sleep.

Audax Hotel

Salisbury control at 91km was a wonderfully random gazebo set up next to a roundabout with Will and helpers reappearing and the best mug of tea ever (and more flapjack) Surreal at 3.30am or whatever. The only traffic had been perturbing blue lights of the emergency services looking after everyone and the odd very considerate lorry passing wide and slow. 

A couple of hours evaporated in exciting bike chat and we rode the whole length from Christchurch illuminated by a watery sun rise through Bournemouth to Poole. A lot of seafront bike path next to a glassy and slightly foggy sea with beach huts like paint charts. I was flagging big time. Halfway welcome 153km in at the Lilliput Sea Scout hut by another army of intrepid lovely volunteers who had been preparing and cooking all night. I was the last of 150+ breakfasts served at 8am. It was epic.

Audax breakfast in Poole

I needed a good break as my Garmin needed to recharge as well as me, it was on 20%. I waved David off and was honoured to meet the legendary Mike Sheldrake who gave me a massive hug and sent me on my way at 9am with encouraging wisdom. It was chilly and the drizzle very persistent in the never ending rolling hills to Podimore services at 227km. Totally solo, no sign of audax life. My legs worked but only at one speed, setting 1 on the food mixer. I'm still riding to time limits but needing to boost my Garmin charge, I allowed myself a latte to wash down more of my cheese rolls. The server helpfully pointed out that everyone else passed through hours ago. 

Glastonbury was where I believed I might make it, all familiar ground now. I was held up by cattle droving near Godney with a queue of cars. It was dusk at the start of the gravelly Strawberry Line in Axbridge with dog walkers dressed in black with black dogs and a huge struggle to see where the path was as everything was covered in pretty leaves. I've no idea how I survived the horrific mud slide at Thatchers' new diversion but somehow I stayed upright. I should have been back on the road to avoid that section but hadn't paid my Garmin much attention as I know the Strawberry Line. 

I totally crawled in the pitch black and eventually made The Strawberry Line Cafe in Yatton 15 mins after closing at 5.15 although technically on time, just. I flashed off a quick pic for evidence, and a quick message to arrivée to say where I was and to apologise for keeping them waiting. Thank goodness for no punctures.

Strawberry Line Cafe Yatton 5.15pm

Now the thrash to get back "on time" fuelled by jelly babies, as they were all I could manage on the go. Local knowledge helped for the ride through Nailsea but not rarely dipped car lights dazzling me on the lanes. Riding past home at 298km was torture. A final fling of navigational ineptitude getting the route onto the B2B Railway path wrong having ridden the section last night and losing another 5 valuable minutes.

I made it back by the skin of my teeth to cheers from Will, Holly and Steve, embarrassingly my moving speed of 19km/hr at Poole had dropped off to 17.7km/hr by the finish. Audax allows about 15km/hr including stop time. A plate of fantastic dahl was handed to me and tales of the day were told. Given my fitness levels and circumstances a full fat value ride was plenty good enough for me. Who am I kidding? I should have been back by 5pm. 

Bristol Somerset Wiltshire Hampshire Dorset - 5 counties in one day

Epic organisation and control teams by Great Western Randonées. I'm regretting not picking up a Strawberry line stick to whittle into my wooden spoon. I was the person who spent the longest time by far in the saddle. Another "lanterne rouge" for my collection. The jelly baby reflux lasted several days. I was staggered that the lack of sleep for 36 hours didn't impact me until I was in the bath later that evening.

Am I imagining things? Did I say "next time I’ll do some training" rather than "never again...?"


  1. Love your storytelling! “Dog walkers dressed in black with black dogs” should be a title of a horror film. Fantastic effort!

    1. I swear I was seeing every post/tree as a disguised person about to wander across trailing an extending lead, it would be my fault if I crashed into them. You rode so well, I need to develop this ability to waft round seemingly with no need for breaks like you do. in reality I know training hard is the real answer. Thanks for the very enjoyable de brief on Sunday, ride to café ratio just right!

  2. Absolutely Awesome! I am inspired! I have just finished reading Emily Chappells book about Transcontinental and other rides. Chapeau - fantastic - I have no words!

    1. I devoured Emily's books, and re read them, so inspiring. She and little old me had a shared moment just before the start waiting for the "facilities". Gave me a real boost.

  3. A very well organised Audax by Will and his Team. And I loved the Route. The Split of Start Times was genius, but allowing a few of us Full Value Riders to Start even earlier would have avoided finishing in the Dark. Thank you for reminding me of the highlights. I too will avoid the short slippery section next time