THE BORDER RAID 600km AUDAX
I thought I’d do a blog on the “Border Raid” audax event myself, Dave and George did over the weekend (16/7/16).
What is Audax?
For those of you not familiar with the concept of audax, it’s a discipline of cycling that involves long distances usually (for example 200,400,600,800km) with a series of “controls”
A control is a verification that you’ve passed a location between a certain time.
They can be manned stops where volunteers are on hand in a village hall for example and you can refuel, charge up or on longer events, take a nap, or they can be controls where you’ve got to get a receipt to prove passage (shops, cafes or cash machine slips are all valid as long as they state the location, date and time).
The final control expected is an information control, this is generally at the “furthest point” on a route and is usually in place where a shortcut could be taken, it’ll usually be a question about the locality such as “signpost, how many miles to any town” or “what year was the battle on the green plaque near the village pond?”
You also get a card that you need to get stamped or verified at the controls. This is your bible, your proof that you’ve passed the controls. It’s known as your “brevet card”
Routes are followed by route card with instructions written in short form, for example (15km SO @ T SP NEWCASTLE” (15km go straight on at T junction signposted Newcastle).
You’re also responsible for yourself and the bike, you need to be self sufficient, there is no broom wagon, if you have to ‘pack’ (quit the ride) you need to find your way to the nearest train station, or get home somehow, you may need to carry sleeping gear if the ride is long enough as well as the usual spares, tools, tubes etc, Planning your day and route ahead of the event is essential too, so you know where there’s shops and places to eat, or even take a nap.
My take on audax is that it’s simply about finishing the ride, you’re in good company, the audax scene is incredibly social and you’ll bump into your fellow audaxers many times on the course as you all take your own time around the course and at controls.
Some people get to control and all they want is a top up of water and your stamp.
Others will find a cafe or a takeaway and have a full meal to ensure they can keep going.
Now for the main event… The Border Raid
The border raid, first of all, my sincere thanks go to Aidan Hedley and his team of volunteers for the flawless planning and execution of such an amazing event. There’s a lot of work goes into the event.
6am Kirkley cycles, around 30 riders making final kit checks drinking coffee by the litre and chatting amongst each other.
There’s a mix of kit and bikes, panniers, bikepacking bags, and more carradice kit than you can shake a stick at. A few minutes before the start Aidan gives us a quick briefing and then we’re off, we take a right out of Kirkley Cycles heading for the city centre.
Familiar territory as we pass the landmarks of St James Park, monument and the high level bridge,we then head through Birtley, and begin to divert, next stop, and first control Richmond.
It’s silly o clock, I’ve hardly slept and from the off I’m struggling, Richmond control ends up being the local shop, a caffeine fix and a check of the route and we’re on our way again, and I’m more awake.
The first main control was Topcliffe Village Hall where we see Aidan again and have our card stamped.
It’s a catered stop and there’s plenty of tea coffee and juice alongside soup, cake, crisps and other snacks. Shoes off, garmins and phones topped up with juice we have a chat with each other and plan for the next main control Sedburgh Cumbria.
We lost a lot of time here, headwind and hills is all I can say, everything became difficult!
The thought of a chippy and a pint was enough motivation and it certainly delivered.
We got to Sedburgh only to realise their was some kind of town festival on, it was heaving, live music, pubs bustling, and more terrifyingly a large queue for the chippy, we got chatting to some locals and they said it would take 4 times as long to be served at the cafe (something we later found out to be true when we seen some fellow riders).
Sausage, chips and gravy and a can of shandy… Garmins charged we were ready for the next stage, Southwaite Motorway services (don’t worry we didn’t cycle along the M6!!!)
As we left Sedburgh there was once again more hills! And an information control at the junction a few miles up, answer noted we headed on for what seemed like forever.
As we peaked Shap Summit darkness fell, so the high vis gillet went on and my lights too, we were In for a considerable night shift. Lockerbie was a long way away.
The next thing I remember is reaching the services at around 12-1230am Costa and WH smith the only things open.
The girl clearing tables asked us what were up to as she’d seen loads of cyclists today, she then gave us the popular comment that we. “must be mad”. In all fairness they’re not far wrong, doing 600 kilometres just for fun isn’t exactly normal!
Refuelled with massively overpriced coffee and bottles of water we cracked on, discussing whether we would push for Lockerbie or just find a quiet field to nap in (it’s a normal audax thing!)
I had a Bivvy bag and a spare space blanket if it became an option or necessity.
Eventually we got into Gretna Green and regrouped as we’d drifted apart a little. This was the final
Push. We were in Scotland, it was about 2-3am. The lure of a truck stop cafe and a nap was all there was to spur me on.
The name escapes me of a town we passed but weary eyes seen what looked like a group of 15 people standing on a main road, odd, they didn’t seem to want to move. They were drunk.. At first one says ‘It’s the polis’ (must’ve been the flashing lights and the HV vest) then he realised it’s just me… They still don’t move, I pass at caution only to have the same lad shout ‘HIGH FIVE’ – I obliged, it was probably my safest option.
Finally at around 430am we got into Lockerbie Truck Stop. That’s a good 230-240 miles covered I only remember that as I’d written it down on my route card in miles as opposed to KM.
The control “closed” just before 6am, that’s what time we had to leave to realistically make the controls on the rest of the route on time, that’s just over 2 hours to sleep (if you can call it that) refresh and refuel, bacon roll then time to catch some rest. I ended go on a bivi bag on the floor, I didn’t care. It was rest!
At 6:30am we got ourselves ready for breakfast, I knew I had a full day ahead, but I struggle to eat early in the morning let alone when totally exhausted!
Opted for the safe option of scrambled egg on toast, a bacon roll and a can of red bull, for £6 it wasn’t too bad.
Caffeine and toast done the bacon roll stared at me, I didn’t have the energy to think about eating it let alone actually have it… The solution, ask for it wrapped up, stick it under the seat and have it later… (I forgot about it until Wooler)
The first main climb was in the Moffat area. It was a steady long climb, what goes up must go down, I was empty but I actually enjoyed the climb too much.
The stunning scenery probably had something to do with it, you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful backdrop to the ride.
Eventually we ended up in Galashiels after a lot more miles and a few more hills (there’s a theme developing here isn’t there).
Popped into the massive tesco for rations, you’d think they never got cyclists in there as we got some really odd looks from the locals
I once again took a caffeine hit and had a pack of cocktail sausages and ketchup to keep the energy levels up, I also bought what was probably my 10th “boost” chocolate bar of the ride (a bag of boost bites earlier became a congealed mess after 20 hours in the sun on Saturday) to go in the top bag to be at hand for an on the move snack.
Control done, we left as the timer lapsed, we really had to get a move on to make the timers at Wooler and Seahouses, it’s a big ask when you’re that tired and already running on empty.
Fast forward a few hours and hills later Wooler. What was Intended to be a “fill bottles and go stop” became a longer stay, my mind kept telling me we simply HAD to get to Seahouses on time. We’re sailing close to the wind. We left with around an hour to spare for the final Control.
A familiar sight cost me valuable minutes, trains, I work with them, and it was somewhat ironic the railway was delaying me on my journey at Belford Level Crossing On the East Coast Mainline… Not one but 3 trains, given that the trains here usually go past at 100-125mph the crossing was closed for some time, I was constantly looking at my watch getting increasingly worried that I’d miss the time! I knew in Seahouses there’s was co-op and a cash machine just as you get in, but every time I’ve passed before there’s always a huge queue.
With a sign 4 miles to go and little over 10 minutes I really pushed hard. A group of 5 cyclists were ahead 3 or 4 abreast a call of “coming through on your right” and I passed them pushing with all I had left and more.
Finally. The co-op… Closed. But the cash machines there. I’ve just past the gang from Chainline Club. And they say “well hello there again” I give them the standard “alright!” Greeting (if you’re reading I didn’t intend on sounding abrupt! My eyes were just on my receipt haha!)
Finally got it, just a few minutes out by the time I waited my turn and popped my pin code in. Given most people’s watches are a few minutes different I was hopefully on time, I didn’t care at that point now I was happy to have made it.
A quick water bottle top up and the last 50 or so miles were approaching. I was on home turf. I’ve done some of these roads before, we follow the coastal route to Walkworth, the climb to the castle feels like a mountain, a final information control at Widdrington Station ensures no shortcuts taken.. We’re all really on our last energy reserves by now.
We have to stop at a pub for a final sugar rush. The 7-8pm finish becomes a slightly later prospect but we simply just have the finish in mind.
A cruel few miles back to the finish heading inland towards Kirkley we finally get back at 8:55-8:50, I managed to find the legs to do the traditional Kirkley Cycles cafe sprint. The miles to go box on my Garmin was in single figures… It was ticking down….
FINALLY! there it is, the point where it all started, Garmin stopped… Helmet off… I’m in the cafe, a warm welcome from Aidan and other riders greeted us, we’d done it the three Blaydon CC lads had done it…600km, sleep deprived, sunburned and generally exhausted it was over. That’s 200km, 300km and now the 600 done!
Would I do it again, I think I’ll do it next year. We’ll soon see I am tempted.
When I’ve finally recovered I’ll take a think about what I’ve really just achieved. A top effort by everyone that rode it or even attempted. It’s no small ask.
It’s ultimately rewarding and I’d subsequently recommend anyone to try an audax.
They start at 100k (60 odd miles) right up to 200,300,400,600,1000km and more
More information can be found at
Audax UK – the national long distance cycling organisation.
Northern Audax – hosts of many north east events including the Mosstrooper 300 and Border Raid
For more information on Blaydon Cycle Club, contact us or find out about our latest club news and events on our Facebook page FB.com/BlaydonCycling
Thanks for reading!
Rob – Blaydon CC