Thursday 4 July 2013

To Holl and Back 600

Last weekend saw me complete the ‘To Holl and Back 600’ audax event. This was an event organised by Mike Wigley and as the name suggests was a 600k affair. By completing said ride, I also completed a Super Randonneur (SR) series for this season. Woo Hoo!

Prior to the event, I had booked at room at the nearest Travelodge to the start. A disappointing stay at the lodge – it looked tacky and my shower did not work. Worse still, my room had been repainted same day and smelled strongly of paint. To top it all, the breakfast was nasty! Was glad to leave the lodge and reach the start control (a car park) in Poynton.

About 70 plus riders were gathered at the start control in Poynton. I recognised a few faces but couldn’t spot Jamie and Andy (a couple of friends that I had cycled a few events with before). It took me a while to spot the organiser who was hidden in a corner of the car park. Glad I managed to spot Mike (the organiser), he issued me my brevet card and had water (cordial) for my water bottles which I had forgotten to fill before reaching here. At 6 a.m.  I set off on this epic adventure. With less than 9k in my legs I had to stop – the puncture fairy had paid me a visit. This was my first puncture since changing my tyres to Vittoria Rubino Pro’s, which my buddy Chris Hodge swore were the bee’s knees! This was a pain in the behind! It seemed to take me forever to change this tyre and scores of cyclists were passing by. Whilst fixing said tyre, Jamie and Andy came and stopped by! Was so good to see these lads (had thoughts in my head that they did not start, or perhaps had crashed on the motorway). I suggested they not wait for me and hoped I would catch them up soon. With tube changed I cycled on. I was the guy at the very back – but not for too long. I soon caught up this guy and we had a brief chat (about YACF names) before I left him and caught up the next guy. This next guy was dressed like a harlequin. Mr Harlequin did not appear to want to engage in any conversation (though am sure I spoke to him at the start) – I spoke to him but there was no response. Thinking perhaps Mr Harlequin was hard of hearing, I gave him the ‘thumbs up’ but again no response. I decided to speed on and before long I had covered 30k and was at the first control. Jamie and Andy were here and said they had only gotten there about 5 minutes earlier.

This first control at Greenfield was nice. A controller stamped our brevet cards and awarded us with really tasty flap jacks. Mmm, delicious. I was also ‘awarded’ with another brevet card that belonged to Mr Wobbly, a guy on a recumbent cycle who had left the control without it.

Leaving this first control was menace. I was faced with a big, relatively steep hill and had to sprint in an attempt to catch Mr Wobbly. I had only just met Jamie and Andy and now I was leaving them for a mission of my own. The climb of Saddleworth Moor was stunning and I had a good chat with a few folk during this ascent. Saddleworth - what an apt name for this ascent! Am pleased to inform that I successfully reunited Mr Wobbly with his brevet card, he was not too far ahead at all and must have left control only minutes before me. 
After reaching the summit of the Moor, whoosh – a spectacular descent of 9k all the way to Holmfirth. I must have reached speeds of just under 70kph. See – there is an advantage to extra weight! This part of the ride was perhaps the most scenic and I stopped several times to take the odd photo. 
I missed the info control at the 93k mark and instead stopped at Woody’s Café (am sure organiser said a receipt would be fine). I treated myself to the audax staple diet here – beans on toast. Just as I left this control, Andy and Jamie had reached here (they were bouncing this control and had answered info control instead) so I was able to cycle alongside them for a while.

It was nice to catch up with ‘the lads’ and I swear having a chat helps the k’s disappear quickly. During this section to Brough we were stopped by many a rail crossing (this was a theme throughout the entire ride) and at one point we were stopped whilst a ditched car was being recovered. 
(As with most of my post ride write-ups, I get confused at times and struggle to remember exact details so errors and omissions excepted). I cycled a spell on this section with a chap on a lovely ‘on-one fixie’ who was cycling in sandals (reminded me of Mary who has cycled many a Black Sheep event). Am sure dodgy cycle paths over single track (bridleway and gravel) were passed over before reaching the control in Brough. Am not sure when or where I had lost company with ‘the lads’ but I had another breakfast at Café Indulge with Mr Fixie. This time, I opted for scrambled eggs on toast.

Don’t remember an awful lot after my scrambled eggs but do recall cycling more stretches with Jamie and Andy including an awesome stretch over the Humber Bridge. This bridge was superb and in my opinion, on par with the Severn bridges. The next big thing I remember was a fish and chips dinner at Morrisons in Gainsborough. In fact, I remember being really hungry the 10k before and wishing I had more than just nuts in my pockets. 
Jamie and Andy didn’t have a big stop at Morrisons and I wondered how they could cycle so far (about 250k at this point) with so little fuel?! I cycled the stage from Gainsborough to Wragby with the voices in my head for company and at most times they would discuss food. Caught Jamie and Andy up at Wragby and was almost blown away with the strong smell of kebab at the control. I wonder and would really like to know – did any cyclist actually purchase and eat kebab at this control?! I opted for Lucozade, sweets and a pint of milk.

The route from Wragby to Boston was ‘bostin’. We cycled in our group of 3 for this whole stretch and it was a real pretty section. We followed a ‘Water Rail’ path which was reminiscent of the Chester Greenway but perhaps prettier. 
A random cyclist kept informing me of alternate routes along this section which I thought was weird as he appeared to cycled ahead and then wait to tell me this information but followed self-same route as I anyway. It turned out, this random cyclist was not part of our organised cycle. During this stage we climbed Chapel Hill and then had an amazing dead straight and flat section across Holland Fen. Amazing. This surely must have been a road built by the romans. We flew across these Fens. My thoughts went to thinking about Clive (the Dr), a friend of mine who I am sure recently completed the ‘Flat out in the Fens’ sportive – I think and presume these were the same Fens?! After the Fens we only had to cycle a short stretch before excitedly reaching a McDonalds. What a welcome break! I swiftly devoured a Big Mac meal here and am sure Jamie and Andy had 2! (So this is how they fuel up?!) We left McDonalds after donning ourselves up in extra layers ready for the night section. At this juncture we were about half way!

We left McDonalds in Boston feeling suitably fuelled. On route to the next control Jamie and Andy were talking about their stay in a Travelodge they had booked. How I wished I had booked a room too. This was a relatively lengthy section in terms of time – we left McDonalds at around 9.30 p.m. and didn’t reach the control in Colsterworth until gone midnight. I was feeling a little grumpy and tired at control and didn’t wish to eat but desperately wanted to sleep. Said my goodbye’s to the lads, as I knew they would be leaving for the Travelodge that they had booked. Mike had put on a lovely spread here in the Twyford Woods and some folk described this party like an outing of elves. Despite all the food and hospitality, I just headed straight to a horsebox in an attempt to get some sleep. 
I didn’t sleep too well as I was cold and shivery and had disrupted dreams of Travelodge. Mike had kindly provided mats to sleep on but I would have paid a tenner for a sleeping bag (the same amount Jamie had paid for his room, grr!). After about 2 or so hours I decided to leave, taking a banana on my way.

The next place I passed as I continued my journey was a place called Melton Mowbray which made me instantly feel hungry and I could swear I could smell pies. I wonder if I was hallucinating?! As I cycled along, I often saw a cyclist sleeping in the verge which reminded me of my PBP experience. Am surprised the cyclists could sleep, none looked particularly comfy. I would be paranoid about someone stealing my stead. I had thoughts of my sister (Jane) as I neared Donington – I think this was because I would pass Silverstone if I were to travel to hers (the mind makes all sorts of strange, weird and wonderful connections when it is tired). Reaching Donington was great because that had meant I had reached the next control, services on the M1. These services were not so great because most of everything was closed. It was only around 4.30 a.m. and only Costa was open. I treated myself to an overly expensive tea and cake which was thankfully delicious. The guy who served me said he had seen a whole bunch of cyclists now and asked whether an event was taking place. I informed him of the epic event that was taking place and he replied ‘oh wow, but you look really young … all the others were old men’. That comment made me grin, I was initially chuffed with ‘young’ but then felt inferior with a group of ‘old men’ reaching here way before me. (This wasn’t a competitive event). I made myself feel much better again by having a decent wash at these services and applying more Assos crème. I only saw one cyclist here, Mr Wobbly in fact, and that was when I was leaving (or was that at the next control)?!

The next stage felt like a long slog. I didn’t see many others during this section and relied mostly on the voices in my head for company. I did see this bearded chap on a silver bicycle (am gutted I can’t recall his name) every now and then. I felt like I was in the ‘Whacky Races’ with him – one moment he would be behind, the next in front and on some occasions I would pass him as he was sleeping on the side of the road. Bizarre! I saw another guy not far behind me as I was climbing some hills on the way to Stone, strangely this motivated me to keep going and I didn’t see him again after I pushed my efforts a little. At the 463k mark I decided to take the ‘lumpy’ route to Stone. Not sure if that was a good idea as my legs were tired but I figured hills (and hopefully descents) would break up the monotony a little and force me to concentrate. The guy in an orange velo-cycle opted for the same route and soon whizzed passed me. Mr Beard also took this route (he confirmed this during a brief discussion further ahead). Once Stone was reached, so was the control – services on the M6. I was really looking forward to a McDonald’s breakfast here but there wasn’t one. There was a Burger King but that didn’t open until 9.30 a.m. and I didn’t want to wait ¾ of an hour for it to open. Instead I had a very pricey breakfast but thankfully it was delicious. Again, no other cyclists were here – perhaps they knew Burger King was not open…

Just a little over 40k took me to the next control. A shorter section but strangely it didn’t feel it. I cycled this stage solo once again but caught glimpses of Mr Beard now and then. My head was tired and was playing games with place names – I would read Hodnet as ‘Hodge’ and think about my buddy with the same name. I think it was here that I saw a box with the nic-name of my dear wife on. Aww, the dear sweet SJ x. 
Reaching the control(s) and I had a choice , either a petrol station or the Raven Café. I opted for the petrol station because the Raven Café had 100’s of motorcyclists gathered there and I didn’t much fancy mingling with any Hells Angels. I purchased some crisps and sandwiches from the garage and then laid out on the grass in front and chilled out for some time. It was baking hot at this point so many layers were removed. Whilst I was camped out on the grass, I saw Mr Beard continue to the Hells Angels and shortly after was joined by Terry. Terry became my cycling partner from here on till the finish. Terry never told me his name, but his bike had one of those ‘this-belongs-to’ type name stickers on it. I had my groovy YACF nameplate!

Terry actually left the Prees Heath control before me, but I caught him up as he was waiting to cross over the busy A41. We were joined for a brief spell by Mr Beard but lost him once he decided to remove some layers. It was seriously hot! We were now cycling the last leg – 70k would take us to the finish. Was pleased I was cycling with Terry as we were able to chat lots (mostly about LEL) and that helped me to forget about my niggles. Terry also proved to be my navigator as my GPS died just 25k short of the finish. Terry was also my motivator, he was stronger than me at this point and helped push me to the finish. In fact, once the finish was insight I was happy to ease off and Terry must have reached there a good 10 minutes before me. I was chuffed to reach the arrivee at long last. I stopped at Waitrose for a celebratory water and then went to my car for some much needed sleep! The whole event took me just over 33 hours to complete, I reached the arrivee at 3.09 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Woo hoo – I had completed my second 600k event and better yet, had completed my second SR series! The picture below presents my route (with the last 25k stretch missing because Garmin died).
Cycled a total of 710k this week. My total distance this year now stands at 6,232k. Just over 3 weeks before LEL begins.


  1. The fens I was on were a bit further south near Peterbotough - but it's flat a long way up. The Fens can be punishing into a head wind with little cover to offer any respite.
    I think it's amazing how you can keep going over all that distance & hours.
    My legs do OK but it's the lower back & neck that gets painful

  2. Cheers Clive, over long distances my bum gets sore and I lose a bit of feeling in my toes. I had fun in the fens!


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