- Distance:- 325.81km
- Moving Time:- 14:13:33
- Elevation:- 2,420m
- Weighted Avg Power:- 152W
- Energy:- 6,592kJ
- With:- Alex
Aka “Alex & Dave Ride Again”
I’m late to the review party for the 2021 event, but having had such a great time and the event being so well organised by Will and his Bristol Audax crew, I feel bound to tell the story…
Alex, a dear friend with whom I’d done big rides with before, suggested I join him on this ride back in August 2021. He’d done it the year before and had really enjoyed it, saying it was incredibly well-organised and very popular. “Moonrakers & Sunseekers” is a 300km Audax UK ride.
An Audax is a non-competitive cycling event organised by Audax UK, an organisation as old as the hills that runs long-distance events. In order to prove that you have ridden the course, you pass through ‘Controls’ or ‘Control Points’, where the card you were issued at the start of the event gets stamped. These Controls not only serve as a proof that you passed through a particular place at a certain time, but are also good places to pause and refuel. The organisers will often provide basic services: toilets, rest areas and even food and drink. Controls are usually evenly spaced around the route every 50km or so apart.
Sensibly, I agreed to take Alex up on his offer to ride. Close to 1 o’clock on the Friday I found myself riding the 38 km from central London to the Shell garage at Victoria Park near Addlestone, so I could cadge a lift with Alex to the start of the ride in Bristol.
The atmosphere was buzzing, tea was flowing, snacks were disappearing, lights twinkled, weather was behaving and the chatter was engaging.
It’s always good to catch up with Alex, who is a really positive, well-centred person. He greeted me with his usual cheerful enthusiasm. We happily chatted bikes as we loaded them onto the bike rack on the back of his estate car.
Arriving in Bristol
We pulled into Bristol early. The kick-off was at 9 pm and we spent the spare couple of hours scoping out pizza and snacks in a nearby shopping mall. We then parked up near the Felix Road community centre on the edge of Bristol. This was the perfect venue for the crowd of 185 odd riders, with their bikes and clobber, to get ready and sorted before heading out into the night.
Overshoes or no overshoes?… That was the question…
The atmosphere was buzzing, tea was flowing, snacks were disappearing, lights twinkled, the weather was behaving and the chatter was engaging. I was incredibly impressed that soya milk and dairy-free cakes were provided for plant-munchers like me. We changed, signed up to the event and readied ourselves for the upcoming ride.
A Monty Python-esque moment
Should or shouldn’t I wear overshoes?… Alex was in hysterics. One minute they were on, the next off, then on again. I must have been very high maintenance. Overshoes or no overshoes?… That was the question. In truth, without some expert guidance from those around me, I’d still be there… stuck in an infinite loop.
Getting to the Moonrakers
The start was organised so that riders set off in timed waves according to how fast they planned to ride, fastest first. All the ‘usual suspect’ Audax types were lined up. From young to old, seasoned to first-timers, together with a smattering of endurance and ex pro cycling luminaries. When it was our group’s turn, we were corralled into a fenced-off tennis court area, only to be let loose into the wild a few minutes later.
At around 2:30 am, we arrived at a gazebo set up at the side of a junction before Salisbury, next to an undertaker named “Just Cremation”. I know, right?
The group stayed together, sort of, as we rolled out of bustling Bristol, through Bath heading onto clearer roads towards Devizes and our first control point: the Moonrakers pub. It was now around midnight. Many had made it to the welcoming glow of the bar. There were lots of good things on offer: beer, wine, bar snacks, a bathroom to freshen up in, and a comfy chair. I didn’t hesitate to take advantage. Worthy of note were the sweet snacks provided. Sweet, delicious, full of flavour… and importantly energy. We loitered a while, chatting with others and learning tales about moonraking, what it was and how it came to be. Very enjoyable.
Control point two
We left the colourfully lit rest stop and headed south towards the coast in a mild 8°C temp and light drizzle just a little after midnight. We probably slightly overcooked the pace earlier, which would come back to haunt us a bit later on. Alex and I found the wide, open roads mostly to ourselves as we glided on to the next stop in Salisbury.
I spent a large part of my early life cycling many of these roads when I was a teen racer.
I always like to have a chat with others on the road. I enjoyed exchanging stories with one female rider who had done big miles in far-flung countries like Colombia. #LivingTheDream… At around 2:30 am, we arrived at a gazebo set up at the side of a junction before Salisbury, next to an undertaker named “Just Cremation”. I know, right? Of course, more great food was laid on. We took the opportunity to fill our bottles and chat whilst having a moment of respite. Hilariously, my iPhone comically shattered the peace by reading out scrambled ride notes randomly, very loudly… I think I’m the only person left in the world doing long rides whilst attempting turn-by-turn directions on an iPhone strapped to the handlebars.
Down memory lane
The next leg of the ride, along the eastern edge of the New Forest, through Ringwood and down to the coast via Christchurch, was on straighter, flatter roads which, for some, were less inspiring. On the other hand, for me, it was a journey down memory lane. You see, this is where I spent a large part of my early life, cycling many of these roads when I was a teen racer.
We passed by a farmhouse near Fordingbridge where I used to practise in a band with Triss, my best mate, who ended up playing bass for Emerson Lake & Palmer – playing bass for a hugely famous bass-player??
I worked here as a barman, illegally, at the tender age of 14.
It’s a weird World… His dad, Bill, had a trout farm on the land, as well as a few cows, chickens and other animals. He was ex-special forces and had a very philosophical take on things. Triss’ brother was one of the best guitarists in the country and played with many of the greats. Bill also had a Rottweiler, whom he taught me to be very respectful of. Typical of country folk, the whole family loved the animals they bred, letting them wander in and out of the house at will. You would even find the cows poking their heads through the kitchen door. In my mind I felt they came into the house, but that’s probably just a juvenile fantasy.
They were my surrogate second family and I have never forgotten the kindness and love they showed me. Whether it was because of my tiredness or the trick of time, I didn’t manage to spot the gravel path leading to the farm from the road as we sailed by my friend’s old place.
Catching the train further back in time
We had somehow managed to hook up with a fairly brisk-flowing group and sailed through Ringwood at a lick. Such familiar territory; it would be quite a few miles before we came across roads new to me. We hung a left after Ringwood, that should only have been familiar to locals, into the lanes that lead to Burley. I had gone to a boys’ school not far from here. We sailed past the Three Tuns pub, where I had the last meal out with the family, courtesy of my father, not long before he passed away. This was an old training route; I knew every nook and cranny of that road.
I would often hit speeds of 50-55 mph. Live young, die fast.
The group was still together as, after an incredibly short rise and sharp corner, we popped out on the A35, right by The Cat & Fiddle at Hinton, the oldest pub in England some people claim. It’s a thatched-roofed pub, smack-bang at the end of the road where I used to live. I worked here as a barman, illegally, at the tender age of 14. It was also a rock venue back in the day, and I did my first ever gig as a guitarist for a band called Albatross, who were supporting a famous band of the time called Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. That’s a mouthful…. Check out their hit single “Snoopy Vs The Red Dragon”! haha, lol. This is where my impressionable mind would have begun to dream of fame and fortune in the music industry.
Approaching the coast
Carrying on past the pub towards Christchurch, we passed the spot where I used to do the regular weekly 10s with the Bournemouth Arrows. Those are 10 mile time trials, which were and still are very much part of the cycling tradition in the UK. Every cycling club used to run a weekly 10 mile time trial. Sometimes it would be 25 miles. If you were part of a cycling club back then, they encouraged you to do 10s as part of your introduction to racing and training. So much changes over time.
We swooped down past the roundabout, where I used to pick up the draft of the school bus on the dual carriageway to school. I would often hit speeds of 50-55 mph. Live young, die fast. On through Christchurch itself over the stone bridges in view of Christchurch Castle, past what once was Tucktonia, a model village attraction, out towards Hengistbury Head, up the hill, onto the coastal road and our first glimpse of the sea. We followed that shore road along until it led to the boulevard at Boscombe and took to the cycle path along the beach.
A deserted seaside town
The sun was rising. We had ridden through the night. It was early and there was nobody around – no swimmers, sunbathers, kids or sandcastles. The beach path was empty. It was a little damp, remember it was also very late in the year. The season had ended some weeks before. The group was still pretty much together as we passed Bournemouth Pier and the ‘Chines’ towards Sandbanks, where we left the beach path, joined the road and headed through Lilliput.
Sailing right past our breakfast stop
It was about here where we expected to stop at an important breakfast control point. Without that all-important stamp in your Brevet Card, you would not “complete” the ride. It was doubly important, as breakfast was being laid on, and with a deficit of 8-10 thousand calories overall for the ride, this was essential stuff.
On a trip to the loo, I found some people struggling with a tubeless tyre that had failed them, with tubeless sealant getting absolutely everywhere.
The venue we were looking for was a little off the beaten track just before the cycle path through Baiter towards Poole Quay. It was a sailing club venue – I think – on the waterfront hidden among the expensive yachts. We’d made good time in the group and were reluctant to let it go. For whatever reason – maybe the hive mind effect – the bunch simply sailed on by and completely missed the path.
I knew the control was somewhere around here, figuring it must have been just before or actually in Poole. I wasn’t wrong, but being unsure, I didn’t speak up until we were well past the harbour and on our way to Lytchett Matravers. Eventually, I called it, later than I should’ve. I shouted to Alex to hang back and we let the group ride away.
Retracing our steps
I told Alex I thought we’d fucked up. It only took a little digging around on our phones and the bike computer before we realised our mistake and turned back, through Poole Quay and Baiter, to eventually find the breakfast stop. Annoyed but grateful that we sussed out our mistake when we did, we settled down to an amazing breakfast and a bit of well-earned recuperation.
The much appreciated breakfast
The place was jumping. The food was great. The facilities; more than you could have hoped for. Lots of riders were enjoying a cooked breakfast. Again, there were vegan options for people like me. Vegan sausages, beans, toast, jam, tea and cereal. Nom nom. A fly on the wall would’ve seen a few weary faces – unsurprisingly. There were people chilling and getting rest, there were others milling around dealing with mechanicals. On a trip to the loo, I found some people struggling with a tubeless tyre that had failed them. Tubeless sealant getting absolutely everywhere. I felt sorry for them, though I noticed they got it all sorted before Alex and I set off again.
You could see for miles in all directions across the plains and wetlands.
Bellies filled, noses powdered and cards stamped, we headed off into the breaking day retracing, the steps we had already ridden for a short distance earlier. We were headed away from the coast, back in the vague direction of Bristol.
Dorset’s good bits
This time we managed to make it past Lytchett Matravers and continued in a northwesterly direction through roads less familiar to me towards Stern Abbot. We had swapped from the fairly open main roads on the way to the coast to the more secluded country lanes. The road lead us through those incredibly picturesque villages you find in Dorset interspersed with beautiful rolling vistas. We passed through lots of places pre-named ‘Winterbourne’, Winterbourne this, Winterbourne that, then skirted past the stunning Milton Abbey with its World famous school before pushing on through the morning towards Sherbourne and beyond.
The next control point was the service station at Podimore . Not the motorway services type of service station we are all too familiar with, more a petrol station with a ‘food hall’ featuring a Burger King and a Noodle/Wok/Chinese offering. Rather than have your card stamped here, all that’s required is that you save a receipt for a purchase or something else to prove you had passed through. A slip from the cash machine would work.
The weird and wonderful Somerset Levels
We still had a way to go. We were nudging into the latter part of the morning as we saddled up and left Podimore. Two notable towns ahead were Glastonbury; famous for, among other things, its music festival, followed shortly after by Cheddar; famous for its cheese… and its gorge.
I hadn’t cycled in these parts before and was a little alarmed to find ourselves riding along long, very straight, quite narrow, Roman-like roads with dykes and ditches on either side – like something you might find in Holland. It was very flat. You could see for miles in all directions across the plains and wetlands. Later I learned that this area of the country is known as the ‘Somerset Levels’, stretching from the Mendips to the Blackdown Hills. Apparently, they are among the lowest and flattest areas of the UK. What seemed stranger to me was that having lived and travelled in this country for the majority of my life, I’d never heard of them. This section of the ride wasn’t short, but apparently, all good things come to an end, and soon after passing by Cheddar, we found ourselves back among the more familiar English lanes.
Off road and onto The Strawberry Line
The course led us down a decently long section of abandoned railway, repurposed as a bridleway/bike path, known as The Strawberry Line, to bring us back into Bristol. Many fellow Audaxers had chosen their bikes accordingly and were riding gravel bikes with chunky tan-walled tyres specifically for this section and the beach section earlier.
“what an ignorant mansplaining neanderthal…”
We were struggling to find the route and were lucky to spot the wheel of Emily Chappell, a notable and very seasoned ultra-endurance cyclist, who was obviously far better than Alex and I at finding her way. I’d ridden with Emily a couple of times previously, although I suspect that she didn’t remember. Anyhooo… we had been crossing wheels, so to speak, several times with Emily and her friend since Poole and were thankful for her expert help in finding the railway path.
Sometime later, we saw her by the roadside fixing a puncture. Not having used tubeless tyres before and wondering if I could be of any help, I called out, “Are you OK? Is it tubeless?” To which Emily called back, “I’m fine, thanks,” or something similar. My thinking was; if she was running a tubeless set up, I would have been of little help. By the tone of her response, she was thinking something along the lines of, “what an ignorant mansplaining neanderthal; just ’cause I’m a woman you think I need help?” TBH, it was a pretty dumb, ill-considered, throwaway comment – albeit, well-intended. The whole interaction took mere seconds, but tickled Alex so much I think it spurred him on for the rest of the ride.
He went for it hell-for-leather through the traffic and lanes, under bridges and junctions.
The final control point before Bristol was the Strawberry Line Cafe that sits on the old railway station not long before the path spits you out into the outskirts of Bristol.
We hadn’t been there long before Emily rolled up and I dug myself in deeper with another stupid comment along the lines of “Did you manage OK?”, which, as she was standing there suffering me, was a vacuous question to say the least. #Awkward. Oh to be me! Lol. Poor Emily. Such is the effect of riding your bike a silly amount of miles overnight without sleep!
Both Alex and I had been suffering over the last section but we were nearing the end and had a sense that nothing could stop us from completing.
Following a dog on a rag through Bristol
It was approaching mid afternoon when we saddled up and set off on the final section back through the bustling Bristol outskirts to the point where we had started. Alex could smell blood and got a boost of energy that would make the most rested energised. He went for it, hell-for-leather through the traffic and lanes, under bridges and junctions. It was sketchy trying to keep up with him as he was gunning it like a speedway racer.
We were toast. We did all the things you’re supposed to do when you are driving exhausted.
It stands to reason that, well before you could read this pile of dirge, we were back where we started, getting our cards collected (you have to had them in and they’re posted out to you later) and tucking into a welcome nosebag of delicious vegetable curry and rice, all laid on by the fabulous Will Pomeroy and Audax Club Bristol.
Once we’d collected ourselves and changed, we loaded all the stuff into the car, threw the bikes on the bike rack and made off back towards London. We were toast. From experience, we did all the things you’re supposed to do when you are driving exhausted. We chatted, I did my level best to keep an eye on Alex as he drove, kept the windows down for maximum fresh air and played music loud and proud. Inevitably, somewhere on the M4 motorway we pulled over into the services and grabbed some food and some much-needed shuteye in order to continue safely back.
My only complaint?:- I got on the scales and I’m the same weight!????.
It must’ve been a good 2 hours before we woke up for fear of outstaying our welcome and ending up with a massive fine for exceeding our maximum stay period in the car park. It was enough rest though, and before long we’d arrived back at the Shell petrol station, where we originally met more than 24 hours ago.
I grabbed my stuff and my bike off the back of the car and with very little ceremony, as we were keen to keep moving, we bid farewell and I found myself saddling up for the final 38km bike ride back home, which inevitably involved stopping shortly after in Weybridge for a roadside chips & pea fritter. The roads through Walton, Kingston and Richmond were all too familiar and in just under 2 hours I found myself back with the family ready for a good night’s kip.
The round up
When I add in the ride out to connect with Alex and the section coming home from the drop off, the whole thing amounted to a cat’s whisker over 400k. That’s a 9,000 cal day! Not a bad grunt… My only complaint?:- I got on the scales and I’m the same weight!
A huge shout out to Audax UK Club Bristol and particularly Will for an exceptionally well organised “Moonrakers & Sunseekers” ride; they treated us so well. Thanks, all! I cannot recommend this ride highly enough.
If you’re thinking of doing it on the back of our adventure, bear in mind we had mild, slightly damp conditions that night, which made it manageable. Be warned!