Ride to the Sun

Cycling 102 miles overnight from Carlisle to Edinburgh is not everyone’s idea of fun, but then not everyone tries to do the Ride to the Sun (RttS) – the Northern younger sibling of the Dunwich Dynamo.

Getting Fit

At the beginning of 2024 I was thinking that I needed to get my fitness sorted out which I’d let slide a bit in the way things fall off cliff edges. Then fate intervened and I saw PureGym were offering free gym membership for a unique set of people and I qualified.

The free membership was on offer in partnership with the “Movers and Shakers”, a podcast for people with Parkinson’s, a condition which I had been diagnosed with in 2020 just as COVID locked down the country. It is well known that exercise makes a big difference to your Parkinson’s symptoms, hence the link up.

So I packed myself off to the gym in April with a target of riding the RttS in June. No problem ….

I’d done the Dunwich Dynamo a few times so I thought I’d go for a bimble in the Scottish Borders on the RttS. Sure it was Scotland, and Scotland equalled hills, but the ride was a few miles shorter so that would balance everything out. That was my first underestimation.

Booking train tickets and cycle reservations made the target real. Achievable, maybe not so much.

I had my doubts taking part in the Ride to the Sun was my brightest idea. But I pounded along at the gym making lots of sweet which did not seem to fertilise the muscles quite as quickly as I hoped/wanted/needed.

Then the date of the 2024 Ride to the Sun arrived, Saturday 22nd June.

Traveling Up

A short cycle ride from home took me to London Euston railway station where I bumped into Rosemary who I’d had a brief online conversation with about the ride. Carriage A had the cycle storage which, for the bike to fit, entailed removing the bike’s panniers. The seats by the door to the bike storage area were reserved as “Cyclist”, so I didn’t need my reserved seat further back on the train.

After a few hours Carlisle came into view. I unloaded the bike on to the platform and then spent ages fiddling with the straps trying to get the paniers attached again. Rosemary had a go and got it done in one move.

A short ride through Carlisle took us to Bitts Park and the start of the RttS. If you had booked it, the Scouts offered a bag transfer service to Edinburgh and then a post-ride return service from Edinburgh back to Carlisle for you with your bike on coaches and trucks. If they accidentally loaded you on to the truck back at Edinburgh, I doubt you’d notice as you’d be so tired by then.

I have never worked so hard to earn a pin badge.

I picked up my souvenir pin badge, took a few snaps and then started the ride. Rosemary and I rode together for a while until I needed to dose up on medication and stretch a bit. I insisted Rosemary carry on as she was “in the zone” so we exchanged phone numbers and kept in touch overnight.

Ride Groupie or Not

I’ve done long distance rides before and have decided riding solo works best for me. Riding solo means you can speed up, slow down and stop as you please as well as tagging along with any riding group you get talking to.

The flip side is you need to be a bit more self reliant which translates to carrying more stuff (puncture kits, food, drink etc.) and be confident navigating your way. Ride with a group and you get bags of encouragement and get pulled along mentally. You choose the mode that is right for you.

My Chariot

For any long distance road riding you are best off with a finely tuned road bike that your body is at one with.

I had my trusty mountain bike with tractor tyres. No point making things easy on yourself. Remember, pain is just weakness leaving the body. It has to be said some of the RttS riders (for “some” read “most”) had more suitable bikes. I borrowed a Roman Centurion’s helmet to make my bike look good in the photo.

The Ride to the Sun

It’s not a race, and is not organised as such. A small cadre of people oil the event’s wheels in the background, but there is no registration. Anyone can just turn up on the night and ride. This also means there is no broom wagon – for those who fall by the wayside there is only a list of local taxi companies along the route who might be persuaded to pickup someone and their bike from a grid reference.

One of the ride marshals did kindly stop to check I was OK, but you can’t rely on being found like that.

The Route of the RttS

From Carlisle, a relatively easy ride takes you to Moffat and the first “official” stop where the local takeaways are open late knowing there will be 1,500 or so hungry cyclists descending on the town.

Arriving at Moffat, there were about 30 riders so I wasn’t last …. yet. Two riders I was talking to decided at this point to withdraw. One of their partners was already on the way to pick them up. For me there was no option but onwards, my legs were trying to tell me something but I had to ignore their strangulated cries.

The Devil’s Beeftub Steaktub

After Moffat, things get a bit more lively. When describing the Devil’s Beeftub, one of the volunteer ride marshals inadvertently put the words “nice” and “hill” in the same sentence.

I think I’ll be starting a campaign to rename the Devil’s Beeftub to the Devil’s Steaktub as I definitely felt well done by the end of the ride up the “nice hill”.

The Devil’s Beeftub offers stunning views across the Scottish Borders. Through the drizzle and midges, the black of the hills merged seamlessly into the black of the sky. Yes, it was night time with nothing but my cycle light to guide me on my way. I was down in first gear for the whole of the seven mile climb, stopping every five minutes when the noise from my legs got too loud, before having another go. Then the nice hill, using the marshal’s twisted logic, became an evil flat followed by a devilish downhill. It had taken me an hour or so.

At the top of the climb the RttS had laid on a piper to hail the conquering heroes. With the last of the heroes having passed by, everyone moved on to the Crook Inn for the mid-ride party.

There was, however, one puffing and panting “also ran” still climbing and still chewing on midges. It was a case of not if I was going to make it, but a case of having to make Edinburgh as that was where the train home was.

Downhill To Edinburgh

It was now downhill all the way to Edinburgh, at least that was what that marshal had said.

Picking up speed, the pain of the climb started to leave my thoughts as the miles started to tick by descending through to the Tweed Valley. Well, that’s how I imagined it was going to be. Wrong! OK, it was now mostly downhill, but there were quite a few uphill bits just for entertainment value. Whoever was being entertained by these hills had a different approach to relaxation.

Around 03:00 parts of the landscape started to gain shape as the colour pallet slowly morphed from black to the darkest of greys. I was glad I’d picked up an old waterproof (an important plot point for later) when I couldn’t find my cycling waterproof. It was cold up in the hills, especially with wind chill when storming downhill.

The only real “this is going to hurt” moment (other than the inexhaustible supply of pot holes in the road) was when a dog ran out in front of me when I was flying down a hill. Somehow, by the narrowest of margins, I missed the dog and stayed upright.

The finish was on Cramond Beach to the West of Edinburgh. I really wasn’t sure if, having had a rest on the beach, my legs would seize up and be ready for the six miles uphill back to Edinburgh railway station. So thirty miles out I decided to head direct for the station.

Definitely the right move although “Bryan’s diversion” reduced the mileage from 102 miles down to 95 miles.

The route of the Ride to the Sun with “Bryan’s Diversion” hidden by the finish flag.

Edinburgh

Free wheeling down the final hill I turned into Edinburgh railway station. I didn’t care there weren’t crowds cheering me to the finish line, I was just grateful to of made it to where my train was going to leave from and – most importantly – I had got to Edinburgh before my train was due to depart.

Heading Home On The Train

My one indulgence planning the ride had been to book a First Class seat on the train home. A First Class seat meant I could use the First Class Lounge so I dumped my chariot in the cycle rack and went over to the lounge.

Remember the old waterproof from earlier? Well I took it off in the lounge only to discover the water poof membrane had perished into hundreds of tiny pieces which descended in a blizzard on to my seat. Fortunately I found a roll of cellotape so was able to clear up the snow drift.

I took full advantage of the complementary food service as the train headed South before finally tiredness won the battle for control of my eyelids somewhere past Berwick-upon-Tweed. Waking up to the sight of Arsenal stadium told me London King’s Cross was close and it was time to steel myself ready for the short ride home.

I returned to the front door of my home I had left less than 36 hours previously, had a shower and collapsed in a heap.

Looking Back

The riding was at times hard work for me, mentally and physically, yet there were plenty of pelotons absolutely flying along. One part of the route ran parallel with the M6 and seemed to go on for ever. The continuous seven mile climb up to the Devil’s Beeftub after Moffat was brutal and did go on forever.

The Ride to the Sun was definitely harder than the Dunwich Dynamo but I proved to myself that planning, training and gritting my teeth could beat that day’s battle with Parkinson’s.

One day I’ll lose the mobility war with Parkinson’s, but it wasn’t to be that day.