With no Mountain Mayhem this year June was looking a bit quiet on the race/event front so when a message appeared on Facebook back in December from Jason Miles asking ‘anyone fancy this?, without really paying too much attention I signed myself up. Then after reading up on the details properly, I thought ‘what the hell have I done?’
The South West 300 is a charity road ride around Dumfries and Galloway, devised by Jason’s mate Nipper Varney to raise money for cancer charities. The aim was to complete the 300 mile route within 24 hours. Being nearly double the distance of the longest road ride I’d ever done, it didn’t take long for the enormity of the challenge to sink in, especially as all the hills were on the second half of the route.
Meeting up with Jason, a couple of his mates and the 40 or so other riders at the 12pm start the plan was simple – stay in the first of the two organised groups, then see what happens. Any thoughts of shortcuts or bailouts (as if Jase was going to allow that!) were quickly forgotten on account of the route being a large, remote loop with not much in the way of public transport or other options. There were 3 support vehicles but it was made clear there was no sag-wagon. We were committed.
Setting off from Dumfries two challenges immediately presented themselves, one was the weather, which had us soaked through and cold after about ten minutes. The other was deciphering the group-ride voice calls of the Glasgow Green Cycling Club who had quite a few riders taking part. Garbled shouts and cries coming from the front of the group were gradually understood. “Inside!”, “Griddle!”, “Cars!”, “Hole!”, “(something else I never worked out)!” gave us ample warning of obstacles and dangers, and prevented any Tour de France style pile-ups.
The first half of the route followed the stunning Solway coast to the Mull of Galloway, 140 miles of mostly flat and deserted roads that are more akin to France than the UK. The miles passed at a pleasing but somewhat eyebrow-raising rate. The planned average of 16.5mph was more like 20mph. Even so despite the pace we were behind schedule due to a later than planned start and quite a bit of faffing at the regular rest stops. I was feeling pretty wasted at the halfway point, and was growing somewhat concerned at how cold I was getting when we stopped. Despite his protestations Jason looked like he’d barely started.
A discussion about the pace was had and it was agreed we’d try to tone it down a bit when we set off for the second half, given how knackered I was feeling this was very welcome. That was the plan anyway. A few miles into the next stage, by now in pitch darkness, I looked back to find Jason had disappeared. A quick check up front that he wasn’t ahead confirmed something must have happened. Bollocks. There was no choice but to stop and wait. Thankfully Jason appeared after a few minutes, cursing a dropped chain. Any thoughts of taking it easy were abandoned at this point as a 20 mile chase on increasingly undulating terrain ensued to catch the group ahead. I would suffer for this later.
As the night wore on, fatigue and the need for sleep crept in the pace thankfully reduced and the group settled into a steady, and increasingly silent effort to get through the night safely without any incidents. Rolling into Girvan at dawn we were treated to the sight of Ailsa Craig off the coast. We were also treated to a freezing cold wind with very little shelter at the rest stop which soon had me shivering uncontrollably and needing to take shelter in one of the support cars to warm up. Trouble was it was so warm I fell asleep almost instantly. 10 minutes later I was woken by someone hammering on the window telling me to get back on my bike. Another chase ensued to catch the front group with Jason singlehandedly towing a couple of us back to the front.
And then the hills. A token effort to keep up with the front group on the first decent sized hill soon proved futile on my part. At this point I had some serious doubts about finishing the ride, but a friendly but blunt ‘don’t be stupid, it’ll be fine, just keep going’ pep-talk from Jason dismissed any negativity. Also what else was I going to do? The only way to get back was to ride there. The next 50 miles were spent grovelling up hills in bottom gear, then sprinting down them as fast I dared to catch the group up ahead. It seemed cruel bordering on sadistic for the high point of the route to be at the 260 mile mark, but at least it marked the beginning of the end, and all that was left was a mostly downhill 40 miles.
We rolled back into Dumfries about an hour behind schedule. No one really cared about not making the 24 hour target, we were all too wasted, even Jason’s poker face had crumbled by the end and he was looking suitably dishevelled like the rest of us. Unlike a race, the best thing about this ride was that it was all about getting as many riders round the route as possible, a proper collective effort. I’ve no idea if it will be run in future but if it is I’d definitely recommend it. Thanks to Nipper for organising, the volunteers in the support cars, and all the other riders who made it possible. I might even consider doing it again sometime.