I have started a draft post for our Cairngorms mountain biking outer loop trip last summer. I haven't written up any of last year's rides or audax. Oh well, I missed my 8000km target for 2018 by 1500km but it was my highest annual total to date in 3 complete years of Strava. I completed the 200km Raglan Castle Audax last July in the foulest wet and windy weather in the middle of the heatwave summer! My hardest ride to date. Lots of errors on my part, over estimating speed, underestimating weather and food needs, worrying about delaying a very patient ride buddy (Blair) and not being able to drop back as my Garmin froze at 100km. It was far too far to ring up the patient husband and drag him over the bridge to pick me up. I'm still not sure how I did it other than not wanting to let down my ride buddy or inconvenience my husband!
I have ridden a 200km audax or charity ride once per year in summer in the three years that I've been riding "properly." So about 10 days ago I thought I'd have a go at a winter 200km randonnée (an audax of 200km) because everyone else just bangs them out so surely I should stop making excuses and just get on with it. I haven't made myself any targets this year. Do targets motivate or intimidate? (Edited to add a few days later that this may not actually be true now.)
Audax are self supported rides. They are not signposted, don't have broom wagons or feed stations. You get a designated route for Garmins/Wahoos etc and written directions if needed. Collect a brevet card at the start and collect stamps or receipts at the controls, which are normally at cafés shops or pubs at the extremes of the route. To stop short cuts answers to some information controls are also required. They are not races but to complete an audax officially it has to be done in "audax time" which roughly equates to 15km/hr minimum average INCLUDING stoppage time. I reckon I should comfortably be able to average 20km/hr moving time. However this always seems difficult in practice due to unforeseen and/or adverse conditions.
I know that Will, who organises a series of Great Western Randonnées of varying lengths, plans the best audax routes. I have completed 100km Wells and Mells and Old Rail Trail and 200km Plains Trains and No More Automobiles in spring/summer 2017. I signed up for his Chalke and Cheese 200km audax starting at Warmley near Bristol; south east to Salisbury, south west to Shaftesbury, north west to Cheddar and north east back to Warmley. I hadn't realised earlier it was a little less elevation than the summer version Chalke and hAAArd Cheese so once I realised that it could be a possibility, I waited until the last minute to enter as the weather forecast had to be good. 9 degrees and 15km/h westerly wind and overcast and 10% chance of rain is brilliant for January. I paid my £7.50 entry fee on the Wednesday evening after my 100km "practice" jaunt earlier that day. Steve agreed to get up at some ungodly hour to take me for the 7am start, as no way could I add another 30-40km riding to the start and back afterwards.
I joined up with a local Wednesday group I had ridden with a couple of times to see how a 100km ride was feeling, as I needed to do my 100km Gran Fondo for January anyway. Up Burrington, round to Glastonbury and back via Wedmore the flat way as a group of 5. It was hard work and I certainly could not have done 200km starting at 9am that Wednesday! It was not necessarily the wisest move as most "training" gurus say to rest before a big event, anything other than loosening up in the week before doesn't help your outcome. My average speed was only 20.6km/hr. I needed to do that over 200km including night riding and probably nobody to take turns into the headwind!
I spent the next two days feeling slightly sick. I was at work for most of the time for distraction and didn't do my normal gym/spin classes on Friday morning to rest my legs. Yes I've given in and mix gym and outside cycling these days.
I brought my bike inside on Friday evening to load up with my seat post bag. My major concern were lights, or lack of, as I knew I'd be riding 3-4 hours in the dark in total. My eyesight is not the best and I don't have a dynamo so I took both our sets of rechargeable good "to see" lights and a third set of mini daytime "be seen" lights. I also had my phone, a battery pack, Garmin and multi charger lead to complete the electronics chaos. My Garmin 1000 would need to be charged up at controls too as that doesn't last for navigating 200km at my pace. However, I was pleased that my new all weather all roads/tracks audax/touring/adventure/gravel bike was running smoothly, I have finally got the hang of indexing gears. I now have disc brakes and 32mm touring tyres and I had ridden Skye for 500km since new, so she was run in. For the first time ever I made a list of everything I needed to check off in the morning. I still forgot my sandwiches in the fridge! I did have 5 Graze bars, 3 bananas, salted peanuts and extra electrolyte tablets for my two bidons. I even remembered the IKEA pencil for the brevet card.
I had broken the route down into the 4 sections between the main controls from the route above and uploaded to the Garmin, in the past I have missed controls so it makes sense, as the Garmin is not great on routes over 100km. I psyched myself up for just 4 manageable rides.
1/4 Warmley-Bristol to Boyton-Wilts (Ginger Piggery Café) 55km 500m ascent
Alarm set for 5.30 we set off for Warmley at 6.15 which was actually cutting it a bit fine. We arrived at the car park and I stopped Steve driving into it, height limitation hanging sign! Thank goodness as he did admit he hadn't clocked "bike on roof" at that moment and that was nearly the end of my Chalke and Cheese! I quickly mounted my seat post bag full of supplies like bananas and flapjacks, loaded first route on my Garmin, attached lights and collected my brevet card after waves of welcome from the lovely El. Apparently I am riding in the company of Jasmijn Muller, I never saw her! There were a lot of bikes, bodies and flashing lights. This is my first dark depart. A few words of wisdom and caution from the organiser Will, who was also riding (like many others) on a fixie to make it harder. Nobody is stealing my gears. "If you beat me back post your signed card in the box at the Hollybush that the bar staff will have." said Will in all seriousness. "Me back first, ha ha ha" I thought! Steve went off home for a lie in.
|Chalke and Cheese 200km Audax Grand Depart at Warmley, Bristol. Pic @Eleanor Jaskowska|
It seemed like someone turned the lights on whilst we were inside the two tunnels, some creeping daylight appearing as we emerged and the first obstacle overcome, the night riding in a big group. I left at the back of the bunch on purpose so that I could see ahead better and not have to deal with faster people passing. Will and the ACB crowd waved cheery hellos as the passed, having started last of course being the organisers, shepherding the flock. Mostly on fixies too.
We came off the path at Midford and onto the road, and the first hill of the day. We passed through delightful villages, rode through Rode and I found myself riding at the same speed as a local guy called Bob. We were to spend the rest of the day together. I had a route on my Garmin, he had not ridden as many audax as I but was experienced and having a team definitely made my day. The reassurance that two heads are better than one, someone to chat with a little, although in practice not that much. Mainly I didn't want to let him down, which in turn meant I didn't let myself down.
The tailwind meant we made ok time, but not as good as I hoped. There was a very long stretch into the westerly to do this afternoon that my head was not looking forward to. Followed by Cheddar Gorge in the dark.
We arrived at Ginger Piggery (Ginny's) Café in Boyton around 9.45am A large latte and a huge piece of lemon drizzle cake fuelled me up, a quick chat with Mildred (I had only met her a couple of times off the bike so good to see she was at the start too) and Will's dad who was stamping our brevet cards. Thank you Will's dad. Thank you to lovely Ginger Piggery staff, not at all phased by smelly grinning mad audax types, they just cut the cake slices larger than normal.
|Ginny's Café Boyton, overrun with audax types!|
|Large latte and huge lemon drizzle at Ginger Piggery|
2/4 Boyton-Wilts to Broad Chalke-Wilts 29km 195m ascent
A very short leg, but an info control is needed at the easterly point of our loop to prove we hadn't cut the corner off, so a quick halt in Wilton (near Salisbury) opposite the very statuesque Italianate church to answer the question on our cards. No time for pics, off we race to the General Stores in Broad Chalke. We're still 15km short of half way and the rain has been quite persistent and the wind is getting up. The café was busy with riders who had not stopped at Boyton, our plan was to push on but we purchased sandwiches and jelly babies to fuel us for the tough stint coming up. We made sure we kept our dated and timed receipts as evidence.
3/4 Broad Chalke-Wilts (via Shaftesbury-Dorset) to Wedmore-Somerset 85km 690m ascent
A couple of kilometres out of Broad Chalke a beaming cyclist appeared riding in the opposite direction, quite a normal occurrence but I had to stop and have a quick chat, not just the cheerful hello as is normal, as it was my audax pal Blair. I knew he was doing a different DIY 200 audax and our routes overlapped for about 20km in total, the chances of passing each other were very slim. He was riding strong and at his halfway point. We had completed the Raglan 200km Audax back in July, he didn't leave me behind when my Garmin failed halfway round. No time to linger and chat for long though. Onwards.
This was the tough section. Forecast was for 15mph moderate westerly winds, in actuality it was only just off a gale, 35-40mph westerly. Officially the route was Shaftesbury, Bruton, Wells to Wedmore. Somehow, when sectioning my route, it rerouted and I had not noticed, as the totals were very similar so I didn't examine in detail. My route turned out to be Shaftesbury, Wincanton, Castle Cary and Glastonbury to Wedmore via Sustrans advised route. Bob had a paper route, I cannot see to follow paper route so I said I had to stick to my route otherwise I'd get lost and had no time to faff as so tight on time anyway. He did follow me, we had not met before, quite heroic or daft? We did waste some time trying to reconcile the routes. My route also managed to miss the info control, but heh-ho. we are not trying for Paris-Brest-Paris qualification. This is one of the first official BRM qualifiers, hence the large numbers for a 200km in January!
It got very tough after Shaftesbury. The route was very pleasant off main roads, but relentlessly up and down. We battled the whole way into the sapping wind. Bob didn't have mudguards so I couldn't ride behind him as the lanes were liquid mud/cow pat. The rain eased off but the perceived temperature was dropping off. In no danger of freezing but once tiredness sets in and wet clothes the body feels colder. I also drink a lot, I still had 1 1/2 full bottles at Broad Chalke but ended up having to stop at a house and ask for refills, a very obliging teen did the honours with a smile and only a slightly bemused face when faced with a mud splattered middle aged woman in lycra at dusk!
On and on, we were having a mouthful of sandwich here, a Jelly Baby there. I even tried eating Jelly Babies from my pocket but they just went slimy, yuck! I have to try and crack this eating on the move lark, you need constant energy on longer rides. In fact if you start to feel thirsty or hungry you have gone too long without drinking/eating and slow down/fatigue will already have set in.
It was a relief to come into Glastonbury but from the south, through lanes with many parked and occupied caravans, a few people out walking with dogs all very friendly.
Now back on more familiar roads and we push on to Wedmore through Godney. at least the hills have subsided now.
The run into Wedmore was in the dark, gone 5pm, still within maximum audax time just, lights fully on now. Our average speed had slipped from 23 km/h at Boyton to about 19kmph. the control was at Wedmore Village Stores and more sandwiches were purchased. Unfortunately the promised coffee machine was off and with nowhere inside to sit we had to picnic on a bench outside and the public toilets were shut. I was very wobbly at this point. I shovelled sandwiches, nuts etc in but a warming cup of tea and sitting inside for 20 minutes would have helped the most. I was surprised that there were a fair few of us about, quite a lot more in the pub but no time for the pub for us.
4/4 Wedmore-Somerset to Warmley-Bristol 44km 508m ascent
We set off again just before 6 our cut off time to reach Warmley was 8.30pm. 2.5 hrs for 44km. Easy peasy, yeah right NOT!
Given the long long slog to Wedmore and rapid loss of oomph, I had been absolutely dreading Cheddar Gorge as the major and penultimate climb of the day. I have ridden it many times before, know the significant kicker bends, length etc so there should have been no worries at all about tackling in the dark. Riding Cheddar in the dark was a first though. I settled into a plod, was pleased it was early enough that there should be no joy riders screaming about (there were a couple) I felt great, yes I did stand up for that bend but was a bit alarmed to see Bob tumble. He had caught a stone or something and crashed down hard at the steepest bit. I waited at the top of the bend and he assured me he was OK, he will be sore in the morning. The climb was ethereal, I loved it. The walls loomed and it was so peaceful, except for the odd idiot boy racer car but mostly just peace. I was so glad it was not raining.
We crossed over at the top and I warned Bob about the descent down West Harptree, we took it very carefully and were soon down into Bishop Sutton where I basically ordered us both to stop at the Spice Inn for a quick bite to eat, audax style not a sit down curry! Oh my it smelt so good. Bemused diners likely wondered what the heck those nutters were doing wolfing down flapjacks and bananas and swigging pink liquids from mud splattered bottles. It was 7.15. Bob was having light issues so I leant him one of mine and fortunately they held out to the end.
We pressed on, actually a few riders around now as we were on the right route this time. Into Pensford and then the small matter of bloody Publow Hill, I halfheartedly got out of the saddle but quickly dismounted. Bob had already done the same and it was just as quick to walk. Back on and we were on a race against time, so near and yet so far. Through Keynsham conurbation and the Warmley sign before the last pull up and a sprint to the arrivée at The Hollybush pub.
Oh my goodness we had done it. Well it was minutes after 8.30 but Will said we'd been locking up our bikes for ten minutes, so we agreed. We were full value audaxers!
Bob headed the 4 miles home and I rang Steve who nobly came to pick me up. I had a lovely Thatchers with the audacious sociable inclusive bunch that are audax participants. We phoned ahead and picked up fish and chips on the way home, after being so short of fuel I found it hard to eat half.
|The most welcome cider.|
|Excellent organiser Will of Great Western Randonées. Started after me, in hours before me on a FIXIE!|
|My brevet card is in that box for validation! Beer for Will|
10hrs 42mins moving time
19.5km/hr average speed (not good)
Full value audax!! Not bad for January.
The only logical conclusion is now I have a bash at Randonnée-Round-the-Year (RRtY)
I may regret this.
Paris-Brest-Paris is NOT on my horizon!