Sunday, September 16, 2018

SO many Audaxes I need to squeeze them all into one post.

My last two rides before 'cross really takes over have been like chalk and cheese and have lifted me up and then broken me down.

After my DNF in Scotland on the 600 I entered a 200 DIY the week after to get my August ride in and then entered another 600 one month later.

In the meantime I decided I didn't trust myself to finish the 600 so I bunged another 200 in the week before in North Wales - a notoriously hilly one - to offset the flat 600 and the flat 200 I did on bank holiday weekend.  Both passed too close to Scunthorpe - a place where I am actively spending my working week too.  So the Welsh 200 went ahead. 

The forecast was unbelievable for 1st September..  Around 50 of us set off from Old Ma's tea room at 0800 for Pistyll Rhayader, stopping at Chirk on the way.  Whilst guys rushed for the shop, I sat and drank coffee and ate cake.  Chirk is too nice to rush.  My ride plan was to cruise the time limits and enjoy myself, saving my legs for next weekend.

The first hills started and I really enjoyed them.  Sure they were taxing but not stupidly steep and gloriously gloriously remote.  I chatted to Steve Ogden who was out to try and improve his hill climbing and Shaun Hargreaves, nursing a calf injury but sporting his fixie regardless because "a 200 on gears aggravated it last weekend so it clearly doesn't matter".  Both regulars on the Audax scene, it was a pleasure to spend time with them and it did my ego good to keep dropping Shaun on the descents.

I stopped in a shop before lake Vyrnwy which was a relief as the tourist facing service was shockingly slow.

I got my coffee and ate my pre-bought sausage roll in full view as the staff were too busy to care. 

Some sportive riders on our ride chided me for my saddlebag but then I caught them at the top of the hill suffering Di2 issues.  They soon passed me back. 

In Bala I headed straight to the Eco cafe for more coffee and cake and received a hand written receipt so I had her sign the time on my brevet card.  Around the corner I met Steve looking for the speed of a convenience store as I was trying to get my Garmin to load / start.  He suggested my battery had died and was right.  He saved my bacon from a Trep meltdown.

I stuck the Garmin on charge on my spare battery and headed off back into the hills.  As I descended  a steep slope musing about how you never really get the hill climb time back on the descents, I met a slow-moving tractor - just to prove my point.  It took him a while to find space to pull over but he did it just ahead of a large 4 inch deep patch of gravel across the road.  I suspect that also saved my bacon.

By 6pm I was really rather hungry.  I knew the pub at the last check point was closed and we were instead relying on an info control so when I happened across another pub 2 miles before the control, a quick (badly informed) maths reckoning concluded I could be pushing the time limits but I knew I needed real food.

I ordered a burger and pint of lemonade and just as I was finishing the last of my chips I was excited to see Steve go by.  I caught him on a hill climb and we had a little chat before I surged ahead, knowing I'd see him soon.  I actually felt a little guilty about leaving him to the darkening potholed descents but he caught me up soon enough waiting for some never-changing roadworks traffic lights.  We rode into the darkness together. 

He was out of water.  After my lemonade, I was down to a couple of mouthfulls of drink left in my bottle.  My bat-sonar detected a Spar behind us at a junction so we doubled-back and I repayed the bacon-saving by sitting with the bikes whilst Steve got water and juice which we split between us.  Pace picked up again on the flat as we gossiped away the evening with our life-tales.  We arrived at the finish just after Shaun and sat about talking crap with the organisers until gone 10:30 pm.  It was a brilliant ride that left me relaxed, yet brimming with pride.

In similarity my 600 start was quite relaxed, with a 200 in the bag for September the 600 was only really worthy of having a go.  What a lot of commitment for just "having a go".

My hotel was booked last minute but ended up conveniently close to the start - all looking good so far.  I went to register but no-one was there so I kicked-off my Garmin only to find that none of my routes were on it.  I rushed back to the car and spent the next 15 minutes uploading routes from my work laptop email onto Garmin Connect then transferring from my phone to the Garmin device.  I slithered in to the organiser with 5 minutes to go, caught the end of the briefing then set off with the peloton to ride into the wind.

Boy did we need it!  We had a man-down within 30 minutes.  I dropped off the back just long enough to make sure he'd got up again then battled hard to get back on the group into the headwind. 

They were knocking out 26kph on the fens.  I am usually chuffed with 24 kph for the first 80k so was worried about burning out but the truth is, I'd have been trying even harder to make 21kph on my own so sticking with the group was my top priority and I tied my urethra in a knot whilst others dropped off the back for a pee. 

I held on as long as I could and then drifted along on my own for a bit until a railway crossing got me a few more companions but I couldn't keep up with them either so I let it all go.

I walked into Chatteris Green Welly Cafe alone, only to meet the impressive and lovely Judith Swallow in the undesirable location of the loo queue.  She was on the other 600k ride, travelling in the opposite direction.  I took a moment to chat and embrace as she was on her way out.  I timed in then, heeding warnings not to spend too much time, opted for a flapjack in a packet and a milky instant coffee.

I also bumped into Steve in the queue for food which was nice to catch up.  With riding most of the morning with Shaun, it was like 5 days of working week had never happened.

It also felt like the beginning of the end already - only 12:00 and I was knackered.  I got outside and it was raining so more time was spent coating-up.  I was on for a late lunch

Back on the road, the next stop was at Great Dunmow and the end of the first chunk of 173 kms.  The route passed through Cambridge which I confirm I still have little time for with its tiny streets of meandering gormless tourists.  I had a sandwich in a petrol station for lunch and paused to remove coat and rain legs.

A young couple caught me up and towed me out of town.

I really liked Dunmow although I almost missed the control as I didn't fancy a pub but control was at the pub.  Near miss!  They had ran out of baked potato so I settled for a Sandwich which brought me to the uncomfortable position of having eaten two lumps of white bread and very little hot, real food.  I left a little depressed with only a civilian couple out for a bimble on their bikes before dinner to draft for a while... and in the end I was towing them along.  Only 3 people were on the road behind me.

I enjoyed the last few Essex hills before the long slog to Boston started.

The intermediary control was at Whittlesey which we passed in the morning.  A promising-looking place with a marked square and toll bar building.  No toilets though and the suggested petrol station control was closed leaving me to retrace my steps several times to a little corner shop to furnish me with cold coffee, a sausage roll and the most delicious, hot home made samosa.  The 3 guys behind me were joined by 2 more but people split with some going home to a DNF and the rest continuing on.  I was joined by an older chap who was pretty quiet.  We rode together for a while but then I started with the dozies so started looking out for a convenient stopping place.

A bench presented itself with a nice comfy-looking water pumping station behind.  Never mind that the constant buzz of the A15 was not far away - I would sleep anywhere.  I'd calculated I was 3 hours up on time and I would sleep right back up to the time limit, give or take an hour to get myself sorted then get myself moving again.  I unfurled my bivi on a fine mat of ivy, put on my oh-shit coat and lay down. Shoes off, I was happy as anything with a quick look-up at the starts and the canopy of trees above.  I farted into my bivi for extra warmth and pulled the hood over my head.  Nothing, nothing would keep me awake.

My watch sounded 2 hours later and I could hear the spatter of rain and resolved to wait for my 2:15 alarm but the onset of shivers fixed that decision and gave my body different ideas.  The effort of rolling up a 6ft tall bivi was enough to warm me up then I ate the last of the sausage roll for breakfast and headed towards Boston for coffee.  Then I discovered that my rear tyre was flat.  I walked back to my bench, pumped it up again to see how it went and started dealing with the concerned enquiries from the fast lads, starting to head back the other way in the Fenland Flier ride.

10 minutes down the road I decided to just fix the puncture at a nice walled bridge giving me excellent cover from the wind and somewhere to lean the bike. 

It was around 5am when I arrived at Boston and I'd been dreaming of a cheese burger for about 12 hours but unfortunately you can't get that at McDonalds at 5am so I did with a bagel instead.  I felt neither full, nor appetised when a Romanian guy with a BMW and a swagger like a drug dealer started buying everyone espressos. 

Steve and I had another chat and he very kindly gave me a confidence-boosting speach about me being a stronger rider than him and he thought he would finish.  Sadly I think I left all of my strength and courage in the Welsh hills.

I left him (wisely) to his porridge and pancakes and rejoined the road, riders now consistently streaming past in the opposite direction but Judith Swallow now long gone.

I decided that Romanian guy had definitely put cocaine in the espressos as a steady string of riders who I had previously been riding with came flying past me at a frightening speed. 

I plodded on to Lincoln alone, eventually spilling onto the canal towpath where I was finally joined by the couple on the tandem.  We exchanged some stories of our days before they drew ahead as soon as we hit the road.

When I arrived at Lincoln I made a beeline for the first cafe I saw but it was closed so I rode on looking for a cash machine.  I was 2 minutes ahead of time.  I asked a Deliveroo rider where I could find a decent cafe.  He regretted there were plenty of decent ones but they were all closed so I would have to make do with an indecent one.  Crap, it was 9am Sunday morning wasn't it?  I had a steak sandwich in Subway, struggling to understand the server's northern accent and friendliness.
"Sorry, I was in Essex this morning".
I looked at my watch, Shit it was still this morning.  She laughed suspiciously at the deluded lady.

I sat in the square, leaning against a wall watching my bike.  We'd come a long way together.  I hardly dared look how far it was.  A homeless man shuffled by in wool trousers and coat, sandals and a silk nightdress.  He was better dressed than me.  We smelt about the same.

I got back on the bike and set off for Goole.  First there were Wolds to climb up out of Lincoln - some respite for my legs which quite enjoy hills and my bum which really needed a saddle break.  Beautiful sunshine, some roadies whooshing past and stragglers on the Fenland route in as much trouble as me and then I bounced over a crack in the tarmac and whoomph, my rear tyre went flat again.  I crossed the road to a driveway which got me out of the wind and off the road and sat down on the concrete to set about the repair getting nervous that my tyres were getting old or my bag was too heavy.  At least I found the glass which had been gradually whittling away at the new inner-tube and could rest assured that the problem was fixed but my only spare tube had a wonky valve which, after all the effort of pumping it up, unscrewed with the pump head.  I stood up and cleanly kicked the wheel right across the concrete driveway.  This at least kick-started my brain into action and then I calmly unscrewed the valve head of one of my punctured inner tubes, fitted it to the new tube and started again. 

I toyed with the idea of riding back into Lincoln to get a train to Sheffield and going out to get the van on Monday but riding my bike for another day didn't appeal so I decided to carry on, heading North West now towards the Trent. 

I was on familiar territory from my Bank Holiday weekend ride and stopped in Kirton Lindsey for some respite and food.  I remember this as being around dinner time but the lady in the shop wished me "good mid-day" and went on to have a monologue with herself about how she should greet me at "1200hrs".  I say monologue because I stared at her blankly, not knowing how to reply.  "There were a lot of you here yesterday, is there some kind of event on?" 

I glibly told her I was the end of it and, thankful for clear weather, went and sat on the kerbside with my bike to avoid further questioning.  At least the village toilets were free, open and clean.

The fens to Goole were going to be a nightmare - turning 270 degrees of wrong direction - South, West, North, East a bit, then North then West.  Not long with a tail wind before you're unceremoniously forced to ride into a head wind for a bit.  And then the rear tyre went flat again.  All out of inner tubes.  I pumped the tyre up to see how long it lasted and the answer was, about 4 miles into the next village and with blackening skies, I walked a way to find a bus stop to set up my repair service.

Trust me, in the meantime I considered calling for a taxi to Sleaford but that seemed like it might be expensive. 

I considered riding back to Sleaford but that would involve retracing my path into the headwind - also not popular. 

This time a blown patch was to blame.  I replaced the patch, pumped up the tyre and it held.  No excuses for not finishing and plenty for not being finished in time.  To add to the embarrassment I had 100 Sportive riders to deal with coming in the opposite direction.  100 awake, jolly, exiteable sportive riders - everyone offering a cheery hello for my pissed off and exhausted brain. 

I had a little tail wind up the Trent where I expertly avoided riding into Scunthorpe to go and sleep on the Alsatian dog belonging to the security guard in my site office.  The only thing stopping me: that I didn't have my work pass in my cycling wallet.  I rolled dubiously into Goole at 6pm, starving hungry.  Whilst I should have been chasing down the time limits, I was instead, ordering tasty Mac meals, hot apple pies and coffee, more glorious coffee.  I wasted further time changing into fresh shorts for the night time riding and was 2 hrs behind schedule when I left and headed back into the headwind and setting sun.  It felt like abject torture to be passing the exact spot where I sat and decided to push on to the finish in favour of riding back the way I came into the headwind back to Sleaford only to find that I was heading out to ride back the way I came into the headwind to ride back to Sleaford.  All sense of achievement had diminished.

Not much makes sense after that except for the village of Haxey where, looking for a place to sit down and eat my stash of crisps from Kirton Linsey, I decided to throw the time limits to the wind and sit on the swings to eat my food.  It was the happiest I would be for a while.

Gainsborough was next up.  I thought I was going to die from a steady stream of boy racers close-passing along the A631.  If ever there was a reason to stick to a time schedule, Gainsborough at pub-closing time on a school night was it.  Yes, I was now riding at 15kph.  My wheels had fallen off and it was late!  Then the footpath was a tree-rooted pavement which would have been a) illegal and b) would have snapped off my feet and arse - also leading to certain death.  Pulling into town I found a petrol station to control and witnessed my first ever drive-away at a fuel station as a young voice shouted "fuck you" at the CCTV then roared off in his plate-less hot hatch.  I spent the next two hours dodging a red Vauxhall Corsa which continuously close passed me until I dived into the bushes behind the scary phone-box, extinguishing all lights and watching him prowl up and down the street a couple of times whilst I put my leggings and extra layers on.  Who knows?  Perhaps he was just delivering pizza and I was paranoid.  Perhaps he wanted to scare a girl on a bike. After a while he gave up looking, or whatever it was he was doing. 

In Lincoln it was now 11pm.  Retracing then not getting lost on the Canal.  Constant back-tracking.  Some, "Oh, I'm here - always wondered where that came out".  I started up a hill again, not sure why I was going up a hill but happy to be standing up for a short time then I seemed to go back down before urgently needing to go back up again.  Damn this was cruel.  I decided to take a walk.

I cycled as far as the end of the streetlights then found myself a tree for a pee and a bench to sit on.  I faffed for a while eating an apple then pushed my bike so far up before re-mounting.  At least I was to quickly turn out of Lincoln onto more minor roads, just in time for SLEEPYTIMES!

According to my Garmin, from Lincoln, the route trended gradually downwards.  It's obvious from my trendline that I gradually fell deeper and deeper into lala land, my average speed hitting 15kph then 14 then 12 then 11.

Everywhere I looked the view was the same.  A grey bowl of concrete where my light shone and nothing else but lines of plastic carrier bags along the side of the road filled with sticks and lined up one after the other.  Occasionally a gateway broke the monotony of the plastic carrier-bag-weeds, a black and inhosptable gateway to darkness.  There was no moon or stars just darkness and then I was talking to Brian from work and asking his guys to wear their PPE and planning our test programme but then I would wake up still talking but Brian wasn't there and still the world was grey and the carrier bags rolled by so I closed my eyes to think about something more interesting.

This time I talked to Matt until something rustled inside a carrier bag and so I sprinted in case a deer was about to knock me off.  The rustling continued and I thought it might be a dog so I sprinted and sprinted until I had no more and then realised that the noise was coming from my coat and I went back to sleep.  Who knows how much time this went on for?  I did have enough mental capacity to watch the distance to my next turning come down each time I woke up but then I reached Digby and it was a village with stuff and things - like bus stops and I found the perfect shelter to keep the wind off.

Sadly the bench was made of iron slats but I could sleep on anything.  I put on all my layers but couldn't be bothered to get my bivi out.  I spent 10 minutes checking my phone to text TSK I was OK but sleeping and trying to persuade my body that it didn't really need a poo so I could sleep soundly for 40 minutes before waking up shivering uncontrollably.  I added my final layer - waterproof trousers - and set off into the dark still wearing my Oh-Shit coat over my waterproof with my hood snugly crammed under my helmet.

I was, of course, off-course, having missed the turning I had been so carefully looking out for but took an alternative route which didn't add too much distance.  Of all the wrong turnings in all the ride, I picked the wrong turn that did least damage.

At 3:15 I arrived at Sleaford McDonalds but couldn't face human interactions to I overshot to an ATM and got a statement from there.

I had done it.  I had actually ridden 600km in one effort, between two showers, with one change of clothes.  I didn't really care that I was out of time but then I wasn't really glowing with pride.  It was embarrassingly hard and depressingly difficult.  It helps only slightly that others suffered with the wind and punctures and also thought it was hard.  I was not sure, not convinced, if it was something I would ever be motivated to do again, the point is, it was over.  In my preparedness, this time I had proved that I was still too stubborn to quit.

None of that needed thinking of then though.  I took the wheels off the bike, put it in the front of the car, blew up my mattress, unfurled my sleeping bag and with a streetlight shining straight in my face and an air conditioning rumbling and gassing outside the van window, I slept for 7 hours straight, waking only to email the organiser to let him know I was OK and stop my Garmin. 

That was Audax for another month.