Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Guest Blog: Heather Rides the Heart of England 300km Audax

I'm massively pleased to announce that Heather did in fact agree to writing a guest blog following her epic ride this weekend. I'll let her tell you all about it...

An account of my first 300km (plus a bit) Audax ride.

This being my first 300, it was with a little trepidation that I set out everything on Friday night, ready for a super-early departure on Saturday morning. At least the setting out is getting to be a routine now. There were a few new bits for the longer ride- a small 'lipstick-sized' mobile charger (at least that's how the ad described it), and my new 6l Carradice Carradura Maxi seatbag- ready to carry all I might need on my longer rides, although maybe not a sleeping bag.

The lipstick charger

Alarm went off at 2.15am, quick first breakfast of  oatbran porridge and coffee, load the car, and away by 3.15am for the drive to Cirencester. Lovely quiet roads at that time of the morning. The forecast was for some light rain and snow in the morning. Cold initially, but improving steadily, with moderate northerly winds!

Heather's trusty Forme

Arrived in good time at the church hall that was our base. A few people had taken up the offer of spending the Friday night there, and there was a lively atmosphere on registration. This being a longer event, there were several yellow vests sporting a discrete PBP logo (Paris- Brest- Paris). Time enough for a second breakfast of a large pain-au-chocolate, toast and honey, and coffee; before setting off at 6am with lights on in the murk.

The all carrying saddle bag
The first few miles are always hard as the body warms up, but a nice rhythm ensued, and I was happy with my pace. I took up with a more experienced radonneur, Martin, who was peddling at about the same pace and had ridden the route before. As we hit the Cotswolds, a light drizzle started, which quickly turned to snow, which became heavy enough to settle with quite poor visibility. What were the forecasters thinking!! At this point we passed a couple of people who had decided to call it. We decided to continue, as he thought we were not far from our last descent, and I knew the forecast was for better weather later, at least they got that right. There was about an inch of snow on the road at this time and a few bits were slippy. Photos were a thought, but getting out in time was more pressing. Starting the descent, we were lucky enough to have a 4x4 with large tyres pass us, so we rode in his tyre tracks- why walk when you can ride! We passed a one or two walking down, and our average downhill speed of 8.9mph probably says it all! Bottom on seat, weight hard on back wheel, and numb hands holding brakes- another pair of pads grinding! The snow did stop as we exited the Cotswolds en-route to our first stop at Alcester at 41m. With a temp of -2.7 gradually rising, we peddled the remaining 15m with snow clinging persistently to our jackets and boots- which did prove that they were actually waterproof- no wet feet or body.

Useful bag from another angle

It was good to get into the warmth- hot chocolate and beans on toast followed. Halfway through food I finally started shivering, which continued into our next leg for a few miles. The last person to arrive before we set off looked absolutely perished. Martin and I parted company not far into the second leg. The only tandem on the ride also peddled past. My legs were still dead, and it was a very slow leg indeed, as everything gradually slid up to operating temperature. I was conscious of needing to try to drink more-the last leg was too cold to have had more than a few mouthfuls. Gently rolling country followed, passing east of Solihull and Birmingham, through Balsall Common and up to our second checkpoint in Atherstone 78m, near Tamworth. The roads were well chosen and remarkably traffic free, no indication that we were so close to an urban hub. The greasy spoon known as 'Winnie's Cafe'- for egg on toast and coffee. At this point the last 5 riders who had made it through gradually trickled in.

We all set off together for our 3rd stop in Daventry at 121m. We quickly split into two and I continued in company with John- a PBP veteran on a fixed wheel bike, and another rider who's name I don't remember. Good weather, a cross-tail wind and a fairly flat route made for a pleasant ride. The conversation turning to gadgets- dynamo hubs, charging devices, and the merits and glitches of the various Garmin models. It's good to know I'm not the only one who curses the darn things!. 'Roso Cafe' had really good food and great coffee, and ginger beer. Having had a lurking lurgy since Thursday (courtesy of two hectic weeks at work) I was feeling a little under the weather.  So soup was the order of the day, not really enough food.

By this stage, it must be obvious that food is enormously important to the Audax community. There is even an app with all convenient Weatherspoon's Pubs (cheap and cheerful) available for download, as is the 'cafe network'. We also love Travelodges. I have to admire the ability of more experienced riders to consume a large amount in a short space of time and then get back on the bike. Still working at that one.

Stage 4 took us back around the eastern edge of the Cotswolds en-route to Tackley, and the 'Sturdy Castle Pub' at 155m. The countryside was again gently rolling with a few steeper bits as we headed through Canon's Ashby and then the various Astons. There was the odd rain spot, but it was peaceful and beautiful as the sun gradually settled, and we arrived just before nightfall. Some of the organisers were there to stamp our Brevet cards and we settled for quick snacks and puddings- the wait for food being at least 20min.

Stage 5 was back to Cirencester. Via Witney, Brize Norton and Southrop. Fairly flat with all the potholes saved for the dark! Lots of flashys and lights. We were a company of four and John, on his single speed, set off as though he was on a time trial with the rest of us trying to hang on. David and I lost the other two at Witney and continued at a more sedate pace, arriving at HQ just after 23h30. 192m down and 15 hrs of bike time. Very tired and feeling too ill to eat by that time- unusual for me- and not great for ride recovery. We had one further arrival and that was all the band of 18 in safe just after midnight.

The local travelodge was a favourite for that night. A few were B&Bing and a few of us bunked down in the hall for the remainder of the night- it's amazing how well you can sleep with a blanket and a camping mat when you're tired!. Home the next morning- able to appreciate the beautiful countryside I hadn't seen in the dark the night before. Everyone found it a challenging ride due to the weather at the start. Sadly 32 decided not to continue as the snow had got to about 3 inches in places with ice by the time they got up to the top of the Cotswolds, and it wasn't safe. For the remainder, it proved to be a good day, with beautiful country, good company and, of course, food.

What's next!?

Back to Richard: That's epic Heather truly epic! Massive kudos and I think Mr Pendred should make you up a commemorative sticker. Heather also wins the award for the first guest blogger to provide the HTML code to embed her Strava route on the blog.

Happy Peddling

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