Friday, 15 July 2016

Heather Perry Guest Blog: 600km Audax attempt - The Buzzard

It's time for another guest blog from our Road Warrior, Heather Perry. Heather has taken her riding to another level this year with her Audax riding. I'm mightily impressed and I'm sure you will be too!

My second 600km Audax attempt­ The Buzzard

As some of you will know, my first attempt ended after 350km and rather a lot of climbing. This

time round there was a little less climbing involved, so I had high hopes. The Buzzard is

considered an X rate event. In this case, it means a very basic ride. You park up – often at a train

station­ collect your radonneur card, and set off on a route that requires you to collect a timed

receipt as you pass through various control points (know as proof of passage), and on arriving

back, collect a further timed receipt to certify your finishing time. The rest is up to you.

My plan was to try to ride the first 200km in 10hrs, the next 160km in a further 10hrs, including all

stops to allow some rest. I had booked a Travelodge in Wellington at approximately 350km in the

hope of getting about 4hrs and a shower. Then to finish the remaining 260km by 10pm the

following evening. On Friday the forecast wind of 17mph gusting 27 was starting to make this

look a little doubtful.

Up just after 4.30 to leave around 5.30. Five minutes down the road, and I realised I'd left my

front flashy light behind on charge. The decision to go back for it proved to be crucial. Then back

on the road to Leighton Buzzard, with a quick stop in MK for a McD muffin and latte. There were

27 starters on an assortment of bikes and saddle bags or panniers. I love looking at the variety of

bikes, people and equipment, and the feel of not knowing quite where the road will take you.

Radonneur cards in our bags, we set off for our first control in Pangbourne at 67km.

The first leg was very comfortable­ fairly flat and sheltered and meandering towards the Thames

Valley. Critically more southerly than west, so the wind wasn't too bad. My early company at

various times have no names but one rode a slightly battered Specialised aluminium frame and was

on his third attempt to finish The Buzzard. He was going through the night and warned me about

the dangers of overstaying my welcome in a hotel bed after a long day in the saddle. The other was

on a rather lovely steel Tifosi with panniers. The route covered busier roads than many of the

others that I've ridden and I was glad of the company at those times­ safety in numbers. The route

over the Thames and into Pangbourne itself was very pretty and warranted a photo. At the co­op it

was an egg mayo sandwich and milkshake with Specialised, before setting off for Chandler's Ford at 134km.

Again, this was a comfortable, generally southerly route passing east of Winchester. The miles

passed comfortably with the odd bit of time spent with my earlier companions. Having left

Specialised behind, Tifosi and I took turns pedalling into the wind for a time, while someone else

on a carbon sheltered behind us. He took off on a hill after resting up, and our group dissolved.

Another co­op, egg mayos and milkshakes with my two companions sitting on the ground outside.

Milkshakes are definitely a staple on these rides, as I watched other riders coming out with them.

Tifosi confessed to being a mountain goat when not hampered by the extra weight of his panniers.

He was planning on sleeping out and carrying accordingly. (In reality, they didn't seem to be

slowing him down too much.) It was at this point I realised I'd forgotten to start the stopwatch on

my Garmin­ so no proper record to this point.

After that, it was a short hop to Salisbury at 170km. This was nicely north­west, so no wind. Time

was on my side at that point, so I went looking for a view of the cathedral after a short snack break.

Something I regretted, as the rest of the day proved to be straight into a strengthening wind. We

were bound for Sherborne at 227km.

The roads became quieter and progressed from rolling to hilly! I was largely on my own after the

first few km and it became a bit of a slog. Specialised caught me and we took turns into the wind

for a bit before he rode on ahead. At 200km I was 15min behind schedule, but that started to slip as

it got colder. I stopped earlier than planned for dinner at Sherborne and caught up with Tifosi. All

remaining clothing went on­ glad I put a base layer in at the last moment!

Off into the gathering darkness and the biggest hills of the ride, en­route to Exeter at 314km. Time

slipped as it got colder­ not something you realise when you're pedalling, but you can feel its

effect. Despite that, I was getting sleepy and anyone with me would have thought me slightly mad,

yelling at myself to concentrate. Arrived at the Exeter services around and bought some food.

The lady at WH Smith kindly directed me to the long couches where she remarked that the other

bike riders had been residing. They were already taken, but a table top makes a great pillow when

tired. Half an hour nap and getting warm, then I had to head for my Travelodge­ 40km down the

road. (Despite the prospect of comfort, it would have been better not to have booked anything, and

just slept at the services­ a point for future reference.) This was a far easier ride but I still arrived

just after 4am. The night manager helpfully informed me that the other cyclist had arrived earlier

and reported that I was some way behind!

A quick shower and bed. Specialised's warning about not overstaying my welcome in bed went

unheeded, and I left at 9 the next morning­ 2hrs late. Still, the pace to Wells (408km) was good.

The roads were the smaller roads and tracks, mostly between the the foothills of the Mendips.

Really lovely countryside heavily populated with cyclists at that time of the morning and I arrived

at 12, with 10hrs in hand to complete the remaining 100km.

After Wells it went a bit wrong. My GPS didn't appear to capture my new track properly (I was

rushing, and should have looked more closely) so ended up in Cheddar instead of Bath, which

meant crossing the real Mendips to get back to Bath. Both my Garmin and the hills got the benefit

of the F word (unusual for me) as there seemed to be a conspiracy to take me up as many as

possible. On another day the scenery around Chew Magna would have been breath­taking.

By the time I got to Bath it was just gone 5pm and I was at 530km, so no prospect of making the

time limit of 10pm. 'Should I find a train station' ran through my mind, but the prospect of all the

changes required didn't really appeal. Snack time, and then the quickest route back was to carry on

the Malmesbury and then divert across to Oxford, Aylesbury and back. Sounds easy, but I spent

the best part of 45min trying to program the GPS to take me directly to Leighton Buzzard, with no

success. So Iphone and google maps gave me around 80m (shorter than 215!). What I didn't realise

is that the few miles down the A419 were on a dual carriageway to Swindon with no hard

shoulder­ scary stuff in the dark but the cars gave me a wide berth (must have been my shocking

yellow leg warmers)! After that it was fairly straightforward until my second front light battery

failed prematurely about 15m before Oxford. Flashy light on slow flash mode with the light from

passing cars worked well on the A420. Thankfully the road surface was good.

It took me a while to get through Oxford itself. No front light to conserve the battery and watching

carefully for potholes, glass, or anything else that might cause a puncture. This was also a little

scary as there were a lot of students wandering around gone midnight­ and a very strong smell of

alcohol. 'Maybe I should just call a cab' went through my mind more than once. The shortest route

back was on minor roads, but it quickly became clear that it would be at a snail's pace as the light

from my mobile phone torch was only marginally better than my flashy, so a route change to the

A418 was in order. Flashy died shortly after this, but with a better road surface and Iphone torch

progress was smoother, and I arrived back at 5am on Monday morning. Oddly enough, no

tiredness­ I'm sure a major adrenalin rush had something to do with that! Very saddle sore though!

So I didn't complete my Audax but I did complete more than the 611km distance in the end. The

delays caused by my off­route meanderings, loss of light and Garmin communication issues (not to

put too fine a point on it) lost rather a lot of time after Wells. I probably wouldn't book

accommodation again, as when you need to sleep, you need to sleep. Get to know my Garmin

better or maybe stick with the Etrex for these events­ simpler. Hydration and fuelling are critical.

All in all, it was quite an adventure which I swore I wouldn't repeat, but I'm not so sure a day


Heather you may not have made the time but you did make the distance. You should be very proud of your efforts. I'm sure all at C&D Cycles CC share that pride at you even attempting this amazing challenge!

Happy Pedaling

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