Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Old Roads 300 Audax

Let's start with the facts, because there are many to get out of the way. Yesterday, I and great mate Mendip Rouleur rode the Old Roads 300 Audax. (Those who don't know what an audax is - do keep up; it's a pre-fixed route that you self-navigate round, collecting stamps on a brevet card or shop receipts to prove you completed that route. It's not a race, but it is timed). Through a combination of choice and ineptitude we ended up covering 316km, or 198 miles. We started at 6am, and arrived back at our starting point (Honiton in Devon) at 11.36pm, i.e. 17 hours 36 mins later. We ascended 3800 metres, or 12000 feet. Our route took us on a clockwise tour of Devon and Somerset, calling at Okehampton, Barnstaple, South Molton, Wiveliscombe, Bridgwater, Cheddar, Ilminster and Chard amongst other places. We cycled roads across the Somerset levels that 3 months ago were under 6 feet of water.  It was wet and windy during the day, at times very wet, at other times very windy, and other times still both very wet and very windy.

Now for the interesting stuff. First, did I enjoy it? I'm still not sure to be honest. I'd never previously ridden more than 152 miles in a day, and the final 50 miles from Cheddar back to Honiton felt like a slog to be honest. Then again, there are two explanations for that - we had a headwind of varying strength for most of that time, and my eyesight was getting progressively worse. When I've done 200km rides in the past the vision in my left eye has occasionally gone cloudy - like you imagine having a cataract to be - but yesterday was something else. For the last 90 mins I could see virtually nothing out of either eye, and hung on to Guy's rear light like my life depended on it, which in some ways it did. It was really disconcerting riding on unlit country lanes with vision that poor.

Still, it meant that after our midnight veg stew and bread and butter at the organiser's house, there was absolutely no chance of me driving. Fortunately, I'd taken a sleeping bag with me, and I have an estate car, so my filthy bike occupied one half of the boot between 12.30am and 5am, and me tucked up in my sleeping bag occupied the other half. I had to answer the call of nature at 3.26am - I crawled out of the car and stood barefooted on the council car park doing what I had to at the back of the car. It was only when I got up at 5am did I realise that I'd dropped some clothes at the back of the car when I was blindly loading it at midnight....well, you can guess the rest. Oh the glamour, the glamour....

So I didn't enjoy the end of the ride, but the rest of it was good, despite the weather. The route is so called because it uses in several places the old version of a new road where the latter's been built to accommodate greater amounts of traffic, so those roads tend to be fast and quiet, which is good. We also got some nice  views of Exmoor and from the Black Down hills. To my great relief and slight astonishment nothing particularly hurt, despite the fact I've done almost no cycling in recent months. Neck, shoulders, back, undercarriage - all the bits that are vulnerable on a long ride - seem to have survived pretty much intact. So's the stomach, despite the vast volume of - let's face it - high carb crap it was forced to endure yesterday. We probably expended close on 10,000 calories yesterday, and that's a fair amount of fuel to have to take in and digest. Apart from a few nighttime thunderclaps my digestive system's been fine; the same cannot be said of my riding companion however...

...for about 40 minutes before we finished he did the bicycle equivalent of an emergency stop, and just as I was about to berate him for his bike handling ineptitude, there was an urgent shout of "hold that, I need to vomit". It seemed a bit churlish to carry on with the original complaint under the circumstances (those circumstances being the peace and quiet of a moonlight Devon night being broken by the sound of a middle-aged man dry retching), particularly as it was my turn to bellow "Stop!" a few minutes later to fix a mechanical - a day of rough roads had caused one of the bolts holding a water bottle cage in place had worked its way loose, the thing had gone sideways and I was pedalling into it.

Other notable features of the ride included:

- kamikaze birds: a blackbird and a (I think) a pigeon both flew dangerously close to the front wheel of Guy, risking both decapitation and hearing my Mr T impression ("crazy, bicycle-bothering, bird fool!"), whilst a generously-proportioned pheasant mistimed his takeoff attempt in front of me, meaning I felt the air of frantically flapping wings as he and I had another near-miss;

- the fact that despite there were only 12 starters for the event, and 2 of those packed somewhere along the line, we constantly kept seeing each other during the day; the time spread of our arrivals in Honiton was remarkably small;

 - nobody seemed to get a p**cture; remarkable, given the state of the roads.

So a couple of thanks to end. First, to Mrs Monmarduman, for exhausting the domestic baking supplies (and I suspect those of at least one medium sized supermarket) to create a fine array of cake and pasties. Much of the cake has been consumed, but not so many of the pasties yet, mainly because my saddlebag is only 15 inches wide, which is way too small to accommodate them.

And second, to Mendip Rouleur, without whom I'd have had to sleep in a hedge until my eyesight had returned to normal, and who was his usual pleasingly cussed and cantankerous self. He's also an indefatigable rider who matches his levels of moaning and faffing with sheer, bloody determination to carry on, come what may, which I very much like. I'm wondering if he and I need to ride a tandem together, me stoking at the back and providing a bit of climbing power, whilst he drives and route finds at the front. The only drawback of the plan I foresee is the proximity of my nose and his backside it would entail. And on that enriching note, here endeth today's lecture on what it's like to ride a bicycle practically 200 hilly miles between dawn and (just after; ok 3 hours after) dusk.

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