Saturday, 12 April 2014

3 Down 300km Audax

Another weekend and another Audax, though this week the anté is well and truly upped. Six of us again, but a slightly different six Keith, Steve, Vince, Trevor, Tim and myself. It's 6.00am bloody cold, dark and misty and we're in no real hurry to leave the warmth of the HQ in Chalfont St Peter. But we can't stay here forever, so one last pat of the jersey pockets a quick squeeze of the tyres and we switch on our lights and head off, destination Fordingbridge just the other side of the New Forest.
It's cold, my hands are freezing, it's misty but still. Other than that I'm feeling fine and looking forward to the sun coming out to warm us, then I remember the clocks have just gone back so it's going to be dark. cold and misty for a bit longer!
Our first check pont is in Pangbourne approximately 50kms away. We've set a target of 5 hour 100km sections, that includes navigation, food and check point stops and mechanicals. And if all goes well you build up a buffer. We cross the Thames near Bourne End, it's trés posh down here. We cross the Thames once again at Henley- On- Thames. Then past Sonning Common were once a year they host a round of my cyclocross League, Sonnings far easier today. Then we arrive at our first check point in Pangbourne where the check point is a café that stamps our Brevets and serves a special breakfast for the riders. The food we've taken onboard here will easilly see us the next 100km to the turn around point. As we leave the café and empty plates and head off for Kimbridge at 123kms the sun comes out. For a while we savour it's warmth and enjoy the surrounding countryside. I think it's about at this point whilst riding next to Keith that I say I should really write about this in my blog, but what do you say? I mean what do you say we're just riding from one place to another and nothing much else is happening. Then the weather breaks, first it's drizzle just in time for the climbs over the Hampshire Downs. Then the wind picks up and it's head on. Atop of the Downs it's sideways and poor visibility and in this weather we've managed to split up. So we pull over and re group and push on to keep warm. We arrive at the Kimbridge check point wet but warm and ready for the last outward leg. But first we help ourselves to the 'cyclists specials' and scoff them whilst firmly planted in the cafés comfy chairs. Then it's bottles filled and jackets on and off to the New Forrest which is a short section. Having never been to the New Forest I was feeling a bit excited about getting there, especially by bike so sadly I didn't take much in on this final section. Though I wasn't too focused to avoid the two lots of Deer leaping out from the woods and across our path.
We enter the New Forest and it's not what I had expected, it wasn't very foresty? more like moorland Hound of the baskervilles sort of thing, and it kicked off with a big climb. The rain was now visibly sideways, but the tough weather really was adding to the ride and we were in high spirits up here. In fact our pace lifted all the way through the park and into Fordingbridge.
This final outbound check point was old school Audax, a grim and wet garage were we had to get a receipt to provide proof of passage. We stand in the rain enjoying a hearty meal of flapjack and Powerade among the pumps and propane cylinders.
We leave Fordingbridge for the ride home, but first we have a splendid meander though the forest where we have to find two information controls. This is some of the wildest scenery I've ever ridden through and to make matters worse the place that my Garmin decides to play silly buggers. Thankfully Keith isn't having such issues and guides us along. We gather the info needed and exit the park and my Garmin comes to life again. We've also picked up a seventh rider who will stay with us for the rest of the ride.
Alresford at 216km is our next stop. Although it's going to take us over the 200km mark the journey there is tough and undulating and the wind that was in our faces all the way down isn't playing game for us. It's not hard going, but probably the least enjoyable section of the ride. On top of this whilst leading the navigation I take a wrong turn, Keith calls out I realise my error and turn hard as I do a huge pothole grabs my wheel, it isn't good the wheel won't turn even with the brakes right out, this looks like a show stopper and I can just talk of packing. Keith comes back for me and talks me out of my foul mood,  holds my bike and we get to it with a spoke key. It get's mended in a manner and we ride off to rejoin the others. We get to Alresford a bit late, the Tea rooms have shut so we raid the Co-Op. We're having a talk from a nutritionist next week, it's a good job she isn't here right now. Lets see six sausage rolls, one caramel slice, one flapjack and a pint of cookie dough milkshake for me. Another flapjack in the bar bag and a few bottles of Powerade go on the bike. After a long stop we set off cold for our next stop and final check point in Winnersh at 271kms. It's a long section with little navigation needed so we set off in small groups, each riding at their own pace. We stop at an awkward junction and regroup. We know Keith is riding solo to Winnersh, if he has an issue we'll come across him so that's fine, but we're a man down. Tim isn't here, mobiles aren't doing the job so a decision has to be made. Trevor came down with Tim in the car so Trevor heads back to find him. That's a tough call and Chapeau to him. We agree to meet up in Winnersh or at least make a call to see what the score is. So we press on now in the fading light without Tim and Trevor or Keith who is up ahead, but with our two new fellow riders. It's dark when we reach Winnersh and Keith calls out from the easilly missed checkpoint the kebab van.  It's here that we discover that although Tim managed to singlespeed his bike, Trevor later had terminal trouble so the pair had to call it a day after about 160 miles, such a shame. I really fancy chips here, still wish I had got some now, but we decide to push on for home.
Chalfont St Peter is only just over 30kms away, not far at all and I feel remarkably good. I take over navigation duties, the little Petzl LED head torch does a stirling job allowing me to read the Garmin easily.Though as we near the finish Keith and Vinces local knowledge take over. We get back at about 10.15pm with 307kms covered. Our average was about 14.6mph, just shy of our 15mph target but not at all bad considering the weather, the mechanicals and the navigation.
After a quick cuppa we set off for home, our real homes that is. We talk of the next Audax a 400km to the River Severn and back, myself and a few others are up for it, some aren't so sure.
I entered the 400km a few days later.
Steve, yours truly, Keith, Vince all done.

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