Monday, 5 May 2014

Severn Across 400km Audax

Saturday 3rd of May arrived, and despite a bad bout of man-flu in the week  I dragged myself out of bed at 4am to ride the Severn Across Audax. A 400km jolly that basically goes west to cross the River Wye, drop down to Chepstow, cross the Severn Bridge and back.
For this third installment of my Super Randonneur I was alone, which was a bit worrying as it would mean relying on myself for navigation, mechanicals and anything else the distance might throw at me. It also meant that my cautious approach would lead to me riding the heaviest bike I've ever ridden!
So anyway the ride.
It's 6am and it's sunny, but freezing cold. In fact there's ice roadside. Already I'm suffering, I hadn't anticipated it being this cold. One hand is okay, but my left hand, the one in the shade is frozen it's so bad I can't move my levers and it's making me feel slightly sick. So I decide to speed up in an attempt to warm up. That works to a degree (no pun intended) and with the sun out I'm certain it'll get better.
I'm heading towards Woodstock for my first control. At 72km it's where I'll have breakfast to prepare me for the day. The ride to the first control is over some familiar and easy going roads, sadly it's still freezing. When I arrive I sit down to an Audaxers classic of 'beans on toast' The good folk at the control have an open fire going, so a chance to get warm, eat and dry off clothing in one go, but there's no time to loiter any longer.
The second control is another 70km away in Tewksbury at 145km and it'll see a big change in the terrain as I'm heading into the thick of the Cotswolds. It's familiar names and hills I'm beginning to get to know all too well, just a few weeks ago I was here for the Hell Of The North, rides don't come here for it's flatness!
Everything is going well. It's very sunny, but still freezing and far too cold to take off waterproofs and full finger gloves. Even all the climbing isn't helping. The bike is going well and the navigation has been spot on. I continue on through Stow, Guiting Power and to Winchcombe where I rode with Miles just a few weeks back. It's on a hill out of Winchcombe that my front mech goes wrong, I'm on a triple but I won't be able to use the easiest gears. 36 x 25 isn't the end of the world, but with tired legs and a few twenty percent climbs coming  up I'd have preferred the comfort of the little climbing ring I'd fitted. (upon getting back home, it turns out that I'd been given the wrong size bottom bracket) This matter on top of the cold weather was playing with my mind, I needed something to cheer me up. Control number two would do, and it soon arrived at a nice sunny café just past the famous Abbey. I stopped here to take on more food, but the service was so slow I just had some cake after waiting half an hour for it and set off. It now seemed sunny enough to take off my waterproof, so I did, but I was wrong. It was still freezing. Even with a thermal, a jersey, arm warmers and gilet the cold air cut through. Too stubborn to stop and put it back on and a bit annoyed at my long wait at the café I pressed on hoping the effort would warm me up a bit. Again it worked to a degree.
Control number three was an info only control a mere 40km away at 185km. Upon leaving Tewksbury I crossed the Severn for the first time, there's something good about crossing bridges, well in my mind anyway. There follows some great riding as I head towards Ross-On_wye. Long steady climbs through names of places I recognize from my route planning and into the plains that mean I must be nearing rivers again. The info control is at a timber mill in Walford, I'm supposed to write that down in my Brevet card but don't have a pen and have to rely on remembering that when I get back the following morning?
Next stop (and almost quite literally) was Yat Rock a stunning twenty percent climb in the beautiful Symonds Yat. The countryside here reminds me of why I'm doing this, I wished my fellow club mates where here now. I also wished my gears were working!  Even though the organisers list an optional route around the Rock I decided that even with only partly working gears I was going to go up and over it. I crossed the River Wye knowing it was coming up and fumbled with the gears in the vain hope they'd work Climbing the Rock wasn't hard, just slow, very very slow with the Garmin stopping now and then. If I thought that was it and it would be plain sailing to the Severn Bridge I was wrong. The climbing was merciless, about two thirds of all the climbing was covered in this section. I was very tired. God had created some wonderful countryside here, but he hadn't though about us cyclist. Well at least I was warm. It must be the thought that this must be the last climb that keeps you going and I was delighted when I finally descended to cross the Wye again and ride into control number four at 218km.
Symonds Yat from Yat Rock
The reward for the Audaxer after all that work was a control at Tescos, buy something, get a receipt and stuff it in your Brevet card to show proof of passage. Sitting in garage forecourts at halfway points in Audax's seems common place. I had a wonderful feast of pre made sandwiches, banana milk and a lion bar, as well as sports drink to top up my water bottle. It was about 5.30pm when I left here with the Bridge just down the road. I had planned to be crossing the Bridge by 4pm latest, but the last part of that 200km had been a killer. It was also getting cold again, so on went the jacket and full finger gloves.
The next control was at Membury Services 95km away at 314km. Whilst stopped at the control I got talking to some experienced Audaxers, one who had done this told me that the ride from here to the next control would take five hours!

We set off in a small group to cross the Severn Bridge and we were blessed with fine views, sunshine and a lack of wind. It was also good to be crossing the Bridge and heading home.
For some reason I was now finding the going pretty good and the small group had become just me. I knew the only big climb left was the Somerset Monument and I'd have to blag it with the working gears I had. All was going very well, I even remembered some of the road names from route planning taking them without the need of the Garmin. After 30km I rode up onto Inglestone Common with the Monument in view up ahead. Once over the climb it was through Hullavington and Foxley and into Malmesbury. It was here that I had a 'moment' confusing Membury with Malmesbury sadly I still had another 40km to go. Though Malmesbury did have a garage selling delights such as Jaffa Cakes and sports drink, so not all bad news. Back on the road through Chiseldon and Baydon and onto a monster of a climb, so long and so straight I could see the blinking lights of other riders nearly a mile away. I could also see the lights of the aerial mast that mark the spot of the control. I was also told that even though you can see the mast lights they never seem to get any closer, and they weren't wrong.
Finally...finally I reached Membury services. Whilst we were at the Severn control we had talked about dinning on KFC or Burger King and savouring the delights of Costa Coffee all on offer at Membury services. The bad news though was that everything was shut, 10.30pm on a Saturday night and all shut. The disappointment well......... All we had was W H Smith hmmm. Freezing cold beef pasty, Lion Bar, cold coffee and a few things for the back pockets, what a pile of shit. we sat down to eat said pile of shit, yes they had chairs and talked about how actually shit the food we were eating actually was. There were four of us here, we had been yo-yo'ing  all day and I asked if the two riders from East Devon Dynamo would mind if I tagged along for the final difficult night time 92km. After all they had been bang on about the previous leg taking five hours and said the final 96km would take another five ours. That meant an arrival of about 4am, way outside of anything I'd expected.
So outside into the freezing cold, once again ice was forming on the roadsides. This could turn out to be grim. My gloves and jacket were useless against the cold, if anywhere had been open I'd have bought a newspaper to stuff down my jacket, or used some of those disposable gloves you get at garages, but Audaxes have a knack of passing through very remote places so it was a case of shut up and put up. I had to weigh up things. Yes I was freezing, yes my gears weren't working but that was it really. Everything else was going well, I wasn't at all tired anymore, navigation had been spot on, my lights were worth all the weight and apart from my gears the bike had performed very well and the kilometres were counting down.
Again familiar place names came and went, Worlds End, Hampstead Noreys, Crays Pond, Sonning Common, Henley, Marlow.....getting close now, Bourne End, Wooburn.......another bloody long hill, Beaconsfield, Jordans. So close now it's not place names I recall it's street and lane names now, into Welders lane, Grove Lane, Nicol Road.....1km to go and there it is event HQ Chalfont St Peter. 406.7km in the bag.
There are six familiar faces at the HQ, the organiser greets me with a cuppa and Bakewell tart and tells me that the time I've got around in is very respectable, even though I'm two hours over my lower target, but I know he means it.
After a short sit down and chat I decide to head home. packing the car is a cold and tiresome chore, but the heat once on the move is very welcome. It's nearly 6am when I get home, it's light, the birds are singing and some LBRCC'ers will be up getting ready to enjoy their ride today, I'm envious of the warmth they'll enjoy.
I decide not to sleep and make a few Espressos and mull over the lessons learnt, some were, but they might or might not be taken on board for the next one. If anyone is interested I'll post in 'comments' linked to this as and when I decide.
So to end 256.6 miles 15,000' climbing. 18 hours riding. 22 hours elapsed.

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