We are Super Randonneurs!
12th July 2014. Keith, Tom, Steve and myself are ready to set off from Leighton Buzzard railway station to start our 600km audax adventure. For Keith and myself completing the distance will give us our SR or Super Randonneur, the final distance we have to ride after already completing successful 200, 300 and 400km audax's in one calender year.
Keith, Steve and me will set off together. The loose plan is to ride together....if possible, but knowing how far we have to ride and how important it is, we agree that if worst comes to worst we'll go our own ways. Tom is happy and want's to ride alone, which is really the essence of audax.
I have to at this point really really thank Keith, essentially I became a passenger on Keiths ride. The week we were to ride my computer crashed, taking with it all my carefully plotted out mapping. I tried to replicate it all in the short time, but with no success. So without Keiths assistance in route finding it would have been a very different audax for me. Thanks Keith.
So off we go. Arse, I've left my gloves behind. After deciding not to ride 600km sans mitts I go back for them. I pick them up off the station bench, say hello to Tom who is just setting off, and start again.
Keith and Steve slow down for me, and I rejoin them at Wing.
The route to our first checkpoint in Pangbourne is over familiar ground, either from club runs, other audax and even some off road rides. We pass through Aylesbury and my bike starts playing up, we press on. It gets worst and when we arrive in Chinnor the chainset falls off! 30km in and it's game over. The Campagnolo chainset needs a 10mm Alen key to sort it, something not usually found in a cycle repair kit. My toys are now out of the pram, but Keith keeps calm and persuades me not to give up. Thankfully we find a small garage, the owner lends me some tools and I'm back on the road, after the thanks are dished out and photos taken. It's already been an adventure. Off to Pangbourne. We pass through Nettlebed, where just the week before the LBRCC had been mountain biking. We cross the Thames and arrive at checkpoint 1 at 69.5km.
I should mention that the XXX in the title isn't to cover up some swear words. This audax is classed as a tripple x. This means no outside assistance, no waymarking, no food stations in fact no nothing. And to prove proof of passage you collect a timed and dated receipt from a shop or cash point. So gathered at Tescos Pangbourne the four of us re group. Fueled and watered we press onto check point 2.
We so far have been extremely lucky with the weather, in fact it's now pretty hot and the terrain is starting to get lumpy, very pretty but lumpy. Keith and myself are on our own and decide to put some time in the bank. Good weather, good navigation and being slightly familiar with the roads from our 3 Down audax help us arrive at Chandlers Ford in good time. Checkpoint 2 is another supermarket. I purchase my ride food of choice, wraps, egg custard tart and water, then another trade bottle of water as the temperature is rising. I'm half tempted by the pub over the road. Feeling good we press on for check point 3. We're also a little surprised that Steve hasn't turned up? As we leave I confirm to keith that my Garmin isn't playing ball, it seems trying to download the data from someone else's computer hasn't worked. If we go our own ways I'll be relying on a A4 paper route sheet. Check point 3 is Salisbury. I have it in my head that this section is flat, I was clearly thinking of somewhere else. In fact what was I thinking, I've not ridden here. Still we're going well, even the thought of riding through non stop crosses my mind. We're full of beans, everything is going to plan. Food and water are fine, there are no further mechanicals and the weather and terrain don't hold us back. We arrive in Salisbury late afternoon, it's not the place I imagined? Our check point 3 turns out to be a grotty convenience store, I could have done with some good food here. Never mind perhaps we'll have better luck at check point 4 in Sherborne, just shy of 60km away.
We set off, up ahead the clouds are looming. The way to Sherborne is pretty well straight ahead, we're riding head on into the storm. When it comes it's that heavy blobs rain and it's still very warm, we reluctantly don rain jackets. Within minutes it stops, so we stop and un don! jackets, pedal a few yards then wallop, it hoons it down. This time it isn't stopping, we are in for one very wet ride. It's also at this point that the hills say hello. I confess I'm a little shocked at how hard these hills are, the organiser hasn't spared us considering how far we're going. Torrential rain and proper hills, the thought of riding through soon leaves my head. The thought of a quick nap after the halfway point seems more appealing.
As we approach Shereborne the rain stops, but we're wet through as is all our kit. We need real food and hot drinks. In Sherborne we find a coffee shop and enter only to be told they're closed. I'm a little stroppy at the lack of places to eat and begin to miss Leighton Buzzard, thinking of pints of Belgian beer in the Black Lion and Kebabs with Ashley afterwards aren't helping. But then there it is, the local chippy. Pie and chips ordered and bottles filled by the very friendly owner we set off to find a seat under the shadow of the Cathedral to scoff our rewards. With food consumed and proof of passage safely in our Brevet cards we set off on the 83km section to check point 5 and the halfway point at Exeter at 313km.
The hills are relentless and cause some jovial swearing. The heavy rain has given way to fading light and light showers so all seems well. However my bike is making well hell of a noise. Riding on a loose bottom bracket earlier in the day has obviously damaged the bearings, and riding in the downpour must have washed out all the lubrication, the result is a sound like a cannon ball in a beer barrel when I climb. If I can complete the final 300km without the bottom bracket shitting itself I'll be very surprised. I have to climb seated and concentrate on my pedaling to coax the failing drive train home.
As we ride through Crewkerne and Chard I think of my mate who lives here......tempting, but Exeter is only a dark wet hilly 25km away. Then there it is the bright lights of the Exeter service station just off the M5. Our halfway point and check point 5.
The place is temporary home to the remaining riders and their bikes, a bit of a sanctuary. I order a massive coffee and enormous breakfast roll and sit down to see a very angry Keith. Let me explain. We've just navigated and riden 300km of very hilly terrain in heat, pouring rain and darkness. But just 15km away is a Travelodge we've booked so we can get a few hours sleep, booked as in booked and paid for. Which is great. Except it isn't. It seems Travelodge have given away our room. At this point I just want to walk out of the room backwards leaving Keith to tell travelodge how it's going to be. After some negotiations we get a room at nearby Wellington and for free. I take out my A4 route sheet and put the places we'll pass to memory. Then eat drink and set off. The places in my head pass, Broadclyst, Cullompton, Willand but cruelly Wellington takes ages to appear. But we're soon there, our rooms confirmed and we wheel our bikes in. We only allow a few hours sleep after a welcome shower, but it's enough and we're out like lights.
The next morning dooms very gloomy, but still. We leave our room too early for breakfast and head off to check point 6 in Wells a mere 68km away, still enough on empty.
It's now Sunday and the roads are eerilly quiet. It's also incredibly flat and we are blessed with a tailwind. As we ride through the area surrounding Taunton we see clear evidence of years earlier flooding. It's still a beautiful place though and we take time to absorb the ride and what we've done so far. I'm thanking the organiser for this respite in the riding, and it delivers us into Wells for check point 6 back on time even after our sleep.
Check point 7 is 91km away in Cirencester. This is a section I'd been fearing. We would be dropping into Bath, which means climbing back out again and that is a hell of a climb. We would also be touching on the Cotswolds. So hills would be order of the day. Thankfully the rain had subsided and the sun was making an appearance. But hills were the main theme. At two thirds of the way around I was happy, but not counting my chickens. So careful riding and good navigation were key, I was still after all nursing a poorly bike. Bath lived up to it's reputation, both in terms of navigation and climbing, the climb though does just go up and gets you out of town with no false summits or needless descents, oh except one crazy descent that had you almost sitting on the back tyre!
At Malmesbury with nearly 500km under our belts we started to see other audaxers which seemed so odd after riding so far. So when we arrived at check point 7 it was in the company of most of the remaining riders. I was happy to get that section over with, and even happier that it had avoided some of the monster climbs that I know lurk in that area. So I celebrated with a feast from M&S and scuttled off to enjoy it then cursed the fact that there was no implements in my take away lunch, hands it was.
Next was check point 8 at Brackley, a place I know but on a route I didn't. However it turned out to be a stunner through the Oxfordshire borders. Although we weren't going to break any records for the 600km audax, we had done well and we were in the company of some very experienced audaxers, they in turn were surprised to find out that we had chosen the particular event for our first 600. With that in mind we began to really enjoy the ride, of course all of it had been enjoyable, but with that enjoyment that is kept in check when you are going into the unknown.
We arrived in Brackley just as it was closing down for Sunday evening, but if all you can get after 572km of riding is crisps and Coke then so be it. Check point 8 would be another small convenience store. Surely now we had done it with just....just 40km to the finish. Sadly there was nothing to keep us or the other audaxers in the town, so with proof of passage duly obtained we pressed on for home.
The first leg of the return section was painfully undulating, the sort of hills you can't quite build up enough speed on to get you up the other side. They came thick and fast until we arrived in Buckingham. Up ahead was Winslow and we weren't going to waste any time getting there. After nearly 600km of riding we were now clocking 35kph to get there. Once in Winslow it was just like the return leg of a LBRCC Sunday G2 ride, and so nice not to have to navigate. We used local knowledge to get us home by the most direct route and somehow bypassed a small group of riders that had left Brackley before us.
We arrived back at Leighton Buzzard station just after 8pm.
It's very odd sharing so much time on the road with some one and then just riding off home when you've finished, almost rude. But we'd done it, we said we would and we did. So we did go our own ways with that what next? feeling. Odd but that's what you do, plus we were both working the next morning.
What of Tom and Steve? Tom came home later that night after completing the course alone. Steve had in the words of Bruce Springsteen taken a wrong turn and just kept going. It left him unable to make up the time, so made the hard decision to call it a day.
A few words like this really can't sum up such a great ride, every hill, every lane, every superb view. It can't capture all the ups and downs, the jokes and laughs and all the swearing, and certainly not some of the occasional physical pain, but hopefully gives you a small insight. And later I might be able to add a few images.
SR on a singlespeed for 2015 anyone?