Sunday, 11 May 2014

The roads never End (Old Roads Audax 300km aka Guy Stuart's 25th anniversary bike ride)

Which way?

A question everyone has asked themselves at some point. If you haven't I congratulate and commiserate with you in equal measure. Crossroads, triangles, T-junctions, forks in the road. We all face them. If you have continued blithely on your way with the certainty that requires no questions, then you are not paying attention to the journey.

Stuart and I have now known each other for 25 years. I know, who'd have thought it. That means we met each other before Manchester Utd won the Premier League, hell before the Premier League was invented. In that time we have both moved about, married and had children (but not to each other, not yet anyway), got fatter and slimmer, and fatter again in my case, and turned into a couple of very grumpy, happy, hilariously amusing middle-aged men. Well, we think so.

And we've done a few bike rides together, generally of the iconic sort. Coast to coast, Land's End to John o' Groats, Raid Pyrenean, that type of thing. And they follow a pattern, Stuart promises to stick with me, then disappears up the hill only to wait for me and tell me how well I'm doing! So when I suggested doing a 300km Audax, the Old Roads, I shouldn't have been surprised that it would be Stuart who'd be my companion on the road.

Stuart has written his excellent blog on our trip, so I will embellish his description with a couple of observations and a few pictures.

There is nothing like crossing a good bridge. I dug my heels in to stick to the official route so that we could cross over this one, across the M5 around dawn near Exeter. Stuart was pissed off to begin with, but he knew better than to argue.

Especially as I got this one of him crossing it, I love cycling over motorways, it kind of sums up how liberating it is to be cycling in the open air. It didn't really matter that it was a very windy, stormy, rainy day. That just added to it.

We pressed on across the fringes of Dartmoor, there were rainbows, dark clouds ahead and bright skies behind us. And choices, lots of road decisions, but between us we got most of them right. Garmin helps. As does a certain insouciance about when we got back. Stuart is more competitive about cycling than me, it must come with being a better cyclist, rather than having a lot to be modest about.

The A30 used to run through the middle of Okehampton past this church. Is the world a better place now you can get to Cornwall on a dual carriageway and bypass it?

My new saddlebag is fantastic, I hardly knew it was there. Expect to see it appearing on ACG rides very soon. Or maybe a spot of light touring?

We didn't find this feature as funny as its name suggests, since we had just cycled up a steep and nasty gravel-strewn path to get there. Still, the building was nice, anyone know what it is?

And the temporary stop gave the opportunity for Stuart to hold my bike, not a euphemism, and gave him practice for when it became much more important later on, when my stomach refused to tolerate any sustenance, and I had to dash off to avoid making a mess of my saddlebag.

Cycling generally allows you to eat whatever you like. Yesterday the name of the game was eat whatever you can. Here is a picture of the most delicious pasty in the world. Shame I didn't take one of the most delicious carton of chocolate milk, or packet of cold pasta, or cereal bar, get the idea.

The hunger even got to Mr healthy-eating. Perhaps the only picture in the world of Stuart eating a bag of crisps.

So we came to rely on each other, much more so later on in the ride, when our limits were well and truly stretched. After stuffing my face in Cheddar, slightly rueful about having to cycle 50 miles away from my house, we encountered (for my 3rd time in three weeks) High Ham hill. Bugger. Digestion, 156 miles and a steep climb all at once. I thought I would never make the end of the ride.

And when Stuart's eyes packed up as I was taking the one above at sunset at Muchelney, just as my Garmin also gave up its work for the day (this despite researching and then buying a battery pack, which I cleverly left behind in my bag in the car), I wondered how well we would navigate from there onwards. Well we cobbled together a way, and eventually pulled through, completing 197.5 miles of riding in the day. My Garmin record and the unrecorded extra bit are here. The sharp-eyed will notice I forgot to switch back on immediately after Cheddar, but trust me, to quote Stuart "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".

It was the longest single day's ride either of us have ever done.

When I came back from the Somerset Hills sportive last Sunday night, I was a bit wrecked. It was only 132 miles. I just couldn't countenance how I was going to do 50% more distance the next time I got back on a bike. And loads of people told me I was mad, barking and the like. But I got reminded of an old lesson yesterday. Well two actually. The first is don't drive a car on a motorway when you've ridden a bike for 17 hours.

But the main one, the important one is this. We can all do much more than we think we can. Sometimes I fail, sometimes it's difficult. But usually we can overcome this if we persist. And if you'll indulge me, a third lesson. It's fun finding out and really quite unremarkable and ordinary.

And this seems fit the theme

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