Sunday, 29 June 2014

New Forest goes West Audax (Permanent version) 300km

Tommy Godwin. Legend indeed. In 1939 he cycled an average of 205 miles. A day. Every day. On a steel bike with merino clothes (if he was lucky) and a leather chamois pad. And no Garmin, energy gels, suncream, or mobile phone and debit card if he got into difficulty. Doesn't bear much of a comparison does it? But Martyn implanted the idea in my head of riding just one day of 205 miles, and there it lurked for a few months.

Besides, I had another motivation. And yet again it involves my obsessive/competitive/compulsive nature. Take your pick and decide which for yourself, I'm done with the analysis.

It's a long story. But when I found out there was an award from Audax UK if I could complete another Audax of 200km or more this year, I was straight onto their site looking for one. And this from someone who claims to be intrinsically motivated. Complicated, I'm not opening that bag of cats.

Anyway, none of the ones that were geographically close would work from a calendrical point of view. Then I found out about "Permanents". You ride the Audax route, on your own, and prove you have done it. And it counts towards the Randonneur 1000, as long as it's properly validated. You can also start at any of the controls on the route, extending choice.


So it was that I stood outside my house just after dawn yesterday, ready to set out on the 300km ride. Because I had decided to start at the nearest control, this required a ride down to the back entrance of Sedgemoor services (northbound), and getting my Brevet card validated with a stamp and receipt.

That picture above was the last I saw of the sun for a few hours, for I was only a mile from home when the heavens opened and down came the rain. Also going down, and pretty quickly, was me, my bike, and my monumentally over-full saddle-bag.

With three spare tubes, a tool-kit, a spare base-layer, lock (why I took this I have no idea, because I was never confident enough to leave my bike out of sight, locked or otherwise), a huge lighting collection, spare battery bag for the Garmin. And food, lots of food.


The impact of all this extra weight meant I had to control the bike more than I like on the downhills (that's braking for the non-cyclists) and going up hill was a lot slower than I'd appreciate on an already-long day. Of course everything in that bag was 100% necessary. There is no back-up on an Audax, and on a Permanent you are dependent on yourself and your wits for any eventuality. And your mobile phone and debit card of course.

As you would expect, it was pretty quiet at that time on a Saturday. As well as the official controls, there were also three "information" controls. Random and obscure questions about specific points on the route to make sure you go up a particular hill, or to a far-flung corner, and don't take any short cuts. Who would do that? Someone without an obsessive nature probably.

Ironically, one of these Info controls was in Loxton and another halfway up Cheddar gorge.


 
 
But that is hardly the point. The actual Audax usually starts and finishes in Lymington, which would be half-way for me. The route was mainly undulating, with a few tasty climbs thrown in, like Gare Hill near Longleat and the climbs of the escarpments on Cranborne Chase. But for the most part the terrain rolled along. Now this may seem like a good thing, but of course it does mean you pedal more, with fewer descents to get a respite.
 
Speaking of respites, one of the nice things about cycling on your own is you can do what you like, when you like. So stop and make myself more comfortable, raincoat on, gilet off, food stop here, drink stop there. Or just take a photo of something like Nunney castle because I've always wanted to and now I can.
 
 
 
Near the foot of the climb up to Martin, (no relation) was the third Info control, slightly more obscure, and for once the narrow climb was traffic-free as the Police had set up road blocks to recover a vehicle involved in an accident. Which also meant that the long downhill was also free of traffic.
 
 
 
The route-card, a list of every turn and crossroads, and the main way routes like this used to be navigated before Garmin sat-nav came along, also encouraged riders to bring a pen and paper to write things down, like the clue for this control. Nowadays I just take my iPhone.
 
Once through Fordingbridge I was into the that cycling Mecca that is the New Forest. Again on flat roads, by sheer serendipity it went right past my parents' resting place at the Woodland burial site. So I popped in to for a quick chat.
 
 
By now it was getting pretty warm, the rain had long-since stopped, which predictably meant the place was full of cyclists, and after whizzing through Lymington, and popping in to the Museum for a stamp and receipt, it was up onto the moor and the tourist heartland of the Forest. You'd have thought I was one of the tourist attractions myself, the number of odd looks I got whilst eating my sandwiches and drinking my chocolate milk outside a shop in Burley.
 
 
But the clouds were gathering, the rainclouds, and the forecast headwind and heavy showers were also materialising just as I headed back across Cranborne Chase. It was a right slog, and despite the beautiful wide-open skies, it was a relief to get to Shaftesbury, and the opportunity for yet more chocolate milk.
 
 
 
By now my Garmin was benefiting from an additional charging unit, and I hit the 150 mile mark as I headed for the penultimate control at Podimore services. Finally my luck ran out and the rain returned. Unlike the morning when the rain was constant and fairly gentle, this was hard, heavy and very, very wet. By now I was back on familiar Tour of Wessex ground (Day 2 for those interested) except for wiggle around Cadbury castle, which I mentally complained about to myself before this rainbow appeared.
 
 
 
All the people in the various controls were very friendly if slightly bemused at what I was doing. The lady at Lymington was the funniest, she started to sell me the virtues of the town, and encouraged me to come back for a holiday. The two ladies at Sedgemoor were just finishing their shift when I arrived in the morning, and just starting the next one as I arrived at the end.
 
The man in Podimore services had no idea whatsoever what I was talking about, not so much thinking I was bonkers, more doubting I was actually human. I was pretty tired, but couldn't bear food so for a change I had banana milk as I headed towards Glastonbury. I could hear the music, and I like to think it might have been the Manics, but it was more likely to have been Metallica. Anyway, the view south over the levels was much nicer.
 
 
With darkness upon me I was on home turf and just as I swung towards Burtle the heavy rain returned. This time accompanied by a few things that shouldn't have been there. That's because they weren't there, I was hallucinating, and shivering, and very, very cold. I pulled under what shelter I could get from a tree, put on every article of clothing I had with me, and scoffed my emergency rations.
 
It was enough to get me back to Sedgemoor, and then on home. Wiped out, I then proceeded to fall asleep in the bath for 2 hours (not ideal kids!), before collapsing to sleep fitfully through last night, this morning and much of the afternoon. I'm still tired.
 
 
Frustratingly my Garmin failed to provide a map trace of all 210 miles I rode yesterday, although it has provided me with the raw stats. Here is the route, less the ride to and from Sedgemoor. My actual stats were:
 
Average speed 14.7 mph
210.1 miles (336 km) ridden
Total elapsed time of 17 hours 19 minutes.
 
My longest ever ride and probably one of my longest ever posts.  You still here? Well done, quite a long journey wasn't it? Needless to say this will not be the end of my long-distance cycling, but next time I promise not to go on about it on here so much.
 
I'm not the world's or even Winscombe's best cyclist, but I'm OK, and reasonably fit. But I couldn't do it again today. I couldn't even face the ACG trundle over the flat to Glastonbury I was that kyboshed. So how exactly did Tommy do it all those years ago?
 
For the first couple of hours of the ride, in the solitude of the post-dawn hours, I spent the time thinking of all kinds of stuff, and no I'm not telling you what they were. Towards midday, my concentration was on the things I saw and the people I met and passed. By the evening and the final tough hours, I was just forcing myself to turn the pedals and get home. Perhaps I think about all of this too much, but I wonder what Tommy Godwin used to think about. 
 
I used to laugh at my Mum for her unerring propensity to make light of serious incidents, (like my appendicitis and her own cancer) by telling people "not to make a fuss". To do what he did, Tommy must have been stronger than we can possibly imagine. Strong of body for sure, but more importantly, strong of mind and character, the type of strength that knows the time to just get on with it.
 








Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Please don't make me wait

I own trees in a wood near an estate called Yarner just outside Bovey Tracey in Devon. Of course I don't think I'm entitled to go and uproot them, they are part of a nature reserve, one of those "this will make you feel good" presents that I was bought once. I appreciated it, still do.

The slightly amended route of the Dartmoor Classic last Sunday encircled the estate, and if I had been a bit more observant I'm sure I could have seen my trees. At the time I was too busy trying to stay upright as I cycled up a steep, narrow, newly-resurfaced lane. Those horrible chippings in copious quantities.

That was about the only thing unpleasant about the day. Of course it was tough, there was pain, and gurning, even a very minor headache. But there was blessed sunshine, heat in abundance. I am not a cold-weather cyclist, with an ancestor from Nimes, and a childhood forged on Broadsands and Haytor Rocks, how could I be?

Last time I was in these parts had been for the Tour of Britain. They were fast up that hill, Chris was pretty quick too, he disappeared ahead of me pretty early, with Martyn (although I caught up with him later at Princetown, first time around), and shortly after I lost Steve behind me. Jennifer was rudely dropped by all of us without an explanation near the start.

Some may talk about the difficulty of the conditions but not I. I loved them. Especially as it meant short sleeves all day, no need for donning or disrobing or choices. Ride, drink, eat, breathe. Smile.

Then smile some more and pedal like fuck in the last section to get back before 7 hours and 35 minutes had elapsed. Oh that last glorious descent, newly re-surfaced with expensive blacktop . If I were Pope I would be kissing that shady, leafy road with its swooping bends and canopy of sunlight-filtering trees, every day of the week.



I doubted my capacity to finish in time for the long-awaited silver award. Had to get it this year before it becomes easier next as I move over the hill. Perfect conditions, reasonable form, some riding companions (I rode with Martyn most of the way, until I executed what he called a sneaky commuter-style move to overtake a car on the drop down into Moretonhampstead and dropped him) when would conditions be right again? And next year I'm likely to miss it for I will have other things to prepare for.

Not to worry though, my fastest ever Dartmoor Classic saw me into the finish in total time of 7.09, riding time a pleasing 6.59, according to Garmin if not to Strava. Also my fastest ever spot time on a bike. Smile again.

Because I felt like this when I'd finished. So one last smile then.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Happy Father's Day

I once spent an entire sportive calculating the numbers of insects that are killed by the peloton in the course of an average Tour de France. I think I might even have bored some other people with some of my assumptions and variables, just for clarification.

When you ride a bike as much as I do, you have to be inventive about thinking of new things to run through your febrile imagination. That is on the bits of the ride when you're not wheezing your way up the hills or trying not to hit the gravel patches on the downs.

But today I wanted to go out early before the crowds were out. And this is what I came up with.


The excitement of the toy shop,
I still see it in my dreams
Pulling at your trousers
Where the pocket joins the seams
 
Or all those Sunday walks
Stone-throwing to the sea
Smashing through the bracken
You chasing after me
 
Or phoning just to grumble
Or laugh at something odd
Knowing you were always there
Agreeing there’s no God
 
Those poppies in the fields I saw
Were like the way you cried
Such sadness and such sorrow
The day your sweetheart died
 
Your laughter goes on in my head
You humming little songs
I can’t touch you any more
But that doesn’t mean you’re gone
 
Happy Father’s Day, Dad
xx