Outside the temperature is dropping again, despite it being early May. Yes. Spring, and a Bank Holiday weekend to boot. And the rain is now starting to tumble out of brooding and foreboding skies. The weary are all shuffling around, eating a mixture of jelly babies, pasta soup (but it still doesn't feel enough) and necking coffee, tea, anything hot they can get their hands on.
No-one really wants to go back outside. But we have to if we want to finish this 400km Audax, the Brevet Cymru. The thirty or so "fast riders" went through a couple of hours ago. Behind us there are approximately 130 intrepid battlers either fighting the horrendous south-easterly wind, the rain, the mountains, and their urge to give up. Apparently about 50 have already lost that battle and are heading home on trains or in taxis. The remaining 80 battle on. Battle with the weather, the hills and the seductive parts of their own minds. Whispering, urging - "give up".
The small group of about half a dozen in Llangattock community centre then gets smaller as one rider finally packs. He mentioned it at Llandovery, second time around, and now bails into a cab, heading back to Chepstow in warmth and comfort.
There is always the option of getting your head down here for a few hours on the sleep mats, it's "only" 65 km to the Arrivee after all, and there are still about 8 hours in which to complete within the time limit. A few are taking that option, the preceding 341 km finally taking their toll.
So I head out into the night. Alone. As I have been, more or less, all day. But not really alone. After last week's shenanigans (great word) Peter and I were very clear - I would not ride at his pace so he shouldn't wait for me. It was only when I got to the end I found out I had overtaken him when he was stopped, and he had subsequently been forced by injury to drop out before Llandovery. The first time.
But not really alone. Although I could go miles and miles without seeing another rider, in the context of over 21 hours on the road, I met and chatted "frequently" to people, as well as in the café stops - Llandovery (twice), Newquay (Wales not Cornwall), outside the Coop in Tregaron and in the late-night community hall. But there is more to Audax than that. People are universally kind, friendly, and mutually encouraging. I'm a pretty introverted person, so I think I fit in pretty well with the quiet nature of the genre.
|Hay Control - picture by Richard Clemens|
But don't be fooled. There are some truly awesome riders on these events. I'm writing this two days later and I'm still sore and tired. For some seasoned Audax veterans, a 400km ride seems like a café ride for them, they were out yesterday and will do a couple of 200km in the week. But they are so modest you would never spot them unless you saw the glint in their eyes and the steel in their bikes.
|Café in Llandovery - lunchtime - by Richard Clemens|
And the people that organise these events are in another league too. Mark Rigby and his team not only organise a route and great controls at just the right places, but they do so in a way that reflects a generosity of spirit you don't see much these days. And for the fraction of the cost of a sportive, with none of the silly competitiveness. I mean none, even from me.
|Sustenance at Newquay - all my own work!|
Parts of the ride were a joy. Parts were a real struggle. Which was which depended on me, or more probably my blood sugar levels. The long downhills were all good though, and I even enjoyed one or two of the climbs. I think there was about 15000 feet of climbing all told. I can't tell you exactly because my Garmin started doing silly things near Usk, and packed up altogether on the last hill. But for once I couldn't give a stuff. I'll get my Brevet card back soon, with its stamps and timed signatures. Proof of passage.
At 3AM, in the teeth of a gale, and under the deluge, as I ground up the last big climb before Chepstow, there was no euphoria, not a whiff of triumph, I was just relieved to get to the end in one piece with a functioning bike, bright lights (my brilliant dynamo certainly works!) and awake.
And, despite the weather, I can confirm, that Wales is officially beautiful.
|My bike waits for the return leg|