Saturday April 2nd marked the date of my second PBP qualifier, a 305km ride from Chalfont St Peter down to the New Forest and back. I was probably more anxious about this ride than any other for a while, i hadn’t been on the bike for a couple of weeks whilst it was being repaired as a result of a collision with a car on my way out to a club run. Prior to that I’d not been out since the ‘Silly 50′ ride i wrote about previously which ended rather badly and left me with more doubts than ever about riding these distances. With less than than 300kms in total for the month of March, I now had to cover that in less than 18 hours.
A 6am start meant an alarm call at 4am and a drive out to the start. Many seasoned audaxes would insist on riding to the start, why not make it a 400km? No thanks. It’s the same start point as The Willy Warmer ride I did in January, and although around 10degC warmer and 3 months later it was still in pitch black when i set off with the other 80 or so riders taking on the ’3 Down’. Every audax ride has a name, some descriptive, others whimsical – the ride I’ve booked for my 600 qualifier is ’The Best From The East’. Best not dwell on that just yet.
The route took us from Chalfont to controls at Pangbourne – Kimbridge – Fordingbridge – New Arelsford – Winnersh and then back to the Arrivee. My rides tend to follow a similar pattern and this was no different, i got into the lead group with the quicks and had an enjoyable blast to reach the second control at 124km in 4hrs 24, a moving average of 28km/h, very fast considering we were running into headwind for most of the route. It was a great pleasure to meet and ride with James Bowthorpe for this section of the ride. James is a world record holder for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe (176 days), and was using this ride as part of his preparation for his solo RAAM (3000km across America, 12 day maximum). So, pretty useful on a bike. He’s also very modest and approachable with a genuine passion for cycle touring, albeit at a rather fast pace. He had a lovely new Titanium quorz bike to try out which he’d only just built up that week, but the roads must have loosned a few screws as his seat fell apart on the long climb up to the Lambourne Downs. Thankfully we found all the parts and could re-assemble the seat clamp, and i could grab a little breather as the pace started to take it’s toll.
The headwind got up as we entered the New Forest and by now there were no more turns at the front for me, i slowly slipped off the back to ride alone for the next 15km. I could have joined them again at the next control, but instead waved them away and took a little time to regroup. I was pretty shot, only 150km done but with pains in my back and knowing that the early pace would mean i was bound to pay the price later on. Still, I knew that if i could just hold on, take frequent short breaks of the bike and keep eating a little all the while then i could still get round. I set off alone through the quite stunning New Forest, and as we swung round at Linwood the headwind became a tailwind, my legs started to come back to life and my rolling speed on the flat was touching at 40km/h. No-one came past me all day until the penultimate control, where i met up with another of the lead group who’d also dropped off the pace. He told me that James had a double puncture on a descent and crashed into a ditch, but with only minor cuts and bruises he sorted out the bike and carried on, and was by then already an hour up the road.
It was good to have someone to ride with home as dusk descended, we chatted on not taking too much notice of the routesheet, feeling good that we’d made it through the day and the end was in sight. But, a sting in the tail as we missed the turnoff from Maidenhead back up to Chalfont. Not to worry, I knew a quick way back through Slough and Denham. I should have know better but after 13 hours on the road you just don’t think straight, and so it was that we got hopelessly lost, adding an extra 15km and at least 45mins to our finish time. But finish we did, in 14 hours 35 mins, 320km in total. Other stats of note; 3,500m of climbing, ride time 12’14″, calories 10,000+ and only the fourth time i’ve done a double century (200 mile) ride in a day. Four or five riders had come in whilst we were lost in Slough, in addition to the lead group including James but still a worthy effort and one which has given me heart for the rides to come. You learn a little more each time you do a long ride, about what you can do, and about what you can’t. Next up, a lumpy 400km ride over to Wales at the end of this month. Bonne Route!
(ps – the title = Straight on at crossroads, signposted you have arrived! A maxim for life.)