Audax 2016 – 200k – Oxford Countryside

For the final ride of my SR series, I thought I would explore Oxfordshire again. A friend of mine (Matt) recently completed Ride London and has been steadily getting into his cycling, so I thought it would be good to get him along for an Audax. Dave also wanted to come along to bookend the SR series.

I almost ended up with no companions as the weather forecasts became more and more dire. However, once I told Dave the ride was “official” he said he had to do it and Matt took it as an opportunity to buy in a ton of wet weather gear. Good thing he did really, because the weather was pretty much as forecast, with continuous drizzle, interspersed with heavy showers. This is the reason that there are very few pictures because the stunning landscapes were continuously shrouded in mist.

The shonky weather meant we “missioned” round the route more than we would have otherwise, so ended up with very good averages and moving averages: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1351766528.

We had an interesting episode approaching Lechlade on Thames, where we spotted a bunch of riders up ahead, clearly in a race of some kind (they were turning at a marshalled “hairpin” to u-turn back down the road). We of course had to race them and managed to pass about 5 of them but were passed by one chap on the TT bars really going for it and for once decided to back it off with 120k to go. While we were among these riders and seeing some coming the other way, we came to the conclusion that they looked rather muscly for cyclists and also seemed to not be wearing enough clothes. I think they were part of a triathlon.

Our only major stops were, of course McDonalds, and the Wellington Farm Shop:

mcdonalds

bikes-2

My only problem was a particularly large pothole, which I hit badly. This shifted my left hood downwards and inwards, which meant the position felt strange and shifting and breaking were more difficult. I was tempted to try to fix it, but not in the poring rain. In the end I decided to live with it and we made it back in just over 9 hours.

victory

Audax 2016 – 300k – Norfolk Circuit

As I like cycling around Norfolk & we were on holiday there, I thought it’d be nice to take in the majority of it on a 300k. https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1324011772

It turned out to be a ride of several parts.

Having woken up at 5:30am and gotten ready, I opened the door to discover that what I had thought was wind in the trees was in fact rain! So, on with the new rain coat and overshoes. The rain persisted all the way to Great Yarmouth, which was a shame as this section was probably the most picturesque. I had a quick stop in Mundesley.

Mundesley

The picture doesn’t really show the rain, but it was sufficient to get into my trunk bag and make the bag containing flapjack soggy!

From Great Yarmouth to Bury St Edmunds was the least pleasant section. It was 50 miles, slogging into a headwind on the A143. Fortunately, it was mostly wide enough that people could pass without trouble, but there were several sections that had been re-sealed with gravel, which made the going even harder and meant that I was occasionally pelted with stones by people coming the other way, not to mention becoming slightly grey from the dust. I had a quick stop for a pasty along this road.

Arriving in Bury St Edmunds was a great relief as this meant I was turning out of the headwind, added to that were the lovely gardens in the town centre, replete with yarn bombing!

Burry St Edmunds

Yarn bomb

The route to Thetford was on nice but busy roads until the awesome section from Elveden to Thetford. This took in the old A11, which has been converted to have large cycle lanes, then a beautifully surfaced cycle path alongside the new A11.

A11 CP2 A11 CP

Of course, this excellent piece of infrastructure vomits you out onto a horrible road into Thetford, but this was bearable, as it was the site of my McDonalds stop!

After lunch I really enjoyed swooping down a section of the new A11 to the next roundabout, downhill with a tailwind!

Thetford to Kings Lyn was un-memorable, though I now know to deffinitely avoid the A10 into Kings Lyn as it was very busy and narrow. Fortunately I had forseen this and planned the route to take a more scenic route into the town. It was busy with rush-hour traffic and I enjoyed blowing away several cycle commuters before stopping for a Subway outside the station (tucking half into my bag for later).

KL

The route around the coast was again very pleasant, including a stop at Wells to eat the other half of my Subway.

Hunstanton Wells

I enjoyed the final run into Plumstead through dark lanes apart from the hordes of bugs that would occasionally attack me!

In the end, I though my moving average was excellent considering the stiff wind. I’m surprised I stopped for 2.5 hours in total. It didn’t feel like that, as I’d been careful not to let any stop drag on and I only really had four sit down stops, which I’m sure were all 15 minutes, apart from the McDonalds. Maybe I should set an alarm, but that might make the ride more of a “mission” than necessary.

Audax 2016 – 400k – Naseby & North Norfolk

 

After the 600k ordeal, I though I’d keep up the SR challenge with my longest solo ride to date. I stuck to fairly familiar ground with a route to Norwich via the fens: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1283758359.

I was pleased with my overall and moving average. At this pace, the 600 would have been a much more reasonable 30 hours, leaving 10 hours to sleep! However, it was definitely a ride of parts. The first 100k or so went well and I was on my normal 100k Audax pace! Then I seemed to hit a cliff and the next 100k was a real struggle, I even walked up a hill before Daventry! From about Oakham onwards, at 200k, things went better and I was able to keep a very  constant pace for the rest of the ride. I’m not sure why it went this way. Perhaps a combination of excessive speed early on (though it didn’t feel like it), then a headwind and choppy hills. I turned into a small tailwind at Oakham and thing flattened out, at least into climbs I could do in the middle ring and descents where I didn’t have to use my brakes.

I hadn’t realised Silverstone was less than a 100k from home, so though the masses of pimped up cars passing me was some local show, but then I hit a couple of roundabouts and there is was:

Silverstone

You can just see the huge traffic jam on the other side of the road going into the circuit.

Around Daventry, when I was feeling at my lowest, I was caught and passed by a cycle club. I tried to hang onto their wheels for a little, but I had no hope and they disappeared up the road. About 15 minutes later, I spied them in my mirror again and the same thing happened. This went on for ages with me passing them while they were stopped at shops or taking other routes. Finally, at Naseby, they were all parked outside a village shop and I was running low on water, so I decided to stop as well. We got chatting and they were impressed with my distance, but I was still amazed by their speed over their 150k club run.

Cycle club

Very soon after this, I had a nice break at the Cromwell monument, bag one more Cycle Quest answer!

Naseby

The area around Naseby was very picturesque, but I was really struggling with the hills and rutted roads. This estate road made me feel like I was on a welsh mountain (though not from the gradient).

Sheep

The ride through the Fens was hard, but decently quick, culminating in my second McDonalds at Long Sutton, the site of me and Dave hiding from the rain.

McDonalds

I still really rate McDonalds for Audaxes. There are lots of them, the service is quick, food is high calorie (if not super wholesome) and you can see your bike from inside. Also, I’ve always found the staff to be really friendly.

The North Norfolk coast was predictably pleasant, with some stunning sunset views (in the first of these, over the Wash from Hunstanton, you can just make out the giant wind farm):

The Wash

Sunset

On a small side road, where I stopped for a “break” on the way to Hunstanton, I found some semi-wild chickens, including this fine fellow:

Rooster

There’s not much I’d change with the route or timings. I managed to have quiet roads for most of the ride (not Silverstone), leaving the house at 4am and getting far out into the countryside by the time everyone had woken up. Also, I was tired getting in at midnight, but not in a state of complete collapse as if I’d had to go through the night. Seeing how wide the A17 was, I would also be tempted to follow it further to Kings Lyn as it’d save a few km.

I now get to add a new line to my speed analysis graph:

Audax speed analysis 201608

Audax Speed Analysis

I though I’d do some analysis of how I gain and lose time through an Audax event against the minimum speed (15kph) target.

After tinkering with spreadsheets for a while, I came up with the unit: minutes in hand per km travelled. So a value of 1 after 100km would mean I had 100 minutes in hand, so 1hr 40.

This is useful measure than simply time in hand, because, if I keep a consistent average speed, the line on a graph will be flat the further I go, whereas time in hand would keep increasing.

So here are the plots for all the audaxes I’ve done 300k or over:

Audax speed analysis

I’m not sure what it means, other than how essential it is to build time in hand early on, when you’re quicker as you’re not going to be able to do much later. This is clearly something we suffered from on our failed Wales adventure. We actually lost time more slowly after 200k than the Skegness ride, but had somehow failed to build much of a buffer early on through the fairly benign terrain of Oxfordshire with a tailwind.

Audax 2016 – 600k – Skegness Adventure

After many chats with Dave, we decided that we needed another crack at a 600k ride. Based on our experiences in Wales, we decided we’d try something different, so went for the flattest route available. Ely and Lincoln were the original objectives, with the Humber estuary also being a candidate, but in the end, we decided we liked the idea of the fens, so picked Skegness.

Fortunately, we made it, but not with as much time to spare as I’d hoped:

Outward: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1211928985

Return: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1211929030

Despite the flatness, the ride turned out to be somewhat of an ordeal. This was mainly due to the almost continuous heavy rain.

In fact, it was raining heavily when I was leaving at 9am on Sunday.

The hero departs

I had already decided to take full thermal gear, despite the promised 18 degree temperatures and the miserable start sealed it.

The ride to Dave’s was fine, despite the rain. However, heading through Windsor park, my right leg began to hurt quite badly. Fortunately, this was cured by rapid use of Ibuprofen. This would twinge every now and again for the first few hours, but then didn’t bother me thereafter. Note sure what it was all about.

I then had two other potential disasters related to my Lumicycle headlight. First, pulling over after the road through Slough, I discovered that the mount had snapped and the light was bouncing against my spokes. I had hoped a new arrangement with the mount had solved this problem, which used to happen every 6 moths or so, but clearly, it had just been over 6 months since my last replacement! Fortunately, I had decided the night before t pack a spare mount. Somewhere on the horribly bumpy and busy road through Amersham, I decided it’d be a good idea to take the light off until I actually needed it, to reduce the chance of losing the final mount. When I stopped to do this, I discovered that the light wasn’t working and I couldn’t persuade it to re-start. Because of the bullet-proofness of the Lumicycle, I hadn’t bothered to pack a replacement. Never leaving home without the Hope 1 again! Frantic calls ahead to my brother in law secured a spare light. In the end however, a few hours in the trunk bag for light and battery seemed to cure all ills, and it worked faultlessly for the rest of the trip. I did however, take the offered spare, having lost faith! It could be that attaching a new mount in the rain got some contact wet, that then dried out in the bag.

Somewhere after Dunstable, the sun came out and we were treated to quiet, smooth roads through the fens in the sunshine. This was definitely the high point of the ride. Then arriving at my brother and sister in law’s at Prickwillow, we were treated to a slap-up meal. Excellent.

Dinner at Ricks

This got us in high enough spirits to play down the cracking of thunder as we left. I’d even swapped thermals for shorts! This of course, is when the truly torrential rain started. I tried taking photos, but none really did it justice. The rain continued to hammer down as we passed through Wisbech and towards Long Sutton where we dived into an almost impossibly welcome McDonalds.

Blessed McDonalds

In fact, McDonalds turned out to be a great find on this trip. They are actually open 24 hours a day and you can see your bikes from your seat. Quick service too!

The A17 and A16 to Boston went pretty quickly in a pace-line. While there were quite a few lorries, they were all very courteous and the road was nice and wide for overtaking. We got to Boston thinking that we’d pretty much make to to Skegness, but over 20 miles on the bumpy A52 ground us down somewhat.

By this point, the rain had stopped, being replaced by heavy, wet fog.

Bike in fog

This meant that by the time we got to our “hotel” in Skegness, our clothes were still soaking.

Skegness hotel

It’s a testament to the space blanket, that I actually managed to get 30-45 minutes sleep despite soggy clothes and temperatures close to 10 degrees. A 3am arrival was slightly later than I’d hoped, but surely we’d make up time without the rain.

I woke up to a dawn over the sea at 4am and we pushed on while we had a hope of quiet roads. The small roads through the fens were nice and quiet, but rather rutted and bumpy. They continued to be poorly surfaced as we approached Sleaford, but the rush-hour traffic built continuously and it was with relief that we stopped for a slap-up breakfast.

Breakfast

The roads after Sleaford seemed to be much quieter, so we relaxed a little. Then, at the bottom of a small descent Dave kept pedaling over a very small ford. I saw Dave slide sideways a couple of meters ahead and decided to pedal faster rather than attempt to stop as t was already too late. Both wheels went out from under me for a fraction of a second. 20m down the road after controlling massive wobbles, we were completely focused again.

After this, the rain started to slowly increase again (cue another McDonalds shelter). It would reach a point where I was sick of it, then it’d get heavier. This went on for hours, culminating in cycling down a very busy, narrow and choppy A47 with a river pouring on us.

In Higham Ferrers, a coffee shop (http://beanscoffeestop.co.uk/ I believe) owner rushed out and told us we could bring our bikes inside, round the back when they spotted us locking them up outside. The rain had turned torrential again at this point, so it was huge relief to do the faffing with bags and GPS under cover. Also, it allowed me to relax with the bikes secure. Waffle with ice cream, bagle and flapjack for the road were also all most appreciated.

Cafe

It was around this time that I noticed that Dave wasn’t eating much. As I was packing away waffles and burgers, he was having soup! He was feeling nauseous when eating or even drinking water. No doubt something evil picked up on his bottle spout from the endless spray on “country” roads. This lack of nutrition was starting to give him trouble and he struggled to stay on my wheel to Milton Keynes if I pushed at all.

The ride through Milton Keynes was extremely pleasant on a network of small roads an good quality cycle paths. In the middle of this cycling joy was a beautiful lake where we took the opportunity for a quick rest.

Sleeping in MK

Tired in MK

Despite his bench kip, Dave was still suffering on the ride from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury, only slightly ameliorated by ice lollies. Aylesbury turned out to be a truly horrible town for cycling with crummy surfaces, fast but narrow roads and a massive amount of traffic. Not to mention scary roundabouts and dual carriageways. It was exiting Aylesbury that Dave and I parted ways. We were planning to do so further on, after the M4 crossing, but he was able to take a more direct and less hilly route back home, which made sense given his troubles.

It turned out that Dave actually got home 30 minutes before me, so either his ice lollies jazzed him up, he had been playing me since Higham Ferrers and saving his energy sitting on my wheel, or most likely, I was actually also in a terrible state.

As I got away from Aylesbury, the traffic calmed down and I ground out the final miles. I didn’t remember the exact route I had planned for the run in, expecting to be approaching Wokingham from the West, but actually coming at it from the East. It wasn’t helped by the fact that had confused the layout of Wokingham with Sandhurst or that there way yet another bout of torrential rain, hampering visibility and generally being miserable.

However, at last, I was back onto roads I knew like the back of my hand through Farnborough and back into Aldershot. At last, I rolled up to my front door, where my wife had stayed up to get a picture of me creeping in at midnight of Monday / Tuesday.

The hero returns

All in all, a great adventure, but really could have done without the rain and it being about 10 hours shorter.

And last, what Audaxing is all about, riding down a rainy trunk road in the middle of the night:

Audax 2016 – 100k – Norfolk Mardle

A bit like last time, I’ve been lazy and I actually did this ride in February.

The route took in a nice circuit of countryside South of Norwich: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1061269749

This was the route of an Audax I attempted very early in my Audaxing “career”. That time (2011 I think…) I made a disastrous misjudgement with the weather and decided not to wear overshoes (which I had brought to Norwich). It proceeded to sleet & snow heavily and my feet froze. I ended up giving up and turning around in Loddon and going home (so ended up doing about 60km anyway) when the people at the control failed to stamp my Brevet card quickly enough. I remember it took a day before I regained all feeling in my toes. My brother in law actually completed the 200k version (The Old Squirt) on the same day, but I believe he sorted out his footwear better.

This time was much more successful and I made a good average speed despite it being pretty windy, with a headwind for the two quarters of the journey.

I could have gone non-stop, but I decided to take several stops for pictures of picturesque churches, and the Norwich City training ground.

Norwich City Church4 Church3 Church2 Bike Church1

The lanes were covered with a particularly fine mix of mud and poo. Check out the despicable state of the forks in the Norwich City picture.

Cycling mileage 2015 vs 2014 vs 2013

2013 2014 2015
Miles Count Miles Count Miles Count
Sirrus 2529.39 124 153.81 9  152.69 4
Sirrus Light  1597.21  75
Linskey 3357.64 160 3243.03 158
Khatmandu  84.94  8 46.66 3 40.08 4
Khatmandu – ice 190.15 11 7.83 1 101.61 6
Raptobike 49.17 5 152.83 7 2.86 1
TOTAL 4450.86 223 3718.77 180 3540.27  173

 

The third year of commuting to Camberley. Strange how 2014 & 2015 seem to blend together. Maybe it’s because we had the same camping holiday both years…

Very similar between the two years cycling wise. Felt like I did more cycling in 2015, mainly because of the failed 600k, but I think there were fewer mid distance Audaxes & weekend rides.

Also average commuting speed (combined moving average of going in and coming home) for all 3 years.

Commuting speed graph 2015, 2014vs2013

Definitely had a good patch through the end of the summer holidays and I think that extra effort (and lack of back pain) lasted through to the end of the year.