New challenges and curiosity about all things cycling took me to Maidenhead (Berkshire) for the start of a DIY Audax 200km. This would be my longest ride that had a time limit.
A friend, also known as Bob, had plotted the route and registered it with Audax as an official ride. My attempt at 200km the week before had been a massive fail so I had high hopes this would be different. The route was sent in advance and duly downloaded to my Garmin where it was checked that it was working properly.
In preparation for the ride, lunch at Daylesford for an intake of fat and carbs seemed to be the thing to do. This was followed by a night in Maidenhead, at a beautifully located B&B, The River Arts Club where the attention to detail is so great that guests are offered a waterways service to take them to dinner at one of the top restaurants in Bray. Another time that would be lovely, but not the day before a 200km ride!
The downside of the B&B not having full catering facilities meant that although delicious, dinner was more of a bar meal and breakfast was contintental, both being a little lacking in cycling fuel.
Up at 7am and out onto the Bath Road to the rendez-vous point to meet Bob. Apparently, I would be leading the way so that my navigation skills could be checked – even if he happened to be in front at a junction I was to call out which way we were supposed to be turning!
No sooner had we set off we had our first stop when the rain came down, on with the overtrousers then away we went again. 10 miles later, I noticed Bob wasn’t behind me. I looked further down the road and he had taken a right turn at a T Junction. It seemed that we were using different routes – I was using his updated version and he, wasn’t!
Out into the countryside with swooping narrow lanes, up and down little rises and out onto bigger faster A roads where the only speed limit seemed to be the ones the drivers chose. In the course of the day there were three separate remnants of incidents where cars had driven off the road and into ditches, one of which still had Police Incident tape around it and another dressed with floral tributes to someone who was clearly much loved but did not complete their intended journey. Apparently 25% of road traffic incidents involve people aged 25 or under. Something should be done to help reduce this terrible statistic.
We crossed several rivers, the most impressive was the Thames at Hambledon where engineers have built a fantastic walkway across a weir.
Along the valley, the cold, damp air had started to affect my breathing and asthma was beginning to bubble in my lungs as I stared up at the biggest hill of the day. At 10% it seemed like a vertical wall at the end of my nose and I felt completely overwhelmed. My feet stopped moving, there was not enough power in my legs and I walked to the top feeling very deflated.
Despite hearing the words, the Fridays mantra, “There is No Shame in Walking” repeated twice as we stood and admired the pretty spectacular views at the top, the games my mind had been playing all morning continued. Time wasn’t stopping and nor should we. How long have we got? Are we still on schedule? No time for photographs, keep moving. It tormented me like a target I would never reach.
As we stood near a beautiful windmill and looked across the valley, Bob asked “Why haven’t you taken any photos?” I looked away so he didn’t see me nearly burst into tears at the relief of those words. Apparently we were doing ok, we were well within time and there was nothing to worry about.
Looking down into the valley, we had a birds’ eye view of the Village of Dibley. Seeing Geraldine’s front door in the foreground and the Chilterns on the horizon I began to forget the hill fail and the asthma subsided.
Following the purple worm of the Garmin, mile after mile of country lanes, less busy roads that eventually became private tracks through the grounds of Waddesdon Manor (Buckinghamshire) – apparently the first coffee stop was here. Surrounded by manicured gardens, a serene peacefulness of calm created by the tranquillity of no traffic but as much as I loved it I just couldn’t pedal one more push. Into the tuck box on my bike and a banana was inhaled as though it was the last one on earth. My first piece of fruit in 8 weeks! I need to do more research on healthy eating without fire-cracker sugar foods. Within a few minutes I was back on my bike haring along the path.
A quick tour to find a tea stop brought us to a little café obviously popular with other cyclists and for good reason. 94 High Street, Waddesdon really hit the spot. Excellent service and good food (sandwiches but mainly cake!)
Several miles later, just when I was feeling weak with glimmers of being ready to bail and fail, another little gem of encouragement from Bob “well in another 20km we’ll be at the most northern point and you could catch a direct train from there?”. “Oh!” Sure enough, at the most northern point (looking towards Northamptonshire), the wind was behind us and lunch was only another 20km down the road.
An apple and a handful of nuts (along with the tailwind) saw us breeze into Woodstock (Oxfordshire). Beautiful architecture, not just Blenheim Palace and where in the high street a little café caught our eye. It served hot drinks, bread (loaves of) and sausage rolls. No sandwiches. The clue was probably in the name if we had noticed. They could serve slices of bread but only if I bought the loaf! Not a good place to choose for refuelling. It did give me the opportunity to change the settings on my Garmin to show average speed and km cycled.
Out into the colder air, we cycled. My strategy was to focus on bouts of 10km. Head down, pedal on and then see each 10km as a target. The next bail point was Wallingford. The 10km mental system was working. Into Waitrose for a quick cup of tea and some water where a rather old joke made me laugh out loud and we were soon on the road again!
The Joke Explained
Cycling to Paris in 2011 there may have been some inadvertent delays caused by my inability to drink French tap water – a painful learning curve from my youth as it made me ill for days. The solution was simple – Evian. Unfortunately there may have been an occasion when we cycled on the French equivalent of the A4 to reach a garage serving Evian. The lady behind the till asked “are you sure you should be on this road? I have never seen anyone cycle it before”!
Buying me a litre of Evian in Oxfordshire was clearly having a dig…!
This was the home run. Apparently we were still within the time zone. The last few hills took us through farm roads alongside fields of crops. Despite the darkness a tractor was busy working the land. Its lights made it look like a spaceship.
Then, seven or eight miles from the end my legs turned to wool. I just couldn’t get any power into the pedals. I felt so bad that despite being the most fantastic chef d’affaires, Bob was going to be out of time. So he was shooed on ahead.
The last six miles became a blur. I was struggling to focus and keep moving. My mind then told me that I was heading in the wrong direction. I pushed on. I could hear a friends’ voice “just keep the pedals moving” ringing in my ears and somehow, although rather weakly, did just that. When I saw Bob standing at the finish point and the words on the Garmin “Course Complete” I nearly fell off my bike (again). But I was absolutely and utterly spent with not an ounce of energy to celebrate.
Amazingly – and I only understood this the next day, I achieved the target within the Audax allowed time. 205km in 12 hours 15 minutes.
The chef excelled himself. The service was incredible and my bike was stored in an office. I did stick out like a sore thumb in my lycra – it was too late to change for dinner – and even with a skirt and normal shoes I really didn’t quite match the attire of the wedding party that filled the hotel all of whom were dressed up to the nines.
At 8.30am the next day I found myself in the most luxurious indoor/outdoor swimming pool – all to myself. A real ride recovery treat. Over a delicious breakfast the enormity of my 200km achievement began to sink in. From pootles around London in January to serious distances only months later.
Thanks to Bob’s patience and timely cajooling I had made it. From a fail the week before to a no bail this week – a completed 200km Audax. I’d actually done it! If I had taken a few more photos they would have included the duck standing on a step in the weir waiting for fish, the red Kites flying overhead looking for their next meal, the route into Waddesden Manor which was beautiful and the Rose Revived to which I rode last month from Oxford.
- The joys of cycling on country lanes surrounded by fields, villages and farmlife cannot be underestimated
- Research the best foods leading up to a long ride that have the right kind of carbs from Sarah Wilson
- Find battery charger in case Cinq 5 fails
- Look up suitable exercises to improve core strength
- Pedal harder, legs as floppy as cooked spaghetti or strands of wool are not suitable for Audax
- Stay strong. If you think you can’t, you won’t (probably the hardest thing to do)
- Continue to count your lucky stars that the cyclist friends you have are kinder than kind itself.
The Route is here and the rest of the pics are here: