A long engagement

Photo: Travelling light on the way to the start. I try to carry as little as possible on the bike.

My relationship with Audax UK has been a slow burner. It started with a quick snog behind the bike sheds in the summer of 2016 when I was a day member for ICC’s The Great Escape.

It has been a long engagement, only consummated yesterday when I completed my first audax in the UK since becoming a full member two years ago.

I returned to Beaconsfield, an old stomping ground, for the The South of Bucks Winter Warmer, a 207km ride through the Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Surrey and Oxfordshire countryside.

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It didn’t start well. After 20 minutes that unmistakable feeling of dread when you can feel the road beneath you, but through the rim, not the tyre. A hole in rubber is not what you want on your ‘wedding night’ (I may be taking this analogy a bit too far). Many riders enquired if I needed help but I declined their kind offers. Independence is one of the fundemental principles of audaxing, so it was up to me.

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This left me right at the back of the pack and on the 15km per hour limit so I had some catching up to do. It took a good 10km of hard riding into the wind to catch my first sight of a bright yellow jacket up ahead. It kept disappearing around the corners but it was getting closer every time I spotted it. After catching a couple of riders I came across a tandem and drafted behind it to help recover. I loved the fact that the guy on the front had the route sheet on his back so that his companion could navigate from the rear. I returned the favour by leading the tandem through the wind for a while. Who knew the ride would feature a ménage à trois.

Later I caught a “Hackney Club Audax” jersey being worn by O. I was in my Islington CC jacket, two adjacent London Boroughs teamed up on and off during the ride. That’s one of the appeals of audaxing – you get to ride with with different people with no obligation to stay together.

As part of my preparation for my attempt on Paris-Brest-Paris in 2019 I’ve been experimenting with different set ups. This time I tried a makeshift route summary on my top tube, sealed with cling film. It worked really well to help divide the ride into mangeable chunks. I’ll have to see if I can do something similar for PBP.

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O and I tried to keep a reasonable pace so that we could maximise our time in the daylight and avoid as much rain as possible. For the flat section approaching Pangbourne on the A4 we formed a two man time trial team which was really good fun.

After climbing out of Pangbourne we experienced a challenging descent. It wasn’t the steepness or the road surface, but the cross wind. Keeping a reasonabole speed helps stabilise the bike as in effect one is sitting on top of two gyroscopes, but not too fast as to risk being blown across the road. All good fun.

The control at the M40 Oxford services was the last stop and marked a change in the conditions. It started to rain and was getting dark. It wasn’t that cold so we debated how much rain kit to put on without getting too warm as we knew we had to climb over the Chilterns one more time. Reflective gilets, full rain jackets and even rain proof over shorts (not seen those before) were deployed by various riders.

I really enjoyed the climb towards Stokenchurch. It was a steady incline with a good road surface and not too much traffic. All good in the dark and wet.

The descent into Marlow was a nice way to end the ride. Except there was a sting in the tail. As with all new relationships there are ups and downs. Having enjoyed the last climb I had a lover’s tiff with the ride on the final climb out of Wooburn Green with only 6km to go. It was only a km but a little steeper than I was expecting. I found myself weaving across the road from fatigue. I soon got over our row to complete the ride via a spooky narrow lane to the final control. Tired and a little wet but happy to have completed the ride safely.

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Thank you to Terry and Sue, and all the other volunteers for organising the ride so well. I particulary appreciated the bike park ‘bouncers’ Frank, Andy and Richard who made sure our bikes were safe as we registered and had breakfast before setting off.

Our first date complete I’m hoping to have a long and happy relationship with Audax UK.

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Year to date

14,842 km / 132 rides / 112 km average per ride

(closing in on my 15,000km target for 2018)

145,298m elevation gain (16.4 Everests)

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