Instead of ride reports I thought I’d mark my entry on the foothills of the AUK mountain (1000 whole kilometres!) with my top ten moments, insights and observations from 2013.
Why did I think stopping was a good idea? Why did I think that lying on a stone cold floor and trying to sleep was going to be any better than just riding? It wasn’t, I should have just kept riding through the night, but I had a ride plan (three hours sleep at Salthouse) that said I should stop.
I was tired, my brain was like the inside of a Rohlhoff hub, a series of complex interlocking circles that made no sense at all to look at, and so I was listening to the part of me that said it wasn’t really possible for me to ride that long without a sleep. So I didn’t sleep and wasted an hour and a half.
Next 400 – straight through.
The three of us are on a narrow lane, the rain is sheeting down. Of the 35 entered for the 200 8 have started.
Worst floods in the areas for years. The infamous summer. The lane is a perfect water course, no part of my body is dry. I am hanging onto the wheel of fidgetbuzz who is riding behind Chris_P. There are land-rovery sounds from behind and we are overtaken. Not by a Land Rover but by a land-rover towing an even bigger vehicle with moon buggy wheels. And not just one, but three land-rovers towing land-rovers with moon buggy wheels. The bow wave created by the multi-header monster arcs up into the air and comes down directly on top of Chris. It’s an impossible amount of water, like someone in a digger dumped a full scoop of water onto him. This is getting surreal. I am beginning to enjoy it – the wind, the rain and the sheer lunacy remind me of mountain bike epics in my home country of NZ.
After the countless dips in the above ride my wheels, cheap factory ones that look pretty, just gave up. The spoke tension just fell out of them like they had decided enough was enough. If you’re going to do that to us, they seemed to say, we don’t want you. My campy bottom bracket, also suffering innumerable submerged periods, just shrugged it off. What water? Was there a problem? Fancy wheels get replaced with classic hand built three cross 32s, dynamo hubs, ultegra back and A23 rims.
Dynamo hub, who would have thought? It works! It keeps working. They are stiff enough, comfy and resilient.
It’s simply that I can’t feel them. For a couple of weeks my thumbs and first two fingers feel like they have pads of rubber on the ends. That’s with padded tape and gel underlay. Is it worth worrying about? Do I need tri bars? Do I need to raise my bars to full height and ride like the dutch?
I search yacf.co.uk. It’s not just me then, Ok. Everyone has something. My bum is fine, never really been a problem. Every 200km or so I feel like someone is taking to the bottom of my feet with red-hot pokers, but that at least is off and on. But fingers… I need those.
We are coming around a farmer’s field, it’s nothing special as a field but later on everyone seems to mention it – the wind at that point, hitting everyone straight on, proper Belgian Hard WoMan territory. Head down and push, not to go fast, just to go. Later I find out the guy who has been sitting on for the last 30 miles and claiming he is ‘stuffed’ is training for an Ironman. Well you’re not going to get iron hard drafting someones wheel, friend.
Wind is only an occasional thing in London, there’s often a gentle prevailing, but nothing toothy. As I slog up into it I remember being a roadie in NZ too, remember being blown off my bike, unclipping, and then watching my bike being blown down the road. I remember rides where I simply didn’t peddle for five miles straight it was so windy, and, at the turn, standing up in first gear to make any head way at all.
Just keep remembering that, so this doesn’t feel as bad.
I am riding into the wind again but this time it’s no fun at all. Lack of sleep. 350km in the legs. Crawling. I wonder what possessed me to give up a weekend with my family to do this. When, if, I finish that will be it for this lark. I will have proved I can ride 400k in a day. I will be nearer to my ‘1000’. It’s nothing serious, but serious enough and once there I will just go back to larking about on my mountain bike and riding to work, another branch of the cycling world explored, but I mean really what’s the point? No, tell me again?
I have to stop and eat everything I have left on me. A guy in a business shirt and street shoes rides past on his Dawes Galaxy. Did I imagine that, or is this just the eccentric world of Audax?
Actually I am beginning to enjoy the mad ones. Everyone is possessed of a kind of madness to ride Audax anyway, why should we even pretend to be sane? Not even a year ago I would have considered sandals on a bike to be quite mental, now I get it. Whatever works.
After ten years in the UK I begin to see that Audax follows the logic of your culture. It’s a specialisism thing, full of anoraks. Because there are so many of you in such a tight space you have to pick one thing and stick to it or you simply don’t get noticed. That’s why you have experts in the paleontology of genetics of design of history.
Back home we just change. We make things up. We give it a go and then go and do something else. it keeps you normal. Here the Frodos, the ‘Fraudaxs’, grow in the cracks and sink deep into things and become deeply, wonderfully strange.
When I say ‘you’ now days I mean ‘we’ .
I thought I was well prepared for the National 400 and then I see another bike in the hallway of the B&B. It’s an immaculate Peter Jackson, looks like it’s been cleaned with cotton buds. My bike looks like a movable rubbish pile in comparison. The Jacksons owner and I have breakfast, another Londoner, another foreigner, Ulffson. He gives me some great advice; “You can recover on the bike. Just slow down and keep going”.
I’m not used to that idea. I am used to riding fast and blowing out but I discover that he is right. I have a couple of rough spots, but I simply drop pace a little and keep going. And despite point 6 above somehow I make it through my first ever 400km ride. I start to enjoy the ride a couple of days after it ends, after the wave of tiredness falls back off me and I become normal again, like how you feel stronger once a sickness has passed.
I’m ‘bikecurious’. I see a carbon frame for sale in 2nds and decide I want to try one. It’s my size, I buy it. I do a parts swap from the trusty Salsa. I can’t quite believe it when I ride it. I remember riding my first proper set of wheels – Campy record hubs, tied and soldered lightweight spokes, fiamme red label rims, tubulars. I couldn’t quite believe how good they were. Of course you get used to them, but still I can remember how stunned I was the first time I rode them up a steep hill. My god, I have wings! I didn’t really think the carbon bike would do that, I didn’t think it would be that much better. I suspected I would have to sell it on. After building it up I through t felt like I was holding a baby – any moment I might drop it and cause irreparable harm. But one ride later and I am again stunned. It’s firmer than the steel, but more absorbent too, it climbs two gears higher, handles better and it averages one and half miles an hour faster for the same effort (HRM checked). Wow. Impractical and there is no way I am commuting on it, it’s white – the cleaning would drive me crazy – but this thing rewrites the rules.
Stupidly I leave my last ride for my 1000, a DIY 300 until the last day of the ‘year’. I am on the carbon bike, I am alone, I am doing the first 300 of the LEL route from London to Hull. ‘Why?’ people ask me, more about Hull than the ride. “Because it’s 300km from London.” is the best answer I can give.
I imagine my ride over the Humber Bridge as appropriate for the finish of my 1000. Riding over a victory arch, ‘arcenciel’ as one set of old rims used to say.
Prior to that 290km of the most monotonous riding I have ever done. Lincolnshire. New Holland. Wake me when there’s a corner will you? A tail wind is good but there are too many cars after 11am and it just feels like a chore, something to be done so you can say you’ve done it. And the bridge when I got there is surprisingly scary. ‘Danger, high winds’. No kidding. But that handrail looks about the right height to pivot neatly over should I get blown onto it. A tired imagination has me falling into the grey swirling river below. I ride very carefully indeed, skulking over as far away from the handrail as I can.
Somehow I make it over – do I have a choice? – and punch in the final ATM of the year.
A 14 hour 300 with two hours of stops, pretty respectable. And then I catch myself thinking… could I do this for four and a half days? Actually, I can see it. Not in 2013 maybe, I need to do a good few 600s first… hold on! What about point 6? Well… maybe if I just do a SR next year…