Straight on at roundabout

Denmead – the first 300
September 3, 2009, 8:48 am
Filed under: PBP

When I was doing my 200 in February, other riders debated the merits of different organisers.

Apparently there was a big difference in the approach which various organisers took to the way they laid on events.  Some, like Rocco are known for the barest of bare boned facilities.  A hand-written route sheet, a start in a non-descript car park and no en route contacts.  Receipts from petrol stations prove you’ve ridden the route – no friendly controller serving up tea and fruitcake in a church hall somewhere.

By contrast the legendary Dave Hudson – El Supremo – lurks in lay-bys with a trailer-full of ready cut sandwiches, a choice of hot drinks and as much rice pudding as you can scoff.  Having done a couple of his ride in Sussex and Kent I shouldn’t be surprised to see a full physiotherapy service laid on one day.

Hampshire’s Pam Pilbeam was known, back in 2003, for the quality of her organisation, the friendly tea at the start and the inch-perfect accuracy of her route-sheets.

I can’t now remember what 300K ride I had originally planned, but under pressure from the guys on the 200 I found myself heading down to Portsmouth one Saturday morning in April 2003 to start the Denmead 300K.

Riding 300 kilometres in one day was to be the second step in my quest towards achieving Super Randonneur status and qualification for the legendary Paris-Brest-Paris Audax of 2003.  Only a matter of weeks before my longest ever ride had been 100 kilometres or five hours of pedalling – now I had embarked on a series of events which could potentially lead me to riding 600 kilometres almost non-stop.

The 300 Kilometres had to start somewhere – and that somewhere was at Pam’s house – the Crows nest – where she dished out tea and biscuits to about 80 riders.

As before, I felt a little isolated.  Most of the riders seemed to know each other or slipped into easy conversation.  By contrast I felt tense and on edge.  And I certainly didn’t want to confess to anyone that I’d never ridden anything like this distance before.

Since the 200 I’d bought a map trap – a perspex holder for my route sheet – which I hoped would hide the fact that I was a novice.  And I’d spent good money on a waterproof – one that wouldn’t slowly cook me inside or reduce me to a moist sludge.

But I still felt like an outsider.

Thinking back now, six years later, I’m not sure why I didn’t automatically think of myself as an insider.  In truth people probably were as friendly to me as to any other rider and I’ve come to recognise the same sort of nervous individuals standing around the fringes of every pre-start crowd.

Perhaps it was the fact that I hadn’t yet realised that there are relatively few faces to be seen on these rides.  The same regulars turn up and sooner or later you get to ride a few miles with most of them.  And inevitably they’ll stop for you or you’ll stop for them when something has gone wrong although you are little better than strangers to each other.

Soon enough we were off for a circuit of the New Forest, a visit to the coast on the other side of the Solent and then home. Bucklers Hard, Milford-on-sea, Ringwood, Blandford, Salisbury, Ower and back to the village hall in Denmead.

The day went smoothly enough.  The run to Bucklers Hard for the first stop went smoothly and mostly solo.  Then around the coast to Lymington before heading north into the Forest again.  I remember lots of cattle grids, a first meeting with Richard Phipps (who either rides or stewards on every single Audax I ever do!) and eating a fantastic pork pie at a petrol station outside Salisbury, as it was getting dark.

And for the first time, I rode properly in the dark.

There is still something magical for me in stopping to light up.  I always get a buzz at the moment when the high visibility jacket comes out and the lights get switched on.  Ahead lie spooky lanes – which get increasingly quiet as night draws on.

And riders bunch up.

For the last 75 K or so I found myself in a group of strangers who were working together.  Navigating and chatting into the night is fantastic – especially if you are with a group of people working at the same pace as you.

Then, progressively you have the lanes to yourself.  A quiet descends and on this ride, for the first time I got a real sense of peace and calm.  Even though you are with other people, the conversation, for me, takes on a quality that is relaxed yet purposeful.  You are all concentrating hard on where you are going, yet there is a stillness about the group that’s gently spinning its way ahead.

On one ride, a 400 I think, I punctured and I was with another rider.  We sat cross-legged on the road way whilst, at 2 am, I stripped out the tube and replaced it.  And we just chatted about nothing much – I think it might even have been gardening books- and we were still.

Which I think is why I’m hooked.

I didn’t make a note of when I finished although the old Brevet card (yes I keep them all) says it was 2310 – quite a respectable time for a first outing.  And at the finish, there was Pam dishing out M&S ready meals from a microwave, alongside banter about other well known riders.

And I’d done it.  And I was left wondering…surely this has to get tough sometime….



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