Straight on at roundabout

400 out of Reading
September 21, 2009, 8:22 pm
Filed under: PBP, Rides

In 2003 I rode two 400k events – both were very memorable for a number of reasons.

Covering 400 kilometres in one ride isn’t something many people find themselves doing naturally.  In fact it’s probably more than many people ride ever – the figures about bikes rotting unused in garages are to be believed.  But in 2003 I was doing it in pursuit of my Super Randonneur award – a sort of black belt for long distance cyclists.

To win it I had to ride in a single season events of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometres.  And it also happened to be the year when an SR series was the necessary qualification to enter the fabled Paris Brest Paris audax.

I signed up first for the Reading 400 on Saturday 26 April and made my way down to Grazeley Village Hall just south of the M4 for the 6 am start.

The route swung west and then headed north towards Pangbourne.  I remember crossing the Thames and climbing upwards into the Chilterns before puncturing and seeing the whole of the sizable field whizz past me in a few minutes.  Which is an incredibly depressing experience.

Once on the move again I quickly got lost and then hooked up with another rider called David just before crossing the M40 above the Stokenchurch gap.  We dropped down to a petrol station at Thame (where we’d stopped on the first 200) and then onwards to Brackley in Northamptonshire.  Then a roadsire halt near Daventry before heading south again into a headwind toward Chipping Norton.

Still with David we stopped in Chipping Norton at 5 pm in a café.  Writing this now I’m struck by how frequently one returns to the same places on bike rides.  I have certainly been back to the café a few times since and the all night truckstop we called at that night in Cirencester has features on a couple of other rides I have done since over the years.

On leaving Chipping Norton the heavens opened and we rode into the face of a hailstorm.  Taking turns to ride on the front made the ride tolerable, but a new experience for me – grinning and bearing it into the face of the rain.

Chips in Cirencester before lighting up and heading off into the dusk for a section through nightime lanes which took us to Hackpen Hill near Broad Hinton in Wiltshire at around 1030.  Hackpen is a long steady climb in a granny cog – from a couple of miles away you see the road rising up and in the dark you can see it kick away to the left as red tail lights wind their way up.

A few months later I did the hill in daylight and I swear some hills are better done in the dark.  Sometimes it is best not to know what you’re fighting!

And at the top, we were met by the event organiser Andy Uttley with cake and drinks – never a more welcome sight before the fast descent into Marlborough.  Through the inky black dark and suddenly you are spat out into the lights of the high street.

I don’t remember much more about the evening except that I punctured again in around 2 am and was rescued by a chap who insisted on changing the tube with his eyes shut – in 20 minutes.  Sadly I put the front wheel back in the wrong way so my computer didn’t record anything for the rest of the night.

And then my first experiences of riding into the dawn past Bracknell and along the Thames Valley.  I still can’t get over the feeling of refreshment that hits you with the light – gradually making out the road without the need for lights and for some reason getting a sense of being quenched despite the fug inside your night clothes.

I punctured again about 20k from home but I still limped back at around 6.40 according to my Brevet card.

I was now three quarters of the way to completing my SR series – and by all accounts over the worst bit.

Everyone was saying that a 400 is a tough distance because there is no scope for a decent sleep.  I plodded through it without thinking about it –possibly because I’d promised myself a finish around 2 am.

And that was my biggest mistake – but one I still repeat on every ride.

Promising myself a finish time can only leave to pain and anguish as headwinds, punctures, slow service in cafes and unexpected mountains snatch the prospect of an early finish from your hands .

But the best bit of this ride?  Realising how tiny Britain really is.

From south of Reading I rode almost to Rugby in about seven hours (including a puncture and a detour) and then south west back into Oxfordshire, on to Cirencester before charging East home to Reading.  And all within the space of 24 Hours.

How did I feel afterwards?  Not too bad considering.  I slept a few hours when I got home and still went to Tae Kwon Do training.  And on Monday I still turned in a decent day’s work.



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