Straight on at roundabout


Between the ears – the hard bit of a 600
October 27, 2009, 11:07 pm
Filed under: 600

§After my first attempt at a 600K ride in May 2003 I was left feeling rather flat.

I’d finished the ride but only by sheer good luck.  If packing had been a working option I know I would have taken it.  Completing a Super Randonneur series of rides was a bitter sweet experience – whilst I had covered the required distance I certainly didn’t feel that I’d mastered anything.  In short, I felt like a fraud.

It was to be a few years before I got to lay that particular ghost to rest.  In fact it was 2007 – the next PBP year before I attempted an SR.  And in the intervening years I hardly rode at all.

In 2004 I only seemed to have collected three brevet cards for a couple of 200k rides and a reprise of the Denmead 300.  The following year I did a handful of 100’s and a 200 and in 2006 I managed just two rides of 100 and 200K.  Work and a niggling back problem just didn’t make it easy to get out and ride much.

But in 2007 I decided that I was going to try for PBP and I went a bit overboard.  By the time I had to face my chosen 600 that year I’d done the requisite number of rides but I’d also put in some serious solo miles after knee surgery.  On 26 May I was ready to face the ‘Beast from the East’ – an excursion around every lump in the landscape between Waltham Abbey to the North East of London and Taunton in the South West of England.

It was a tough ride in many ways.  Firstly the climbs were all of the brutal sort.  Names such as Stokenchurch, Streatley and Taunton worry cyclists at the best of times but when you string them together it should be quite intimidating.  I say should because I didn’t really look too closely at the route sheet and of course hills are rarely actually spelt out by name – you have to know that the only way out of Goring is up Streatley Hill for example.  Ignorance is bliss.

Secondly the weather was truly atrocious from about 4am on the second day.  There were times when it seemed that people were standing by the roadside throwing buckets of water at you.  I remember walking in the café for the lunch stop and noticing the water pouring off me.  Another customer in the café joked “…so you’re not one of these fair weather cyclists then…”

And thirdly I just didn’t bring enough clothing.  When you set out on a 600 you can forget (well I did) that you’re actually travelling for two days.  And two days in an English Summer can expose you to four seasons of weather – often unpredicted.  There were several times at night when I was praying for a steep hill just to keep my body temperature up.

But I got around without too much trouble.  Of course I had moments when I thought “this really isn’t much fun” but I never considered packing or felt that I wasn’t master of the ride.

Overall the ride reinforced my belief that audaxing mostly happens between your ears.  One incident in particular sticks in my memory.

The night control in Yeovil happened in a scout hut – with a tin roof.  I got there at 1.30 and slept for a couple of hours.  But I like riding into the dawn so left about 3.45 with Peter Turnbull.  About an hour later the heavens opened as we slogged our way along the A30.

The poor souls still in the scout hut were awoken by the sound of the rain beating down on the tin roof.  One chap said on an on-line forum a bit later that it sounded like hundreds of bags of frozen peas being tipped down.  At that time of day, the prospect of leaving a warm shelter and heading out into the cold and the wet is a very low psychological blow.  Unsurprisingly quite a few people weakened that morning and packed – it was especially easy to do, given that the route passed several mainline railway stations.

But I got back on good shape – a bit cold and rather damp.  But I got back to Waltham Forest feeling untroubled by what I’d endured – 633K (there were a couple of diversions – including quite a big one around Chesham which counts as my home turf!).

Liam

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