Straight on at roundabout

All this for a fiver – 200K on A November Saturday
November 7, 2010, 1:48 pm
Filed under: 200, Audax information, Rides

Yesterday I rode a 200K audax – the Upper Thames – on a perfect November day, through some of the finest bits of the country, with some nice people.  And for the cost of a fiver.

I’ve been riding my bike on Audax events for some time – you ride between designated points within maximum and minimum time (it’s all about the challenge) and have normally enjoyed them.  But yesterday was rather special.

It all kicked off at Cholsey, which isn’t a million miles from Didcot.

A grey 7.30 start for a mixed collection of roadies gathered at a village hall.  Away in a big group of about 50 that quickly started to thin out to a long line along the main road.

To the left the line of the Chilterns rose above up above us through the weak November light.

Almost as soon as we started I found myself chatting to someone I’d met about two years ago and hadn’t spoken to since.  Then, we turned up a climb into the Chilterns towards Ipsden and Stoke Row.  And on the climb another rider introduced herself as someone whose blog I’d Twittered about.

Soon almost all the traffic had disappeared as we worked around in a loop toward Stoke Row.  We were riding through wooded lanes, which occasionally opened out to give stunning views down valleys and into open vales.

Red carpet at Bix

Despite the winds of the last few days many of the trees still held their leaves; creating vast banks of reds, golds, russets and greens.  And near Bix, to the north of Henley woodland floors were rich carpets of copper beech leaves.

For quite a while I chose to ride alone – climbing the long drag up to North End and Christmas Common where I stopped before the fast decent into Watlington.  At the top of the hill the view opens up South Oxfordshire and today allowed a glimpse of the Cotswolds.

After the first control near Wheatley I hooked up with two old friends and ploughed on towards Bicester swapping news about jobs, illnesses and bike components.  One lent me a spare inner tube as I’d already used all my spares.

Then, around Bicester, through the strange acres of the garrison, before turning up through the Oxfordshire villages towards Chipping Norton.  Here the Cotswold stone dominates everywhere bringing a brighter light.

South Oxfordshire from Christmas Common

A fast descent into Chipping Norton for a crowded and busy café stop.  And one of the pleasures of these rides for me is to sit at a table with people I rarely see and chat for 20 minutes about nothing in particular.

Over the years I think I have made dozens of friendships which exist only in the punctuation of these long rides.  In time I have met a wide range of people – a serious minded partner in a City law firm, a generous and warm builder (who welded together his own bikes) and countless other people who have made me laugh, think and resolve to carry on when I was feeling like giving up.

Other roadies joke about the cake eating obsession of Audax riders when in fact the cake is just the excuse – it’s all about the ten to twenty minutes of comradeship that happen when a bunch of people doing the same challenge stop at the same time.  I’ve not experienced another area of life where Brits are so easy to meet and connect with.

As I left the café, I hooked up with a friend from earlier and downwards into the Thames Valley at speed though Minster Lovell, Brize Norton and Stanford in the Vale as the light went.  Driven by my companion’s desire for a pint at the finish we hurtled along dark back lanes and watched firework burst in the sky from far away.  From high ridges we saw the orange glows of November bonfires picking out vales and valleys as we swung to the south and Didcot and returned to the start just before 7 pm.

And I marvel that we got all this for a fiver.  For such a tiny sum someone worked out a fantastic route for us, organised a starting point with a car park, laid on coffee and Danish pastries, bright together a large number of friendly people and provided fantastic soups and cakes at the finish – next door to a pub!

On top of that we had clear and mild weather all day, amazing views by day and spectacular entertainment in the sky after dark.

All this for a fiver.

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