Wye Wednesday 200 km – Wednesday 18th February 2015 start/end location at Gravesend Cyclopark conveniently next to the A2. A 7:30am start taking you through Seal, Hadlow, Headcorn and Rolvenden before the turn at Hythe. The return leg takes you through Wye before using the Pilgrims Way and other quiet lanes to guide you back to Gravesend – and all on a Wednesday! Beats working. This event only runs every 4 years in PBP year so don’t miss it. – http://www.kentaudax.co.uk/
Feeling well up for this one. Got in a long hilly ride on the Monday as a warm up. Slept well on the Tuesday. Up with the larks on Wednesday and rode the nine miles to the cyclopark for the start.
I was really looking forward to my first audax with a compact camera hanging round my neck to help document the ride. Hat tip to the inestimable Jenny Oh Hatfield for the inspiration and practical tips for doing so. You should check out Jenny’s blog. Her Randonneur Reports are well worth the read. The pictures she gets along the way do much to convey the spirit of her rides.
So it was at 7.30 am that I crouched in place snapping away at the other riders as they made they’re way off on an icy start. We were fortunate to have clear skies and sunshine. Freezing temperatures the night before had though left the odd frozen patch to watch for during the first 64 km towards the control cafe at Headcorn Village.
I made my way up the field and tagged onto a group of three riding at a pace that felt good to me. Had one hairy moment when my wheels slid beneath me. As luck would have it I somehow managed to avoid an off. We continued on our way albeit with a bit more adrenaline coursing through my system and increased vigilance of avoiding shaded areas of road as much as we could.
Just a few km on from that near miss we caught sight of a small group of riders who had been less fortunate. At least one of them had taken a tumble. His comrades were waving frantically at us to slow down and watch for the ice. We duly did. When I next looked round I saw that the three I had been with were no longer there. The bit of remorse I felt for continuing on was soon gone as I told myself no one looked hurt and that they’re were plenty of people to aid without me adding to the numbers. I thought briefly about the bystander effect. I had not assessed the situation as an emergency hence did not stop. I realise that neither had I shown comradery. Make what you will of that. I could live with it on this occasion.
It was not until about 7 km from Headcorn that I saw any other riders again. My pace had slowed. As does happen it was at that point I was passed by a svelte looking cyclist cranking it out, nodding acknowledgement to me as he smoothly went by. I clicked down a few cogs and tucked in behind him. Looking round I saw he was not alone. I was being tailed by several other randonneurs. Digging in I held on. My competitive edge emerged. I resolved to not get swallowed up and spat out the back. I was not going to be at the end of the queue waiting to get my brevit card stamped at the control that was now so close. So it was that I came to be first in by a whisker. Card stamped, coffee ordered, crisps and flapjack in hand. It was 10.10 am. 64 km in around two hours forty minutes. Not bad. 15 mph average speed. I was pleased with that.
I didn’t hang around long. After 15 minutes or so I was off again. Next cafe stop 58 km away at the 122 km mark. Feeling pretty good I settled down into a steady pace. It was a scenic route skirting the edge of the Upper Weald and down towards the flatlands of Romney. Uneventful now the ice had thawed. On my own for nearly the whole way. I spied a lurid green jacket across the level fields. I figured the rider was about five to six km away. Challenging myself to catch up before the control I took a few glugs from my water bottle, full advantage of the tail wind and set to. It was on the last stretch into Hythe that I finally caught up. It would be fair to say I was taken aback to find my target was riding a mountain bike! I commended him on the exceptional effort put in to make the pace. He modestly replied something about the wind being behind him. All I could say was, “yeah me too mate!”. I trailed him for just half a mile or so before he called out a right turn. I thought well that’s not on my route but for whatever reason I followed. Calling out that I think we’d taken a wrong turn he turned to ask with some bemusement where I was heading. It was then that it became clear to me that he was not riding the audax route. He was simply out for his own private ride! That made us both laugh. I turned around and got back on the right road again. Just a few minutes later I reached the second cafe control. 12.34 pm. 122 km. 15 mph average speed maintained.
There was three riders already there. I realised I was among the ride leaders. Filled up with coffee, scrambled eggs and beans on toast. Washed it all down with a coke. As I was eating other riders began pitching up and the three leaders left. By the time I got back on my bike I reckon about a dozen more had arrived and the queues for food and toilets were starting to grow.
Once again cycling on my own. My Garmin got confused on the hill out from Hythe. Despite all the evidence against it I turned round and went back down. I was met by a cyclist going up who reassured me that this was indeed the right way. He was pushing a strong and steady pace. I spied an SR badge on his well worn Carradice bag. A seasoned randonneur. The next time I saw him was at the finish.
So it was onwards I went towards towards the namesake of the ride; the small village of Wye. An uneventful and forgiving stretch. Rejuvenated by the food and drink inside me I rode along contentedly taking in the scenery, snapping more pictures on the way. I was pleased to find that the weight of the camera was barely noticeable around my neck. It did not swing around as I feared it might. The only times it did sway was when I stood up to climb hills. This could be controlled quite effectively by using my core muscles rather than my normal lurch from side to side. On reaching the info control at Wye Station the barriers were down at the level crossing. That I was fated to lose time due to South East trains even when on my bike did not surprise me.
Having past Wye and with just one more control to go buoyed me on. I had started to feel that I was lagging a bit. I pedalled on with solitary purpose. Having some familiarity with the terrain helped. Each village signpost I past was another notch in the journey back home. It was as I joined the Pilgrims Way near Hollingbourne at around 168 km I became aware of the need to eat again. My vision is an early warning signal of an impending bonk. I get a strange kind of tunnel vision and lose my long distance focus. I had no food with me so it was a case of just sticking with it. The next control was a garage another 20 km away. I knew I could get there. It was just going be a bit uncomfortable at times. Turned out it wasn’t all that bad. My vision corrected and I felt less anxious about having a mild hypoglycaemic episode. Whether it’s true or not I don’t know but I think the early morning rides I have been doing every day this year before breakfast helped my body find some sugars from somewhere. I did though have an unnaturally strong craving for chocolate milk and a cheese and onion pasty for the final five or six km to the control.
As I tucked into my forecourt meal I was joined by a couple of other riders both of whom had been in the bunch I was with towards the first cafe control. One of them, Patrick, I first met last year on the final leg of an audax over towards Wales. We chatted a bit and agreed to ride the last 21km together.
This stretch took in part of one of the regular loops I ride around my home town in Medway. I felt quite comfortable again and pleased with the speed I had maintained. Riding with Patrick led to an increase in the pace. This was OK with the knowledge of how near we were to the end. We rolled up at the cyclopark just a minute or two before 5.00 pm. It was still light. Wonderful. Average speed for the 208 km was a tad over 15 mph. Very respectable for me.
The event organisers had the forethought to include a pasta meal in the entrance fee of £8.00 – a bargain. Quickly ate that up. With a full stomach I got back on my bike and rode the nine miles home. It was a great day. Really enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be cycling it again in 2019.