This was the first 600 km audax I was to ride. Inspired by fellow randonneur Javier Arias González. Javier and I met at the start of the Hop Garden 200 km earlier in May. Javier had just returned to cycling having broken a femur and injured his back in a ride just eight weeks before. I thought riding a 200 km was pretty special given his recovery time. When Javier mentioned to me that he was planning to ride this 600 km I was totally hooked on having a go myself.
Lots of carb loading at home on the Friday. Drive train cleaned. Tyres pumped. Racks and panniers on. Bivvy spot planned for Saturday night. I was in two minds about carrying the extra weight. Given that the route was flat I thought it would be OK. Turned out I was right. I do wonder how much easier it might have been if I travelled a bit lighter. Maybe next time.
Left home Friday evening. Spent the night on the floor in the St Marys Room at Dunmow with about 30 other cyclists. Accommodation arranged by Tom Deakins, the organiser of this ride. I was one of the last to arrive. I pitched up at about 10.30 pm via a train from Chatham to Bishops Stortford.
I was a bit surprised to find the lights were already out. Either side of the hall was tightly lined with slumbering cyclists. I crept in as quietly as I could which was not very quiet at all. I did not think to take off my cycling shoes until I got to the far end of the hall. Whoops! More rustling about in my bags. Have you ever tried blowing up a sleeping mat silently? Don’t bother. It’s impossible. Just go for it and get it done as quickly as possible. That was my strategy. It took me a little while to work out where I could sleep. In the end I just laid out in the kitchen between four bikes and a snorer. I resigned myself to being disturbed through the night by snores, farts and people passing me by on the way to and from the toilet. In the end I got about four hours of shut-eye. Got up with everyone else around 4.30 – 5.00 am. Felt OK after a couple of coffees and what not.
Great Dunmow to Red Lodge Cafe 61km (61 km total). 6.00 am start. Warming up. Watching my pace. Burning fats not carbs was the idea. Caught the first of a few tows from Chris and Lindsay on their tandem. Rode with a small group of solo riders for another ten miles or so. Everyone seemed fresh and chatty at this point.
Red Lodge Cafe to Whittlesey 69km (130 km). The only manned control for the ride. There was promise of a good breakfast here. Got my card stamped. I then queued for breakfast for about 5 minutes before deciding to leave it and get back on my bike. There were a few shops about 6-7 km up the road. I stopped at a garage. Demolished a cheese and tomato roll washed down with a can of chocolate Nutriment. Off now across the fens.
Whittlesey to Boston 57km (187 km). Arrived in Whittlesey at 10.55 am. Time for breakfast before finishing off the rest of the fens and into Boston.
A really flat stage. The wind was from the side mostly. Occasionally head on. Riding on my own for much of the way, or so I thought. I turned around at one point to find I was leading a train of three or four cyclists. One of them thanked me and told me that they’d been on my wheel for a little while. The two panniers I was carrying created a tidy slipstream to tuck behind. A couple of them overtook me soon after their presence was noticed. They raced off leaving me in their wake!
Boston to Kirton in Lindsey 90km (277 km). Arrived in Boston at around 1pm. Quick stop at the first shop I saw. Topped up with chocolate milk and a vegetable pattie. Met up with Tim Sollese outside the shop and we shared a four pack of Lucozade between us.
Tim and I then rode together for the rest of the day. Tim was good company. He’d ridden all of the classic audax routes in the UK and had organised a good few himself. Plenty of stories to share. Over the next 90 km to Kirton in Lindsey we naturally matched each other’s modest pace of around 15 -16 mph and all was good. So rare that this happens to me. Normally I’m either too slow or too fast to stick with anyone for more than ten miles or so. Warm but not too warm. The wind had eased off. I was feeling good and pleased with the time we were making. On arriving at the control we found a shop just round the corner selling pizza. It was the best 10 inch margarita pizza I’ve ever tasted!
Kirton in Lindsey to Goole 51km (328km). The final leg to the turnaround point. Pan flat pretty much all the way. The evening was drawing in. The wind had gone. About ten miles from the control we started to see those that had already made it there passing us by on the way back. Amongst those was Steve Abrahams who was also doing this ride. If you don’t know who he is then check out One Year Time Trial for the back story. Arrived somewhere between 8.30 and 9.00 pm. Over half way done now. We set off again. Now it was us who were passing by the cyclists that were still on the way. That felt way better than it perhaps should have!
Goole to Gainsborough 49km (377 km). My plan from the start had been to bivvy down for the night half way through this stretch. I was still feeling pretty fit and was tempted to keep going to break the 400 km mark before stopping. What with the dark though and my Garmin giving me a low battery warning I decided to stick to my original intention. I let Tim know that I’d be peeling off and looked out for the road that was to lead me to my stop.Tim like many other riders planned to keep going and snatch a couple of roadside hours if needed when he was ready to drop.
In my preparations I’d scanned the area on Google Earth the week leading up to the ride. I scoped a glade of trees just a short distance from the route which I thought would make a perfect spot for an overnight stop. As it turned out my memory of Google Earth let me down. After cycling past the place where I thought I should have stopped and not seeing the road I was looking for I opted to duck into a field and set up behind some hedges just off the route. 222 miles done. The most distance I’d covered on a bike in one day. I could have slept on hot broken glass!
Come 3.30 am and I was awake again. Time for a couple of cups of coffee. Packed up and back on the road by 4.30 am. Not warmed up from the overnight and not motivated to go any faster on my own I’m just rolling along at around 12 mph.
A short distance from Gainsborough Chris and Lindsay cruised by on their tandem. They call out to me to tuck in for a tow. A quick burst of energy brought me up to their speed and then I hung on till the control in Gainsborough averaging closer to 20 mph. If you have the energy to keep up then you’re rewarded by the increased returns you get on every peddle stroke. It’s just keeping up that’s the hard part.
The control at Gainsborough was a 24 hour garage. Warmed up now and wide awake. I just grabbed a litre of chocolate milk to bag the receipt as proof of passing through. Chugged that down and was off again. I left the tandem train behind. There were hills ahead.
Gainsborough to Sleaford 57km (434 km). Foxby Hill out and up from the Trent Valley got my heart pumping and muscles going. The rolling section that led me into Lincoln was a welcome change from the flatlands that had preceded. Cathedral, cobbles and olde worlde buildings all adding a bit of interest to the early morning ride.
I kept up a good pace and slowly began picking off riders who’d made it further than me through the night but who were still sleeping in their special roadside accommodation.
About 8 miles from Sleaford and I’m once again overtaken by the tandem two. I don’t need to be told twice. I was straight on their tail and held on till breakfast at the Packhorse Inn. I ate well here. A large veggie breakfast and a pint of milk.
Sleaford to Chatteris 90km (524 km). Set off after a 20 minute stop feeling fully rejuvenated and ready for the 90 km into Chatteris. I left with a few others. They tucked in behind me for the first five or six miles. I heard one of them calling out he was stopping for a pee. Though it’s no bother to me how many people suck my wheel I was glad to be on my own for a while. I’m sure I’m not alone in pushing myself a bit harder and for a bit longer than I would when no one is on my tail. Met up with Jim and Jim at two different spots. I rode with both of them for a few miles. More good company to take the mind of the distance to be covered.
With just 7 miles to go to Chatteris the rain started to fall. Just a light shower but enough to give me an excuse for an early break. I wheeled my bike round the back of some trees and had a rest. Changed into some shorts that would dry quicker than the trousers I was wearing and put on my rain jacket. A few glugs on the lucozade I was still carrying from way back in Boston and a packet of crisps saw me right again. Of course soon as I was back on my bike the rain stopped. For the last two or three miles it was a straight road to the Green Welly cafe in Chatteris with a tailwind behind me. Lovely! It was a flying stop at the Green Welly. Nipped in to buy a snack simply for the receipt. Bought a couple of flapjacks one of which I ate immediately and then was off again.
Chatteris to Great Dunmow 82km (606km). Just 82 km to go. Don’t remember much of the ride into Cambridge. I do remember Cambridge being full of tourists. Tourists who seemed dismissive or oblivious towards anything coming their way. I slowed down and took in the scene. It’s a beautiful town I’d like to visit on foot one day. The other side of Cambridge I was beginning to flag a bit. My saddle had lost any comfy spots, my hands were sore, my feet were tired; the miles were going by but not as quickly as I would have liked them to at this stage. Then the hills began! The hills weren’t anything special but after 580 km a camber in the road becomes quite significant. There must have been at least half a dozen or so climbs with the last being just a km or two from the end. I rolled up to the Angel and Harp pub in Dunmow at 5.20 pm. Just over 35 and a half hours (the limit is 40 hours). Finished among the first 40.
Lessons learned. I actually did a few things right! Carb loading during the 24 – 36 hours before the ride kept my legs strong for pretty much the entire ride. Breaking the route down into sections from control to control. Much better having a 50 – 90 km track on the Garmin than one giant 600 km one. I could see the progress I was making on screen. Just made the whole things much less daunting in my view. Pleased I stopped off for a sleep. Having spoken at the finish with people who rode straight through convinced me it was the right decision to make. Not sure I’d carry so much weight though if it was a hilly ride. Riding with good company is the best for making the miles fly by. Just so happy / lucky to have found Tim on the Saturday whose natural pace matched mine.
Two years ago 600 km was something other people had done. Never would have thought I could actually do it to and quite comfortably at that. Got a 300 km planned for June. It was the 400 km I was feeling a bit edgy about. Aiming to get one done before mid July. With both them in the bag that will get me the SR award (Super Randonneur – a series of 200, 300, 400 & 600km all in one season). Not wanting to count my chickens but I think this might be the year.
Here’s the routes / GPX files if you fancy a look –