One of the things I love about audax riding is that you end up going a long way. I’ve realised over the last year or so that I am more interested in going further than faster. There’s something incredibly satisfying about drawing a long line on the map, and that is especially the case with a long linear ride.
Yesterday I did a DIY 200k audax; ride 7 of 12 in my attempt to complete my Randonnee Round the Year (a 200k each calendar month for a year). I learnt my lesson from October’s near miss by getting November done early. Having done October’s ride on Monday, this ended up being my second 200 of the week – I think I’ll take it a bit easy next week!
Yesterday’s ride was a bit spontaneous. I was going to do a calendared event in Scotland, but the weather looked rubbish – rain all day and strong winds from the south. It occurred to me on Thursday that if there was going to be a strong southerly I could get a train to somewhere south of home and ride back, so that’s what I did.
I got a train to Preston (Lancashire) which got me there at 9.15am. I followed a route I had plotted which would take me pretty much due north for most of the journey home. I knew rain was expected at around lunchtime, so had plenty of wet-weather gear.
The first 30 miles or so were pretty quick; a strong tail-wind and the flat roads of the Fylde peninsula meant I was making really good time. Things nearly went wrong when I got to Cartford Bridge – this is a little toll bridge that I had forgotten all about. It’s 20p for cyclists, and I had no cash. I could tell that the lad taking money wasn’t going to let me off, so I had to decide between going a very long way round, or doing the uncool thing and going through without paying. Fortunately, after a few minutes some other cyclists came through, they took pity on me and paid my fare.
Near Lancaster things got a bit hillier as I avoided the town and skirted the Forest of Bowland. During a quick toilet stop I stupidly dropped a glove down the loo! Remarkably I had packed an extra pair of gloves and a plastic bag, so all was fine.
Late morning and the weather was still dry, I passed Kirkby Lonsdale still enjoying a strong tailwind. As lunchtime approached I faced a bit of a dilemma. I knew that rain as coming, and so I wanted to cover as much distance as possible before it arrived (no point in a long lunch stop if the roads were still dry), but at the same time I was starting to feel the need for a stop. I reached Sedbergh at around 1pm and decided to have a quick stop at the supermarket (it was either that or go another hour to Kirkby Stephen).
The vegan options at the Spar in Sedbergh were very limited, and I spent ages walking up and down the aisles looking for something. In the end I got a pot of hummus, a bread roll, some salad, some dry roasted peanuts and a can of Coke. I also had a banana from my back pocket. I was actually a pretty good lunch, it just felt a bit more ‘self-assembly’ than a ready made sandwich. As I was eating the rain started.
I headed off from Sedbergh towards Kirkby Stephen, through the impressive Howgill Hills. Despite the tailwind my speed was dropping; I was feeling a bit fatigued, and the rain was making the roads more slippy. At this point I had built a small diversion into the route in order to make it up to 200k. This meant turning back into the wind, and going uphill. It was only then that I realised how strong this wind was; as I cycled east and the wind came across me it was nearly blowing me off the road. I was glad to get over Wharton Fell, and down to the ruined Pendragon Castle.
The rain kept falling steadily as I passed Kirkby Lonsdale and got heavier as I arrived in Appleby. I stopped at the Co-op for another can of Coke, the rest of the peanuts from lunchtime and refill for my water bottle.
Always in my mind on this ride was the fact I would have to climb up Hartside (1900 ft summit) before the nice long descent home. Hartside is a long climb, but not too steep, it averages 5% when you go up from the village of Melmerby which was my route yesterday. The hill itself is on the western edge of the North Pennines, and on a good day the views across to the Lake District fells and up into Scotland are spectacular. There was a café at the top until it sadly burnt down last winter. I don’t normally think of it as a particularly difficult climb, but it’s a different prospect after 100 miles of cycling when it’s dark, wet and windy.
I knew it would take about half an hour, so I found a low gear and a steady rhythm and started spinning up. The wind got stronger as I climbed and for the most part I could feel it at my back, blowing me up the hill. However, the road up Hartside has a few hairpins and it was a challenge to stay on the road when turning into them. As I approached the final hairpin my chain came off, I quickly got it back on before cycling into the wind for the final quarter mile. It was an intense couple of minutes: riding in the dark on the exposed side of the hill into a gale with the rain blowing into my face. There’s something exhilarating about that: you’re a tiny insignificant speck with the full force of nature howling at you.
The descent off Hartside towards Alston is fantastic, especially with a tailwind. However, in the wet and the dark I was being more cautious than usual. It was good to get over the top; it’s still another 20 miles or so to get home from there, but it’s the home-stretch and mostly downhill.
It was a really good day. I’m pleased to have got my November 200 done in good time, to have explored some new roads, and drawn a long line on the map.