One of this years aims (or well, continuation of!) is to get a "Randonneur Round the Year" award. You can get it as long as you register a ride of 200 or more km a month, for twelve consecutive months. Nothing too challenging one might think, but with the winter colder months coming up ahead of us, I am not too sure I will manage.
I could not find a suitable ride for November, so I screened the "permanent" rides on the AUK website. These rides are put up by local people and can be ridden any day of the year. Lucy has already given up on the idea of longer rides in the colder months, so off I was, for the first time on a 200 km ride, on my own.
One of the rides looked appealing: the New Forest 200 km. We've already been in the New Forest, though on mountain bikes, and quite enjoyed the flatness of it. I'd heard good things about the lanes over there, particularly off the busy summer months. At 5:30 am, on a Saturday, I found myself on a quiet train headed for the southwest coast of the UK. To my surprise, there was another audax guy on this service, heading somewhere in the southwest as well.
|London, 5:15 am|
The first 20 km of the ride were on quiet lanes, very easy going and helped by an slight tailwind. My stomach had been playing up already, and I was relieved to find a toilet by the deserted beach. The views of the Isle of Wight were quite nice, as was seeing the sea.
|Leafy lanes at the start of the ride|
|The Isle of Wight in the background from Lepe Beach|
I ate some snacks and retraced my steps back into the depths of the forest, heading North. The roads were quite nice and still quiet, yet at some point I managed to go on the wrong section of A road (A326) which was not pleasant at that time of the morning, with plenty of white vans and heavy goods vehicles. After I left that road, it all became nice and quiet again, although got busier with the infamous New Forest wild ponies.
The bloody ponies, although cute and all that, blocked off the roads on a number of occasions, and I had to wait patiently behind them. They did not seem to be bothered at all by either me or other vehicles. I had to go off road a couple of times, and with the muddiness of the autumn, my skinny tyres got clogged up with mud which needed clearing a few times.
|Waiting for the ponies to decide what to do and where to go|
|Nice isn't it?|
|Can it actually get that bad?|
From Lymington, it was a long and windy way, first to the West of the park, then up North through Ringwood and eventually Cranborne. It was much more ups and downs here. As I had not had any proper food since I left home, I started to feel tired and hungry and looked forward to eating something hot at Cranborne. I was keeping a close eye on my watch, as I had a train back to London at a fixed time in the evening, that I could not miss. A flat tyre, the first time ever on a audax, added to my frustration and increased the need of getting somewhere with hot food. Just after 2:30 pm I got to Cranborne and headed straight away to the Garden Centre, the suggested control...at 160 km into the ride. Once I got there I had the feeling they were not serving food (everyone was having tea!) and this was confirmed by the waitress. It really was not my place either - it seemed way too overpriced and the crowd was at least twice my age and in nice clothes - not smelly lycra.
|Nice lanes to Cranborne|
The lanes back through the forest were really nice, and as the sun was coming down, I enjoyed one of the best sunsets I've experienced in the UK. It was still relatively mild, clear skies, and no traffic at all. Just me, the bike and the lights. The colours were spectacular, but the pictures do not do justice. I recommend everyone to cycle at dusk on a clear day - it is the best time of the day for riding in my opinion.
|Lights on - into night riding mode|
|It cannot get much better than this!|
|Last info control, sunset in the background|
I may make a return to this area sometime soon - perhaps throwing in a bit of wild-camping as well, with a crossing over to the Isle of Wight maybe?
The stats were as below.