The forecasts were for cold temperatures, possibly below 0 degrees celsius overnight, which implies the possibility of ice on the roads. That put off quite a lot of people, but still, 62 of us set off at 8 am. Quite impressive. Terry, the organiser, had put together a ride that was a good example of excellent value for money: £5 for a eat-as-much-as-you-want breakfast, and even more hot food at the finish!
Initially heading South, I tried to stick with the fast guys, but after pushing hard, I never managed to actually get to their group. It seemed pointless to try and keep them in sight, so ended up relaxing a bit. Eventually I got together with a guy on fixed wheel for the first half of the route.
|2 min before the off|
At the first control (60 km into the ride) I got some quick snacks and pressed on to Alton. The following km were possible the best of the whole route, not flat, but not too lumpy. Really great lanes as we entered Hampshire, certainly much better than those of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
|Some lovely lanes in between sections of not so busy nice roads|
|The Princess Elizabeth as taken from http://www.cheddington.org.uk/|
Fortunately, nothing more than gravel got splashed at me (or little bits of something). Surely they were not using real ammo, but I left thinking...what the hell!?!? I was on my own, so could not discuss with anyone, but freaked out all the same. 5 min later I saw another unsual sight, which answered one of my long-standing questions that only emerges while out riding: who cuts all the hedges on both sides of the quiet lanes? See below...
|Hedge trimmer tractor similar to the one I saw|
Night navigation was easy, along some lanes on our way back up to the start. But because we went near Reading, traffic was quite heavy and sometimes intimidating. I should remind myself of avoiding rides that go so close to big towns, or as it seems, to the West of London.
With some 40 km to go, it was totally dark, so still on my own and with no people visible in the front or back, I continued along the B3030 for a while. Although a nice rolling road, traffic was still bad. Being dark and still on busy roads was not pleasant, so only hoped to get back to the lanes, which I eventually did.
|Ford, apparently up to the 1.5 m last week due to bad floodings in the West. Luckily down to "only" 0.5 m now|
Unfortunately, the last 15 km were again on ridiculously busy and fast roads, which I did not enjoy. The A4010 was specially bad, and eventually made it to the finish with a bit of a bad feeling about the whole ride.
Although it did have some very pleasant sections, particularly towards the Oxfordshire and Hampshire areas, I felt a lot of the time we spent on fast, busy roads. The organiser, his wife and helpers were extremely nice though, and the service they provided was amongst the best I've come to enjoy on audaxes. And all for a mere fiver. But the route does need some improvement in my opinion. Surely, the route is not mandatory, and you could take to the lanes, but with the abundance of quiet roads in that area, I think things can be bettered in future years.
After a much needed hot meal of chilli con carne, bread, and rice pudding, I gave my feedback to the organisers and thanked them for putting out a good ride. They assured me that other riders had suggested route changes on the busier sections as well, so I might reconsider coming back if this appeals in future rides.
I managed to loose all the ride stats, but overall I finished it in 10 h and 22 min, which considering all the (toilet) stopping was not too bad. It had also been my longest winter ride to date, and luckily it seems that I got my stuff right, including the layers. With a long base layer, a short jersey, winter jacket, wool socks, winter socks, shorts, leg warmers, head/neck buffs, and thick winter gloves with liners, I never felt cold or uncomfortable. Food and drink were also ok despite the stomach problems. We rode for about 205 km, and the rolling average must have been about 24 km/h.
Next long ride won't be until January. Still trying to decide whether to DIY it or do a perm, as none of the calendar appeal much. Will see...