01 April 2013

Ride report: The (artic) Man of Kent 200 audax

We are touring the Northwest of Scotland at the moment, but I managed to finish a report on my latest audax, just before setting off for Easter.

RRTY may not mean anything to you, but for the UK audax community those four letters certainly have some significance. When I finished my first Super Randonneur series last year, I thought it would give this other challenge a go. Basically, do a 200 km ride (or more!) every month, throughout the year.

I have somehow managed to keep it going, and so far it has been relatively easy. January was a funny month though, and I almost just about missed my opportunity to do one of these rides with the snow storms we got back then. Eventually I got one such ride in by the end of the month, and followed that by The Man of Kent permanent audax in early February. All good I thought - it should only get easier from now on, more daylight and warmer temperatures as we get into the spring.

For us Spaniards, the UK does not really have more than two seasons. Winter and autumn. Yet I always have hope that spring would come in March. Last year I rode the Dean 300 in just over 15 hours, 20 degrees and sunshine. But that was too much to ask for two years in a row. My plans to ride the Dean this year were made last minute, and got totally ruined came Friday, when almost all of us did not bother going to Oxford with the forecast of heavy snow and artic winds blowing from the East. As I type this, I found out only two intrepid riders finished in what was an epic ride for them.

Somewhere between Hythe and Ashford. There has been some serious snow falling here!
In addition, we also DNFed a 200 km ride in the Uts, again due to crap weather and a late start. With the Dean out of the equation, and the end of March approaching fast, I had not much choice left. With another guy we decided to ride the Man of Kent permanent, as the snow wasn't forecasted as far south as Kent. So with my first DNS of the season, the Dean, I went to bed with the alarm set for 6 am and the tourer ready for a potential day in sleet or even snow.

At 6 am I woke up to heavy snow in London. It was not sticking though, but the prospects of high winds/snow/ice for 11 hours did not appeal much and I had my second DNS of the day. That doesn't happen often...two DNS rides on the same day! My companion did manage to get to the start of the ride, but ended up bailing due to knee problems. However, he reported clear roads, which was gave me some encouragement.

Appropriately named pub
After a productive Saturday morning building Lucy's new tourer, I planned to attempt the Man of Kent again on Monday. The forecast wasn't great, but at least did not show snow. The temperatures wouldn't rise above 3 degrees C in the whole day, and the wind would blow from the East with gusts up 40 mph in the Sandwich area.

Monday 7:40 am and I found my way (wearing lycra) through the commuters getting into London. The start of the ride was unpleasant as ever, with all the morning traffic in Tonbridge, but I was soon out on the lanes and enjoying being back in audax mode.

The first leg of almost 40 km went to Charing. It was not particularly lumpy, but it had me on my lower ring a few times due to the high winds. I made slowish progress, with averages not above 22 kph, and got to the village shop shortly after 10:30 am. Two clementines were quickly eaten and I was soon on my way to the next control at Bridge. Earlier reports from other riders, who rode the calendar event on the Sunday, reported no signs of ice, and I was happy to confirm that the roads were pretty clear and were drying out nicely.

First control stop, at Charing
The traffic was very light. This is the first time in a long while that I've got the chance of riding on a work day, and you can really feel there's not much on the roads except white delivery vans and postmen. The Charing to Bridge section is lumpier than I would have liked, and with strong headwinds, I had a miserable time going up the hills. My hands and face were freezing cold, despite wearing a full winter kit. I did not remember being that cold ever on a ride - with the wind chill it really felt like -5 degrees if not less.

Progress was rather slow also, struggling up every single hill against the wind. I wish I had someone to share the winds with, but this time I was solo. With the hopes of getting a tailwind once I hit Sandwich, I just put my head down and carried on to Bridge. At the local convenience store, I bought yet more junk food as proof of passage, made some quick chat with the cashier, who suggested I ride fast to compensate for the cold temperatures, and left as quick as possible.

Nice quiet lanes on the way to Sandwich
Bridge to Sandwich is a nice section, a little rolling and with some fine vistas over the Downs. Once I got to Sandwich, which I keep telling to myself I should visit in less of an audax-rush, I got my ATM receipt and eagerly headed back into a gentle tailwind. It really felt the same as in February, with similar temperatures, more wind, and a little quieter being a working day.

I was soon rolling at over 35 kph with the help of the artic wind. The roads to Hythe, the next control, are really nice, wider than the usual, and very fast rolling. In no time I went past Sandling station and headed down to Hythe for yet another ATM receipt. As I did in February, I stopped at the conveniently located Station restaurant. This is a café that has not evolved in the last 30 years, surely. Not very exciting food-wise, but still, beans/egg on toast appealed. The smell of the place reminded me of my grandparents house, for some reason, and although the food is not great, I kinda like the feel of the place.

Staple UK cyclist diet
With a fuller belly, I headed back up the hill and onto Ashford. The views on this section are rather nice if you look backwards, towards the open sea. The roads too were nice, quiet and totally dry, except that this time there were tons of snow on the edges. With the tailwind and sunny spells, I even felt a bit warm at times, which was most welcome.

At Ashford, I quickly obtained my receipt, ate a bit of my sandwich, and pressed on to Headcorn. Again, quiet and fast roads made for a very enjoyable ride. The sun was starting to fade, but I decided not to turn into night mode just yet, as this was only a short 18 km pootle to the last control.

Headcorn was busy with commuters, and so I took it easy while munching on some crisps at the garage. Reported back to Lucy saying I was about the enter the last stage - which felt good. It had been a difficult month audax-wise, and I was happy to see I was about to finish this ride.

Heading back to Headcorn
Setting off from Headcorn I was wind-assisted all the way West to Tonbridge. It then got dark, so I turned all my lights on and put on some reflective clothing. I took it rather easy from here on, just trying to savour the last 30 km or so, through literally empty back roads. As I approached Tonbridge, the traffic got a lot heavier, and being completely dark, it was rather unpleasant as you get hit straight in the eye by powerful car lights.

Shortly after 7:30 pm I pulled into the final control, got my receipt and jumped on a train back to the Smoke. I had completed the ride in just under 11 hours, which given my lack of fitness due to recent crap weather, and the headwinds on the first half of the ride, was not too bad. Also, this permanent has 7 controls, which makes it inevitable to waste more time than I would like, but then again, on a cold day like today it was most welcome to stop and have a little rest.

I only hope the next two months left to complete my first full year of one audax per month are a bit easier...!


  1. Great stuff on the RRTY thing. I too bailed out of the Dean!

  2. Cheers Tim. Quite rightly some people say the RRTY thing might be more challenging than a SR series and this quite confirms that.