Flatlands 600 (600km Audax 2014)

After an early drive up from London I spent the first leg sorting out how fast I felt like riding, and spent a lot of it with a lovely couple from Wiltshire doing their first 600 too. I am not sure I have ever seen such well looked after and turned out bikes, made my trusty Kinesis CX bike look like the the worst house on the best street. On learning of their plan to get to Sleaford for their hotel I was a little horrified. At our pace that was going to take a long time (about 5:30AM as it turned out).

Did next big run up to Spalding and Boston into the wind with a nice chap from up north, a previous pbp/lel er who had managed about 90km this year and was planning to ride through. Madness. Hope you made it!

The best thing about this leg was that I had never ridden it before, I suspect local knowledge would have made it a real slog. My favourite bits were ’40 foot bank’ which may have once been that before the road took the top 30ft off that, and ‘Peak Hill’ the signed climb to the top of that bank. Must check that one of Strava, surely the only signed hill which has no discernible beginning or end and doesn’t require a single gear shift.

We parted ways at Boston as I had previously scoped out a large ASDA on the edge of town. At this time of day it was a horrible place to be, but they had the sort of things I need – Gluten Free Chocolate Croissants no less. Score!

Being a colonial I did notice that Boston was near to New York and I figured there must be a list somewhere of once-great English towns gone to seed that have now great Colonial analogs. Boston would certainly be near the top of the ‘gone to seed’ part of that list. It’s the kind of place that Londoners like myself just forget exist. And the kind of place that the Conservative party wished would just go away. How much public services would be left in a town like that?

Grateful to turn out of the wind on the ride over to Goole, tt was here, as the fatigue was beginning to kick in in, that I had my encounter with ‘The Red King’ (to be recorded in another story).

I hooked up with a couple of the Irish contingent including young one leg suffering with ITB trouble. Also tagging in this group was a guy who looked like he had started a local 25 mile training run and kept going (young, fit!) and ‘The Secret Smoker’ – you know who you are!

As I was hoteling in Goole this meant that sleep was rapidly approaching. Getting into the service station around 11:15 I reckoned I had to be out of the road about 3:30 to make life easy for myself. Premier Inn did its usual whammy of being excellent and rubbish at the same time. Yes I could take my bike into my room. No the water was not hot enough. Needless to say, I slept ok.

Setting back out from Goole I got a chance to try out my new Exposure Strada light. I bought this as I would be commuting on a range of bikes this winter and my dynamo is only on the Kinesis. All those who have the CYC60 will know the little oblong of white light you get which is, lets face it, completely adequate except for the lack of spread. But add in an Exposure running at 40% on dip and it’s perfect with the exposure doing broad and the B&M doing ‘deep’. Lovely. I hadn’t intended to use this combo like that but it will be my default night setting now I think, having easily enough juice for all night on that power setting.

At Gainsborogh I caught up with the Team GoGo and team Irish, Young One Leg having progressed from Sore to Really F**cking Sore. I set off alone on this leg and plugged away, feeling ok enough but still with a bit of apprehension as my last solid meal had been a Jacket Potatoe in Whittelsey, other than that I had been following my primary food strategy which was ‘shove something in your gob every hour, regardless’. So far so good, but sometimes you know you can feel that meltdown coming, like a small obscure comet about to take out the planet. Well the comet had just come on the interstellar radar. ‘Real food’™ was needed.

Now I have to confess that being a colonial and only having lived in the UK for fourteen years I have some strange ideas about the UK. Let me embarrass myself by sharing with you my perception of Lincoln. Now I have a very good friend from Lincoln who, as all those with a certain kind of ambition have done for hundreds of years, fled to London as soon as their age would let them, so my impression of Lincoln was not great. This, combined with my ignorance of geography of anything north of Cambridge, meant that I pictured it as a hideous, scratchy carbuncle on an otherwise flat, scorched plain. So it was with a degree of surprise that I came into on a lovely ridge. With views. And there is a nice cathedral, cute shops, an art gallery I had heard of. It may have been the tiredness but I actually thought that I could spend a day there looking around and it wouldn’t be a waste. Playing the inverted colonial name game I realised there is a Lincoln in New Zealand and it’s a dump (well in Kiwi terms anyway). I have a theory forming…

I already can’t remember the ride through to Sleaford which must mean that I was in need of breakfast. I got passed by a small group, no one I knew, so I graciously let them by.

The look on the already-harassed looking gentleman’s face in the Wetherspoons was not good. The phrase ‘Gluten Free’ often stresses out proprietors. They think you’ve being fussy or difficult just for fun. To their credit Wetherspoons actually has an allergens chart and I basically just read out everything that I could eat off the breakfast menu. He looked confused then just said,”That’s a veggie breakfast, just without toast” That’s what I’ll have then. “You know”, he said, “We should just do a gluten free breakfast!” I couldn’t agree more.

After a pleasant breakfast with three others who had all, like me, slept over in Goole, I trundled out into the morning. I guessed there would be riders back by now, but I was content with my pace and  the comet had disappeared back into the outer reaches of deep space. Someone had said “once you reach Chatteris you’ve broken the back of it.” Well it must be true, so I set off to do some violence.

This was probably the most challenging of Sunday’s sections. Mostly -zag – tailwind with the occasional – zig – srtong cross or head wind, I as careful not to blast the downwind sections so that there was something in the tank for when the purple line on the Garmin turned left. Several people later mentioned one particular straight that turned almost fully back into the wind as being a distinct highlight, and I would have to agree.

Chicken dinner in the Green Wellie. Felt like a good idea at the time. Anyway, a chance to catch up on some other peoples progress as I had been solo since setting off from Goole. The Judith Swallow group was chatting away on one table, Tom and the Alpe de Huez on another. I chatted with a man who lived in Guernsey and had to catch the boat to Northern France to do his Audaxing, DIY. Also his first 600. The couple from Wiltshire where there too, traveling maybe fifteen minutes ahead. The upside to their very very long night being a short day today. Young one leg came in, now “You Can’t Imagine” sore. Poor guy had gone beyond the 1000 yard stare, it seemed like he had been looking, unblinking, at the sun for a thousand years.

This being my first 600 I was surprised at how the people that I had been riding with maybe an hour from the start where the same ones I was keeping time with 500km later. Of course it makes sense, mathematically, but it was odd, and then comforting. Even though I was riding by myself and keeping my own pace, I still had the feeling of riding with others. And then looking around the cafe I realised also that there were mostly first-timers in the room, but also the Judith Swallow group who had done this, well, quite a bit. Ahhhhhh, I thought, this is what it’s about – it’s probably not that much of a challenge for them, but they are still just riding along in good company watching the world go by.

I shared the ride into Cambridge with Judith’s group and got sent to the front as I had a purple line machine for the purposes of navigation. It was a little unnerving piloting them through, but I don’t think I made too bad a hash of it.

Gracefully letting them launch an attack and escape off the front on the road to Saffron Walden, I stopped for a last chocolate milk before Great Dunmow.  I knew it was a it lumpy and that I would need to keep my own pace. I knew I would make the end now, no problem, but I was prepared for it to be slooooow.

What I hadn’t counted on was every Audi in the world pouring down the road beside me. Welcome back to Essex. Man I hate that kind of road, the ones that are  made for cars. No verge, fast bends and impatient locals. I was even overtaken down the hill on the main square of Thaxted where I was doing 25mph. Just because the guy could I guess. In this sort of situation I find my adrenalin goes up and I – pointlessly – lift my pace. I spent the last 7 miles from Thaxted saying a private black mass for the inventor of the SUV and really wanting this bit to be over.

The Anchor, at last. Wherein the very lovely people who probably just about run me off the road where now having dinner with their mothers. Outside where Judith’s group, the Alpe De Huez, Couple from Wiltshire looking like they had taken a turn on the tow path for an hour and Mr Guernsey. I wasn’t sure where Young One Leg was and hoped he was ok. And what about Team Gogo? What kind of hell where they in? How would you feel to put in that amount of effort and not make the time cut?

After a cup of tea and a while spent listening to stories around the table, I thanked Tom, packed a small feeling of accomplishment into my saddlebag and drove back to London, job done. First and Essex SR.  I am not naive enough to imagine that that was a properly tough ride but still felt good – I didn’t collapse, didn’t bonk; numb thumbs about the worst of it.. Now, what to do next I wonder?

OTHER PEOPLE’S REPORTS ON THIS RIDE

Judith Swallow: http://judithswallow.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/three-wheeling-shelaght-goes-flatlanding/

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