Nigel writes: Today I rode with Gareth from Cambridge to Manningtree and back. It was Gareth's idea: he was keen to to earn some Audax points and so planned this as a 200km ride under Audax rules. I was happy to tag along, not to earn any points but to gain an excuse for indulging in the club Christmas lunch the following day.
I left home at about 7.50am and cycled east out of Cambridge along the river and across the meadows to Fen Ditton, where we had planned to rendezvous at 8.15am. It had been a cold night, and I had to watch out for early-morning frost on the paths by the river, but the sky was clear and before long the sun was up and shining brightly down on us.
We set off east to Little Wilbraham (where I stopped to mend a puncture) and Six Mile Bottom from where we made the gentle but long climb to Brinkley. With a light breeze behind us and the warmth of the sun keeping us comfortable we made good progress as we continued via Carlton Green and Little Thurlow to Stradishall. Here, with 20 miles covered we stopped for breakfast at Tubby T's Cafe. Gareth ordered coffee and a bun and, rather to my surprise, asked for a receipt. He reminded me that on a DIY Audax ride like this he needed to produce proof that he had followed the route, and that submitting a cafe receipt, with location, date and time printed on it, was an easy way to do this.
I ordered beans on toast. The cafe was quiet so my breakfast was served quickly and we were soon back on our way. I agree with Gareth that when you're riding a long way it's best to avoid spending too long at the stops.
We continued east through Hawkedon and Hartest, where we climbed Hartest Hill which at more than 1 in 7 was the only significant hill of the day.
We continued east through Shrimpling and Bridge Street and after a short distance further we arrived in Lavenham, where Gareth made a token purchase from the co-up in order to obtain yet another receipt.
The pace so far had been comfortable, unlike the last time I rode a 200km Audax, helped no doubt by the gentle tailwind.
From Lavenham we followed the A1141 south-east to Hadleigh. Despite its A-road designation this was in fact a very quiet, pleasant road. At Hadleigh we stopped outside Greggs for a rest and for Gareth to buy another bun.
From Hadleigh we continued south-east along the B1070 to East Bergholt. We passed the sign to Flatford, reminding me that this is "Constable Country", though the only sign telling us this was the one outside the Constable Country Medical Practice. After a few more minutes we reached the bridge over the River Stour just north of Manningtree. This is the point at which an already wide river turns onto an even wider estuary, and there was definitely a feeling that we'd "reached the sea".
After crossing the Stour we turned off towards Manningtree. This took us east along the south bank.
We rode through Manningtree, which I had thought of as just a railway junction but is in fact a small town and on to Mistley, where we stopped for lunch at the Mistley Quay Cafe. It was 1pm and we had covered about 57 miles: a little less than half-way.
After lunch we set off west back for the long ride back towards Cambridge. Almost immediately Gareth began suffering from some kind of stomach cramp and was clearly in discomfort, and we made slow progress, not helped by the fact that we were riding back into the wind now. We pressed on carefully, through Dedham, Langham, Nayland and Boxted.
Near Nayland we crossed the River Stour once more. Our slow progress had meant that by now the sun was gettting low in the sky and would soon be setting.
We continued west. As the sun set the full moon rose.
Gareth was still not 100% and although he was still riding at a very respectable pace it wasn't as fast as he would have liked and by the time we reached Bures it was quite dark. It was 3.50pm. We were now running behind schedule and there was now a definite possibility that we would not be able to complete the ride within the time permitted under Audax rules.
We stopped in a pub to warm up and discussed what to do. Gareth was clearly unwell but after briefly contemplating abandoning the ride and taking the train back from Bures (via Liverpool Street) he suggested we carry on west towards Sible Headingham and Finchingfield. We reached Finchingfield at about 5.45pm, where we stopped in The Fox for a drink and a rest. It was now clear that any hope of completing the ride had disappeared. We were going too slowly to complete the ride within Audax time limits and Gareth still wasn't feeling well. The plan had been to continue west to Saffron Walden and from there to Royston, from where we would return to Cambridge via Kneesworth. However we now agreed that we should continue to Saffron Walden and catch the train back to Cambridge.
We reached Saffron Walden at 7.35pm. The next train from Audley End was at 8pm, and I suggested to Gareth that he catch the train whilst I cycle back on my own to Cambridge. As I had rather expected, Gareth changed his mind and suggested he ride back to Cambridge with me.
Our mileage to this point was 103 miles, so to take things easy we eschewed our normal route via Catmere End and Coploe Hill and instead followed a fairly level route via Littlebury and Great Chesterford to Ickleton and from there along our usual route via Duxford, Whittlesford and the Shelfords back to Cambridge. I was home at 9pm, having cycled a very satisfying 120 miles. That's 193 km, so we didn't miss our 200km target by too much. Missing the Royston stop meant that Gareth's ride wouldn't qualify under Audax rules, but we were very close, and I had certainly achieved my own goal which was to allow me to eat a large Christmas lunch the next day without guilt. Gareth recovered from the ride and was able to be there as well.
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