Today's ride started in Cambridge City Centre, which allowed me time to have a larger-than-usual breakfast before heading out to meet Gareth by NatWest in St Andrew's Street for a 7am start. When I arrived I was pleased to see Tony there as well: he's a very experienced Audaxer who would no doubt be able to help us maintain an appropriate pace.
6.55am: Gareth and Tony by the NatWest ATM that constitutes our first control, in an almost-deserted Cambridge City Centre
After visiting the ATM to obtain a balance slip to prove the time and place, the three of us set off. Today's ride was to be a long loop into Suffolk. After a quick run along main roads to Newmarket we would turn onto quieter roads, calling into our first control at Barrow and passing through other familar villages until we reached the edge of the region visited on CTC Cambridge rides. We would then continue east along unfamilar lanes to our second control at Diss (which is just in Norfolk). This would be followed by a short leg south to Debenham before turning west to visit controls at Elmswell and Clare on our way back to Cambridge. There's a much better description of the route than this on the CamAudax website
The weather today was excellent, with clear skies at the start and sunshine forecast for most of the day. There were a few showers around the place, but in the event we managed to miss all of them. This left the main feature of the weather today as being the wind: a cold, persistent breeze which would help us along in the morning but impede our progress in the afternoon as we were beginning to tire.
The run to Newmarket took us along the main A1303. This is wide and straight so was no particular problem to ride along, despite the surprisingly large amount of traffic even at this early hour.
Tony has ridden countless long Audax rides over the year and has great experience of pacing himself, so I was not surprised that when Gareth and I sped off eagerly at the start, Tony stayed back at a more sustainable pace. When we reached the Black Horse roundabout near Newmarket we stopped to wait but he was no-where to be seen, so we sent a text message and carried on, hoping to meet at the next control. Unfortunately our paths didn't cross again.
At Newmarket we turned right and followed a B-road to Ashley. It was only there that we turned onto our first quiet lane, and for me this is the point where the ride truly started. The route via Newmarket had been straightforward and efficient, but the next time I make this ride I will look into missing Newmarket altogether and taking a quieter and prettier route via Dullingham, even if at the expense of a few more miles.
It was whilst we were climbing out of Newmarket towards Ashley that Gareth first noticed that something was wrong with his bike, with a periodic scraping sound coming from his rear wheel. We stopped to take a closer look. There wasn't an obvious cause: the mudguard wasn't rubbing, so Gareth shrugged and we carried on.
West Suffolk is one of my favourite areas to cycle, and doing so early on a quiet Saturday morning, with a clear sky and a bright sun, with the whole day ahead of us, was a delightful experience. It was still fairly cool, but the sun was strong and we realised we should have used sunscreen for the first time this year.
Nigel looking back towards Dalham
We reached Barrow, our second control of the day, at 8.38am. We had ridden 22 miles so far and stopped to make a token purchase from the village store and munch some food before carrying on.
8.38am: Second control in Barrow
Along the way Gareth called out the names of various birds he had spotted, but I was never quick enough to get out my camera. Fortunately the moon, still high in the sky, stayed in position long enough for me to take a photo.
The Moon in a clear sky
We were soon at the edge of map for CTC Cambridge rides, which meant that from now onwards I would be enjoying the novelty of riding along completely unknown lanes, carefully following the suggested route but not really knowing where I was.
Ingham: a rare wooded section in a generally wide-open ride
It must have been somewhere along this section that Gareth stopped a second time to examine his bike. The scraping sound from his rear wheel had become more persistent, and he turned his bike upside down to allow a closer examination. He spun the rear wheel and the sound appeared again: there was some sort of problem with the hub, or perhaps the freewheel mechanism, which was causing the sound. Worse, it was causing resistance and preventing the wheel spin freely. Gareth remarked that this explained why he had been going more slowly than me (he had previously assumed that it was my speedy new bike). But there wasn't much we could do about it now, so we carried on.
Entering Pig Country
After a while we reached Diss, a busy little town just over the border with Norfolk. It was 11am on a Saturday morning and there was a lot of traffic, but we didn't take long to find the town centre and stop for hot food at a cafe in the main street.
11am: Late breakfast in Diss
Diss marked the north-easterly corner of the ride, and it was here that we turned south towards Debenham. Along the way we passed through Eye, and I was stuck by the large church in a dominating position in the main street.
We reached the pretty village of Debenham and visited the local Co-op to perform control formalities. It was 12.20pm, and we sat at a bench in the main street and eat some more food (in my case a yogurt).
After Debenham we turned west in the general direction of Cambridge. We were now riding into a gently but persistent headwind which would be our constant companion for the remainder of the day. In the sky, clouds had appeared but there was plenty of sky in between to allow the sun to shine through from time to time.
Big Sky Country
We could see various patches of rain in the distance, and for a few moments we experienced a few drops - but that was all there was and we never experienced any rain after that.
Haughley, just before Elswell
Gareth doing his best to maintain local traditions in Elswell
Our fifth control was in Elmswell, and we rode up to the Co-op to visit the ATM there. I was tired, but because of the effort of riding with a rubbing rear wheel Gareth was exhausted. We decided to make it a proper stop and visit Dorothy's Tea Shop, a few hundred yards to the north, just beyond the railway crossing. I had discovered it whilst researching possible food stops on Google last night. We walked in, consulted the menu and both ordered bowls of apple pie and custard: perfect comfort food for riders with diminished appetite. Given that this appears the be the only cafe in the town it was very useful to know it was there, and demonstrates the value of researching the controls in advance to identify possible "emergency" cafe stops. (It's closed on Sundays).
2pm: Dorothy's Cafe Tea Room in Elswell serves an excellent apple pie and custard
As we waited at the level crossing by Elmsworth Station a train headed for Cambridge rolled in and stopped. I reminded Gareth that this was his last bail-out opportunity, but he was keen to press on.
Chocolate-box cottage between Elswell and Clare
We continued on towards our penultimate control at Clare. By now the threat of rain had completely disappeared and it was once again a lovely sunny afternoon. The lanes were quiet and pretty, with only natural tiredness and a persistent westerly headwind detracting from the pleasure. By now Gareth was riding slightly slower than me, though the difference was quite small, but it meant that I had a fairly easy time. No doubt if Gareth's bike had been in good order he would have been pushing the pace up noticeably.
We reached Clare at 4.15pm, with me arriving about five minutes ahead of Gareth. We knew from Alex's and John's visit in January not to expect hot food at this time, and in any case with only about 25 miles to go we were happy to sit outside in the sunshine, munching food (in my case a Ginster's meat pie) and watching the effect of what was by now quite a stiff wind on the flags in the market place.
4.15pm: Penultimate control in Clare
The final leg from Clare back to Cambridge was on mostly familar roads. It was still sunny and really rather warm, but the effect of the headwind and inevitable tiredness meant I was plodding a bit. I was now riding well ahead of Gareth and when I reached Great Wratting, about 20 miles from home, I decided we were sufficiently close to Cambridge that the requirements of camaraderie allowed me to push on without waiting for him to catch up.
The final descent from Balsham to Cambridge was relatively fast but nowhere as quick as normal, and the final miles from Fulbourn into the City Centre along busy roads were rather tedious. This was the first time I had ridden in via Fulbourn Road and Cherry Hinton Road for ages, and the next time I do this ride I will use my normal route via Fulbourn Old Drift instead.
I arrived back in the city centre and returned to the NatWest ATM in St Andrew's Street from where we had started and checked my balance for the final time. The time shown on the receipt was 6.35pm, making my overall time 11 hours 41 minutes.
I loitered nearby until Gareth arrived about twenty minutes later. After completing ATM formalities he lifted his rear wheel and spun it to demonstrate what he had been struggling against: the wheel stopped within half a turn. It must have been like cycling for 100 miles with the rear brake half-applied: a rather heroic achievement, though not one that comes as a surprise.
The sun was still shining and Cambridge City Centre was still very busy with pedestrians, buses, cyclists and Deliveroo riders who seemed to cycled past every thirty seconds or so with huge insulated food boxes perched rather uncomfortably on their back.
Gareth and I stood outside NatWest chatting for about ten minutes, enjoying the feeling of having completed the ride. We then went our separate ways. I arrived home a few minutes later at 7.15pm, having cycled 134 miles.
This is Nigel's GPS track. GPS and TCX files for this route can be downloaded from the CamAudax site here