Thursday, 8 September 2016

3 Sep: Cambridge East Anglian Tour Perm 300km Audax

Nigel writes: Today was an opportunity for Gareth and me to try out the latest ride to be added to Nick Wilkinson's excellent series of permanent Audax routes from Cambridge. Until now, all Nick's routes have been either 100km or 200km in length, so when Nick added added his first 300km route to this list a few weeks ago I knew I just had to try it immediately, and Gareth agreed to join me.



The new route is called the Cambridge East Anglian Tour 300 Perm. For such a long distance (almost 200 miles) the route is very simple. After a start in central Cambridge, it heads east into Suffolk and follows a fairly direct route to Ipswich for the first control. The route then turns north, visiting Framlingham before continuing on to Norwich. Here the route turns west and heads across Norfolk for another control in Swaffham before entering Cambridgeshire for the final control in March. The final stage of the route head south across the Fens back to Cambridge. As always, Nick Wilkinson describes the route much more attractively than this on the official page for the ride.

I had wondered whether we would be the first Audaxers to complete this new route, but in the event we were beaten by fellow club regular Daniel, who had completed it the previous weekend.

(If you're reading this and are asking yourself what an Audax (and particular a "perm") is, reading the first few paragraphs of this earlier ride report may help.)

Saturday morning arrived and after getting up early I rode across Cambridge to the official start point, NatWest Bank in St Andrew's Street. We had agreed to start at 6am, a few minutes before dawn, in order to make full use of the available daylight.
Gareth was already there, so after quickly visiting the ATM and obtaining a receipt to prove the place and time, we set off on our way, heading east out of Cambridge along Newmarket Road towards Quy.

Initially it was dark enough for us to need lights, but it wasn't long before the sky began to lighten and we had the delightful experience of dawn breaking in front of us.

6.15am: Dawn on Newmarket Road, Cambridge

The first stage of the ride, from Cambridge to Ipswich, was a delightful ride, using quiet country lanes almost the whole way. The sky was clear and sunny, with a gentle south-westerly breeze pushing us along. The weather forecast was ominous, with heavy rain forecast to arrive in the late afternoon, but for now it was a lovely day.

6.45pm: Approaching Brinkley

300km is a unique distance for a bike ride. It's essentially the longest ride you can do without significant night riding or sleep deprivation. Although I had completed 400km and 600km rides earlier this year, this would be my first 300 and I was looking forward to discovering what it was like.

In accordance with Audax UK rules, the minimum overall speed for the ride was set at 14.3km/h. This meant we had 21 hours 15 minutes to complete the whole route. With a 6am start that gave us a deadline of 3.15am the next morning, although we were fairly sure we'd be able to get back much earlier than that, probably between 10pm and midnight. (Spoiler alert: we didn't).

I knew that this first stage would be the easiest part of the ride. Not only was this the best weather of the day, but the tailwind we were currently enjoying would become a punishing headwind on the way back. If I had been riding on my own I would probably have wanted to "make hay", and take this part of the ride at a fairly brisk pace but Gareth, no doubt mindful that we had a very long way to go, was pacing himself very carefully and we ended up going rather more slowly than I might otherwise have done. I was perfectly happy with that: that 3.15am deadline was ages away and we had plenty of time.

After 2h 45 mins we reached Lavenham (56 km). This wasn't a control, but we had previously agreed that this was a good place to have our first stop. We headed directly to the Market Place, bought pastries and coffee from the baker's shop, and sat down on a bench in front of the medieval Guildhall for a relaxing second breakfast.

9.15am: First stop in Lavenham

After leaving Lavenham the lanes continued almost to the outskirts of Ipswich. Along the way Gareth had a puncture and we stopped to allow him to fix it. He observed that his tyres were getting rather worn, so I suggested we call into a bike shop in Ipswich to get replacements.

10.15am: Church Hill, Burstall, just before we reached Ipswich (Photo: Gareth Rees)

We arrived in Ipswich (85 km) at 10.30am and immediately set about finding a suitable bike shop. However neither of the two places we visited on the western side of the town had the required tyre, so we continued into the town centre.

11.00am: Decoding the cycling restrictions on Westgate Street, Ipswich

The main shopping street has a 10.30am to 4.30pm cycling ban so we wheeled our bikes along it to the market place and stopped for a brief coffee.

11.15am: Ipswich Market and Town Hall (Photo: Gareth Rees)

Gareth used the time to locate another bike shop, and after finishing our coffees we set off again to find it. This time we struck lucky: they had the right size of GatorSkin tyre that Gareth needed, so he bought a pair, borrowed a track pump, and fitted them in the yard behind the shop.

By a strange coincidence, I had sustained a puncture moments before arriving at the bike shop, and changed the tube on the pavement in front of the shop before going round the back to join Gareth.

12.00noon: Ipswich - the third bike shop we visited

Looking for bike shops and stopping for coffee had taken longer than we had planned, and it was almost 12 noon when we eventually set off north towards our next stop in Framlingham, which we reached after a further hour of pleasant, quiet roads.

1.15pm: Lunch in Framlingham

Framlingham, we discovered, is a charming, prosperous place, with pretty streets, numerous cafes, a large castle, and a market. After a quick trip to look at the castle we picked a cafe more or less at random and had an excellent lunch at the Lemon Tree Bistro.

2.15pm: After lunch in Framlingham

Framlingham was a control, so after lunch we obtained ATM receipts and set off again, continuing our northward progress towards Norwich on yet more pleasant, quiet lanes.

4pm: Norfolk Sunflowers

At about 4pm the weather began to deteriorate, exactly as forecast. The sky clouded over and it began to drizzle steadily. At Caistor St Edmund, about 15km south of Norwich, we passed the remains of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum. I had originally planned to stop here and take a look, but because of rain, and a growing consciousness that we were making rather slow progress, we decided to press on without stopping.

The final approach to Norwich City Centre (163km) was on surprisingly quiet roads, and included a short section along a former railway.

5.05pm: Lakenham Way, a converted railway in southern Norwich

We reached the City Centre at about 5pm. This time it was my turn to visit a bike shop, and I called into Evans Cycles (which the route went right past) to buy a rear light to replace the one that had somehow fallen off my bike earlier. We carried on through the centre and I stopped at an ATM to control. This was the point where Gareth confirmed that he was unwell (which had been fairly evident from his slow pace) and that he wouldn't be able to continue the ride.

I suggested we have a coffee before parting company so we called into a Pret A Manger and Gareth watched me drink soup, coffee and a chocolate desert before we went our separate ways: Gareth riding the short distance to Norwich Station, and me carrying on west towards Swaffham, March, and eventually Cambridge. It was now almost 6pm, but that 3.15am deadline still seemed a very long time away: surely I would have no problem getting round in the time available?

5.40pm: Norwich - Nigel prepares to set off alone into the rain (Photo: Gareth Rees)

Whilst I had been drinking coffee the rain had got worse and the earlier drizzle had turned into quite heavy rain. Despite that, I set off into the suburbs of Norwich in fairly high spirits, glad that I could ride a bit faster than I had done earlier. After getting slightly carried away for a few minutes I slowed down and settled down to a comfortable pace that was faster, but not very much faster, than before. I was now riding westwards, and for the first time today was facing the south-westerly wind that would act as a headwind for remainder of the ride.

The 45km from Norwich to Swaffham in heavy rain, into a persistent headwind, was probably the least pleasant section of the whole ride. It was already dark because of the rain and I had already been using lights for some time before the sun eventually set. For a short section I was riding along a relatively-busy B-road, with a regular stream of overtaking cars making it difficult to avoid potholes and puddles, and it came as a relief when the route turned onto quieter lanes for the final approach to Swaffham.

8.15pm: Radio masts on the approach to Swaffham

I reached Swaffham at 8.25pm and immediately stopped at an ATM to control. According to my routesheet I had now completed 208m, though my Garmin reported a distance rather greater than that. In any case, I was now more than a two-thirds of the way round, but still had about 100km to go.

When I had originally planned the ride I had earmarked Swaffham for a proper meal stop, our first after Framlingham. My original plan had been to visit Bridget's Cafe in the main street, but after peering through the window I took a last-minute decision to visit the East Garden Chinese restaurant next door instead as it looked scruffy enough not to care about a damp and dishevelled cyclist.

8.45pm: Dinner in Swaffham

The restaurant was friendly and pleasant. The people on the next table asked whether I'd come far, and were impressed when I said from Cambridge. I decided not to alarm them by telling them the route I'd taken, or that I would be riding back back there that night. I ordered stir-fried beef and rice, which wasn't particularly good, but my meal served its purpose and went down easily, and after about 50 minutes I was ready to continue on my way. When I went back outside I discovered, to my relief, that the rain had stopped.

My next destination was March, 50km further west. The roads were quiet and I passed the time calculating how long I expected it to take to reach March, and what time I expected to reach Cambridge. It dawned on me that 100km was still a long way, that I had less time in hand than I expected, and that I would be arriving back dangerously close to the time limit. That long stop in Swaffham meant that I couldn't afford any more stops - though given how everything would be closed this wasn't likely anyway. I didn't have any doubt that I could complete the ride, but for the first time I began to have doubts that I could do so in time.

Gradually the terrain became flatter and flatter, and after passing through Downham Market my route entered the Fens and it became pancake-flat. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in the Fens, there was still that persistent south-westerly wind and every time the road turned southwards my pace dropped to a crawl.

I reached March at midnight exactly. It was a Saturday night and there were quite a lot of pub-goers about. With drunken groups wandering about it didn't seem like a place to linger; whilst I was getting a balance at an ATM a passing woman called out to me: "what are you doing out so late with your bike?", but fortunately didn't seem bothered that I didn't reply.

From March it was 48km back to Cambridge. This involved following the B1050 through Chatteris, Somerham, Earith and Willingham before joining the busway at Longstanton. I don't know how busy this would have been during the day, but after midnight it was deserted. I quite like cycling through the Fens at night: you don't get overwhelmed by the scale of the landscape because you simply can't see it. Instead, riding in a small pool of light is a rather intimate experience. It was along this section that I missed not having brought my bluetooth speaker. I tried listening to some music through my phone but it was drowned by the wind.

Eventually I reached the busway (which always feels like a kind of homecoming after a long ride) and the last few kilometres to the finish. Cambridge City Centre was buzzing, and the streets of the pedestrian zone were were busy with taxis carrying people home, making the final minutes back to the start point probably the most hazardous of the entire ride. Fortunately I got back to NatWest in St Andrew's Street without incident and obtained a final ATM statement to mark the end of the ride. It was 2.45am: I had completed the ride with just 30 minutes spare, the closest I have ever been to running out of time on an Audax.

Whilst I was using the ATM a man went to use the adjacent machine, spotted me and my bike, and greeted me cheerily. He never actually asked me what I was up to in cycling gear and a fancy bike, routesheet clearly visible, in the middle of the night, but he seemed impressed and expressed his admiration. After exchanging a few pleasantries I set off for home, arriving there a few minutes later.

I had cycled 330km (205 miles), making this my third-longest cycle ride ever, increasing my Eddington Number from 81 to 82, and earning me the exalted status of Super Randonneur

Completed brevet card ready to send off for validation

If you'd like to ride this "perm" yourself, full information, including how to enter, is available on the CamAudax site here

1 comment:

  1. Chapeau! You now just need another nine years of super randonneur series to get your ultra randonneur award :-)

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