Sunday, 29 May 2016

28 May: Sunday ride to Meesden, Much Hadham and Ickleton: A Day of Firsts

Greg writes: So, the day dawned dull – very dull. I switched out of shorts into longs and set off for Brookside in the early morning gloom and murk. The glories of May were ending and it was a Bank Holiday and the start of Half Term – of course the weather would disappoint!

On arrival at Brookside Greg looked eagerly around – where was the welcoming committee, the fanfare? Surely he was to be anointed with water from the Sacred Bidon? Would there be some ceremony or recognition for this being his First Ride As Leader? His wife had promised him sausages for tea so that was reason enough to be excited about the day!

There were some eight fellow riders – Rupert, Sheila, Mike CC, Sue, Peter, Eva, Ray and Li – but his arrival was met by warm greetings but no fanfare. Oh, well – let’s be off!

Ready for the off

We had gone but a few hundred yards when our ranks were swelled by Yasmin who swept up magisterially on her brand new bike – which was on its first big outing – both rider and machine seemed most happy!

Yasmin and her new bike

We turned down Barrow Road – how much had the house prices increased since last we passed this way, one wondered? The DNA path swept us past the Dubai of the Fens – the pace of development here being like that of the desert kingdom! Addenbrookes seemed much changed again with the progress on various major schemes continuing apace – a Crane Spotters dream!

At Shelford we opted for the second level crossing – and we managed to split the party at the crossing as the Stansted Express thundered through. It gave Mike CC an opportunity to explain something:

Mike CC explains

We soon resumed the trip – through the Shelfords and clipping Harston before ascending the first of many hills and we crested Newton Hill. A brief mechanical moment as Li had some gear change issues but Rupert pronounced ‘All Would Be Well’ and we resumed our way.

Through Fowlmere we swept and on to the A505. The traffic was heavier than usual for a Sunday morning – early arrivals for the airshow presumably (of which more later….) but we managed a safe passage over – all duly impressed at the ridiculously aggressive antics of a 4x4 driver alongside us who roared off – followed by our disdain!

We then headed South – hauling ourselves up the long drag towards the top of the ridgeway – some 2 miles of mainly uphill slog. This split the group somewhat. Those left back in the group may have assumed that Rupert’s impressive speed as he roared ahead was driven by an extra Weetabix for breakfast. It was proven false because on arrival at the layby at the top it was determined that the power pressing him on was liquid in nature – his bike was there but Rupert was not - though he soon emerged from his hedge...

Leader’s Treat: Sausage Traybake (see below)

6 sausages
4oz of Chorizo roughly chopped and spread around
2 onions
1x red pepper
Half an average butternut squash
12 French beans – topped and tailed
6 mushrooms
3 x tomatoes
2 x garlic cloves – crushed

Peel and roughly chop the veg.

Chop tomatoes into quarters

Chuck sausages on top

Put everything into a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and mix coat all the elements.

Turn oven to 195C and cook on high for 30 minutes – turning everything once half way

Turn down to 170C for a further 30 minutes whilst you drink beer and reflect on what a fine thing a cycle ride is.

Eat with smiles as you look back at photos taken during the day

The group reformed and we had a chance to bemoan the weather further – some fiddling with layers since many had now warmed and Mike CC showed some impressive folding skills as he stowed one layer in his capacious pannier.

On then towards Heydon – the Road Closed signs were ignored since the route had been recce’d and the water main works would not impede cyclists. Work in the broadest sense of the word since none appears to have occurred in the last 10 days or so….

Straight on at Great Chishill and we were now really getting into the Hertfordshire countryside – evidenced not simply by the undulating nature of the lanes but more specifically by the marked improvement in the standard of the road surface. It comes as something when you can determine which county you are in by a simple pothole and surface analysis of a ten yard stretch of road….

We then turned left again and began the ascent of Nuthamstead Hill. Mike CC complained that this was an 11% hill and his legs were now only rated up to 9%....whilst Yasmin helpfully wondered "Hill, What Hill?" – clearly Mike CC needs one of those new bikes!

A few people now put more clothes on – another First for people to be adding layers at the top of the hill since the weather was gloomy and dull. Greg insisted that he had spoken to the weather gods and the sun would be appearing at 12.15. Much doubt ensued. He had, however, successfully liaised with Conrad who now swept up to join the group – another First since this was the leader of the afternoon ride coming out to greet the morning ride before returning to Cambridge for his pm stint.

Greg had hinted earlier at some sort of flying display he was organising (?) and we were greeted to the strange sight (another First?) of a buzzard being mobbed by a smaller but far more aggressive crow. The buzzard retired from the scene of battle whilst we all looked on as we cycled past – not a bad flying display but Greg insisted that better was planned…

On we went – the gloomy weather failing to dampen the mood as we wound our way through various villages towards the coffee stop at Meesden – arriving a couple of minutes after 11am to see Ed, Adrian, Ian, Joseph and co. already ensconced.

Chaos at coffee

Rupert, not satisfied with just three Weetabix (see earlier) had taken the precaution of not only arranging for the village hall committee to open the café for us but had also pre-booked bacon sandwiches and chocolate brownies. He declared both to be most satisfactory!

Adrian made his exit quietly and after various shenanigans we managed to reform the main group that was destined for lunch and waved off some returners – Mike CC and Sue setting off together to be replaced in the main group by Dave W and Susan who had just arrived. Ian and Joseph now also joined the larger group and we all headed towards lunch.

The wind had picked up somewhat and the gloom remained – were things getting worse? Greg insisted that both sunshine and wind shift had been pre-booked and although we had the benefit of the wind now it would not be a major problem for the return leg after lunch. Cynicism abounded – especially when he also claimed that in recognition of the importance of CTC he had also organised a Red Arrows flypast at 5pm. Ah, the much promised flypast. Cynicism in the group grew….

Most ignored these ridiculous claims and simply enjoyed a glorious stage of cycling though many lovely villages and even one Nasty one!

A pretty nasty cottage

The route wound through the lanes, down through Buntingford and on past the Catholic Public School before plunging down the gravelly by-road that took us to the ford in Standon. The bridge was used by all – Yasmin ensuring her bike remained pristine throughout. Greg leapt off his bike to take a photo – and Sheila announced she was satisfied since she was concerned that there would be no photos of the day….she clearly wanted some kind of pictorial record that she had been on the trip!

Standon ford

We then headed uphill (again!) as we made the final 3 miles to Much Hadham. This was a glorious stretch of cycling and thanks go to Rupert for plotting such a good route.

Just before Much Hadham we passed through Gravesend and then Bromley. Ed wondered if we had gone to Kent by mistake? It appeared not, though Greg helped cheer people up by shouting "Sun" loudly; some were confused, but the shadows supported his assertion that, although circa 40 minutes after when he had booked it, it had arrived – fashionably late, one might say.

Lunch was at Hopley’s in Much Hadham. We arrived to find Adrian (or was it his twin? How does he do it?) already there and polishing off a bowl of soup.

Adrian again

Rupert gave close attention to the quality of the soup and then analysed the menu before placing his order with young Tom, the waiter, who was apologising that because of the sudden rush indoors the food might be up to 45 minutes in coming out.

Rupert is always well-prepared for a potential crisis such as this, and notwithstanding his previous efforts at coffee, he went and found his "emergency contingency sandwich": a monster doorstep of a baguette. This was enough to tide him over until his actual lunch arrived.

Taking Rupert's order

Rupert after two lunches

We passed a pleasant hour or so chatting at lunch. Adrian disappeared somewhere during this phase whilst Li set off to peruse the attractive gardens. Most enjoyed the sunshine and the dropping wind (yes, it was getting quite pleasant) and Eva decreed that this was just the sort of weather that called for a glass of wine. She was right!

Sheila getting ready for her photo

We set off after lunch to make the Northerly trip back towards Cambridge – with the sun shining and spirits raised. The wind, whilst there, seemed not to be the bother that some had feared – wind shift and reduction delivered as promised...

Leaving lunch

Onwards we went – Little Hadham and the Pelhams were ahead and after a brief delay when Greg faffed around with sheets of paper and maps he then came to the conclusion that it was a left to Brent Pelham after all….
We sped along happily enjoying the sight of multiple kites and spring in all its glory as we headed towards the last two hills of the day – into Elmdon and then the final ascent back out the other side….
We hauled ourselves up into Elmdon – legs now feeling the effects of the accumulated effort of hills and wind – apart from Yasmin who bounded along still!
In Elmdon we once again met Conrad – this time with his crew of four – the afternoon ride.

Conrad reappears

Such planning and minute perfect scheduling! Was it another first to have been met twice when out on the route by the same person?
We headed out of Elmdon on the long leisurely glide down – and the knowledgeable knew that another vicious little kick-up awaited – which we all successfully crested before sweeping down towards Ickleton.

At the bottom of the hill there was some re-jigging. Rupert headed back to Cambridge – an early dinner awaited, no doubt…..whilst Yasmin and some others were also homeward bound. The remainder headed towards the Ickleton Riverside Café where Adrian was sitting awaiting our arrival. How does he do it??

Perhaps Adrian – or his twin – needs a white cat to be upon his lap being stroked for these moments – where we all arrive and he pronounces ‘Ah, CTC, I have been expecting you!’

We had a very pleasant 30 minutes or so – Sheila insisting on more photos – before we then set off towards home. The sun was out, the spirits were up – and yet there remained doubts from some over the much vaunted fly past….

Sheila smiles

After some discussion Ray headed off to lead the route through the pretty village of Hinxton and over the ford there, after which we crossed the A505 for a second time (this time with no delay) before continuing on our way home through Whittlesford. Greg and Dave W departed at the junction just after this, leaving the remainder of the group to be led by back to Cambridge by Conrad.

Almost as soon as Greg and Dave W had turned away from the main group the heavens were rent asunder by the sound of a low flying jet roaring overhead, smoke streaming astern. The Red Arrows had arrived on cue and they swooped and circled over Duxford – it was another first to have a CTC flypast to help celebrate what had been a glorious late spring ride.

CTC flypast, as seen from my bike

Those taking the full route back to Cambridge would have done 75 miles, with over 2000 foot of climbing, a great effort and an enjoyable day. Greg celebrated his own personal first, the leadership of a CTC ride, with sausages for dinner. Rupert (and others) may want the recipe, so I've provided it above!Greg Tucker



Download GPS track (GPX).

Thursday, 26 May 2016

26 May: Thursday ride to Ashwell and Ardeley

Edward writes: Our last Thursday ride in this glorious month of May brought us to Haslingfield and Brookside in a coolish morning but the promise of an improvement as the day went along. In fact this is how it turned out as by coffee time the clouds had started to disperse, the sun came out and the temperature went up all with the added bonus of very little wind.

In Haslingfield we started with thirteen riders, whilst over at Brookside with Sarah leading they had ten. With the staggered start we would be unlikely to overwhelm Days Bakers at Ashwell with twenty-five or more arriving for coffee. Nevertheless we took the precaution of telling them to expect us.

Barrington

From Haslingfield we got the blood flowing by climbing up Chapel Hill and down into Barrington for a brief stop to reassemble. We took a direct route out through Shepreth and Meldreth and then the climb up to Kneesworth for the run into Bassingbourn.

Kneesworth

We took the much more attractive road via Abington Piggots to reach Litlington and the climb up to Steeple Morden.

Abington Pigotts

By this time the sun was beginning to make its appearance as the clouds dispersed, and so we came into Ashwell more or less under blue skies at 10.45am, ahead of the Brookside contingent who arrived a few minutes later.

Ashwell

Ashwell is a lovely village and we took our drinks and cakes under the new tree which was planted a few years ago to replace the old ash tree in the same spot. Also, on the other side of the road, is a lovely cottage garden where quite a few sat with their coffees.

Ashwell

Ashwell

After coffee it seemed that we would have about sixteen or seventeen for the trip down to Ardley Farm which is about ten miles further on. We successfully split into two groups and set off out of Ashwell with the climb into open, rolling countryside and down to the A505.

Approaching the A505 from Ashwell

For almost the entire journey down to Ardley Farm we would be travelling due south as we passed through the villages (town names elsewhere) of Redhill, Rushden and Cromer. At Cromer, the lead group at least, turned to take the road past Cromer Windmill and shortly after we came to Ardley Farm, arriving at 12.30pm. This allowed us a long pleasant lunch break with the usual arrangement of sandwiches outside and light meals ordered from the menu.

Lunch at Ardeley Farm

By now it was quite hot and Mike CC took advantage with a quick nap to prepare himself for the journey home...

Shattered!

By 1.40pm we left Ardley Farm, again in two groups and they were never to see each other again so hopefully they both went the same way! We in the second group went first to a tiny hamlet called Hare Street (yes, another one) and then to Cottered where we joined the A507 for two or three miles to take us into Buntingford. Once we had negotiated the small country town we were on the climb up to Wyddial travelling through beautiful countryside where the hedgerows were full of gorgeous blossom as in fact they had been all day.

Wyddial

We crossed the B1368 and went on more narrow lanes to Anstey, Nuthamstead, Shaftenhoe End and Great Chishill. This left us to finish the ride via Heydon and the descent to Chrishall Grange, Fowlmere, Thriplow and Newton where David W, Mike CC, Sheila and Mia left us. By the time they reached Haslingfield they would have completed 53 miles with the ride finishing at 4pm

This was great way to finish off May with a lovely ride in near-perfect weather and thanks to Sarah for leading the Brookside ride and best wishes to Belinda who was unwell and unable to lead from Haslingfield. Edward Elmer



Download GPS track (GPX).

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

25 May: Evening ride to Quy

Nigel writes: It was unusually cold this evening - about 10C, cold enough for me to wear the winter jacket and longs that I had not expected to use again until the autumn. However, despite the chilly temperature and the dull, overcast sky, the weather was dry with virtually no wind. Only one other rider joined me at Brookside, Neil, though I also received a message from Conrad telling us he'd join us along the way.

So Neil and I set off from Brookside and made our way down Hills Road to Addenbrooke's and over the Gogs to Fulbourn, where we were joined by Conrad. From there we continued through the Wilbrahams to Six Mile Bottom.

We last came this way on an evening ride to Quy a month ago. On that occasion our route from Six Mile Bottom involved turning south and climbing Chilly Hill to Lark Hall before turning back north to Dullingham. However that route had got us to the pub slightly late, so today I skipped that loop and we took the shorter route, directly up Brinkley Hill as far as the Woodland Cemetery and then left towards Dullingham.

Conrad and Neil at Cemetery Crossroads

This shorter route meant we had no need to rush and we could cycle at a moderate pace, chatting as we rode along. From Dullingham we continued our anticlockwise loop through Swaffham Bulbeck and Bottisham, arriving at The White Swan in Quy slightly early at 8.20pm.

After a typically pleasant and sociable three-quarters of an hour in the pub, enjoying food, drink, and tales of Conrad's experience in the military, we set off back to Cambridge. I arrived home at 9.50pm, having cycled 30 miles. Nigel Deakin



Download GPS track (GPX).

Sunday, 22 May 2016

22 May: Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm Audax

Nigel writes: I'm continuing to work my way through the excellent series of local Audax routes designed by Nick Wilkinson and described on the Cambridge Audax website. Today I rode the Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm. A group of other CTC Cambridge members rode this in February (in distinctly challenging winter conditions). Alex's report of that eventful ride is here.

I had originally planned to do this ride on Monday 23rd and had arranged with three other members to do that. However, following a poor weather forecast, and a late-night panic by me on Saturday, I decided to ride a day early. This meant that John and David couldn't make it (which makes me feel slightly guilty), but Camille was able to change her plans at the last minute to join me.

For a general explanation of what a "permanent Audax" is, please read the first few paragraphs of this ride report. But all that really matters is that we were heading east on a 215km (133 mile) circular route from Cambridge, riding deep into Suffolk for a lunch stop in Eye before returning back home by a more southerly route. Nick has written an evocative description of the route on his page for the Cambridge Suffolk Eye-full 200 Perm.

Cambridge City Centre was deserted at 7am on a Sunday morning

I've found that an early start works best for such a long ride, and so it was 7am when Camille and I met by the NatWest Bank in St Andrew's Street for the start of our ride. After a brief discussion about the route, and likely eating places, we took turns to use the ATM to get receipts, and then set off on our way.

The weather forecast for this weekend had been changing constantly; on the days approaching the ride I visited the BBC weather page for Cambridge many times, and seeing a totally different forecast every time. Last night's forecast had predicted a few showers at the start followed by a dry but dull day, but in the event the weather we much better than that, a pleasantly warm, dry day, frequent sunny intervals interrupting the cloud cover, and a very light, 5mph westerly wind.

The first stage of today's ride was a 29 mile run east to Glemsford, along what for me was a familar route. With high spirits, almost empty roads and a very slight tailwind we took this at a fairly fast lick: Camille is used to quick, short rides with a local triathlon club and would probably have gone even faster if she had not been with me.

We reached Glemsford just after 9am and paid a visit to the Post Office and Store to make a purchase and obtain receipts. I started to explain to the friendly shopkeeper why we needed receipts but she was familar with the phenomenon, remarking that a larger group had passed through recently doing the same thing.

Second control at Glemsford

We didn't stop in Glemsford for long, because I knew that a further 8 miles along the route would be a much better place to stop for our first extended break. So we carried on, retracing our route back out of Glemsford before turning north-east towards Boxted, Hartest and Hawstead.

So far the ride had been delightful and I found myself beaming with pleasure. And why not? We had perfect weather, lovely countryside, and I was speeding along smooth, empty roads on my superb new bike.

Between Hartest and Hawstead

Today's ride was also offering me an additional pleasure: the previous day I had spent an hour changing my saddle. Gone was the super-light Bonotrager plastic saddle which had made me ache after 80 miles on previous rides, replaced by the much-loved Brooks B17 leather saddle that I had been using with my Airnimal for the past few years.

Hawstead is the location of the celebrated Maglia Rosso cycle shop and cafe, and since our route went right past we stopped here for breakfast. This was my first visit. It opens at 9am every day of the week, and at 9.30am we seemed to be the first customers there. I ordered beans on toast, Camille ordered scrambled eggs on toast, and we spent a very pleasant half hour or so relaxing in the sunshine.

Breakfast at Maglia Rosso, Hawstead

Maglia Rosso, Hawstead

Although I had not been here before, this cafe is an established summer lunch stop for CTC Cambridge, and we will be visiting there very soon, on Sunday 12th June.

As we ate our breakfast more cyclists arrived, but it was time for us to leave and after a brief visit to their surprisingly large cycle shop we set off once again. We rode through the middle of Hawstead, and my attention was caught by a striking set of Almshouses. The Philip Metcalfe who erected them, and whose name is proclaimed on the front of the building, was no doubt from the same family that gave its name to the Metcalfe Arms, the former pub which is now Maglia Rosso.

Almshouses in Hawstead

Hawstead is on the periphery of the range of normal CTC Cambridge rides, so from now on I had the additional pleasure of riding on completely unfamilar roads. The scenery flattened out, with both of us still riding strongly as we continued north-east for another couple of hours towards Eye.

We reached Eye at about 11.50am. This was our third control, and we visited Barclays Bank to obtain ATM receipts. Eye is a small place, and on a Sunday almost everywhere was closed, but directly opposite Barclays Bank was another bank which had been converted into a small arts centre and cafe. This was called, appropriately, The Bank. I went in to investigate. It did indeed feel like a traditional banking interior with most of the fittings removed. I had been a bit concerned about leaving the bikes outside, so when I spotted a couple of bikes in the corner I asked the waitress whether we could bring ours in too, and she readily agreed. So we wheeled our bikes inside, parked them behind a screen where, no doubt, bank staff once sat, and sat down to order our lunch.

Cycle parking in The Bank, Eye

The menu looked just fine for touring cyclists, with lots of light options, but neither of us were particular hungry and ordered omelettes and salad. This took rather a long time to arrive, and the waitress apologised repeatedly for the delay, but when our meals were eventually served they were very nice. However the extended wait meant that it was not until 1pm that we were ready to continue with our ride.

It was now time to turn back towards Cambridge. We were now riding into the wind, but it was very light and as the afternoon progressed its speed dropped until it became unnoticeable. We agreed that we still had a long way to go and we should moderate our pace and conserve our strength. However, although my legs were happy for a rest, Camille was clearly still full of beans and took the lead for long periods, inadvertently setting a slightly faster pace than I would have chosen but allowing me to draft along behind.

After about two hours we reached Lavenham. I had earmarked this for another cafe stop, and we parked our bikes in the Market Place and went into the National Trust tea shop at the Guildhall. However neither of us was actually hungry; I picked my way through a slice of carrot cake and Camille had nothing. Next time I would probably skip the cafe and just sit in the Market Place.

Market Place, Lavenham, with Guildhall Tea Rooms behind

We reached the final control of the ride (apart from the one at the end) about an hour later. This was Great Yeldham, and we visited the nearer of its two small shops to make token purchases and obtain receipts. Camille was feeling slightly unwell and we sat down to rest at a bench nearby.

The final stage from Great Yeldham back to Cambridge was 28 miles and for me was on fairly familar roads. My legs were beginning to recover, and after having plodded a little earlier I was now riding more strongly again. However Camille was beginning to suffer the beginnings of a cold and I found myself in front for most of the way home.

We followed Nick's route back through Stambrook and the Bumpsteads, climbing up to about 120m at Castle Camps before dropping back down to 60m at Bartlow. Here we turned north and climbed back up to Balsham before our final descent to Fulbourn and Cambridge.

Today's ride had been flatter than I had expected, with (perhaps surprisingly) the biggest climbs of the day being quite close to Cambridge: the climb from Six Mile Bottom to Brinkley at the beginning, and this climb to Balsham right near the end.

After a reasonably fast descent from Balsham to Fulbourn we completed the final five miles into Cambridge via Fulbourn Old Drift, The Tins and Mill Road rather than by the busier (but easier to describe) route on the route sheet. We arrived back at NatWest in St Andrew's Street at 6.30pm. Our official time for the ride, including all stops, was 11 hours 34 minutes.

Hero of the ride: my well-broken-in Brooks B17 saddle. Absolutely no discomfort, but a bit squeaky

After parting company from Camille I rode the final mile home, arriving a few minutes later and having cycled a total of 135 miles.

Today had been yet another superb ride. The route had been delightful, with pleasant countryside and remarkably empty roads almost all the way round. The weather had been warm and sunny, with plenty of cloud to prevent the sun becoming a burden. And a fast and amiable cycling companion. Today was Camille's first Audax, and today's 130 miles was more than twice the length of her previous longest ride. Well done, and welcome to our small band of CTC Cambridge audaxers! Nigel Deakin



This is Nigel's GPS track. GPS and TCX files for this route can be downloaded from the CamAudax site here


Thursday, 19 May 2016

29 May: Thursday ride to Newmarket and West Stow

Edward writes: Once again, with only ten cyclists at Hauxton, this represented a much lower number for a "village start" Thursday ride, but welcome nonetheless as it is much easier to control a group of this size. It was also a relief to Susan who was making her debut as a Thursday ride leader. Meanwhile, in town at the "city start", Dr John was the leader and throughout the day his group followed an entirely different route so, hopefully, we didn't cause too many problems to our fellow road users. At Hauxton we had the opportunity to welcome Paul who joined us for the first time.

Swaffham Bulbeck

At the start Susan warned us that this ride would be at least a 74 mile ride which was to take us via Newmarket then the Anglo Saxon village at West Stowe. Luckily the weather was in good form even if we didn’t get the amount of sunshine the forecast gave us to believe. In fact it was light cloud cover for most of the day with occasional glimpses of the sun. We left Hauxton through both the Shelfords and climbed the Gog hills which brought us down to Fulbourn, the Wilbrahams and Bottisham. We came into Swaffham Bulbeck and rode northwards along the cycle path to Swaffham Prior and then the ancient village of Reach.

Reach

When we came to Burwell we had the benefit of the westerly wind (actually hardly blowing at all) as we rode up Heath Road, alongside the A14 to Exning.

Between Reach and Burwell

This left us with the mile or so into Newmarket but not along the main road; instead Susan chose the road past the racecourse which is much quieter and far more pleasant.

Approaching Exning

We finally arrived at the Horse Racing Museum at 11.30am after 25 miles. We found the city start group finishing off coffee and preparing to start their second session to lunch which meant there was little time for talking.

The staff at the cafe museum were their usual friendly and efficient selves which enabled us to take a shorter break than usual and we were on our way again by mid-day.

Newmarket

We left Newmarket at the clock tower end of town and turned eastwards past the gallops and headed to Malton.

Newmarket

Now we were in gently rolling countryside where the oil seed rape is now starting to fade, but the hedgerows are now full of queen Anne’s lace and with all the blossoms, etc it makes May an almost perfect month. We followed the recommended cycle route from Moulton, past the pack horse bridge, to Gazeley and then through the tiny hamlet of Needham Street before passing under the A14 just east of Kentford.

The Packhorse Bridge in Moulton

Now we travelled north-easterly all the way through wooded countryside to Lackford and on the way we were lucky enough to see two circling Red Kites over the fields. This brought us within touching distance of the Anglo Saxon village for our lunch break arriving at 1pm after 13 more miles from Newmarket.

Gazeley

We must have taken a shorter route as the city group arrived about five minutes after us. We spread ourselves around with some outside with sandwiches and some inside ordering from the menu, including Alex who, after all his recent adventures, probably felt he was in need of a few extra calories. Outside, as last week another lively discussion ensued, which is quite unlike CTC rides, or is it the change of name to Cycling UK? This time the topic was different to last week’s debate, much different!

West Stow

By 2pm both groups were ready to go again and Dr. John took his group away and Susan led her band of ten along wooded roads to West Stowe and then on to Flempton where we turned south down to Risby and crossed the A14 again. As we headed east and south we passed through Barrow, Denham and Dalham.

Barrow

These picturesque villages were followed by Ashley, Cheveley and Dullingham where we turned to head towards West Wratting. Here Sarah left us; Balsham came next where Ian W left us, and Hildersham for a crossing of the very busy A1307.

The ride finished by going through Great Abington, a very noisy A505 cycle path, Babraham, Sawston and Great Shelford. Those completing the full circuit: Susan, Sheila, Mia, David W, Paul and Ian would have completed 78 miles. The ride finished at 5.15pm and a special thanks to Susan for a very successful first ride and also to David W who helped with the reconnaissance. Edward Elmer



Download GPS track (GPX).

Sunday, 15 May 2016

14/15 May: Bryan Chapman Memorial 600km audax

Alex writes: The Bryan Chapman Memorial ("BCM") is Audax UK's blue riband annual audax calendar event.

The idea is simple: cycle from the bottom of Wales (Chepstow) to near the top (Menai) and back. That's 600km (372 miles). In 40 hours.

I blame Nick W for inducing me to enter. During a pause on a ride in January he sold it to me: ideal for a first 600km, nicely graded climbs, great controls, you'll have no problem, etc. So when I got home I signed up. The next morning I looked at it in more detail and was reminded that – unlike Cambridgeshire – Wales had hills. Not just hills, mountains too. Then I read Nick's account of his first BCM with its talk of "layers of pain" and the summary "it was hilly and it hurt me as a lowlander". What had I let myself in for? 600km was twice as far as I'd ever cycled, but more worryingly the advertised 7,500m (24,600 ft) of climbing was beyond anything I'd ever experienced – the hilliest rides I'd done had under 2,000m of climbing. And they were hard enough!

To prepare I lost weight, rode an audax at least every month (including one with night time riding and one with at least a bit more hilliness) and kept riding CTC rides alongside my own more intense solo rides – making sure sometimes to ride on both days of a weekend to get used to the sensation of coping with tired legs. Still, as the date of the BCM approached I was aware that to complete it I would be near the edge of my capabilities.

To give myself a better chance I planned to use guile and technology: a carefully worked out schedule had me completing the course in 39 hours with 3 hours of sleep, and by using my heart rate monitor and power meter I would rein my effort in to keep myself fresh enough for the distance.

That was the plan, anyway.

The night before I stayed in Bristol with my cycling chum John L, and got a pretty good night's sleep (important first hurdle cleared!) followed by a copious breakfast of porridge and toast. After a short drive up to Chepstow we found ourselves setting off from the Bulwark Community Centre just after 06:00 under grey skies and in cool conditions as part of a field of 150 riders.

Queueing to get brevet cards

John was using the ride in part as training for the 1001 Miglia Italia and I soon waved him on at his own pace and watched as his tail light disappeared rapidly into the distance; I settled back into a steady rhythm: one of my tactics was not to display speed on my Garmin, but to focus purely on regulating effort and let speed take care of itself.

Soon I was overtaken by a peloton of a dozen strikingly young and fit-looking cyclists: it was a group from Rapha, who have a history of fielding riders for the BCM. One of them asked if I was Alex Brown. Mildly surprised that my cycling fame has spread so far I affirmed, to discover that the only reason for the enquiry was that my nephew is a grand fromage at Rapha, and that he had tipped off his colleagues to watch for me. After an interesting chat about products in development, I took my status as "Ben's uncle" as giving me permission to draft the Rapha train shamelessly, and let it pull me to the first control (@ 70km) at a nice pace and with minimal effort. A good start.

Hitching a lift with the Rapha train

On the next stage I tried to repeat this trick, but either the Rapha train had quickened or I had tired a little, as their pace was a touch too hot, so I reluctantly watched them pull away and rode mostly on my own. Soon the sun burned away the cloud and revealed a glorious early summer's day with just a few puffs of white cloud in the sky. There was a slight but niggling headwind from the north which kept things cool, and which made me regret I didn't have a group to draft.

Being passed by the Essex boys as the weather blossoms

Riders passed me, including a bunch of Essex riders I'd met at events earlier in the year. Gradually I was falling towards the back of the field – but when I reached the next control at Llanidloes (@ 138km) it was buzzing and I felt I would be hunting in the pack again if I set off promptly. Audax is not a race, but it's reassuring to feel one is at least keeping up.

Until now the riding had been fairly benign, including a couple of longish drags, but nothing to trouble the legs too much. Straight after Llanidloes however the course bared its teeth with what looked like a wall to climb out of the village: a ramp kicking up to 20% as an appetizer for what was to follow. This section of the ride was new for this year and meant that the description of the BCM as a ride of exclusively "nicely graded climbs" no longer held. The B4518 is a rollercoaster with some brutal steep sections, including this horror climbing up from Clywedog Reservoir (see video).


Some video from the ride

It is possible to avoid this by taking a detour through the forest, but that route doesn’t have the great views and adds 6km, so probably isn't a superior option.

Other riders made a better fist of the steeper climbs than I did

Clywedog Reservoir

Walking the toughest climb must have displeased the cycling gods, as shortly thereafter I heard the tell-tale whooshing sound of a puncture. I run tubeless tyres containing some liquid latex which should instantly seal any holes, but when the hole is too big to seal, the sealant spurts out noisily and so this whooshing sound means trouble. I upended the bike and looked at the tyre to locate the puncture: yes, it was quite big, probably caused by glass. One option was to remove the tyre and switch to a conventional clincher instead (I carry a tyre and tubes), but instead I reached for something I'd never tried before: an anchovy.

This "anchovy" (or "worm") is a sticky solid strip which needs to be forced into the tyre using a small two-pronged metal fork. It felt rather odd plunging a metal tool through the tyre wall, but when it's retracted it leaves the tail of the anchovy (which now plugs the hole) protruding. When you start riding this tail gets flattened into a kind of external patch and makes a long lasting repair. To my surprise, this worked brilliantly. It certainly beat mucking around with wheel/tyre removal and is another tick in the box for tubeless tyres, I think! So back to the ride ...

Following the B4518 rollercoaster there is a tough (but at least not too steep) ascent to the high point of the entire ride near the top of Foel Fadian, at 509m (1,670 ft), and from here a spectacular descent (see video) into the Dyfi valley and the town of Machynlleth. Here I stopped for a much-needed refill of my water bottles and met the Essex randonneurs again; they reckoned we were making good time and, since they're vastly more experienced that I am, I found this encouraging.

Now more climbing. I was beginning to get it. Climbing here isn't a short hard effort followed by a breather at the top but a long steady grind: more like riding into a headwind in the Fens. The climb up to Coris was 10km and took 33 minutes, then another climb over the Tall-y-Lynn pass before bombing down to Dolgellau and, shortly thereafter the third control (@ 208km). I had taken around 11 hours to get here. Not bad for me, given the terrain. Unfortunately the combination of effort and blazing sunshine seemed to have conspired to give me a lurking feeling of nausea ...

This third control is YHA Kings and this functions as a kind of "base camp" for the next phase of the ride, a loop to Menai. Ideally the plan is to have a meal at the first time of stopping at Kings, and a sleep at the second. I sat down for my meal and was asked how many courses I wanted (answer: 3) and food appeared in front of me as if by magic. This, it seemed, was a menu honed to be palatable to the jaded cyclist: soup, then vegetable couscous, then a large bowl of treacle sponge and custard. Despite not feeling great, I found I could easily eat it all. But then I found sitting down was rather nice, and there was some interesting chat to be had, so my intentions to move on briskly were lost and I wasn't on the road again until rather later than I had planned.

In the evening sun I crossed the pretty wooden bridge at Barmouth and worked along the undulating coastal road towards Harlech, where I turned inland heading towards the Snowdon massif.

The coast at Harlech

As it began to get dark I saw cyclists heading towards me at speed. It was the front of the field on the return leg from Menai – these guys were around 100km ahead of me! An astonishing display of cycling prowess.

On the lower reaches of the Pen-y-Pass the temperature started dropping markedly so I stopped to don extra layers. Looking ahead I could see, high up on the mountainside, the tail lights of cyclists winking as they traversed the pass. Still feeling nauseous, I munched an energy bar in readiness for the climb ahead.

Now the voices started:  you're out of your league aren't you? Is it really that hard to get a train back from round here? What would be the least embarrassing excuse for abandoning?

Stopped to layer-up near the foot of the Pen-y-Pass

To try and silence such questions I fired-up the on-bike bluetooth speaker, got my head down and ground up the pass with the boost of a rocktastic accompaniment. This worked well: I reached the top with Rock the Casbah (apologies to any startled lambs), swooped down into the undulating coastal region and crossed the Menai Bridge in surreal fashion to Boney.M's Painter Man. Half way!

The control at the Menai scout hut seemed a kind of heaven with its light and warmth and ... hot food! Some riders were sprawled on the floor asleep; others were slumped on tables trying to sleep; around 20 were still to arrive. As I tucked into a baked potato with cheese and beans I assessed the situation and fired off a tweet announcing I'd made it half way.

It would be well after midnight when I left Menai and the next stage was 82km featuring cold, dark and climbing. I wouldn't expect to be back at Kings much before 05:00, so the 3 hours of sleep I had been planning to have there now seemed an unlikely prospect. Hmmm.

For inspiration I approached Julian Dyson, a very experienced randonneur riding a beautiful Moulton and who seemed to have a comparable pace to me. What was his sleep strategy? "Not having very much!" he beamed. Great.

At this point a wonderful thing happened. Back in Cambridge Nigel re-tweeted my tweet on behalf of CTC Cambridge, wishing me luck. That did it. All thoughts of abandonment went away: I would try to do this for CTC Cambridge's audax points tally!

With stiffened resolve, I left Menai in a group including Ade, Jeff and Richard – three riders from Portsmouth who would be my companions pretty much for the whole remainder of the ride. We formed the core of an impromptu group towards the back of the field with – it seemed – a shared love of cake, gallows humour, and not trying too hard.

Over the Menai Bridge, heading back south ...

We had come to Menai via the east side of Snowdon, but would return via its west side, a reputedly slightly easier route. Nevertheless we soon found ourselves climbing quite hard on rural lanes. The demands of the ride were beginning to tell and we paused a couple of times to gather ourselves and nibble on food we had collected from the scout hut. The temperature had dropped to -2.5°C and I was glad I had packed clothing as if for an East Anglian winter night (other riders were less well prepared, some resorting to ripping up cardboard boxes to stuff up their jerseys for makeshift insulation).

At around 3am, the climb past Trawsfynydd nuclear power station seemed particularly gruelling: when you've been grinding away for 20 minutes and somebody (maybe me) shouts out "half way up, guys!" then it starts to gnaw at your soul. For the first time ever I was using the Garmin's elevation profile screen to show how far up the climb I was. I sometimes wished I hadn't.

In the cold, the fast long descents were particularly chilling and even with long-fingered gloves I began to lose sensation in my hands. I was starting to yawn a lot and Richard said he was struggling not to fall asleep. To keep ourselves going we kept talking and swapped cycling yarns while fantasizing about the pleasures that awaited us a Kings.

We eventually arrived at Kings just past 5am as many riders were leaving. But one advantage of being towards the rear of the field was that the pressure on beds had eased and so while eating an omlette I was told I would find an empty bunk in room 7 upstairs. I headed upstairs and clad in clammy stinky lycra stretched out under the duvet, setting my alarm to sound in 80 minutes. I quickly fell into a dreamless sleep, lulled by the sound of my fellow riders snoring and farting.

An hour later I woke and crept downstairs for breakfast. The place seemed full of cyclists still, including the Rapha train who seemed in good spirits. I drank several cups of coffee and ate toast. There were 220km to ride today to finish. How hard could that be?



Randonneurs first thing on day 2: perhaps not in mint condition

I wanted to ride in a group again so waited until my companions were ready which meant we weren't underway until 08:00, effectively giving us 14 hours to complete those final 220km. Usually, this would be no problem – but on tired legs over hilly terrain ... ?

The day began with a stinker of a climb to test our creaky legs. Fortunately I had been forewarned to expect to want to abandon the audax on this (one rider did just that when his knee gave out halfway up), and so endured to the top and then enjoyed a rapid descent as a reward. After this the terrain relented a bit until the next control as Aberhafep and a second breakfast. Who knew that Nutella stirred into cold cream rice was such a treat? Around 150km to go.

By now I knew what mattered when contemplating the next stage. Forget distance, the important thing is what the profile looks like. The next stage featured a long (11km) drag up to Dolfor. Still, we were coping well by taking it slow and stopping when we felt like it for food and a stretch. The day was warming up nicely and I was back down to a jersey and arm warmers.

However by the time we reached the final control in LLandidrod Wells, a doubt began to creep in. Were we taking it too easy? With 105km to go if we kept dawdling and stopping we might find it hard to be back in time.

The nauseous feeling that had persisted since yesterday had now cleared and I felt good and strong, so I was happy to increase the pace. Strangely, my one hour of sleep seemed to have been enough and I don't remember yawning all day. We zipped along nicely mindful that the biggest challenge in this final stage consisted of two last climbs. The first of these, from Talgarth to Pengenffordd, was another half hour of grind, but the payoff was a extended shallow descent which effectively continued for over 40km of easy fast cycling, and during which we stopped quickly at a cafe for a final break.

Then it was just a matter of one final climb up Golden Hill. I was in no mood for heroics, and with time in hand was happy to stop a couple of times on this ascent for a stretch and to admire the wonderful views in the warm evening light.

Then down into Chepstow and to the arrivée. As I neared I saw a figure with a camera waiting to photograph me. It was John L. He had finished in 31 hours, cycled back to Bristol for a rest, and then returned to Chepstow to meet me (my Garmin LiveTrack had made this accurate interception possible).

Arriving back in Chepstow, adjudged to look "in good order" (Photo: John Lee)

I had completed the course in just under 39 hours, as planned (even if the execution of the plan differed from what I had intended).

It had been a sensational experience, so good it makes me reluctant to want to repeat this course as I find it hard to imagine how things could be better. The conditions overall had been kind and I suspect that with wind and rain I would have struggled, a lot.

I was very grateful to John L for guiding me back to Bristol (where we ate an enormous Chinese meal) as when driving I felt a bit like Cary Grant in that scene from North by Northwest when he's driving a car after being forced to drink two bottles of whisky. Thanks must also go to all the wonderful volunteers who made the event the success it was. And finally thanks to Nick W for inducing me to enter the ride. He was right: it really does make a great first 600!

Food and drink consumed:
 — almond slice
 — tuna sandwich, can of Coke
 — soup, vegetable couscous, treacle sponge and custard
 — baked potato with cheese and beans
 — potato omlette
 — 2 rounds of toast
 — energy bar, two slices of malt loaf
 — Snickers, fig roll
 — bacon sarnie, rice pudding with Nutella
 — flapjack
 — chocolate milkshake, crisps
 — numerous cups of tea and coffee
 — approx. 11 litres of water (some with Nuun tablets in)

My Strava report is here; a few more photos are on Flickr here.