Friday, 18 August 2017

18 Aug: Cambridge Shipping Lanes 200km Perm Audax

Simon writes:There is a fairly inescapable axiom, which says that it's impossible to do anything for the first time more than once. Whether it be reading a book, running for president or swimming your first mile. Our club committee members are aware of the value of this fleeting moment in a cyclist's adventures for its beacon of inspiration and encouragement to those up-and-comers, trepidatious of challenges that they haven't yet attempted. Whether it's stepping up a gear from the entry-level Saturday rides with Ian, Julia (and Flo) to a Sunday afternoon ride, leading your first club group ride, or as in this case at the age of 52, riding your first 200km audax.

Our club Secretary, John R, had invited me to join his group for the debut of Nick Wilkinson's permanent ride of the Cambridge Shipping Lanes 200km Perm Audax to Shotley Gate between the Harwich and Felixstowe estuaries. Despite more names being invited on the mailing list our group consisted of just John, Mike P and me.

John chose 7am to start outside the Nat West Bank in St Andrews's Street in Cambridge. This proved to be well-timed for several reasons.

Firstly it avoids the bulk of the morning rush-hour traffic, secondly it affords an extra hour to cope with variable conditions before the onset of nightfall, but not so early as to put us back in Cambridge before the afternoon rush hour traffic had thinned out. Friday was also a good choice as many head away from work earlier to complete their frantic blinkered journey so we didn't have to meet them.

Tiredness is definitely an underestimated hazard and worth being aware of when having to meet irritable, impatient commuters.
This latest addition to the list of CamAudax permanents is a charmful route of peaceful, gently rolling country lanes, just like most of our club touring rides - only more of it!

You could take an hour for lunch, a half hour for morning and afternoon tea breaks and still complete it within the 14 hour time allowance at a very steady 11 miles per hour average cycling pace.

There is much to be said for pacing yourself from the start instead of wasting energy inefficiently bolting from the off, but as the weather had presented us with perfect warm sun and a tail wind we comfortably averaged 23.5km/h, bringing us to our first coffee stop in Lavenham at 9am.

Predictably all the cafes were closed but rescue was in hand as there is a delightful cycling-orientated café called Café Como on the A1141 just 2km south of Lavenham, which we reached by 9.20am.


It stands in the grounds of a country house with several cycle hanging bars and no need to lock up. They even provide a track pump for our use, showers if needed and our refreshments were accompanied by a carafe of chilled water which we used to top up our bottles. Their playful Italian Spinone made several appearances under the less than due diligence of children helping in the café in their school holidays. They have set opening times but might well open on demand for a group booking.


On we sped until reaching the Shipwreck pub in the car park along with several dry-docked sailing boats at Shotley Gate. This was our control point and had to buy something to get a control receipt.

The Shipwreck at Shotley

We ate lunch looking over several container ships moored along the line of loading cranes, the odd small jelly mould (fibre glass boat) following the line of cardinal buoys that mark the deep water channel.

At Shotley

The wind had changed since we last checked the forecast and can even be said to have changed to a head / side wind for the journey home.

John loves to recall the memory of a Club Christmas dinner ride to Bourn Golf Club and my saying that I couldn't keep a pace into the wind. Look where we are now, I can ride 100km into it.

In Boxford however, disaster struck. We were descending a gentle incline on a road sheltered with tree cover. John was in front and I heard him warn of two potholes. Mike behind him managed to avoid the first but landed his front wheel into the second.

Beware deep potholes

The wheel stopped dead and his momentum was focused on the welded connection between his head tube and down tube, which split the frame and deposited him on the road in front of his bike, which then sort of landed on him.

I had left a greater than normal gap between us but still couldn't stop without losing some control. My first thought was to get Mike off the road in case another vehicle descended upon us but had to lift his bike off him first, where upon he was able to stand, having sustained only grazes.

It seemed such a devastating shame for the incident to write off Mike's prospects of completing the audax and our sincere condolences go to him.

Tree-sheltered lanes, beautiful though they are, harbour several hazards of which we should all be aware. Firstly they are dark and the loss of light can make visibility suddenly very poor. Secondly they don't dry out like open roads which can cause slippery green growth and rotting leaves in the middle, rain water often drains from the banks either side in to the road and carries shingle with it. Lying water also promotes the road surface to suffer freeze thaw in winter and hence the potholes that we encountered, so do be vigilant and cautious especially whilst being carried away downhill. Spread out, slow down and leave greater margin to accommodate these hazards.

This left just the two of us to do the 12km to Sudbury for the third control point. Costa Coffee provided this with tea, milk, energy bar and the chance to refill water bottle for the last time.

We were 35 miles from home and I'd say this is where my normal energy reserves started to run out. It rained on and off which compromised the circulation in my fingers and we got slower and slower until reaching Cherry Hinton road, Hills Road and finally the last control point at Nat West Bank again.

Still we had done it in 12 hours 20 minutes which John said was good going and even being a more seasoned audaxer said it had felt a little tough, which makes me feel encouraged.

Would I do it again? Yes, in a weeks' time as it happens, for the Suffolk CTC's presentation of the Mildenhall bike festival 200k audax! You don't have to do a "200" as your first either. They're running a 50km, a 100km, a 160km (100 mile) and a 300km. These rides are known as "Calendar" audaxes, and unlike "permanents", are filled with hundreds of participating riders and packed with the exciting buzz of convoys, groups and control point cafes where everyone you meet is making the same intrepid journey. Simon Gallaway. Photos by John Ross



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. Chapeaux all round - especially to Simon on becoming a *randonneur* !

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