Cobbled together

Cycling season has gotten underway in earnest on this side of the Atlantic too, helped along by a dry spring and some warming temperatures. So far this year I’ve gotten in a 100K audax, a hilly 110K sportive and a 10-mile time trial, but the big early season test awaits on Sunday: the Paris-Roubaix challenge. Organised by the organiser of the professional race, Amaury Sport Organisation, (also owners of the Tour de France and Paris Marathon), the amateur’s sportive version of Paris-Roubaix will be a shortened 148 kilometres and cover 30 of the 50 kilometres of cobbled road that the professionals cover. I’m honestly a bit worried about this — covering that distance over flat terrain is not a big worry, but handling the cobbles will be, which is of course makes it an appealing challenge.

I have no illusions about finishing fast. The goal will be to finish within the time limit and upright — which, come to think of it, is my main goal most of the time anyway. I’m looking forward to getting a taste of what the pros withstand. It should be good insight into what it takes to win.

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The Dunwich Dynamo

Cyclists take a dip

The water is cold here. Really really cold.

Longtime readers of this blog will remember my love for the Dunwich Dynamo. It’s an all-night ride from East London to the lost city on the Suffolk coast. It’s about 200 kilometers long, it makes a perfect prep ride for Paris-Brest-Paris, particularly if you, as I plan to do, ride it both ways. It’s not an audax, not even a sportive, just a fun grass-roots ride with no real organization other than one group of people draw up a route and another group organize a coach trip home for those who are so inclined (in the past I have ridden another 50 km to the nearest mainline rail station in Ipswich and taken the train home). There will be a lot of undertrained, under-lit riders on the road. It’s flat, so many will try it on fixed gears, and I’ve even seen penny-farthings and unicycles.

Right now, the rain is hammering down and we have a steady southwesterly wind. The latter phenomenon promises an easy spin up to the North Sea (although a hard return journey). The former? Well, I’m an audaxer. I’ll suck it up and deal with it.

Run over by a tank?

No, just the Beast from the East 600K. Felkerino did an amazing job of previewing and recounting my journey to the Taunton Deane motorway plaza and back–which I promise to do–so there’s not much to add until I can write up a fuller story.

Which hurts more: run over by a tank or a 600K?

Which, given my fuzzy brainedness of the past week, has not been possible. Physically, I have felt like I was run over by one of the British Army’s tanks at one of their many, many road crossings on the Salisbury Plain.

I’m reminded that this has been my first completed 600K since my only Paris-Brest-Paris year in 1999, so this totally destroyed feeling is something unfamiliar. Today is the first day I’ve felt normal all week. With luck, I’l feel like riding outdoors on Saturday.

And speaking of Saturday, best wishes to Felkerino, MG, and the rest of the riders in the DC Randonneurs 600K this weekend. You’ll make us proud.

Severn Across 400K …

Chalfont St Peter decked out for the royal wedding

Of all the events on the audax calendar, I fear the 400 kilometer brevet the most. Unlike the shorter 200K and 300K rides, which are long and longer day rides, the 400K is the one you will most likely finish in extended darkness. There is no sleep ‘till the end; you’re on the road until you ride the whole distance, for which you’re allowed 27 hours. You can’t race it – all the discipline in the world forces you back onto the saddle whenever you’re tempted to sprint a hill, or lightens your pedals when you want to press into a headwind. You’re always reminded of how far you have to go.

Plus I’ve never had a good 400K ride.

I’ve had 400Ks in which I finished alone on dark roads in bucketing rain. I’ve had 400Ks where I fought nausea all day long. I’ve had 400Ks where I spent 12 hours pedaling alone, spending the day with my thoughts and finding it strange to speak to another human when my rolling isolation ended. The 400K is the ride that tests my will more than others, and it is the one where the act of handing over my card to be stamped at the start causes me to wonder at my love for this sport.

So it was when I found myself rolling out toward a turn point 200 kilometers away from Chalfont St Peter in London’s Buckinghamshire exurbs, the day after a prince of Wales celebrated his nuptials at Westminster Abbey. As with many of the villages on the way, the streets of Chalfont St Peter were decked out with the Union and England flags as we rolled toward the Chilterns. And as usual with many of these Audax UK events, a few speedy folks rode hard toward the front while a peloton interested in conserving energy formed up. I found myself a few wheels from the front of the peloton, as usually happens, except … I felt unusually flat. The burn of lactic acid rose with even the smallest rises, and I slipped toward the back.

Pasture, sheep, village - pastoral Britain.

On a gradual climb through a Chiltern valley, there was the abrupt call in front of me: “Hole!” followed by the swerve of a bike in front of me. Ka-whump! I felt a water bottle against my calf, my knee, and then underneath my rear wheel. I slowed to a stop, sighed, and picked my bottle up. I took up the chase but … reminded myself of how far I had to go and backed off. Guess it will be another lonely 400K – but I might catch up at the first controle.

Under a rising sun and with a rising wind behind us we passed through a valley west of the Chilterns. We were passing through pastures and fields, green and yellow with rapeseed plants. After a pause for photos in the valley I rolled to the first control in Woodstock, home of Blenheim Palace, homes of the Dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill. Whilst I was thinking coffee and cakes were in order, I was of a mind to do some catching up to the group I had lost, I moved on to the next challenge, the Cotswolds.

I knew from the organisers preview that the Cotswolds would be the toughest section of the day, at an average gradient of 11 meters per kilometer, and it did not disappoint. Plus I was feeling as thought I’d really failed to fuel property. I was rooting through my jersey pockets to keep going, and rising through repeated steep rollers that were putting me on the limit. I was feeling other limitations: my hands and wrists were starting to get sore, much earlier than I expected, and for the first time in wearing the shorts I was using I started to have, er, contact point issues. I was beginning to wonder if the Cotswolds would be my Waterloo, but at last they ended, with a steady 10 kilometers of tailwind into the controle at 145 kilometers in Tewkesbury. I decided that fueling up was a good idea. Coffee and a jacket potato fit the bill.

Finally well fueled and onto flatter roads, we were now in the valleys of the rivers Severn and Wye, two major watercourses that rise on the same mountain in Wales and meander a hundred miles from each other through Wales and the West Country before coming together near Bristol. I began picking up and passing riders along the way, and we began to approach the big challenge of the day, a climb called Yat Rock, a ridiculous 20% climb to throw into a 400K. The entry into it was a silly single track paved road, and in the first 30 seconds of the climb a ridiculous number of cars for such a road came past me. It was steep enough I could feel the yo-yo of my speed with each pedal-stroke, and at last the steep ramp hit. Out of the saddle, squat and unweighting with each pedal stroke – it was just good fortune the steep bit was short, probably less than 200 meters, but it was an effort that left my legs burning and my lungs desperate for breath. It passed, and it was an easy few wind-aided miles into the turn point at a Tesco in Chepstow. I picked up a fellow audaxer, a veteran of PBP, Perth-Albany-Perth, Mille Miglia and countless other rides who the previous weekend had ridden both a flêche and a 400K. Hardcore.

Audaxers on the Severn River Bridge, England side (shot hurriedly through plastic filter)

At the turn point, a significant group was lunching and preparing for the long leg home. For me? A triple sandwich, two packets of crisps, some pocket food and water for the next 200K. The next leg started off with a crossing of the Severn River Bridge, and with the tailwinds we had been getting I could only imagine what the notoriously windy bridge would hold. It did not disappoint, either: A howling crosswind made conversation all but impossible. Finding that I had a bit of a gap on the group on the England side, I paused for a few moments to take photos, then discovered the group long out of sight. Knowing the value of keeping with a group in winds like that, a brief chase ensued. I caught back on, but then … the stomach felt slightly bad, I caught a bad case of the sleepys, my hands, wrists, neck, back, and bum all were complaining, and the progress was slow, so slow, in the winds. The winds. The winds. Howling in the ears, pressing the chest, jerking the helmet. The next 40 kilometers to Malmesbury seemed an eternity in the winds and the Cotswolds slopes – in the shadow of the Malmesbury abbey, I finally had to pull off and stretch uncooperative muscles and take a naproxen. There goes my good group again – but with the setting sun, I could hope for the winds to slacken and maybe, just maybe, a bit of an easier ride.

The imposing superstructure of the Severn River Bridge.

The bulk of the next 17 kilometers were spent in the self-declared “longest village in England,” a village so long I’d forgotten I was still in it by the time I left. At a petrol station, my group was stopped and fuelling. I quickly grabbed some food and fluid and got ready for night riding. At the back of the group I was happier once again. At dusk, we climbed through a valley with the first artificial lights of a town below flickering on and the final glow of the setting sun reflecting off the yellow of a rapeseed field ahead. Then dark.

There were some miles until what would be our final stop at the Membury Services, off the M4, in which I hovered between strength and weakness. The pain had faded – I could thank either the pain relievers or the stretching – but the sleepiness came and went. But we pulled in through a back entrance and grabbed some food. It was 9:30, and we had close to 100K to go. At Membury, there was a long war council around a table in the petrol station. Some navigational decisions were being contemplated by the group. No slaves to the “route as written” as in other countries, Audax UK riders can take any route between controles, as that’s the reason the controles are put there anyway – to make sure you complete the distance. The danger of following the designated route is it traveled minor lanes: with darkness, poor signposting and blind junctions, the chance of missed turns was high. Not to mention the dips and climbs of the small roads. The group leaned toward A-roads. Late at night, with a large, well-lit group, we were as safe on the big A roads as we were on the less-traveled lanes.

Not much of the last 100K is memorable. We passed through Newbury, Reading and Maidenhead on our way home, briefly losing two members in Reading before reuniting under a bus shelter. I just remember the pain creeping back and the desire for the ride to be over growing. The sleepys came and went. I occasionally took at turn at the front. The veteran I’d met on the road, he of the flêche and 400K the preceding weekend, worked hard to keep us together in a smooth-riding group, conserving as much energy as possible. My turns at the front were ragged. I never felt the right speed, always speeding up and losing the group, then slowing to a snail’s pace and annoying subsequent wheels. I was trying, but my body didn’t have much finesse left. My hardcore buddy admitted weakness at last – nausea was creeping in. “I don’t do well after midnight,” he said. In Henley, two wandering youths shouted in disbelief at the sight of group of cyclists out at that hour and asked if we were Jesus. We climbed into Gerrard’s Cross, then enjoyed the final two kilometers’ descent into Chalfont St. Peter. It was 20 hours since we’d left. In the village hall at the start, those of us who didn’t know each other finally introduced ourselves. I forced some high-fives on some reluctant Britons; my hardcore companion was already on the floor trying to sleep. I shook hands with him; at last, I was back. My warm bed in the nearby hotel awaited. Another difficult 400K was done. One of these days I’ll have a good one.

PBP 2011: Don’t call it a comeback …

I’ve been an ancien for years. Those who know me remember that my second go at Paris-Brest-Paris, in 2003, ended in the darkness of a rainy Virginia night as I got sick in a roadside ditch. I’d struggled with digestion issues throughout that super-randonneur series, and I decided at that point that it just wasn’t fun enough to continue. I haven’t tried again.

In 2007, I had just moved to a new country and wasn’t organized enough to make an effort. This year, I think I have it together and can make a third go at PBP. I put in a 300K last year – in fact, my first go at anything longer than 200K since 2003 – in order to jump ahead in the PBP registration queue. My first 200K this year is already in the bag, and I have a second one planned, this weekend from the northern London exurb of Stevenage.

My planning is together, and reasonably effective so far this year, I think.

Training: I have a short commute – one mile – far too short to bother with the clothing changes and other complications with a bike commute; and on top of that, the landlord at my office “tolerates” bicycles, but parking outside in a gated lot is not an acceptable choice to me. Thus, I have spent much of the year training indoors. Three Es mark my training: Economy, economy and endurance. I’ve been assisted by Troy Jacobson’s Spinervals series, largely technique sessions for triathletes, with some bits of power and higher intensity intervals thrown in. I believe an economical pedal stroke is probably the second-most important thing you can probably take to PBP after simple miles in the saddle. It’s at least as effective as a bike commute in traffic, with numerous stops – if not quite as much fun. I’ve come to enjoy indoor miles, however. Other than that, it’s been those weekend miles in the saddle that are the bread and butter of randonneuring. Applying just the slightest bit of science to training, I’ve done two critical power tests this year, and know my fitness has improved by 6% over eight weeks. In other words, at any given speed I’m riding just that little bit easier now than I was at the beginning of the year, small percentages that will count for a lot after 750 kilometers.

Ride planning: Part of the reason I opted against a super randonneur series in 2003 was the fact that I didn’t own a car. I didn’t really have a good idea where rides were, nor how to get there. Four years later, I know the geography a bit better and have become accustomed to the complications of traveling by bike and train. It just takes … planning and thinking.

As I’ve mentioned, the 200K is in the bag, with another to come. The 300K is from the Sussex town of Hailsham, near Brighton, a 3 a.m. start that will duplicate day two of PBP for me in that I’ll do it on minimal sleep. Instead of watching the Royal Wedding, I’ll journey west of London to Chalfont St. Peter for a ride to the Severn and back for the 400K, and the 600K on the final weekend of May will return to the same Essex roads of my first 200K.

Following that, I’ve planned an 80-mile ride to Stonehenge with some friends for the Saturday before the Summer Solstice, from which I will return by bicycle. In July, I will ride the 200K all-night Dunwich Dynamo with an enlarging grupetto of friends, and then return to London by bicycle rather than train, an outing that would duplicate the 90 hour PBP start if I were to opt for it.

In all, I have a sense of guarded confidence about the season. As I know, much can go wrong, but I’m 12 years older than my first PBP in 1999 and, I would hope, 12 years smarter. Experience counts in this game. And I’m really looking forward to it.

Shaftesbury Spring 200K: No time for photos …

The 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris campaign kicked off for me Saturday with a ride through farm fields, past postboxes, and into a Mordoresque gloom with an occasional wrong turn and some unexpected sights.

There are certain things you expect to see when walking into London’s Liverpool Street station before 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning: The nano-skirted post-club woman giving the few station denizens a flash of bare buttock as she perused pastries at the coffee stand? Yes. The cyclist with a fully kitted steed complete with mudguards, rack and stuffed rack-top bag? No. Except he was catching the same train as I was, to Elsenham in Essex for the Shaftesbury Springtime 200, my first audax of a PBP 2011 campaign.

I found an open space on the train and motioned my fellow cyclist to join me, confirming he was headed the same way I was, and we whiled away the trip trading randonneuring tall tales on the 50 minute ride up to our destination. Once off, we spun easily the last two kilometers to the ride start, knowing we would be an hour early but also knowing the next train would get us in with only a few minutes to spare before the house. Overshooting the start, we doubled back to the Shaftesbury Cycling Club’s “hut,” one of several nearby bungalows owned by East London or formerly East London cycling clubs as homes away from home for traffic- and smog-free training. (Several consecutive audax weekends are being run from the same general row of bungalows.)

Inside, the ride director hadn’t arrived, but the kitchen crew had, boiling water for tea and instant coffee. We took a load off in the overstuffed couches, continuing our chat. The place was part hunting lodge, part clubhouse: trophies and photos scattered about, an electric fireplace, a few beds in a back room, changing rooms for both genders. Danny, a friend from Cambridge, arrived, along with a growing number of audaxers. Soon enough, the audax director arrived, set up shop in the men’s changing room; then we gathered on the front lawn and were sent on our way.

It was an overcast, still day – a big change, I learned, from the previous week’s populaire, where riders were lashed with stiff winds and rain. We spun on narrow lanes through farm fields, the riders with more event miles in their legs sprinting ahead, while Danny and I were plenty happy to lope along easily in the small ring. It was a figure-eight loop taking us first into Essex before turning back to the bungalow. As such, it required four controles per 100K, two information controls and one commercial control in addition to the HQ. The first info controle (Saturday mail pickup at a postbox in Pleshey) was passed at 26 km, then onward through the fields, with occasional shallow dips into stream valleys, to the café at the Dutch Nursery in Coggeshall at 58 km, where we arrived after about two and a half hours. A rather long queue awaited coffee and cake at the till, so Danny and I bypassed the coffee for a quick controle stamp and a snack from our jersey pockets – and passing a dozen or so cyclists in the process.

The terrain was starting to grow a little more challenging; whether it was the size of the hills or the cumulative riding, it was hard to say. Danny was beginning to feel it more than I was. He was training for a three-day sportive in late May, so he had yet to get a fully century, with a 100K ride being his longest so far. Not long after the second information control (the phone number – written in squint-o-vision – of the church in Shalford) he told me to go on. Briefly, I rode along with another fellow Ancien planning a PBP run – he said he hadn’t seen me at the Coggeshall controle, where I informed him I considered speed a little more important at that point – but before long his pace was a little more than I wanted to take on for my first 200K.

I arrived back at the Shaftesbury bungalow after about four and a half hours and just over 100K. I got a stamp and then bought a ham sandwich and coffee. Danny rolled up and informed me he was planning to simply ride home for 80 miles on the day. So I would be on my own for the afternoon. I rolled out under skies looking darker by the moment. The second turn was onto a busy B road, and the third turn was a “no signpost” turn, which is always a suspicious one. I stopped near what I thought was the turn, pulled out by iPhone and took a look at the directions. Seemed right. About the time I made the decision, another apparent audaxer rolled along and made the turn. I chose correctly. Next turn, not so lucky. I missed it and ended up in the centre of Standsted Mountfichet, and had to double back for some bonus miles. I cursed, knowing that I needed to be very attentive to the route sheet for the remainder of the ride.

We were now heading west into Hertfordshire, more familiar territory for me. And with a small bit of local knowledge, I knew that the terrain would be less forgiving in the afternoon (total on the day was 1,800 meters, according to the ride director). The hills grew more challenging – nothing long or steep, just persistent. Throw in some ever-so-mild winds, and the day grew long. I was passing riders in ones and twos or small groups. A third info controle (again, Saturday postbox collection time) awaited at Walkern, a familiar town from my weekend London-based rides. Onward to Baldock under dark skies; there was a hint of moisture in the air as a Mordoresque fog drew over the countryside.

The Baldock controle at 150K was a chip shop (Fish ‘n’ Chicks) where I ordered chips and a coffee and collected my receipt. I looked at the time and had a realization – while I’d packed a full set of lights and even backup batteries, I had assumed that I would finish before nightfall, and thus had failed to bring along a way to illuminate my route sheet. If night fell, I’d simply have to wait for slower cyclists and finish with them. I had a further realization – London-bound trains stopped at Elsenham only once per hour, at 19 after, and I knew the latest one I really wanted to catch was at 6:19. I was 50K out and decided it was time to go hard.

Awaiting me, of course, was the hardest climb of the day, and I did know it was coming – a long two-mile slog to Therfield, through Royston Heath and its golf course. But once at the top, I knew we would be heading east toward the HQ and I could go into time trial mode. The final hour of the ride went past rather quickly – a quick stop at the final info controle at Guildern Morden (again with the postbox), and a quickly detected missed turn outside Clavering, but mostly just pounding the pedals in a race against darkness. With less than 2K to go, droplets finally starting materializing in the Mordoresque gloom, just enough to wet the skin. I finally arrived back at the bungalow at just after 5:40 – after turning in my card, that was enough time for another instant coffee as other cyclists bent over beans and toast, before rolling back to the rail station in Elsenham.

On the platform, another nano-skirted woman waited with her boyfriend for the ride into London. A few minutes before the London trains arrival, a group of four cyclists, the diners from the bungalow arrived. One looked at me and said, “You should have stayed. Much warmer back at the hut.”

The Wild Edric Cyclosportive

Twenty-five percent grade forces most riders off their bikes.

Twenty-five percent grade forces most riders off their bikes.

I admit it: I got off and walked. I cut 12 miles off the course. I cursed the organizer to the seventh generation. I traveled five hours each way and paid £25 for the humiliation–but at least I could get a massage at the end.

The Wild Edric Cyclosportive covered 97 miles in Shropshire (England’s hidden county, or so we were told several times during the ride prep) and Wales, with an estimated 3,800 meters (that’s meters) of climbing that included three grades of 25%. And not just 25% for 100 yards–25% for a half mile or more.

To be honest, I can’t really recommend this ride. It seems to me that there’s no point in routing a bicycle ride up a climb that even fit cyclists who would choose to try it can’t actually get up. These were roads more fit for a hill-climb time trial than an endurance cycling event. I won’t be going back to this unless I learn that the organizer has omitted some of these climbs. On the positive side, it was a good day out. Atop some of these climbs (I didn’t walk every single one) were spectacular views, with open heathland with grazing sheep and picture-postcard overlooks of valley farmland. I just have to think that there’s a rideable way to the top.

A full account follows below.

The march to the top.

The march to the top.

Wild Edric: Two Longs, Too Steep

“There’s a contest on among organizers,” said the graying Yorkshire rider pushing his Bob Jackson alongside me, “to see who can design the hardest route.”

If my Northern friend hadn’t told me this, I might have guessed. I was pushing my own bike up a 25 percent grade over the Long Mynd, the mountain in England with the Welsh name, just one in a long column of riders trudging up this Shropshire landmark. We were not even 20 miles into the Wild Edric cyclosportive, and we were reduced to this: walking and pushing. The occasional cyclist still astride his steed would ride by, in a 34-tooth compact chainring or a racing triple, but for the most part we had our feet on the ground. And even some of those still riding would finally surrender to the Gods of Gravity, click out, and join our slow march.

“Well,” the Yorkshireman added with a laugh, “I guess that’s why they call them pushbikes.”

At one time, they might have been called pushbikes, but I found it cold comfort. It took me five hours, two trains, and my own journey over the Long Mynd by a different road just to get to the start, and I hadn’t made that journey to walk. I came to ride, and I found myself cursing the cyclosportive organizer who would put in a climb that nobody could actually climb. Stupid, sick, pathological–words that came easily to me on the trudge, along with some others that I won’t repeat here.

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

My Yorkshire riding companion had warned me of the climb: Right turn at the phone box, cross the cattle grid, and then up. I sensed it happening before it happened. Downshift into the 39/27, and get up out of the saddle. Do a long set of alternating one-legged leg presses with abdominal crunches on the off-leg, and hope. But just … too long. The walk up revealed to me that I indeed had chosen well. It was a solid half-mile, bottom to top. Any effort to have gotten up that would have trashed me for the rest of the ride, and for what? A chance to say I’d climbed the Long Mynd? Forget it. I’ll walk.

At the top was an airfield, glider station, and waypoints for the Shropshire Way walking path. I stopped to snap a couple of pictures. The paramedics sent to the top by the ride organizer offered to take a shot of me aboard my bike as if I had climbed all the way to the top. I declined.

“That’d be lying,” I said.

“Well,” one laughed, “I think only about one in 20 made it up without walking.”

The route took us across a heathy plateau, with walkers and free-grazing sheep with a high view of the irregular valley farm plots that only metes-and-bounds surveying creates. It was almost enough to take my mind off the knowledge that I had more than 70 miles to go.

Then came the descent: A bumpy, twisty, steep hand-cramper of a fall down the mountain that left me cringing in fear of a blowout from overheated rims. At the bottom–another cattle grid. Braking as hard as I dared, thrusting my rear backward, I got my bike back to a reasonable speed, rolled over the grid and then into Church Stretton, shaking out my hands. Only 70 miles to go.

We continued much like this. Brief passes on undulating valley B-roads, only to be directed onto narrow lanes with more steep climbs. At another point, a fellow rider joked, “It looks like somebody just strung together all the hardest climbs in the area–twice.” It was true. More than once, descending from a summit the route made a sharp left or right–sometimes on blind corners with gravel and debris–and we would climb back onto the ridge we just crossed.

Later, I ran across my Yorkshire friend at the point where the short ride of 68 miles divided from the long ride of 97. “I’m going to take the short route today,” he said. “I’m stuffed.” It was tempting to follow him–but I’d traveled this far to ride 97 miles, and I wasn’t going to do any less.

The climb of Long Mountain–the Welsh mountain with the English name–forced me to walk once again. I have no idea how long the climb was–we were in a tunnel of trees that kept me guessing where the top was. And then a third mountain late in the day, which found me on and off several times before I finally reached the top, cursing the organizer and his descendants to the seventh generation. Another short descent and re-ascent of the same ridge found me uttering the worst profanity I can think of in the loudest voice possible.

In the valley after that climb, I found myself at a crossroads. A signpost suggested to me it was 8.5 miles back to the finish in Bishops Castle via roads in the valley, although my odometer told me the ride-as-written had another 20 miles. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t walk up another hill. The course had beaten me. Forty minutes later, I crossed the timing mat, 12 miles short of my goal ride, but happy I’d skipped the final hour of pain.

Rides: Having Fun, London To Cambridge

VII miles to go.

Historic milepost says it all: VII miles to go.

I haven’t been having enough fun lately.

That is to say, I have fun every time I’m out on a bicycle. It’s just that many of my rides lately have been on familiar roads in Hertfordshire–to Washington, DC, cyclists, the equivalent of loops around Poolesville. Fun, sure, but not the adventure I craved. I wanted new, unfamiliar roads and a destination worth talking about.

I’d had a hankering for awhile to ride north to Cambridge (yes, home to the university), about 50-odd miles north of London, and take the train back. It was definitely in the range of my fitness, and surely a worthy target. So with my new Christmas gift, I plotted a GPS route and made plans for Saturday.

Quiet road away from urban bustle.

Quiet road away from urban bustle.

It was unfortunate that the weather forecast for Saturday included the term “freezing fog,” so I reset for Sunday, which called for some of the warmest temperatures we’ve seen in weeks and “freshening southwest breezes” to push me on my northbound ride. It was a good choice, as I covered the 59 miles in 3 hours 41 minutes of rolling time. Free of traffic in London and then Hertford, the bulk of my ride was on quiet “B” roads. There was one missed turn, due to pilot error rather than GPS error.

My route delivered me directly to the Cambridge rail station, where a train back to London Kings Cross station arrived about 10 minutes after I did. There was no designated bike space aboard, but it was an express train, so I didn’t need to move it away from the doors for boarding riders at any point.

Motionbased data here. Flickr photoset here.

9th Day of Randonneurmas – Safety

Merry Randonneurmas, or as we say on this side of the pond, Happy Audaxmas! While solar-powered cyclists never roll rubber outside their thresholds when it’s dark out, and while standard bike commuters ride in darkness only a fraction of the year, we randonneurs may be riding after dark year-round. As a result. many of us may have purchased our body weight in reflective materials over the years. But we often find we could use more, because that ankle band got lost at the bottom of the trunk/closet/sketchy descent and just doesn’t want to be found.

RUSA reflective ankle bands
It is fortunate, then, that the USA’s randonneur sanctioning body sells such gear, with its logo. I’m familiar with these bands sans logo: They’re nice and stretchy.

RUSA reflective sash
I prefer this type of Sam-Browne-style sash to the vest for randonneuring. You can always fit it over a hydration pack, if that’s how you prefer your water supply, without looking like a hunchback.

You will find it convenient that both are stocking sized. They can also be used to dress up a tree, if it’s looking a bit bare. You could even loop a bunch of the ankle bands together to form the oddest Christmas garland ever. It will look even odder in the photographs.

Check out this gear and more at the The Randonneurs USA store.

Tomorrow: Something Yummy.