Gavin and Stacey 400 perm

This is a new route from our local ACME legend and organiser Tom Deakins. From the first time Tom had mentioned the idea of this route I wanted to ride it. Being connected to Wales through my wife and living in Essex it made a lot of sense, let alone the fact we loved Gavin and Stacey.

The Overview

I had planned to ride this route just after the Easter Arrow in both directions. At the time though things didn’t weigh up and real life got more important so after 20 km I had taken the right turn toward Fyfield and headed home. That was my first DNF and it took a couple of days to process.

When plans were made to get over to Wales for a few days during the school holidays I saw the opportunity, it would mean that I only needed one night away and we could all meet up in Barry. I was obviously a bit concerned about potential expectations of what that meeting might require after riding 400 km and not sleeping but the girls are used to my befuddled post Audax state to a certain degree. We were go for Gavin and Stacey Take II!

The Gear

With the Croix de Fer out of action with a busted back wheel and a very clear message from Tom that I should probably not try this one on Fixed I was left with the Domane which had pretty much been retired from Audax duties until a couple of weeks earlier when I rode the adapted Asparagus and Strawberries route to test out the clip on Tri-bars I had borrowed.

I had changed the tyres from the 23mm Bontrager R3’s to 28mm Gravel Kings (Which were originally on the Croix de Fer) and they really upped the comfort and made no discernible difference to rolling speed. I also switched out the 11-25 cassette (which works perfectly around East Anglia) for the 12-30 which, with the semi compact crank would give me a low gear of 36/30 which I figured I would need!

I recently purchased an Alpkit Koala which I used a couple of weeks ago and thought worked well. A bit of learning on the packing to do but it’s light, makes me think a bit more about what I pack and with the optional drybag to pack inside the Koala you have a waterproof cell for all your gear that is a bit lighter and a little more aero than the carradice.

I had loaded the route onto my Garmin (GPSMap 62s) both as a simplified (to reduce track point count) end to end route and also as individual legs. I prefer to work on the individual legs as it helps a little with the mental side of breaking the ride up. I had also printed off a route sheet in case the Garmin decided to fail, not that I have ever had this issue, the GPSMap units seem pretty reliable even after taking a tumble down the road a couple of times!

I had noticed a lot of clicking on the bike when I test rode it the night before leaving to ensure all was in order but it was too late to do anything about it. I knew it would drive me mad so I put some time aside in the morning to chase the noise down. I ended up coming to the conclusion it was coming from the SPD-SL pedals which are now 3 years and probably close to 10,000 km old. Not a big issue as it meant I could swap over to the Look S-Tracks from the Croix de Fer which also meant I could then wear shoes with Recessed cleats!

Lighting was covered by a single Hope Vision 1 Led up front with a spare battery pack in the Koala and 3 red blinkers on the back.

The Plan

Usually on an Audax my plan goes about as far as making it to the finish before the time is up. For this ride as I was meeting the girls in Barry so there was a requirement to give an ETA. I used the Easter Arrow as a bar and decided I would aim for a 24 hour ride from Billericay and keep in touch as I go so I could let them know if things were to change.

I made my calculations based on the 402 km in the route sheet which was a mistake to start with as that is the minimum distance (actual distance was about 425 km so close to an extra hour riding). I made a note to keep with my Brevet card and sent the control times through to Catherine. I also made some notes for myself about each of the legs including comments like ‘flat to start then becoming Welsh’ these were not particularly helpful as it turned out!

So the outline of the plan was to get to Billericay for a 4 pm start and then make the following time checks

Place Distance (Total) Time of Day
Buntingford 56.5 19:15
St Neots 98.8 21:45
Towcester 161.2 01:30
Banbury 190.1 03:15
Tewkesbury 255.4 07:00
Chepstow 320.3 11:00
Pontypridd 374.9 14:15
Barry Island 402.9 16:00

The whole idea of having time checks on a completely unknown ride was a bit of a concern and I was slightly worried about it causing me some issues with trying to push on or even get worried about times. I kept telling myself that it was a reasonably easy overall average and it still left me a little over 4 hours breathing space if needed so it was only a plan and nothing concrete.

Off to Billericay

I left home at 14:00 heading for Billericay on reasonably familiar roads. I had considered taking the train but it all just seemed a bit too much like hard work. An extra 40 km or so was hardly going to make a huge difference considering the coming miles.

Tiptree to Billericay Map and Profile

As I was riding I was going through a mental checklist of all the things I should have with me. Turned out I was missing my pump, electrolyte tablets and the route sheets I had ready in case of Garmin failure. I had 2 CO2 canisters and 2 inner tubes with me but with recent stories of friends having lots of punctures I figured it would not be good to get caught out. I had patches to fix tubes but if I had no way to get air into them I could be in trouble. The tablets were not critical but again just drinking water and lucozade for 24 hours can leave you a bit depleted. I was less worried about the route sheet, I had it on my phone and if absolutely necessary I would be able to use it from there.

I knew of Yellow Jersey Cycles in Billericay and after a quick stop to search them on Google I decided it was the most sensible option to call in there and get a pump and some electrolyte tablets from them. It would also sort out the Proof of Passage for the start of the route.

I got to the shop in Billericay at 15:50 and bought myself a Topeak Race Rocket pump which fitted the brief of fitting in my pocket and being the cheapest small pump they had. I also picked up a tube of the SiS electrolyte tabs for the trip, had a quick chat about my ride, got my receipt (time stamped 15:55) and got back on the bike.

The easy bit of getting to the start.
Billericay to Buntingford  – 62.6 km

I left the shop in Billericay a couple of minutes before 4pm and headed out of town past the railway station. I knew a lot of the terrain on this leg, not all in the same direction, but I knew it was a good warm up with the typically Essex rolling landscape. Nothing testing but enough to keep you entertained and to get the legs warmed up.

After passing through Chipping Ongar I got to the Y intersection that I had packed at last time round. The girls were already in the car on the way to Wales, there was no turning back this time!

I pushed on toward Hertfordshire crossing the M11 at Sheering and then actually crossing into Hertfordshire at Sawbridgeworth. I recognised a lot of names, likely from previous events but it wasn’t until the descent trough Hare Street that I knew exactly where I was, it was close to Buntingford. A sharp left and then the climb up the hill across the flatter section and there it was!

Buntingford

From here it was a quick drop back down the hill before a right turn to get up to the high street where I arrived at 18:25

I popped into the Sainsburys for some supplies which included but were not limited to

  • Egg and Cress Sandwich on Brown
  • Feast Icecream
  • Lucozade orange
  • 1 litre of water (to top up bottles)
  • 1 Pear
Buntingford to St Neots – 46.3 km

My notes suggested this might be one of the easier sections of the ride with a bit of uphill to start but then a reasonably easy profile after about 7 km. I had also noticed that there was plenty of crossing with the Hereward the Wake 300 km route that runs in July and I have ridden 3 times, most of it in the opposite direction though.

As usual after a control I had drunk a bit too much and felt a bit ‘puffed up’ for it so I took it reasonably easy to start with. Progress was still good though and I soon got to Sandon where I started recognising bits and pieces from the Hereward the Wake route.

From Sandon there was a lovely 7km run down various slopes all of which made progress both easy and quick before crossing the A505 and then dropping down into Ashwell. The farm track on the North side of Ashwell was swarming with insects, luckily it’s really straight so I got down on the tri-bars and mostly kept my head down for about 4km.

While just passing Gamlingay I took a right turn and suddenly felt my front tyre losing pressure. It didn’t take long before it was really squirming. I had made good time, it was only just after 20:00 and with only 10 km to go I had plenty of time in hand. I managed to remove the offending flints, replace the tube and inflate, get the bag repacked and get back on the road within 15 minutes so no real harm done.

The rest of the run into St Neots was without issue and I arrived there at 20:40, picked up a receipt from Barclays and popped over to the Sea Shell Chippy for some dinner. A medium Cod and Chips washed down with a Coke, perfect….but I couldn’t finish the chips. The coke at the front of the Fridge just happened to be the Edinburgh one, coincidence? Probably.

Dinner at the Sea Shell in St Neots with the Edinburgh Coke

 

The Audax Life @ The Sea Shell in St Neots!
St Neots to Towcester – 64.4km

I got back on the road at 21:00 which meant I had 45 minutes in hand over my schedule at this point which was a good thing. My schedule was across the whole ride but I had always expected that I would make some time up early on and lose some of it again as I got into the lumpier parts of the ride that were to come much later.

This section again joined up with the part of the Hereward the Wake route but this time in the same direction. I recognised it almost immediately as I approached Sharnbrook.  I stayed on the route through the lovely villages along the River Great Ouse until it departed again in Olney.

After Olney there were some hills that I felt a bit more but it wasn’t long before I crossed the M1 which I had remembered meant not too far to go. About 25 minutes later I turned onto the A5 passing by the road works that were going on before taking the final downhill run into Towcester.

I got into the middle of Towcester at 23:30 picked up my receipt and then went about finding the 24 hour McDonalds I had researched. I had a way point on my Garmin which I routed to but after a few seconds of riding it told me it was 17 km to go. I had remembered it being on the route so after a small amount of arguing with the Garmin I decided to just follow the route and hope for the best. About 1 km later I got to the round about on the A43 and like a beacon it was there! Time for a coffee and a rest.

The McDonalds ‘feast’ consisted of

  • Lousiana Stack Meal (Regular with Coke)
  • Coffee
  • Bottle Top up
Hi Viz and Coffee
Towcester to Banbury – 28.9km

I left Towcester McDonalds at 00:20 after 35 minutes of sitting down. I had forced myself to just rest up for a little longer as I was making good progress and a slightly longer rest can often pay dividends later on. This was still an hour and ten minutes up on schedule so things were all going brilliantly. Also I knew the next section was short so I would probably push on quickly from Banbury.

The hours of darkness are a great time to ride a bike. There are few cars on the road and the wind is usually much less of an issue than during the day. There are however other issues and wildlife is one of them.

Less than 2 km from the McDonalds I spotted my first Badger trotting across the road, I decided to go with some caution as I didn’t want to crash into one of these chaps and come off my bike out in the lonely darkness. Sure enough about 1 km later another Badger shot out just metres from me giving me a hell of a fright and then another 2 with in the next 200 metres, that had me on guard.

There were no more badgers after that though, plenty of rabbits and a large deer did show them selves but none in close proximity.

This section included  a lot of reasonably gentle climbing. I had noted that there was a lot of up hill but the last roughly 10km were mainly down so I was watching the count down a little. It’s funny how when you are waiting for downhill 1 or 2 km difference feels like a lifetime!

Shortly after Thorpe Mandeville the down came and it did indeed carry on with only small undemanding rises in between. It was a bliss section and although there was still a lot of work to do it was nice to have a section with a small ‘distance to destination’ countdown that counted down quickly.

I got into Banbury at 01:27, picked up receipt and carried on. I had noted the location of an Esso service station but decided I didn’t need it, this nearly caused me issues a bit later in the night though. I should have taken the opportunity to stop and take on some fuel regardless, I knew the next section was a longer one at around 70 km and there would likely be little if anywhere open to stock up in the time I would be riding. Still sometimes you just don’t want to interrupt the flow, especially if it means going a little bit off route.

Banbury to Tewkesbury – 67.0 km

After grabbing 2 receipts from ATM’s due to missing place name on one (the other only has the post code of the branch which will do) I was back on the road after just 5 minutes. This now put me 1 hour 45 minutes up on my schedule which was great as I knew the more demanding part of the ride was about to start. The section over to Tewkesbury involved crossing the Cotswolds. I also knew though that the majority of the last 20km was downhill which should allow me to make up some of the time lost on the hilly sections.

I didn’t spend long in Banbury, I could hear a few local ‘yoofs’ shouting and swearing one street over so I headed out of town pretty swiftly. Not far out of town I saw a badger trot across the road in front of me, I slowed a little and sure enough another did a dart just a short distance from my front wheel. In the next few hundred metres I spotted another 3 badgers crossing the road, I decided to keep things controlled on the down hills, no way I wanted to be lying on a road in the dark injured.

I was waiting for things to start going uphill on this leg. Tom had told me that the Cotswolds had a couple of ‘rollers’ but it wasn’t anything ridiculous so I felt comfrotable I would be fine but I was waiting nevertheless. After Shipston-on-Stour the climbing started, not steep but reasonably consistently uphill. Having spent the winter riding fixed gear this was actually quite enjoyable with 22 hears to choose from.

I was starting to chug through the water which is pretty standard for me as the mile increases and all the ‘goodness’ of McDonalds starts kicking in. I was starting to plan a rationing system to get me to Tewkesbury when I remembered another Audaxing mate telling me Churches were also refuges for Audaxers. They normally offer a sheltered porch area (often with some kind of bench) and there is in most cases a mains supply tap in the grounds that can be used, intended for water to keep flowers alive.

It wasn’t too long until I got to Chipping Camden which had a rather large Church right on the route. I decided to try out the theory and I made my way into the open gate up to the main entrance, hoping the tap would be close. I ended up taking quite walk around the graveyard of the church at shortly after 3am in the slightly cold misty conditions it reminded me of getting to my Sleep out in the woods after watching horror movies in my youth.

Chipping Camden Church – Waterpoint

After taking a good swig from one of the bottles, refilling both bottles and adding the electrolyte tablet to one I headed back down to the road. I can happily report there were no paranormal experiences, I’m pretty sure even potential spirits would have been put off by my ‘pong’ at this point, even through the merino!

The ‘climb’ out of Chipping Camden was probably the worst of the whole Costwolds stretch. Weather that was due to the fact I had a belly full of water is possible but a very sudden kick up for about 1 km came as a bit of a surprise after the relative easy going over the previous 12 km.

Once at the top it was a traverse of a ridge that offered a great view of the valley below. It’s a great time of the day to be riding and being at a small amount of altitude (about 200m) offers a that extra distance perspective. It did not last long and there was a sudden sharp descent down to Willersley before a gentle up to cross the A44 then a drop down to Broadway.

From Broadway it was mainly downhill all the way to Tewkesbury, a couple of bumps to give a bit of effort over but in general gravity was assisting progress which was nice. From about 4am in the last 10 km or so I started having a lot of large trucks rolling past and that lasted until I crossed the M5 on the very outskirts of Tewksebury.

I rode past a large BP at about 04:25 which would have provided food and a bi of respite from the road but I noticed a lot of trucks in there and decided to chance something being open in town, bad idea!

I got to the Tewkesbury sign a few minutes later to take the pic and I did some quick social media catch ups while I pondered why I had spent quite a large portion of the last 3 hours telling myself to slow down but never paying attention to that advice.

Tewkesbury, that wasn’t so bad

I made my way into town and found a bank to get a receipt from. I then rode slowly through town looking for anywhere to get food, NOTHING! I considered the option of hanging about and waiting for something to open but that seemed a complete waste of time. I felt fine and although I was very aware I had not ‘bonk rations’ with me in case I started running low on energy I decided the best course of action would be to carry on.

Tewkesbury to Chepstow – 70.5 km

Time to get to the border! I knew this one was going to be where the tougher part really started. I had been warned of the incline through the Forest of Dean, little did I know that actually meant several inclines. I ended up slightly desperate to find food after dissing the BP in Tewkesbury but the idea of crossing into Wales is what this leg was all about.

My notes suggested that this one started Ok and ended a little more ‘Welsh’ so I figured I would make the most of the first part and see how things went later on. Daylight was coming, the early morning ‘chill’ would soon be with me so some hills might be quite welcome in the coming miles.

After turning off the A road out of Tewkesbury it was back into some absolutely delightful country lanes. You could kind of tell you were following a river as things stayed nice and flat and you passed through various small hamlets.

At Hartpury church about 20 km into the leg I was looking for water again. The church popped up and I decided to go on another search for a tap. After parking my bike I drank most of the water left in one of my bottles thinking all would work out, not so! I found the tap but there was no actual tap there to turn it on, you needed a ‘key’. Not a massive issue, I still had a full bottle of electrolyte so that would keep me going. I decided to have a sit down on a bench for a few minutes with my shoes off just to have some down time, it was lovely. As I left the church shortly before 6am I saw the first cyclist of the day.

It wasn’t long after that stop that I started feeling a bit hungry. I was not about 20km out of Tewkesbury and wasn’t sure where the next place to get food would be. My plan to stop somewhere for breakfast after Tewkesbury had been pretty badly thought out. I knew The Forest of Dean was coming up and that it included some harder going so I was hoping to find somewhere to get some fuel before that came.

I got into Huntley and joined the A40 and shortly after I could spot a petrol station up the road, excellent I was going to make it. As I got to the station the closed sign hanging from the chain caused probably the first low point of the ride. The bad decision in Tewkesbury was playing on my mind ever more as things do when you have not slept overnight.

The next 1.5 km proved to be reasonably unpleasant with a 2 lane road seeming to have a large proportion of articulated lorries piling along it. It was ‘that’ time of the day though and once I got off the A4136 it instantly got better. I could tell the rumoured climb was getting closer, there was nothing but wooded hills reaching up to my right at this point.

Just a few kilometres later at a small right turn it started. Popes Hill the sign read and it was one of those small intersections that are covered in gravel and the road you turn onto kicks straight up. No chance of carrying any speed to get you off to a good start, just straight into a spin. I soon joined the A4151 and things kept going up.

Things climbed steadily for a couple of Kilometres now and then I came into Littledean. A village shop felt like it might have been put there specifically for me. I stopped, leant the bike up against the wall and went in to get the required items to replenish my energy levels.

  • A Chicken Tikka Roll
  • A Twirl bar
  • Feast Ice cream
  • Bottle of Water
  • Bottle of Lucozade
  • Starbuck Iced Capuccino

After eating the ice cream and the roll I took the rest over the road to sort out while I sat at the table outside the closed fish and chip shop. I drank the coffee drink and Lucozade, topped up my bottles and rearranged a bit of stuff from my pockets into the Koala.

I was about to head off again when I decided there was not massive rush so I propped my head in my hands and closed my eyes for a few minutes. I don’t think I actually slept as it seemed that every car that drove past knew someone to toot at, possibly the lycra clad idiot sleeping on the picnic table! I may have slept though, the whole stop took an hour and it really did not feel like that.

Back on the bike the road kept it’s steady climb for another 2 km before leaving the A4151 and a spectacularly fast descent through Bukshaft. Unfortunately I decided against pushing on down this one due to not really knowing the road and the traffic was pretty heavy but it was fun all the same.

At the bottom of the descent I realised that when Tom had said there is a climb in The Forest of Dean that is a bit of a brute it probably meant more than one, bugger! I was on my way up again, not as long this time and then a nice gentle down and up after that before nearly 2 km of lovely downhill again. The next climb I suspect was the exact one Tom had spoken of. For a flatlander with quite a few miles in his legs this one did indeed hurt more than the others and did seem to just keep coming even thought is was again only about 2 km. Those of you who like maps should get some idea of the slope based on the below road from Pygmy Pinetum up to the intersection.

The last effort in the Forest of Dean

From here it was back to more gentle rolling terrain until the last 10 km where the route started to plummet down towards the River Wye and Chepstow. I crossed the Wye at about 09:20 and after a quick picture with Chepstow Castle in the back ground I spun up the hill to find somewhere for coffee and cake!

My bike in a different country to me with Chepstow Castle as a backdrop.
Chepstow to Pontypridd – 57.7 km

After messing about trying to find a receipt with the place name and time on it I finally for back on the road at 10:22, still 38 minutes ahead of schedule, I had lost a fair bit of time on the last stage but an hour of that was lost on the stop at Littledean and to be fair I had expected I was going to lost time in the second half. Most of the first 30 km of this leg was either downhill or pan flat but considering that on paper it had the most climbing that meant the second half was going to hurt a bit.

The climb out of Chepstow up to the big round about is familiar to me from the couple of times I have ridden the Bryan Chapman Memorial. A nasty little kick up out of town and then a roll into the round about. From here is was downhill pretty much all the way to Newport.

The piece heading into Newport was, for me, the worst part of the whole ride. An A road dual carriage way along what is essentially an industrial estate with a lot of steel related works along it. There was a good cycle path which I opted to use due to the volume of trucks thundering their way along the road, this carried on for pretty close to 10km. I spotted the Newport Transporter bridge but decided against riding down to it to see if it was running, I regret that now as it seems it is rarely out of action and it was indeed in action that day, next time!

There was a small cut through to get onto the smaller route and as I lifted my front wheel up on the kerb I suddenly heard gushes of air. I jumped off to check and it seemed that air was coming out right by the valve. No time to check, I changed the tube and once again was on the way in about 15 minutes. It was hot now and I didn’t make it far before I saw a cafe with ice cold coke in the fridge and seats out front in the shade which I could not resist. I was in and out in 5 minutes.

Not far up the road the flat came to a reasonably abrupt stop. The Junction with Cardiff road where I should have gone straight over offered what looked not unlike a wall of Tarmac to come. I decided at this stage to take my chance and go the slightly longer route by taking a left and then the first right, I expect that this short diversion made life a fair bit easier, it was still steep but not having to look at it probably made it seem easier.

Once at the top of the climb up I was amused to find the area named Stelvio, it made it feel better even though I hadn’t climbed that much. From here the road dropped back down and this was the only bet where I had some small doubts. The route instructions say to cross the bridge to avoid the busy round about. In most cases I would expect the bridge to be rideable but it is not the case here, no big issue, it was nice to walk for a couple of minutes and I am sure it was more pleasant that the round about was going to be.

Over the other side of the A467 and Ebbw River I joined Caerphilly road for the next 5 km. I do like the Welsh A roads, they often seem quieter, better quality and have more patient drivers on them.

At Lower Machen the route took a left off the A467 back onto the smaller roads and pretty soon we were on the way up again. There looked to have been  a sportive through recently and one of the signs on the telegraph pole read ‘Take Care, Blinking big hill ahead!’  ah well at least I knew this one was coming, I figured I wouldn’t get a warning for all of them.

It was a longer climb this time but nice and steady, much like a lot of the BCM climbs in Mid and North Wales and once at the top the descent down into Caerphilly did not disappoint. Steepish at the start and then levelling out a bit but it allows you to carry plenty of the speed for ages, you don’t mind the climbing when you get rewards like this. The view into the valley were pretty cool as well.

A bit of traffic to deal with through Caerphilly including a bloke in an old BMW 7 series who thought he was in a racing car but kept getting held up so it turned into a game of hare and tortoise leap frog. My concentration on the One Way system and the sun shining on the castle with people all around the moat meant that I actually missed spotting the Tommy Cooper statue but what I saw was pretty amazing anyway. What a place to be in the sun, it really is a proper castle!

The route takes the B4263 out of town which climbs nicely for about 5km before you get to Abertridwr. Just as the road levels of and drops a little you turn onto a minor road again and this is there the biggest climb of the day started. I am glad I don’t study profiles too much, I look to see roughly what to expect overall but sometimes, especially in Audax it’s best just to deal with what is in front of you.

 

There was a small section where it went downhill in the middle after about 10 minutes of spinning up hill. It did not last long and on the kick up after this I ended up going through a dried (on the surface) cowpat which made my back wheel lose traction and I pretty much lost all forward motion just short of the top of the steep part of the hill. I managed to unclip my foot in time and I decided I would just walk the last 20 or so metres up to the next flatter piece.

I had a quick ‘nature stop’ followed by sending Tom a ‘complimentary’ email on his route selection so late into a 400 just to make myself feel better. While I was doing this I was telling myself this was the top of the hill and the road I could see carrying on up was a farm track, deep down I knew that was not the case.

Yeah, Thanks!

I got back on the bike and started up again, sure enough the ‘farm track’ was the road and I just kept turning the pedals over. About 300m before the top of the climb I’d had enough. Too hot, too knackered and just needing a change I jumped off the bike and walked it up! No shame in that with 440 km in the legs, no sleep for 24 hours and climb that gained 200m of altitude in less than 3 km.

Once over the top I had an amazing view over the valley and down into Pontypridd. Unfortunately the descent was not exactly smooth and carefree. I am normally quite a confident descender but at one point I actually stopped for a second as I considered my options on how to get down a piece of road that resembled a cliff with water  leaking out onto it. I opted to stay on the bike as I figured walking could well end up with me on the arse as well. It was a mountain bike style butt over the back of the saddle both hands on the brakes job and the rest of the descent definitely put the rim brakes through their paces as well.

I got into the centre of Pontypridd at 13:46 and stopped at the Blueberry Inn. I wasn’t hungry so it was a Pint of Bulmers with loads of Ice which I very much enjoyed. Before I left I got my bottles topped up with Ice and then some water added.

Pontypridd to Barry Island – 28.5 km

This was it, the last part of the ride. I knew there were 2 longer climbs on this section but other then that it had looked pretty good, just standard rolling terrain and as I was going to end up at sea level it had to mean there was some downhill along the way. I also knew the biggest climb was pretty much right at the start.

I was back on the bike at 14:15, that was exactly on my schedule. I rolled out and down to the lights where the right turn under the train station took me onto the climb out of town. The gears went down as I started going up and eventually I just had to grit my teeth and get on with it. Some traffic lights after about 400 metres didn’t help!

The climb overall was about 2 km long climbing about 180 metres. The first 1.5 km were a consistently steep gradient and I kept telling myself I was going to take a rest under the shade of a tree. There was quite a bit of traffic though so I just kept thinking it but more as motivation to make the next shady spot. I was very happy when the gradient finally eased off and it was the first time I felt like I actually had the ride beaten.

From here the next 4 km were pretty much all down and boy was it fun. Especially the first 2 or so which were on a lovely wide road and you could really let it run. Then is was through Beddau after which the route joins back onto some more high hedged lanes. I had a close call with 2 people on horses coming up a hill while I was coming down, luckily I had slowed for the corner so it was just a bit of a fright for me and the horses but no real issue.

The general trend remained down and it didn’t feel like long before I crossed the M4 where my girls would have been passing through the day before. About 4 km later I turned onto a road and crossed the Ely River, there were places where you could get down to the river and it was seriously tempting to go and jump in but I resisted. A river often means some uphill is coming and I wanted to get this out of the way.

Sure enough this was the second of the more noticeable climbs on this last section and I went back into spin it up mode. This one wasn’t so bad, 2 km and 100m of elevation meant I had a couple of sprokets to spare on the back through out but I was glad when I finally felt the top of the hill come. It was followed by yet another roughly 6 km of mainly down hill with a couple of small bumps in the middle.

At the end of all that downhill I found the below sign!

Got this beat!

About 5km to go and 15 minutes to make it exactly 24 hour since getting the receipt in Billericay. Unfortunately straight after the sign things went uphill again, not for long but it was annoying. Over the round about at the top it it dropped bumped up briefly and then I could see it was a zoom down to the coast.

I put all my London commutes into action and zipped in and out of the traffic that was more or less at a standstill, sunshine and holiday I guess does that to these seaside towns.

The last woosh down onto Barry Island was brilliant, it’s nice finishing with a downhill that can make you look like you have been hammering it the whole way, hmmm, maybe. I arrived at the ice cream place but the beach at 15:53 which I make 23 hours and 58 minutes minutes after my starting receipt in Billericay.

The girls came over to meet me and we sat and ate ice cream for a while before heading back to Llanelli. I was buzzing, it was a fantastic ride and I didn’t end up going to sleep until about 21:00.

Post Ride Thoughts

What a great ride. I lovely route through a great portion of the UK. It’s reasonably easy to make time over the first part but it is worth remembering that you should keep something in the legs for later on. I did have great conditions for the ride which would have helped, mild winds, no rain and warm throughout the night. I got things pretty much right other than not going back to the BP at Tewkesbury and/or not getting anything at Banbury before that.

If I was riding it West to East I might well consider my options between Pontypridd and Caerphilly, those hills up past the Golfcourse would be really tough in the other direction as was mentioned on YACF but then it’s at the start of the ride and would probably mean a short walk. For the view it would be worth it but I suspect if you live in Wales you know better ways to get those views!

 

 

 

 

 

Track Accreditation – Stage 1

Today I headed down to the Olympic Velodrome at Stratford to do the first stage of the 4 stage accreditation. Funnily one of the guys who rides a lot with Tiptree Velo showed up for the same session so it was good to have someone to chat to about bikes and riding. It sounded like our accreditation intentions were quite similar, using the track to assist with fitness.

There were about 10 people in the session and it was an hour on the bike doing some laps, getting some information and then doing some more laps. It pretty much went as follows

3 Laps around the Safety Zone

Ride laps and move onto the Cote d’Azur

Ride laps picking up speed and move up to the Datum, Sprinters and Stayers lines then back down

2 sessions of pace lines.

I was on the front of the group for most of the session so it was nice that I could set the pace, I made sure I kept it fair riding at an effort that was probably around 60-70% which I figured should not cause too much issue. For the last session I had to go back to the middle of the group which was a bit of a shock, the guy in front of me was weaving like a lunatic and had a habit of accelerating out of the banking instead of into them which made keeping the gap interesting.

Anyway, all those that rode all the sessions passed. A couple of people pulled out early, they were VERY wobbly on the bikes and I am glad the pulled out as it would have got a little dangerous as they had no ability to match a reasonable speed.

Going like the Clappers

I took up the chance of a ride with the Tiptree Velo midweek riders, not convinced it was the best idea but man it was fun.

A loop of Abberton Reservoir and extending down to D’Arcy and back along Tudwick road for a total of 35.5km at an average of 29.6 km/h is SIGNIFICANTLY faster than any riding of recent times for me.

Good to know it is in the legs and after the first 30 minutes I was actually coming good. I was gasping at the back a little but when the hammer had to go down there was still a bit left, looking forward to picking up the pace with that lot on the odd Sunday.

It was also the first outing in a while for the carbon Domane which I have now set up with the fast rolling Panaracer Gravel King 28’s, very nice ride indeed!

 

Just a Ride

With a few days off work over half term I was hoping to get out on the bike a bit. As usual with a family things came up so Wednesday came and went, part of that was laziness though, I couldn’t be bothered heading out in the evening, it was just too much effort to get ready so I missed the pub ride, poor effort really.

On Thursday I had decided I would make my way up to Copdock near Ipswich. I have a ride up there in a couple of weeks and I am considering a 50 km each way trip to bring it up to 200 km total and should still have me back in good time. It was a cracking day when I left home at 11:30 so I put the waterproof in the bag just in case and wore less layers than I have been recently, it was the right choice and the arm warmers did not take long to be stripped back.

The route took me over to Copford and then through the dip and up the hill to West Bergholt. From there I was very much in the country side and passed through some familiar roads from longer Audaxes that start/finish in Manningtree. Zipping down Gun Hill I peeled off through Stratford St Mary and then took the small roads through the back up to Copdock. As I got near Copdock I took a wrong turn and luckily realised my mistake before making the descent which would have involved a climb back up the dual carriageway which is a particularly annoying piece of road heading into the last few miles of the Green and Yellow fields 300.

I got to Copdock with about 45km on the clock so I will need to devise a little deviation somewhere to extend that our a little bit, it shouldn’t be to hard to find an extra 5 km.

As I turned I suddenly realised how I had managed to keep up at about 27 km/h average, the wind was now in my face. Ah well, the thing about fixed gear is that you just have to keep on grinding regardless. I free styled me route home and made several stops when I wasn’t sure how much of a main road I was about to run into, I had intended to head back into Manningtree via the G&Y Fields route but I managed to take the wrong turn so joined up a busy A road much earlier. It wasn’t too bad and I knew the A road would meet back up with the route which it did, just with a much less pleasant way to make progress.

I did stop to fill my bottles and get a picture at St Mary’s Church in Bentley. It was just a bit to pretty with the Snow Drops out the front not to just soak it up for a couple of minutes.

St Mary’s Church, Bentley

I dug in on the way up Cox’s hill in Manningtree and nearly blew a gasket as I got over the steep bit but nothing too bad and I recovered quite quickly, oddly it was the fastest I had ever been up there (still not very impressive!) from where I joined the back lanes and came into Colchester along the Bromley road. A lady in a Fiesta felt the urge to tell me I had been doing 40 mph down a hill as I was just starting to put effort in up the other side, pretty sure her reading was pretty inaccurate but the legs had defo been spinning on the 69′ gear.

I joined the bike path along the river and through the castle park, although slower I just love riding through the park away from the traffic and I stayed on the bike lane all the way across to Shrub End where I rejoined the road to avoid the more muddy sections of the cycle path.

Back home along the main road before peeling off to Layer Marney and a quick diversion along Grove road to save the monotony of Newbridge and Chapel roads.

MEMWNS – The Kings head Tollesbury

After the issues with the commute back from Witham and the truck on the A12 I nearly opted to stay home in the warm. The choice of pub this week being incredibly close to home though swung it in the end.

I was already dressed and only had to change shoes so I headed off from home for Tollesbury just before 8:45 after having had some dinner. It’s under 10k out there so no real distance. I arrived at the pub shortly after 21:00 to find the rest of the guys already there enjoying their first pint.

As per usual for a Wednesday night there was some good chatter mainly based around the Easter Arrow and LEL. There was a solid fixed contingent out and 4 of us left the pub at the same time all riding fixed. I rode back to Tolleshunt D’Arcy with Tom and then did the last couple of KM’s over to Tiptree solo. A nice cold but dry evening to be out, my bike stayed relatively clean!

Another disappointing week mileage wise but I am still in no real panic. Daylight is starting to extend slowly and all we need now is the temps to rise a little, I am really sick of cold, wet and dark this year which I assume I have said already in other posts.

Commute – 08/02/2017

After being ill on Monday and Tuesday the commute in went fine, my phone continues to experience issues with picking up a GPS signal on leaving home which is bloody annoying!

On the way home a truck crashing through the bridge barrier onto the A12 meant I had to ride up the bike path to Kelvedon. I then spoke to Catherine who was stuck in traffic so I turned to go back to Witham to meet Alys from her Cheer training. I got back in time to meet her but Catherine also got through the traffic to get there in time. As all 3 girls were present there was not enough room for the bike so I rode home which gave a few bonus KM’s on another quiet week.

ACME – Knights Templar Compasses and Cross Audax

The last of the ACME Winter series rides for a clean sweep. I had decided not to extend this one to 200 km and just enjoy the ride out with a planned sleep in and then some easy miles on a nice winter route.

I had planned to try to get over to Witham for the 09:30 start with a breakfast before hand. Leaving home  just before 08:30 would usually mean that would all work out but these ACME Winter Series rides are very popular and although I got to the Witham ‘Spoons by 09:00 there was queue for food and I decided I would just settle for the 10:00 start instead.

I lot of people went off on the 09:30 start and I was still waiting for my breakfast by that time, the staff at the ‘Spoons coped incredibly well with the demand though and it was not long until my standard breakfast showed up and I was tucking in fueling up for the ride.

Quite a few of the riders extending the 100 to 200 showed up between 09:30 and 10:00 and there was a good bunch of well known faces to get on the road with. We were sent onto the road with the usual Audax type announcement from new(ish) Essex super organiser Huggy explaining where food and drink opportunities lay along the route mainly :-), it is important information on these rides.

Being a winter route we headed out to Maldon on the B roads. I was in a group with Andrew who is a strong and steady fixed rider. He was riding a 73 inch gear to my 69 inches and I soon feel off the group full of geared folk he was efficiently towing a long. The Cadence was just a bit to high for me on the flats although I got back on as it went up hill a little. I was fine with slipping off the back, my days of blowing myself up trying to keep up are largely done on Audaxes and a pretty big gap had opened up but the time we got to Maldon about 1okm into the route.

As I rode past the first ‘info’ control a few people had stopped to note down the answer.  I decided to push on and remember the answer as I couldn’t be bothered taking my gloves off. The ride from Maldon up to Danbury was along the main A414 which is a slightly fixed unfriendly dragging false flat. Andrew had been one of the ones noting down the answer and we shared the front on the way up to Danbury and we also picked up Olaf just as we got to the top of the hill. From there we stuck together down the other side and through the edge of Chelmsford with another drag up to the top of Galleywood.

At Margaretting Huggy was waiting to Stamp our cards, surprisingly for the perceived lack of speed we were actually only 8 minutes after the control opening time, I was happy with this as I felt pretty comfortable and it’s always nice to have time in hand. We carried on with the thought of maybe stopping at the Compasses in Littley Green for some food and drink but knowing it was likely it would be pretty busy there.

The route took us through Writtle where we eneded up doing a 180° turn as we had missed a left turn. As it ended up we could have carried on along the main road which I suspect would have been quicker but my brain was in Garmin Pink Line mode so we took the bike path hrough the back of the church at Writtle. On the way back to the road a lady walked out from a small exit and I almost took her out, it was close and gave me a bit of a fright, no harm done though.

From Writtle we headed out Chignal Road then over to Great Waltham and on to Hartford End where there was another info control. This one was a post box number which I had learned about last summer. I had to stop and write this one down, CM3 363 is too easy to forget while riding a bike. It was at this point that Andrew, Olaf and I split up a bit as I took a bit longer to get gloves back on and head up the road to the compasses, I am sure the road from Hartford End to Littley Green is a little bit steeper and longer each time I ride it!

When I got to the Compasses I opted to just fill up with water and get back on the road. It was somewhere between around 45km to go and I felt fine from a food perspective. There were a lot of the 09:30 starters in the Compasses finishing up their lunch and a couple of pints, it was great to see. I have found that drinking beer on the rides has me feeling bloated and gasping a bit so I try to avoid it for the sake of enjoyment.

From Littley green it was the well known route past ‘The Beetles’ in Great Leighs where I caught up with Dave and Carolyn on the Orange Tandem and had a bit of a chat with them. We got to Fuller street for the next info control, another post box number, but Alan and Andrew were just heading off so I got the number and carried on this time. For some reason CM3 146 seemed easy to keep in my mind, maybe it was the fact I only had one answer to store for now.

I rode with Alan and Andrew over Ranks Green and through White Notely, no one wanted to attempt the Ford, probably a wise idea as it seemed to be running fast and deep. I have been through that one in winter before and it was not one of my smarter moves!

We got over toward Bradwell and while I recognised the shortcut through the Quarry I was not quite brave enough to suggest it or take it (others did and it was fine) so we ended up going down to Bradwell and tracking back along the A120 for a short spell, this was not the highlight of the day.

As we were heading up to Pattiswick from the A120 I thought I had picked up a leaf in my tyre. We past the Compasses in Pattiswick and got the answer to our question and I stopped to get rid of the leaf, it was a puncture! As there was still plenty of air in the tyre I opted to ride on for a while but after another 4 km or so it was starting to feel a but too spongy so I stopped to replace the tube.

I had a frustrating few minutes trying to get the levers under the bead to get the tyre off but once that was done it all went smoothly. It took me about 20 minutes in total to replace the tube and get back on the road. The offending object was a lovely little pyramid of glass which I suspect was picked upon the A120. Stopping to change the tube on a driveway made up of predominantly little pieces of flint was also not the best idea and before riding off I went of the road to give the tyres a spin on the soft grass to clean them up. Olaf and Andrew both went past as I was changing the tyre along with Rob and a few other riders.

Once back on the road I made good progress through Coggeshall onto Feering and then over to the last of the Compasses at Great Totham. 4 of us left the pub together all in Single Speed or Fixed to climb up over Mountains Road and then drop down Blue Mills Hill back into Witham and Arrivee for a 15:00 finish. Considering where I was a couple of weeks ago I was more than happy with a 5 hour 100 km ride including a puncture. I never felt I was pushing too hard so I know there is more in the tank. It might be time to consider gearing up again but will wait to see what the weather does in the coming couple of weeks.

That completes the ACME winter series and gives me another Fixed Gear Brevet point.

 

A Gentle Spin for Recovery

After yesterday’s efforts I had actually planned to take a day of rest but I was a bit jumpy and having fallen behind earlier in the month I wanted to keep going with the momentum I had built up during the week.

I decided to go out for a couple of hours and after doing a few things around the house (and in the garage on the bike) I hit the road at about 14:00. The plan was a very easy spin (on gears) just to give the legs a chance to recover and hopefully shift some of the lactic acid. I had planned to be out for about an hour but I was enjoying myself so ended up out for 2 which gave me the required mileage for the day which was nice.

I think it might be a quiet week again this week. I am out of action on Thursday and Friday due to  a work trip and I am working from home on Monday. I’ll  have to look to make up some miles on the Tuesday and Wednesday but on Saturday it is the last of the ACME winter brevet series which I am looking forward to. No ECE for this one, I am just riding the 100 km on Fixed. I am thinking about upping the gear and trying to ride it a bit faster but will wait to see what the forecast says before committing to that.

Dick Turpins Day Out – RRTY #35

After lots of procrastination and putting off rides earlier in January due to ice it came down to the last weekend for me to get a 200 km ride in to keep my RRtY on track. I had lots of thoughts of just ‘sacking it off’ and not bothering.

Luckily, during the planning stages I had asked if anyone else was riding and reasonably last minute I had a message from Deniece, a fellow Audax rider who was also planning to ride. Having messed about with a few plans I settled on riding a winter permanent route staple, Tom Deakins’ Dick Turpins Day Out. I decided that I would start in Sudbury at 07:30 which gave me the option of catching a train to the start and back with only a short ride on the home end.

As it turned out I decided to ride up to Sudbury to the start. I know the route well enough and figured that time in the morning would be quiet enough to enjoy. I left home just before 06:00 with a meeting arranged outside St Peter’s Church in Sudbury at 07:30. Another rider, Raymond would also join us for the first leg over to Dunmow.

We left Sudbury shortly after 07:30. I was happy that we were completing the drag up Ballingdon Hill first thing instead of after about 160 km today, my recent rides had been pretty tough work and I was determined to stick with my plan of all my winter Audaxing to be completed on my fixed gear. Progress was comfortable and the company was great.

We were in Dunmow at 09:30 where we popped into Tom’s place to control and were treated to some tea and toast, it was just what the doctor had ordered and it’s always great to get some TLC from a fellow Audaxer, a Legend even! We stayed for about 30 minutes before heading off again for Saffron Walden.

realising that we were going to be on the main road to Saffron Walden much later than usual I did consider taking the quieter option but in the end I decided the up’s and downs were just not going to be welcome. The main road is not exactly flat but the back road has more steep kicks and I thought the more gentle rollers on the main road were going to agree with me better in the long run. As usual there were several idiots on the road who cut close in corners but I have come to expect it on this piece of road, they obviously have a lot of money for cars but little common sense.

As we got into Saffron Walden I asked Deniece if she was happy with the usual Tesco Garage Forecourt fare, she was not! I was happy with that as the bike shop in Saffron Walden, Bicicletta do hands down the best double espresso’s I have ever tasted, Bitter, Strong and Fruity!

After our coffee we headed out of town and up the hill toward Radwinter. This was the last of the hills that were concerning me during the week and I knew once I was up and over this one all would be fine. Turns out I actually did my fastest trip ever up this hill, but I often go up this with a lot of miles in my legs so it is not a huge surprise.

From here the route goes on through Hempstead where we pass Dick Turpins Birth Place, the Bluebell Inn. I took the opportunity to stop for a quick snap after riding by every other time. Not exactly looking fit and with it, but it is winter!

The Bluebell Inn, Hempstead. Dick Turpin’s Birthplace

Not too much further up the road we crossed the River Stour into Suffolk again and followed it’s path along to Long Melford where we headed North through Acton, missing Wally’s Cafe and on to Lavenham where we controlled at the Cock Horse Inn with a pint of Woodfordes Wherry and a cracking bowl of soup.

From here the ride goes through some very pretty lanes, we had some lovely cloud formations and nice blue skies above us along this part of the ride.

Winter Skies near Lavenham

From here it was the usual drag up through Thorpe Morieux which is one of those that I really don’t enjoy on fixed gear as it just feels like you have to work a bit harder than is necessary for the slope you are actually riding up. Through Woolpit and over the A14 followed by the short climb up to Elmswell and then the run into the next control at Walsham Le Willows.

The usual pint at the Six Bells did not happen, it looked very closed. We popped into the Blue Boar over the road and after a slightly awkward exchange I we came out with 2 signed Brevet cards, I just hope the signature is enough to get validated. we were off from Walsham at 15:55 so although not quick it was about right for the conditions.

From Walsham it is a pretty easy 25ish KM to Debenham. I had my heart set on Fish and Chips for that stop as I knew I would be reasonably hungry. It comes at he same time as the usual Sudbury McDonalds stop on this ride. Sure enough I was just starting to crave food as we dropped into Debenham and the Fish and Chip shop was a beacon on the top of the hill. I ordered a small cod and chips and it was marvelous, I suspected I might pay the price on the first drag out of Debenham but it would be worth it. This would fuel me all the way back to Sudbury.

We left Debenham with 44 km to go. I was looking forward to this as my mind would still be preparing for the leg from Sudbury to Dunmow. The wind that usually blows in your face coming out of Debenham was more side on this time which was nice. I got insanely bored along the roman road between Pettaugh and Coddenham but was soon reinvigorated by the short piece of Dual Carriageway (A140) and the round about at the end. I let Deniece take the front on this as she was concerned about us becoming separated at a point where it was much better not to, we got through it just fine.

We stopped briefly under a large tree in Needham Market to take shelt from a heavy shower which was very close to being hail. Once that passed we carried on up the drag out of Needham Market and then around Wattisham Airbase. There is one large dip in the road around the airbase that just takes a bit of effort which I always remember as I get to it. It was fun on fixed gear!

Winter Rain at Needham Market

It wasn’t long until we were descending down into Bildeston, I decided to practice my leg braking a bit on this hill and was surprisingly controlled and did not need the brakes at all and managed to come to a complete stop, the fixed legs are slowly coming on.

After crossing the road in Bildeston there is another short kick up and then all that was left was the blast through Monks Eleigh before swinging off the A road onto the B road through Waldingfield into Sudbury. I remembered that this road was a bit of a roller coaster up to the point where you join the B1071 again and then it was plain sailing back into Sudbury.

I had no time to stop for the traditional McDonalds today, I had decided I would take a train so it was straight down to the Waitrose by the station to get my receipt. A Coronation Chicken sandwich and a bottle of Lucozade purchased and receipt acquired I headed over to the train station to get home. I had considered riding the last 30km home but the couple of hills that stood in my way just put me off. It was getting cold and it was dark, I had completed what I set out to do so why push it. It was the right choice!