Monday, 18 May 2015

Making Lemonade -- or, Escaping from the Great Escape

I am not entirely new to the world of audax but I have yet to complete one "successfully", that is, within the time limits with a fully completed brevet card.  

Coming into yesterday's event, my audax CV (résumé for the Americans) consisted of just two attempts:  the Flitchbikes 100 from Great Dunmow, Essex, in June 2011 and the For Those Who Don't Do Hills 100 from Polegate, East Sussex, in April 2012.  On the Flitchbikes 100, I rode my Surly Cross Check and finished out of time, mostly due to an unexpectedly long lunch break -- a friend and colleague had tragically died in Spain two days before and I spent nearly an hour on the phone with a mutual friend who was very distraught. On the "No Hills 100", I had just taken delivery of my new Surly Pacer. The first few miles became a "shake down" ride trying to figure out all the various things that weren't working correctly, gear changing being the main one. I bailed fairly early on and became a tourist for the day, taking in Pevensey Castle and other local sights before making my way back to Polegate for the train home. 

So I'm not what you'd call 'accomplished' at this audax lark.  

Yesterday, I rode The Great Escape 200km with my partner Adam and our friend Sonia. For both of them, this was their very first exposure to the audax 'scene'.  Adam was basically in it for a long day ride in nice weather but was happy to take on the role of pacesetter and navigator. Sonia and I came prepared with route sheets and maps, determined to hang on to Adam's wheel (if we could) but most of all excited to test ourselves with a challenging distance. 

So - take three people, all quite experienced at social group rides but with no relevant experience at riding to time limits - and you can guess what happened!

First - the start at Look Mum No Hands! This was extremely well organised by Islington CC. (Shocking to find out afterwards though that, out of 400 entrants, 130 did not turn up.) We arrived in good time and greeted lots of friends (most of whom were going to be in much faster groups well ahead of us).  

Arriving at LMNH about 07.20

Our friend Michael with his new/rebuilt Enigma

Sonia's Trek with Carradice

Yes, there were Bromptons

Unusual footwear! (And she rode in them - I've seen the photos proving it.)

Banana portage

The start was conducted in groups of about 30 each, setting off at 2 minute intervals, each with a quick last-minute briefing (road closure at 51k, gravel at 80k, etc). Adam, Sonia and myself were in the very last group, leaving at 08:12.

The 08.00 group gets the cue to go.


Martin - the Lancashire Lad in the wool flat cap

Andy on the recumbent

The first 25k slog out of London to Epping went fairly smoothly. In fact, it was much more pleasant on a Sunday morning than on a Saturday night (which is when I've done it before). 

It was still a tremendous relief when we turned off the busy B1393 into quiet lanes skirting around Epping. Soon we were in blissful countryside. 

A couple of hours flew by. At 11am we arrived at the second control, the tea rooms at Blackmore. We were (only) 45km, which in retrospect should have served as the first reality check:  we were cycling 15km/hour, that's less than 10mph. Far too slow to allow for any breaks. We were at Blackmore for about 15 minutes. I'm not sure we could have shortened that time, since there was only one toilet which meant some time waiting. Meanwhile, we weren't too sure of the information control: "name of the pub on the green". There were two greens, neither of which had a pub exactly on it!

We did pick up the pace leaving Blackmore, reaching Bishops Green (70km in) at 12.15, where the sight of this pub prompted a swift, democratic and unanimous decision to stop for lunch. 

And this was our downfall, but I don't think any of us regret it! We enjoyed a superb leisurely lunch. One hour and 15 minutes passed before we were back on the road. And a very pleasant time it was too.

the view from my chair

We continued on through idyllic countryside, with no conscious thought of timings. Adam was aware we were going too slow and we didn't stop very often or for very long. My sense was of smooth, steady progress -- just turning those pedals and admiring the views. And what views they were. I wish I could capture the compact villages we passed through, with thatched-roof cottages around every corner. 

It wasn't until we got to the next manned control -- the Blue Egg Cafe at 88km, just south of Great Bardfield -- that the truth came home to roost. Adam stayed outside with the bikes while Sonia and I went in to get our brevet cards stamped -- only to be told that the control had closed an hour ago!  

Adam cared little for the brevet card and I'd been in this situation before and felt only a twinge of disappointment. I think Sonia felt it a bit more keenly. But we agreed that from this point forward, we were "in it for love". From then on, we played with the route a little, took a short cut across the very top loop of the route, and generally just went "off piste" and had a great day out! 

We were in agreement that, with official finishes out of the picture, we had no desire to cycle back into London, with its 25k of increasingly heavy end-of-the-weekend traffic. So we chose a train station to aim for and headed off to find it. For most of the way, we were either on the Great Escape route or leap-frogging over it and so had several chance encounters with friends who where still "in it" -- who I believe all went on to successfully finish in time. 

In Bardfield Saling, we paused to admire the Grade I-listed Church of St Peter and St Paul, unusual for having a round steeple-less tower.

Adam and I were both very much taken with the old farmhouse opposite the church. 

From Thaxted onwards, we had a bit of a headwind, which always slows me right down but thankfully wasn't too disheartening.  Meanwhile, however, the Grumpy Knee (with whom I had been having intermittent arguments all day long) finally did make good on its threats to mutiny, so that for the last 15k or so I was in a great deal of pain.  (This was not due to cycling. It was simply a Bad Day. I knew it when I first got out of bed. I haven't had a day as bad as that in probably a year, but it does happen. It's fine today.)

We cycled through the most blissful unused lanes, bounded by crops in fields, nearly to the train station on the edge of Sawbridgeworth. So many buildings caught my eye. 

Two impressions from the day will stay with me: 
  • Every flower that can have purple blossoms, must be blooming right now -- masses of wisteria, rhododendrons and lilacs. 
  • Swarms of those tiny flies we get here in the UK -- lots of mid-air strikes with head and body, several instances of flies hitching a lift in my cycling glasses (between the prescription insert and the shield)
Tally for the day:  128km in just over 7 hours moving time (about 9:48 elapsed time). Average speed of 18.3km/hour, which is a bit higher than my average for this kind of ride. Cadence average 65 (still lower than I'd like to achieve). I'm very pleased with how the ride went for me, especially given the last couple of hours of headwinds and increasing knee pain. 

The event hosts have some fabulous photos up on their Flickr page


  1. First, I am so sorry that you weren't able to finish the event as you'd hoped, but in my book, this was incredibly fantastic, particularly given the circumstances leading up to the big day and you rode the distance, whether you were able to have the brevet cards punched or not, so kudos to you all.

    As an unrelated side note: I really wish I'd grown up using the metric rather than the imperial system of measurement and distance. Everything just sounds better, faster, etc. Of course, this is probably just me and the weird mind games I play with myself... but back to the actual comments about your event (sorry for the odd digression).

    What beautiful country you were able to pedal through! Even just getting a small glimpse of your surroundings is fantastic. Everything is so lush and green - absolutely beautiful! I also love the food photos... everything is so colorful.

    I love the photos of the Brompton and her banana storage. I'm interested/fascinated by what others choose to ride, particularly on long distances. I suppose if it is what she was most comfortable riding though, it makes complete sense to stick with it. I'd be curious to know if she finished.

    Congratulations on enjoying this ride. Sometimes, that can be more challenging than anything, but it sounds as though you had a grand time together. :O)

    1. It was a little disappointed but to be honest, I was/am very pleased, with the ride, with the experience, with my performance. My knees are being a bit temperamental this week so I'm coddling them as we head towards Friday's departure for France.

      I know what you mean about metric! It's taken me years to get used to it and cycling has helped as there is more consistent use of metric measurements in the cycling 'world' than in UK society generally. I do love clocking up a 'century', even if it is a metric one rather than an imperial one.

      I'm grateful for England's lush greenness. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest Coastal Range and couldn't bear the lack of green when I spent 22 months in Central Oregon's High Desert.

      I hear parts of Colorado have had a lot of rain recently, so hopefully you're getting your own fair share of greenery, even if it's brief.

    2. I think you should be very proud of yourself. When we're dealing with injuries it's all the more difficult to get to the finish, but you did extremely well, I'd say.

      My brother has been living in Australia for the last four years and when he comes back to the states he is always saying things like "litre" and I am sure I look confused. I should've paid better attention when we were learning in elementary school. Some of it stuck, but when we don't use it, keeping it readily available is challenging.

      We have seen a lot of rain here in Colorado. I think we've had about 48 hours of sun total in all of May. It's so strange as our state is usually quite sunny. Everything is green, but I think my mental state is suffering as I miss the sun tremendously. Of course, I should be careful what I wish for as we'll probably head directly into a heat wave, so I'm trying to just enjoy the cold and wet weather before the other side of it hits. :O)

  2. I rode 51 miles, back and forth on 2.2 miles of St Annes prom. I was bike course boss for the St Annes triathlon. Horrendously windy, sand everywher, but went really well. Done my bit for the local tri scene

    1. Good for you. I hate wind! Would rather climb hills all day. Honestly. Very grateful the forecast is indicating lighter breezes as we head into the weekend, even if they'll mostly be "against us" as we pedal from Cherbourg to Dieppe.

  3. That sounds like a very successful ride to me!

    1. Thanks, Kendra. Overall, I'd say that it was.

  4. Subscribing! I want to high five Sonia for riding uniquely.

    1. I'll pass that on, Wilson! :)
      She likes to say "my bicycle only has little titch wheels", when in fact her bicycle itself could be called Titch.


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