When riding through the winter you can expect to have some icy days, especially first thing, but so far I'd been lucky. The last two rides were wet and at least when it's raining you know there's less chance of the dreaded slippy stuff. This time the skies were clear and the air chilly. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, but at 7:30am, the car park in Grazeley was noticeably slippery. Still, a good crowd of us set off with caution.
My plan was to do the first 50km at a gentle pace, taking particular care on corners and descents. This is usually a good way to start, but often it's tempting to cling to a fast group early on. Fortunately I found a similarly-paced loose bunch and took it easy for a couple of hours. I'm not sure what speed I was doing as the wheel-speed sensor was playing up telling me I was doing 54kph on the flat! After a while I disabled it to rely on GPS only. The pleasant scenery was made better by the steadily rising sun.
By half eight the temperature was well above freezing. I was itching to get a move on, so I pushed ahead of the group a bit. Unfortunately one of the faster groups had come off on a patch of ice on a corner at speed. One was lying on the floor with a broken leg. Luckily for us, his friends were waiting to warn the following riders of the danger or I expect there would've been more accidents.
After that sobering incident I progressed with renewed caution in a smaller group, one of whom I recognised as a former colleague from some 11 years ago. We caught up at the first control, which was being manned by a chap married to one of my sister's friends. Small world!
After cramming down a flapjack, I left my erstwhile colleagues to their beans on toast. Now more confident that the ice had gone, I rode on a little harder through mostly-flat countryside, passing canals and through villages. Distracted by the charm of Great Bedwyn I missed a turn as I cruised down a hill and for some reason didn't take the buzzing GPS seriously for another few minutes. A quick check on the phone and routesheet and I was stomping back up the hill muttering at myself.
I gradually caught up with some other riders, but as the views got more dramatic I repeatedly stopped to take photos and had to catch up again. The quality didn't turn out so well this time as I was travelling light and had only the smart-phone camera.
After taking the turning for "The Lavingtons" there was only some 10km to the furthest control, where the route doubles back on itself. It was a bit depressing to see other audaxers (I think) already on the way back, somehow 20km ahead of me! Still, I greeted them cheerily. To be fair, I also saw some of the slower riders on my way back.
On reaching the Bratton cafe I was a bit disappointed to find the same people I'd been chatting to in Hungerford, already awaiting their second bean-feast of the day. As I hadn't seen them on the road, they must've passed me while I was scratching my head in Great Bedwyn. It doesn't matter how hard you pedal if it's in the wrong direction!
I was feeling good approaching Hungerford for the second time and decided to "bump" the control, just grabbing a stamp and heading off. I had about a quarter of a bottle of drink left and was wondering if it would be enough for the final 50km. In the end I stopped at a news agent to grab a bottle of water and pack of pencils (you can't buy just one!) to fill in the info controls, something I must remember in future. I was a bit stuck about where to store the pencils until I realised I still had one empty water bottle. That seemed to work and didn't rattle annoyingly.
The hilly final section was a rather challenging after 150km, but did provide more nice views. I was very glad I had opted for extra water! The final information control, the church of St Peter and St Paul was particularly picturesque and I grabbed a photo despite having the writing equipment to prove my passage.
As is often the case I was alone for the final stage, but distracted myself by working out when I might arrive and trying to get back before 5pm. In the end I was a little later than that, but pleased with a fantastic day's ride in better time than usual for me. Maybe it was because I switched to a smaller saddlebag, or because there were fewer hills and less wind, but I think it was probably due to the weight saved by clipping my toenails the day before. ;)
Many thanks to the organiser and helpers staffing the controls, and carpark as well as providing a great spread of food at the start and finish. Much appreciated!
Now more confident that the ice had gone, I rode on a little harder through mostly-flat countryside, passing canals and through villages.
The hilly final section was a rather challenging after 150km, but did provide more nice views.