“End of Hibernation” audax 2014

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Today was the ‘End of Hibernation’, a 200 km audax organized by Terry Dickinson of Cambridge Cycling Club. Starting at the village hall in Hauxton, it visited controls at Adam’s Café near Stradishall, the Riverside Lakes Café at Onehouse near Stowmarket, and Bosworth’s Café at Finchingfield (plus two information controls).

This was the third time I’ve ridden this event. In 2010 it took me just over 12 hours; in 2011 I got round in 10 hours and 40 minutes. Last year there was a blizzard: I looked out of the window in the morning and decided to go back to sleep. (There were only two finishers — here’s a write-up from Nick Jackson.)

The weather was much better this year, though still challenging with a cold wind from the north-west. It was bright and sunny first thing, which fooled some riders into leaving their jackets at home, a decision that they were later to regret.

The first couple of stages were fast with a tailwind. As we climbed up towards Dullingham, a cold rain began to fall, and by the time I got to Woodditton the rain was mixed with snow. It was a relief to get to Adam’s Café, where they put on a splendid spread of cakes. This was at 09:45, so more than an hour before the CTC day ride got there. I was feeling a bit miserable when I got to the café, and some of the other riders were talking about abandoning the ride, but a mug of tea and a giant piece of carrot cake did wonders for my morale, and when I stepped outside again, I found that the snow shower had blown away, and the sun had come out. So I wrung out my soggy gloves, got back on the bike, and set off for the best part of the ride, through Hawkedon, Hartest, Shimpling, Felsham and Rattlesden, getting to Onehouse at 11:45.

The way this ride always seems to work out is that there is a tailwind as far as Onehouse, and then you turn the corner and grovel into the wind all afternoon. Today was no different, and in addition to the westerly wind there was a series of hailstorms. The route goes through Bildeston, Monks Eleigh, Castle Hedingham, and Wethersfield, and it feels very exposed up there on the Suffolk downs, with no shelter. I felt close to done in Sible Hedingham so I stopped to eat a banana, and that gave me enough energy to stagger on to Finchingfield about 14:45, where I took a seat near the carvery to warm up in the glow of the heat lamps, and ate cherry Bakewell pudding with custard.

I can’t have been going that slowly, though, because I had been passed by only one rider since Stradishall. It is the funny thing about audax as a sport: there may be 30 people riding the same roads, but these riders will be spread out over maybe three hours by the finish, and so you cycle in a little bubble where you see only the handful of other riders going at a similar speed. I tried to work out where I was in the field: Nick Jackson had sped off as usual, and there was a rider in black who passed me before Wethersfield, but who else? Was I really third? Maybe a whole group had been and gone in the five minutes it took to eat the pudding?

Anyway, back into the wind and weather. It always seems like a very long way from Finchingfield to the last information control at Great Hormead. Terry Dickerson has run this ride so many times that he is running out of questions to ask, so here we had to hunt for a manhole cover (specifically, a round manhole cover) and read the text written on it. Normally the turn north to Anstey and Nuthampstead brings some relief from the headwind, but with the wind in the north-west this wasn’t the case, and it was hard work all the way back. There was another hailstorm, and on the descent from Barley I had to keep my speed down because otherwise the hail was too painful! Nonetheless, I was back at Hauxton at 18:15 (my fastest ever audax).

Thanks to Terry Dickerson for organizing the ride. I had 230 km (145 miles) for the day.