On Saturday 25th June I took part in another Audax event, this time a 330km (200 mile) ride from Upton Magna near Shrewsbury in England to Chepstow (Wales) and back.
As the start was at 6am, I had a rather early start (2.07am) to get there on time.
As usual, everyone started the ride together. As well as my 330km event, a 600km ride was being held at the same time, with riders following the same course for most of the day. As on previous rides, the countryside was very beautiful, and I enjoyed seeing the farm animals and birds (such as the red kite) on what was a beautiful day.
When cycling in Wales, however, it does not pay to be too complacent and although I checked the weather repeatedly and there was not supposed to be much rain, it started coming down with increasing force as I reached the summit of the Gospel pass (the highest road in Wales I am told).
Equipped with my invaluable Gore Tex jacket and trusty, battered overshoes, the descent from the pass was fun, even in the rain. Reaching the bottom, I came across a group of faster riders who were being delayed by a farmer shepherding a large flock of sheep along the road ahead of us. It seemed a good time to eat some energy bars and re-fuel. I also cycled alongside the farmer on his quad-bike and had a nice chat about this and that.
In time, I reached Chepstow at 167km, the turn around point in my ride and found some other riders in the town centre. We were all doing the same thing, looking for food! We found a shop selling pastries and sandwiches which was just perfect. I had been struggling a bit at this point and so tried to eat as much as I could, and even taped a spare sandwich onto my bike for later.
Unfortunately I didn’t feel particularly good for the next 100km, but kept moving at whatever pace I could manage and tried not to look too much at my cycle computer that showed the kilometres ticking by (quite slowly!). Since around 150km both of my knees had started feeling very sore which was a bit distracting. I consoled myself with the thought that they were hurting equally and in the same places, so that was a good sign and surely only temporary.
I also took great solace from the fact that, although I wasn’t riding as fast as others, I was climbing hills better than 2 weeks ago. Admittedly the gradients were not so cruelly steep as before, and I still needed the lowest gear on my bike, but I did not have to get off at any time which felt good.
With a sit down and some hot food at 250km, I started to feel a bit better, and the last 80km went fairly well. I was passed by some riders who had been behind me, but I didn’t really care, I was just happy to be moving well and riding at a pace I could sustain.
On my last long ride (600km) I felt quite euphoric at the end and really pushed on towards the finish. This may be why I could not walk for days after, and felt like a jet-lagged, drunken zombie for a week. This time I wanted to preserve my knees and so carried on riding normally through the darkness.
It was also getting quite cold by now and I was very grateful to finish around 12.20am, well inside the cut off time.
I had brought my tent with me to sleep overnight, but was too tired to put it up at that time of night, so I left my trusty, dirty bike outside the car and climbed into the back seat for my night’s ‘sleep’.
Surfacing around 6am, I headed back down south towards Raglan (this time by car!) to meet Tejvan who was taking part in the National 12 hour Time Trial Championships.
Part 2 - 2016 National 12 hour Time Trial Championship
Although his start time was 7.05am, we decided it would be ok to meet up around 9am (to allow me a bit more recovery time).
Tejvan had arranged to deposit his kit and food on the course for me to collect, and so after retrieving his kit bag and spare wheels from a hedge beside the Hardwicke roundabout on the A40, I was very happy to find him along the course around 9am for our first exchange where I could hand up new drinks and energy gels.
The course for Tejvan’s event used a number of different circuits, and one stretch took riders up a long, undulating road towards Hereford, and then straight back. This section gave me good opportunities to park the car and take action shots of him and others. Unfortunately as I was coming to overtake him at one point, I noticed traffic lights on the course and they were turning red! I had to watch helplessly from behind as Tejvan dutifully slowed, unclipped and waited for the lights to change back to green. I heard from him later that he was held up on the return leg too, how cruel!
Our plan was to meet around every hour for a fresh drinks and gels, and so I found a slight uphill drag where he could throw down his empty bottle and I could hand up a full one.
As riders like Tejvan go so fast on the flat, it is rather impossible to hand things to them at normal speed. The ideal is to find a slight uphill slope where their speed will be lower and there will be space for the helper to run along side, to try and match their speed (!) and deliver a full water bottle.
All seemed to go well at this feed, with a fresh bottle safely delivered and collected, except I could not find his empty bottle. It had been jettisoned into the long grass that was mixed with stinging nettles that were doing an excellent job of covering up the bottle. As time ticked by, I wondered if I should just give up and go on, especially as the bottle was pretty old and well used. I decided to persevere as the event was still only in its early stages and to be a bottle down could cause problems later on.
As I continued searching I remembered one of Sri Chinmoy’s stories about some partridges giving their eggs to the sea to look after while they went away. I had no hesitation then in humbly asking the grass to reveal where Tejvan’s bottle was concealed so I could carry on and do my job. A few seconds later, my foot parted the grass and nettles to reveal an old, battered and scratched High 5 water bottle which I gratefully retrieved and carried on my way.
After this episode, I decided to visit a nearby supermarket which would be my best chance of getting food for the rest of the day. After a delicious vegetarian cooked breakfast I headed back onto the course to meet Tejvan.
Riders were now on a different circuit and I basically got lost. I was on the correct road but it didn’t look right to me and I took a wrong turning and headed off somewhere quite different before being able to turn back and re-trace my steps.
I was frustrated and desperate to catch my rider. Yet I could not find him and the clock kept on ticking. Eventually I found a spot on the new circuit and just waited. It had been two hours since our last meeting and I was sad that I may have messed up his ride.
When he eventually came into view I was so relieved and was able to hand up an energy bar, drink and gel that I hoped would see his nutrition back on track. As Tejvan is quite well known in cycling circles, I was accosted by one of his admirers who was asking me all about meditation, society and our place in it. It was quite a challenge to remain composed enough to answer such questions after the roller-coaster morning I was having.
After 3.30pm, riders were diverted onto a smaller finishing circuit that would allow timekeepers to accurately record finishing times and distances. This time, although I had an idea where to go, I followed other helpers and found a good position to hand up bottles. It was now raining quite heavily and riders were soaked in their thin, skin tight clothing. Tejvan stopped to get a winter jacket at one point as the cold got to him, but throughout the 12 hours, he can’t have stopped for much more than 10 minutes.
On the smaller finishing circuit, (15.6 miles) I would see Tejvan about every 40 minutes or so and could visualize the finish in terms of how many bottles I would need and how well he was riding. Sometimes other helpers would ask me how he was doing and whether he had a chance of winning the race. I had to confess that I had no idea where he was in terms of race position and I did not want to know either. As far as I was concerned, my job was to hand up food and drink, offer encouragement and support as needed. The results, as such were not my department.
At the end of 12 hours, I collected a soaking wet, skinny, tired and hungry cyclist from a random layby on the A40 in Wales. Tejvan had just cycled 283 miles in 12 hours at an average speed of almost 24 mph. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of it.