Last weekend, despite originally turning down a lift to the start point, I took part in and successfully completed ‘The East & West Coasts’ 600km Audax. A huge step up from the 200km rides that I had done before, I was fully expecting to have to bail out half-way through. Happily it didn’t come that, and I enjoyed the weekend enough that I can say with some degree of conviction that I’ll be doing another 600km ride sometime in the not-to-distant future.
Pre-Amble to The East & West Coasts Audax
With a 6am start on Saturday morning, we arrived at the start point on Friday night; the organisers had booked out the hall for us to sleep in ahead of the event. There were a good number of cyclists sitting around when we got there, some of whom I knew from Sheffield CTC. The others encompassed a wide range of ages and appeared to occupy various levels of eccentricity. There were some interesting bikes too, including a lovely looking recumbent and a road bike with a dinner plate sized cassette (I think I heard 43 teeth?!) and a single chain-ring on the front.
I sat and chatted only very briefly before turning in for the night. When I did, getting any sleep proved difficult: the floor was hard and the room far too hot. The people either side of me were on full sized inflatable mattresses and by comparison the foam camping mat that I’ve had since Scouts felt somewhat inadequate. I can’t have been the least comfortable admittedly, as I later found out that one of the Sheffield CTC guys had no mat or sleeping bag at all, just a cotton liner. You probably have to be a little mad to be an Audaxer but that’s a step too far for me; I’ll be investing in a (small) inflatable camping mat before my next long ride.
I woke up early on Saturday morning and immediately turned my attention towards breakfast. Although food at the base was provided, I’m too much of a creature of habit to mess with my breakfast routine, and had brought my own muesli with me from home (there was muesli available anyway but annoyingly most have milk powder in them).
It was still grey outside at this point but the forecast was alarmingly sunny for someone as pale and ginger as me, so I lathered myself up head to toe in suncream. Not wanting to over caffeinate too early I had a small and fairly disappointing coffee, which was just about to enough to get me feeling ready to go.
The East Coast: Bridlington
In “One Man and His Bike”, Mike Carter writes that cycling with a tailwind feels inherently “right”. That it feels like the way things should be. He makes a good point. With the wind behind us, we sailed along, checking off a few controls on the way, until we hit the heavy traffic surrounding Bridlington. This part of the ride was a breeze.
When we arrived, the café control at Bridlington didn’t feel overly welcoming. Worse still we spotted a large tub of Nescafé and, without wishing to sound too pretentious, decided that we could do better. Before we could do that though, we felt that we ought to do the extra few metres to the coast. Like the prospect of an instant coffee, this turned out to be fairly uninspiring – a feeling that was furthered by a bagpipe player assaulting our ears with a very ordinary rendition of Scotland the Brave. I don’t mind the bagpipes as an instrument, but why does it always have to be the same song?
We took a photo or two and made our escape back past the gridlocked traffic in search of a proper hot drink.
The assertion that we could find better coffee in Bridlington turned out to be a bit too optimistic, and a few miles outside of the town centre we resorted to turning into a petrol station forecourt. It won’t be winning any awards, but the coffee from the Costa machine was actually surprisingly drinkable. A useful tip is that although espresso isn’t one of the options, you can get something resembling one by selecting Americano and letting the water drain away before putting your cup under the spout.
Back West to Mytholmroyd
Going towards the Howardian Hills we were greeted by our first headwind of the trip. I took shelter behind the others for a while before realising that I should probably take a turn at the front.
My memory of the day from this point is a little hazy. The sun belted down on us relentlessly and I kept my head down, peddling past mile after mile of hedgerow and the occasional scenic view without glancing up more than absolutely necessary to not crash into anything. When at the front my eyes ached under the relentless glare of two nonillion kilograms of fusion reactor. My sunglasses couldn’t compete with that, and despite religiously and generously reapplying it, judging by the colour of my arms neither could my suncream.
At some point along the next stretch we joined the route of a sportive, only in the opposite direction. As we passed another Audaxer he commented on the amount of nodding and waving, but we all carried on greeting each and every rider that we passed. There must have been hundreds of cyclists and together we massively outnumbered the handful of motor vehicles, who had no choice but to resign themselves to their fate. This must be what a main road in a utopian cyclists-only world would look like.
The realisation that we still had 200km left to cover before base, which is as far as my longest ever ride had been before today, was not a motivating one, but as I cycled into unknown territory I felt surprisingly good.
Evening began to draw in as we reached more urban areas and good portion of the cars out now were lowered hatch-backs, driven recklessly by spotty teenagers. The tacky spoilers, the shiny hubcaps, and the ridiculous sounds of a strained engine are just about the closest thing you can get to a “I’m a massive knob-head” bumper-sticker. As a result, they’re at least easily identified. Thankfully it seems that even boy racers have their bed times, and as midnight drew closer the traffic became much more tolerable.
Our progress at this point was hindered a little by the route, which unnecessarily took us away from the main and down a small side street. There was a steep climb back up and a sharp corner kicked us back out onto the very same A-road we just left. Putting this on the route more than 300km into the ride is unquestionably mean, but on the bright side, the climb was a good excuse to get out of the saddle and stretch out a little.
We reached base at about quarter to one in the morning. Knackered and hungry, I devoured a bowl of baked beans and some vegan cottage pie in mere seconds. Perhaps the highlight of the whole Audax was the cake I filled up on afterwards; almost all of the massive selection of homemade cakes were cruelty free!
The West Coast: Blackpool
I slept well on Saturday night for a full 4 hours. One of the CTC guys I had been riding with had long since left when I got up and after a certain amount of coffee and faffing, the other guy and I climbed stiffly back onto our saddles too. We had perhaps slept slightly too long and as a result we had to push our pace a little to make it to the first checkpoint in time. I took the helm and powered on, arriving at the cash machine only five minutes or so before the cut off time.
We slowed down after this with the intention of having a pleasant day out. After all, we reasoned, there was “only” 220km to cover before the latest permitted finish time of 10pm. Since we were planning on heading back to Sheffield on Monday morning there was nothing to gain by making it back any earlier than ~9pm. Despite the slow pace, however, at this point I was struggling. I don’t think that I ate enough breakfast, and was getting through my bars fast. At a petrol station checkpoint I hunted for vegan food, and came out with cooked couscous and a packet of crisps. Sitting on the ground in a petrol station forecourt shovelling said couscous into my mouth with my hands was not my proudest moment, but it did seem to do the job and the extra energy got me all the way to Blackpool.
I’d never been to Blackpool before, but it was every bit as tacky as I had expected it to be. We took some photos and found a café where, feeling relaxed, we spent far too much time. By the time we left, after yet more faffing, we were back against the clock to get to the next control and had to increase our pace a little in order to make it on time. Glasson Dock turned out to be much nicer than Blackpool, but unfortunately there was little time to enjoy it. We collected a few more stragglers and pushed on, knowing that we were still going to be cutting it fine for the finish time. Spurred on, we bombed along for a while, and things went swimmingly until we realised that we had completely missed another petrol station control.
At this point there was a big group, so I didn’t feel too bad leaving my friend behind and upping my pace for the last ~40km. At the penultimate control I caught up with another group of riders, and found myself unable to muster enough energy to overtake them on the last climb. The descent to the finish point was fantastic, and extremely welcome, and I did at this point leave the group that I’d latched onto behind as I used up the very last of my energy. With the end in sight I caught a glimpse of a clock, and the idea that I could finish at 8-something was enticement enough to give me a second (third? fourth?) wind. I arrived back at the community centre at about 8:38pm.
After some more vegan cake I had a great night’s sleep on the floor of the sports hall. I caught an early train home in the morning and ended up hitting the rush hour in and out of Leeds. Although I, too, was heading back to work the next day, it felt pretty good to be on my way home from a little adventure while everyone else was trudging begrudgingly towards their respective offices. I think that I was the only one on that train with a smile on my face, but truth be told my fellow public transport riders might have only been looking so glum because of the smell that I was so very kindly sharing with them.