Diary of a Novice Randonneur, pt.1

It didn’t go so well…

The first audax planned for the year was the “Mad Jack’s – John Seviour Memorial”, a 125km audax with roughly 2500m of climbing in mid February. The ride is in “Mad Jack” country in the High Weald of Sussex around Brightling and Battle. Even though in my home county this part of Sussex is a bit far from Brighton to be regular riding country. I’ve ridden around here, not often, but enough to know that all this climbing would be accumulated by simply riding up and down nasty short climbs pretty much relentlessly. It would be tough.

John “Mad Jack” Fuller (1757 – 1834) was Squire of Brightling, High Sheriff of Sussex, a Member of Parliament, and a captain in the Sussex Yeomanry Cavalry. There’s also an unfortunate support of slavery that seems to be counter to his otherwise philanthropic nature as a sponsor of the Royal Institution, and Humphrey Davey in particular, endowing Sussex with it’s first lifeboat, paying for the original Belle Tout lighthouse at Beachy Head, and saving Bodiam Castle from demolition. However he’s probably best known for the man who built all those follies around Brightling and buried in the pyramid mausoleum in the churchyard or St. Thomas a Becket in Brightling.

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There would be five of us riding so there at least would be lots of support, or in all honesty continuous heckling and banter. Unfortunately it fell on the weekend when the worst storms of the year were forecast. By the preceding Friday afternoon two of our party Andy and Tim had decided to give it a miss. We put this down to the fact they are from West Sussex and they are a bit scared of East Sussex…or the Dark Side as they refer to it. The remaining three of us, Mark, Jo, and I had a quick chat and decided to at least make an start and see what happened. Mark lives just around the corner from the audax meeting point so we arranged to meet at his at 8 for tea and crumpets prior to the start. Then we spent Friday night listening to the wind howling across Sussex and wondered what the hell we were thinking.

Nevertheless Jo arrived outside my house at 7am the next morning. Damn, he was still thinking of riding it. We drove through stong blustery winds (I think the correct meteorological word is gales) and sharp showers whilst chatting the usual nonsense about bicycles. Arriving at Mark’s front door he opened it in full kit. Damn, he was still thinking of riding it too. Consuming crumpets and coffee and tea we peered out of the window at the sky. Despite the strong wind there was sufficient blueness for us to feel confident it wouldn’t be an absolutely revolting day. One of the benefits of the Mad Jack ride is it returns through the same control point in Battle three times so we could bail out at the end of the first or second loop if it all got too much.

Despite the fact we’re stubborn belligerent sods when it comes to riding our bicycles we knew we were wavering in our dedication to the cause, it would only take one of us to say “Ahem, guys, erm, we sure about this?” and the whole thing would crash down like a house of cards. Of course, there was also no way any of us was going to back down in front of the others now despite the air of relunctance hanging over us. However all this faff eating crumpets and discussing the weather meant we rolled to the start line in the local leisure centre car park 15 minutes late. Well, more like 20 minutes. The car park was empty. Oh yeah, this isn’t a sportive is it, it’s a discipline based on self-reliance and er, what’s that other thing about audax, oh yeah, time-keeping! Hmm, this was not an auspicious start to a year of audaxing.

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We did go for a ride around Mad Jack country anyway, chucking in Pevensey Levels at the end. It was very, very windy, it hailed pretty hard for a bit, the sun shone, and there was a well needed cake stop. We managed 70km on roads covered in gravel and potholes and bits of tree and running water. It hurt like hell but it was fun. I think.

Let’s hope the next attempt, a 200km ride in East Anglia in April, is more successful. Getting to the sign-on in time would be a start.

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Steeling myself for the year ahead

IMG_20140130_134717Last year’s Tourist Trophy adventures whetted my appetite for further exploring. Thoughts of long distance multi-day rides float around my head. I’m not interested in getting from A to B, or in the case of some racing A to A or even A to A to A to A, as quickly as possible. I’d rather take my time, have a look around, allow myself to get distracted, maybe not go where I intended. Stuffing a saddle bag (preferably one from Swift Industries) with a spare tyre, some tubes, a sarnie, a bag of jelly babies, a camera, and a few rolls of film and head off. To ride place to place and all the points between. Maybe not to return for a few days.

However, as much as I love my Trek it’s not the most comfortable bike over a long day, or days, in the saddle. I know this from back to back centuries between Bath and Brighton last spring. I’ve been looking at cyclocross and touring bikes for a while, thinking about what would be best for rides that involve a mix of terrain. The Trek has been bashed across the South Downs Way on occasions but it’s really definitely not built for that sort of behaviour. Between toing and froing from tourers and ‘crossers and back again a friend pointed me in the direction of Singular Cycles and the Peregrine frameset in particular. I was instantly smitten. Lugged steel, two tone paint, fork crowns, a bike that looks proper, but set up to take heavy duty tyres and disc brakes. So I now have a box in my living room that contains one. And once I’ve decided on how to build it up it will become a bicycle for adventuring.

Whilst this was going on Milltag invited me to continue to write for them after the Tourist Trophy pieces last year. I plan to do a few more Tourist Trophy rides to go to a few counties I missed out last year (and let’s be honest this project won’t be complete until I’ve ticked off all UK counties) and a couple of longer tours this year. However these will be as and when I find time and money. I needed more of a structure to hang the writing around. Also Ed at Milltag asked “What’s this years challenge?” I remembered I was about to enter my first audax with some friends. At 125km it’s not a particularly long one but with 2500m of climbing across the High Weald it’ll be a challenge. Pete at Milltag is a hardcore audaxer (is there any other kind?) so a plan was hatched to aim to ride a 400 or 500km audax by the end of the year. This may be slightly stupid but it’s worth a try.

The language of audax appeals – brevets, populaires, raids, randonneur – and control cards & stamps remind me of cycle touring as a teenager and collecting YHA stamps each night. Looking into the history a little bit it seems an audax would originally be ridden in teams with a road captain, where as randonneuring were ridden as individuals. Audax derives from the Italian for audacious where as randonneur doesn’t seem to have a direct translation from the French. However I like the way it hints are randomness and rambling, even if this is counter to what is involved when considering strict times and controls points. Random rambling isn’t really the idea but I like the word randonneur. So this year I will be writing a “Diary of a Novice Randonneur” for Milltag.

Anyway that’s the plan, so we’ll see what happens. I also notice that Audax UK will ratify solo ad hoc long distance rides which gives me an idea for midsummer’s day…

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