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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