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Diary of a Novice Randonneur, pt.5 – Straight Outta Hackney

Just a cheeky little 200 to squeeze in before the 400 in a couple of weeks.

After a fitful nap on the crack o’ sparrows train up from Brighton I hop off at London Bridge for a gentle spin up to the Salisbury Hotel in Harringay. The ride is organised by Audax Club Hackney, hence the name, but actually starts and finishes just over the borough border in Harringay. I arrive just after half seven and there are already a good few riders present enjoying a coffee and chat. I collect my brevet, make a cuppa and grab a couple of bananas for breakfast. I spot Pete and pop over to say hello, and a short while later Mike (who we rode most of the Ditchling Devil with) shows up too.

IMG_20140803_014704At 8 on the dot we’re off. I roll out of London on Mike’s wheel whilst chatting with Pete and trying to avoid the backs of buses. We’re in a group at the front featuring a few fixies and a single-speed as well as those of us with gears. The pace if pretty decent. I’ve still not learned not to go off too fast. To be honest I don’t really like urban or suburban roads, they are just there to get somewhere else, out of the grey and angular to somewhere greener with more sky. However if a ride starts in London you’ve got to get through it somehow, and the faster the better as far as I’m concerned. The sky that I can see is grey and the forecast whilst not great isn’t awful. We’ll probably hit some rain at some point but not too much. Or at least I hope so as I’ve decided to risk just a gilet, and the previous week had been so busy that I didn’t get around to putting the mudguards back on. Oh, and sensibly I’ve left my rain jacket in a bag back in Harringay.

IMG_20140803_145531 IMG_20140803_145720As the suburban sprawl dissipates out towards the boundary line of the M25 the group starts to fracture and dwindle into smaller units. Somewhere around 45km after a gentle incline I stop for a pee safe in the knowledge that the speed was gentle enough to jump back on Pete’s wheel. As I clipped back in I could see them just down the road with a lone fixie rider between us. Out of the saddle I sprinted up the road, caught the fixie, drafted him for a moment to refresh myself keeping the others in sight, then decide to jump across the gap. Unbeknownst to me there had been a change of pacesetters on the front of my little group and I spent a few kilometres burying myself trying to catch them. I then suddenly realised I couldn’t see anyone in front of me or anyone behind me. Arse. I was in no mans land and unsure if I was actually on the right road, and my thighs ad lungs were burning from the effort. Time to stop and check the routesheet. Rummaging in my back pocket for the folded sheet of A4 I saw the fixie rider coming down the hill behind me. Excellent, I wasn’t lost.

I say hi and slot in behind him whilst my legs recover a bit, before I take a turn on the front. As we exchange turns on the front we cross the border into Essex, as we undulate across a rolling landscape of sun faded and water parched muted greens and ochres. Right on cue I feel the splash of a raindrop on my arm, and then another. As the lanes get narrower and narrower and twistier and twistier the rain gets harder and harder. My socks are squelching in my shoes and water is dripping from the peak of my soggy cap. Rainwater is smeared across my glasses and my brakes are useless. I wish I’d put those mudguards back on! Eventually the rain starts to subside and another pair of riders appear across the open fields. They hung there in front of us for a good few kilometres before we make the junction to them. Over the next couple of kilometres it became obvious that we were settling into an evenly paced little group, two fixies plus two geared bikes. Introductions were made. I’d been riding with Werner from London, and we’d hooked up with Matt from Sheffield and Andrew from Dorset. All but me veterans (in experience, not age) of the audax scene.

The rain finally eases off completely as we turn a corner and spot the first control in a village bus stop. Rather splendidly the organisers have bombed it out here in a car with a tressle table and the makings of cheese and ham sandwiches, and orange Club biscuits and bananas for afters. Brevet card duly stamped I make a sarnie and shove a banana in my jersey pocket. Pete and Mike are still here but just about to leave so I let them know I’ll stay with my new acquaintances. The pace is more to my liking, plus I know if I ride with Pete and Mike I’m likely to blow up before Cambridge let alone London. We set off a few minutes after the others and it’s only 30km to the next info control. This distance passes quickly as we work well together, chatting two abreast on the quiet lanes pointing out holes and gravel. On the bigger roads we’d stretch out into a line of four. Andrew and I freewheeling ahead on the descents whilst Werner and Matt spin manically behind us, but then overtake us again as they carry their momentum onto the next ascent. We past the info control (collection time on a post box) at the most north eastern point of the route, and then turned for Cambridge. Another 30km and it’s time for lunch.

IMG_20140803_145345The sun breaks through and dry lines emerge on the lanes as if a latent photographic image of a dry road. We weave and ripple across rural Cambridgeshire until we see the silhouette of Cambridge in the distance. It’s a very flat county so we know we still have a way to go. Crossing the A11 a long, long gently declining stretch of tarmac is lain out in front of us. Andrew and I click down a couple of sprockets and go into 2-up time trial mode. Glancing over our shoulders a couple of km later we realise we have dropped Werner and Matt but they span back on just as we hit the outskirts of the city. At this point it was Werner’s turn to drop us all as his London commuting skills came to the fore, sweeping in and out of cars and road furniture. Pulling up outside a cafe opposite Kings College I see Pete and Mike tucking into lunch. I lean my bike against another, get my brevet stamped and order some well needed tucker.

IMG_20140802_213716After a lunch of panini and chips it was back onto the road out of Cambridge via Trumpington and over the M11. We turn left towards Fowlmere and the next control at Puckeridge. This was correct as far as getting back to London was concerned but for wind strength and direction it was a dreadful mistake! We are immediately punched in the face by the wind tearing across the flat farmland. It proceeds to smack us repeatedly in the face for the next 30km. We string out into a team pursuit formation. Chatter was non-existent as we rotate putting in big efforts on the front. Talk would be pointless anyway as any words that struggle out between breaths will instantly be whipped northwards by the gusts. There is a pastoral minimalist beauty to rural Cambridgeshire but that unfortunately means there are few hedges or trees to offer shelter from howling winds. Somewhere along this road as I drop to the back of the formation I reach into my back pocket for the emergency gel.

IMG_20140803_014817As we straddle the border with Hertfordshire the roads start to rise and fall a bit more, and I for one was glad of the more sheltered hills for a little respite from the wind. The ascents get longer as the descents get faster. The elastic band holding our pursuit team together starts to strain and contract as our free hub vs. fixie game of tag starts again. After a long gentle descent we turn into Puckeridge to find the Something Lovely Tearooms for the next brevet stamp and a well earned slice of cake. Refilled we climbed back on for the final 40km back into London, and we shortly enter the outer edges of suburbia again, first Ware then Hoddesdon where we pick up the same roads on which we’d left the metropolis. However we miss the exit for Cheshunt on a roundabout and find ourselves heading for the Great Cambridge Road, or to give it its more prosaic title the A10.

Werner and I know this will take us back to within a kilometre or two of our destination. Matt and Andrew looked less convinced but that may well have had something to do with the fact the discussion is had on the slip road to a busy dual carriageway. Anyway the decision is made to carry on, so we reform our team pursuit positions and time trial over the M25 and through Enfield and Tottenham before turning off for Harringay. Back at the arrivee, as soon as brevets are handed over, pints are purchased and downed in considerable haste. Then another. Purely for their rehydrating and carb replacing properties of course. I can’t remember the precise details but roughly 225km have been ridden in about 9 hours and 20 mins. I catch up with Mike and Pete and we all pile around to organiser Justin’s back garden for more chat, a barbecue and Hackney brewed ale.

IMG_20140802_182940 IMG_20140802_183933A full set of photos by Jordan Carroll from Audax Club Hackney over on Flickr


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