It’s Wednesday lunchtime and I’m strolling to the Post Office with an envelope full of brevet cards and receipts. It seems a bit anachronistic in these days of gps recording and email but it feels like the proper way to prove that we completed our first permanent audax the previous Sunday.
The audax in question is The Reliable, and because it’s a permanent it can be ridden any time with commercial and info controls as proof of passage. It also qualifies for the Brevet Des Grimpeurs Du Sud which Jo and I are aiming for, an award for completing five audaxes of at least 100km with AAA (Audax Altitude Award) points, in the south east of England in a calendar year. This is our third qualifying ride, with the Hills and Mills, and Mad Jack’s already completed. Basically we can get a badge. It’s a nice badge. Nick is coming along for the ride as he’s never done an audax before. Plus it all seems like good training for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen sportive that we’re all doing in a couple of weeks time.
In Bill’s cafe surrounded by families out for Mothering Sunday breakfast I hand out bagged brevet cards and route sheets, whilst Nick distributes foil wrapped chocolate brownies. It looks a bit odd, suspect even, like audax drug dealing. Once our teas and coffees are consumed and chat is chatted we cause trouble by asking for individual receipts. The computer can’t cope with this so we end up with three copies of the joint receipt as proof of our start time.
The official route is 100km with almost 1700m of climbing, with options to start in Ripe or Crowborough. We started and finished in Lewes adding a few kilometres but giving us more options for gathering receipts on a Sunday than Ripe. Heading out through Ringmer we picked up the route sheet on Harvey’s Lane out towards Bentley. Because we did it properly we followed the route sheet which was in a sandwich bag taped to my stem rather than using a Garmin. Nothing against gps devices but audaxing is about following coded instructions and signposts as far as I’m concerned. We zigzagged across to Black Boys where the climbing started in earnest as we worked our way up and down across the weald towards Crowborough on lanes of varying gradients and surfaces. My relaxed angled steel Thorn was relatively comfortable but Nick and Jo got a bit bashed about on their race bred carbon Bianchis. Served them right for turning up on audax illegal plastic bikes with no mudgaurds. Every time there was a bit of smooth tarmac you could almost hear sighs of relief mixed with excitement…they’d also whizz off into the distance for a bit.
Once in Crowborough we located the Sainsbury’s Local in order to buy snacks for the receipts. Disappointingly there were no scotch eggs or pork pies (you know, proper audax food) so we have to make do with sausage rolls (me and Jo) and Fizzy Fangs (Nick). Heading north east from Crowborough we turned under a railway bridge and Jo and I both exclaimed “Oh, we’re here!” recognising the lane from the Hills and Mills ride back in January, but riding it the opposite way. We slowly climb up onto the high ridge of the High Weald north of Mayfield which we can see silhouetted to the south.
At Etchingham we shouldered the bikes over the station footbridge due to works on the level crossing. More ups and downs follow until again we pop out of a junction and go “Oh, we’re here!” (again) as we realise we’re near Burwash, from Mad Jack’s ride last month. Instead of heading into Burwash we turn towards Brightling, included in both the previous Grimpeurs rides. We clamber over the steep climbs of the High Weald until the final info control. From here we know most of the lanes back towards Lewes but somehow the route sheet finds loads of lanes we’ve never ridden before.
The best thing about riding these local Sussex audaxes is that we’re being introduced to new lanes and routes in parts of the county we don’t know so well. Each one so far has really shown the varying landscape of East Sussex, running from the low weald up onto the high weald, from the fields and drove roads to the holloways and ghylls of the high weald, all moss covered rocks, exposed tree roots, and filthy lanes. From the flat lands in the shadows of chalk hills of the south to the sandstone ridges in the north. The next one, in April, The Hell of the Sussex Hills will take in the chalk and bostals of South Downs. Eventually we’ll work out how it all joins up so there’ll be fewer “Oh, we’re here!” moments.
From Horam the route is pretty much flat all the way back so we make good time through Chiddingly to Golden Cross. From here we could have blasted down the Laughton road back through Ringmer into Lewes, as we’d done all the climbs and would have easily covered the required 100km, but we continue following the route sheet into Ripe. It’s just as well we hadn’t started here as the pub has shut down again and the village shop was closed. From here we divert from the route sheet and head back via Glynde as it’ll drop us into Lewes by our chosen finishing point, the Snow Drop pub. Pies and pints are ordered for the necessary receipts to show our finishing time. We found a table for a well deserved sit down and info control answers are copied between brevets and receipts collated ready to be taken to the Post Office.