The second Kingston Wheelers audax of the season and the 300km one in their Paris-Brest-Paris qualifier series. Due to the early start we went up the night before to sleep over on the scout hut floor, same as for Wander Wye last year. As with the WW I was riding with Simon.
It’s cold when we set off, really cold. In fact I’m not sure I can feel my toes for the first two hours. The initial part of the route follows the end of last month’s Gentley Bentley ride; Esher, Ripley, Send, then through Normandy to Aldershot and Farnham. Teenage roadie roads, past a mate’s parents’ house, the pub where I saw Fleet legends Jim Jiminee play with The Sunday‘s drummer (think he was the brother of the Jim’s bass player), roads where I passed my motorcycle test, past the pub where the scooter club met. Rather than wait for the official first control at Lasham we stop in Farnham for coffee and breakfast. A very long queue outside the record shop up the street for Record Store Day. A joke about obsessive people doing ridiculous things.
From here it’s steadily uphill all the way to Lasham to collect a stamp at the garden centre. As I pass a someone on a steeper part of the climb I hear “Oh, it’s you, you’re the man from icon.” It’s Niki and Mike who rode to Belgium last month inspired by the Omloop post. We chat as far as Lasham where Simon and I get a stamp but carry straight on having already eaten in Farnham.
The lanes to Bighton are generally downhill and very, very pretty, parts of it reminding me of the Meon Valley. We spin along quickly chatting away. Spotting an orange Rapha jacket and a carradice ahead, I guess it’s Marcus and ease up for a chat for a few minutes. From Bighton I’m on familiar roads from many rides to Bristol. It occurs to me that the info control is probably the pub where Jo and I had lunch when I rode my Reilly to Bespoked two years ago. It is and the next few kilometres through the Itchen Valley are familiar too. Past the big house with the fishing lake and cattle grids across it’s estate, then Kings Worthy and north of Winchester before dropping into the Test Valley.
The last time I rode this way was a couple of months back on the way to the Orielles gig. Even though that was just seven weeks ago there is a noticeable difference between then and now, late winter and spring. The sun is higher, the fields greener, the trees covered in buds and blossom. Counter intuitively it’s a whole load colder though. The familiar draggy climb to the Winterslows, across Porton Down (secret stuff, eyes ahead, no photos, there are probably snipers out there) and as far as the River Avon at Upper Woodford. Somewhere along the way the silhouette of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral points to heaven.
This is as far West as we go. We follow the Avon north to the half way control and lunch in Amesbury. After lunch the pace slows for a while, partly as I always get a bit sluggish after a meal stop but also because Salisbury Plain is secretly hilly. It doesn’t look particularly hilly but try telling your legs that. It’s also wide open and the wind is whipping across it, right at us. A fluorescent orange wind sock can be seen from some distance, waggling about, pointing at us, taunting us. Tank crossings at regular intervals. Gravel roads disappear off across the plain in every direction. I check the numbers, despite slowing we’re still on schedule (20kph with stops, five hour hundreds, all part of a masterplan), in fact we gain 10 minutes by Whitchurch, the next control.
Then there’s another long slog over the bottom right corner of the Wessex Downs. However there’s a pay off in the form of a lovely descent to Bramley. Back on teenage roadie roads. A signpost for Heckfield. I’m sure there was a local ten near there, up and down the A33. Probably still is. Some roads I recognise from more recently but I’m not sure from when*. Simon is starting to struggle, his pace is dropping right off, and he’s feeling cold. It’s still some way to the next control at Ascot and I’ve already been thinking I’m going to need food before then. It’s 10 past 6 and lunch was over four hours ago. I know we skirt Wokingham and Bracknell on the way, towns that’ll have places to stop, we mention Maccy D moments before spotting a MacDonalds bag in the grass verge like some kind of scummy subliminal advertising. How much Maccy D packaging ends up on roadsides? It seems to be the one constant on any ride. They should tag the stuff so it can be seen how far it gets distributed. That would make a depressing map.
At a crossroads there’s a pub. We make an impromptu stop for coffee and crisps so Simon can warm up a bit. Logging into the pub wi-fi I check Google Maps for what might be available in Wokingham in about 15km. There’s a Burger King on the route so we decide to stop there for dinner, then we’ll bash on for the finish with just a quick cash machine receipt stop in Ascot.
The next section between Wokingham and Ascot via Bracknell is a bit rubbishy, all roundabouts and main roads. Daylight fades quickly. We grab a cash machine receipt and head towards Virginia Water. It’s fully dark as we roll along the edge of Windsor Great Park and Virginia Water lake. I spot the restaurant that was the first info control from last month so I know we’ll be following the first bit of Gentley Bentley backwards. In my head I tick off places, over the M3 by Thorpe Park, Chertsey, Sunbury, Hampton, Kingston, done.
Due to tech issues I’m the only one with a map so I’m on the front and my legs still feel strong after 280km, we proceed at a decent whack. An occasional glance over my shoulder to check Simon’s still there. I forgot that Sunbury seems to be about 8 miles wide. The road goes on and on and on… Where’s that junction with the Hampton road? Ah, here we go. Head down, click up. Hampton Court Palace, Bushy Park, over Kingston Bridge, sketchy bit around the one way system, back on suburban streets. Garmin battery down to 8%, crank the speed up a notch to make sure we can find the way back before it dies. Raynes Park on a signpost. One last little climb, over the A3. Hop a curb, cyclepath, scout hut. Shake of hands, “Well done mate”. 312km, 15 hours 49 minutes. A tad over schedule but not by much, we’ve made up a chunk of time since Ascot.
A change of clothes, some food, and a cup of tea before the (slow) dash to East Croydon for the late train home.
Route ridden: http://www.strava.com/activities/2287967002
Thanks to Kingston Wheelers for another great audax, a beautiful route (except for the bit around Bracknell but that’s not their fault, all the roads round there are shit) and friendly arrivee with good food.
*a bit of digging in the archives and found it was riding back from helping at at the control on last year’s LWL