RRtY 200k number six came in late June and to get a ride in on my only free Saturday of the month meant an early start and a drive down to Earley, south of Reading, for a ride around Hampshire and Wiltshire. Unfamiliar territory! The weather was lovely at the start, mild and sunny, but the day promised lots of changes and the course looked pretty lumpy so I wasn't sure how long I'd be out there. Also I wasn't sure what shape I was in - several weeks since my last long ride so "well rested" would be a positive way of looking at it :)
From the start the course was peaceful and scenic, with a particularly memorable stretch through fragrant pinewoods, sun glinting through the trees. There was hill and heath and some busier roads to negotiate here and there. I was hanging in there with a pack of able riders at a pace I wasn't sure I could keep up, but when we got to the first control, a garden centre cafe at around 45k, I still felt good and was really enjoying the ride. I went for eggs on toast and a pot of tea and wolfed it pretty quickly so I could get out there with some other riders for the next stretch (most were just grabbing a cake). Stage 2 was around 40k and the weather varied a bit - on the long run through the Lambourn Valley then climbing and up and over the valley head I was dry enough with a windstopper gilet and my new waterproof (debatable) arm warmers that I was trying out for the first time. Nice roads, undulating, very peaceful as we wound our way through racehorse country. Stop number 2 was a pub who conjored up a "small veggie pasta" for me in double quick time and a half of coke to wash it down. I'd been forcing myself to get energy bars inside me too so I was heading into the crux stage, 72k including the South Downs, pretty well fuelled. And I needed to be!
The third stage was lovely, so many cute villages and probably the highest number of thatched cottages I have ever seen in a single day; challenging hills and of course some pretty rough roads. At one stage there was a sudden and powerful thunderstorm and quite a few riders sheltered under trees or in barns but I dedided to plough on as by this stage I'd realised that I might manage 10 hours for a 200k AAA which would be a lot quicker than I'd done before. It sounds slow but these Audax courses just seem to take me a long time - I managed 180k at a steady 16-17 mph when I did Iron distance Triathlon but the lanes and hills of an Audax course plus the need to stop at the controls make it much more time consuming. That 10 hour mark was suddenly my goal for the day and I was going to go all out to get it. Soaked to the skin I arrived at what the routesheet called a "hairpin" and with a handful of other riders who had caught me up after sheltering from the rain I began the climb of Walbury Hill. A great climb with unbelievable views from the top, felt like I could see half of England under the clearing skies. From there it was a short hop to the final control where tired riders, myself included, were treated to hot tea and cold rice pudding in a village hall courtesy of some friendly volunteers. Much appreciated!
Back on the bike with 42K ish left to go I had tired but determined legs, riding mostly solo on the last stage. Early on I got a puncture and it seemed that the 10 hour target might slip away but I had the back wheel off and found the tiny dagger of a stone in the tyre within seconds, then it was just the faffing with a small pump that made the whole operation take 11 mins. I'm happy with that for a back wheel flat though, at such a late stage in the ride too. I gave it all I'd got from then on, over Watership Down (a magical name for anyone of my generation - the book we all read as kids and the film & song that followed) then through Silchester (where I remembered some festival adventures in the late 80s) and on to the arrivee at Earley. When I rolled on to the gravel of the car park I'd comfortably beaten 10 hours and the time on my card was 9.48. Well pleased with a gorgeous day on the bike, all 4 seasons in the weather and a view from the downs that was as breathtaking as the climb itself. With free weekends hard to come by I'm now looking at doing permanents on my lieu days from work for the next 3 months so no more hanging on to a strong rider's wheel or relying on someone else's GPS - some genuine solo efforts to come!
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