The Old Roads is a BRM event run under Audax UK regulations by Ian Hennessey It starts and finishes at Honiton. It took place on Saturday 10th May 2014.
I entered this event as my first 300km ride because it is close to home. The route by Audax standards is straightforward and it is relatively flat with only 3677m (by my GPS) a mere 12,000 feet of ascent.
In the preceding week the weather forecasters were quite certain that Saturday was going to be wet and windy – particularly in the South West.
The wind was howling and rain lashing against the windows when I got up at 04:15. It took some persuasion for me to get ready and go to Honiton. The Shipping Forecast promised Gale Force 8 to severe Gale Force 9 all along the Channel coast and in the Bristol Channel, with heavy rain showers.
Only 10 riders showed at Registration.
Anyone with any sense would have stayed in bed. Trevor had left Helston at 02:00 to be at Honiton ready to ride, but first prize for dedication goes to Kevin who had ridden 100km to the event. There were no other women but there were a few familiar, friendly faces from previous Audax rides.
The first 20km along the old A30 to Exeter were into a headwind but at this time in the morning the roads were quiet and it wasn’t raining. A small group of riders had a crash whilst negotiating the cycle route through the Science Park at Exeter. Three riders ended up on the deck but fortunately no one had any physical injury that prevented them continuing.
Negotiating the urban route through Exeter presented it’s own challenges and once through, we stopped to get some fuel on board.
The route continued along the Old A30 through Tedburn St Mary and Cheriton Bishop climbing steadily to the high point of the day at Whiddon Down reaching 300m.
At 64km we came down into Okehampton looking for the control – The Red Rooster Cafe. I found it but it had closed down. Fortunately the Dartmoor Tea Rooms, which is close by did the job.
It was raining as I left Okehampton heading North on what is probably the ‘old’ A386 to Barnstaple. The cloud was low and it was a miserable wet, windy section of the ride.
Everywhere was very fresh and green in the rain.
At 100km Tom and Mark caught up with me. I was grateful for some assistance in route finding at this point as my Garmin 800 had got wet and wasn’t working. We could see Barnstaple below us and Mark remarked hopefully it would be all downhill. It wasn’t. The Hennessey sense of humour took us off the A377 for the last 8km and the route revealed a serious of switchbacks on what would have been a pretty lane in better weather.
The Station Cafe at Barnstaple provided food and drink at the next control. It stopped raining and we spread our sodden outerwear around to drip dry. Drying off my GPS with paper napkins brought it back to life.
Wind speeds had increased but the rain had stopped as I left Barnstaple initially on the ‘old’ A361. Cycling in a generally western direction the wind was mostly behind us. So, although the route to the next control at Wiveliscombe is by no means flat, we were being pushed along by the south westerly wind and were maintaining 40kph on the flatter sections. Unfortunately some quite violent squalls came through – some with hail.
In Wiveliscombe the cafe closes at 1pm for lunch (!) but there is a Spar shop and a Co-op with a handy alcove to cower in out of the worst of the wind and rain.
The next landmark was Bishops Lydeard which lies at the foot of Cothelstone Hill on the Quantocks. There are 3 of those nasty gradient arrows on this hill and it goes on and on. On a flatter section I was struck by the beautiful fresh green leaves on the avenue of trees I was riding through.
After about 8km of hills I began the glorious descent into Bridgewater where my GPS recorded 200km. Into the unknown!
Travelling predominantly NE the tail wind pushed us along for the 30km to Cheddar. We had an enforced break after Wedmore while we waited for the cows to come home.
The Riverside Inn at Cheddar provided food and drinks. There were still other riders about and it was, by now, quite bright and sunny.
At 18:30 there was only a couple of hours of daylight remaining as I set off with a strong side wind across the Somerset levels towards Shapwick.
The wind sapped my energy and I made a very slow ascent of High Ham. I started to feel tired and also nauseous. This is a problem as I usually drip feed energy in the form of dried apricots, nuts and dark chocolate. I wasn’t eating anything and I had another 70km to ride.
The final control is the 24 hour garage at Seavington St Michael. I managed a coffee and a chunky Kit Kat. It was getting dark so I turned on my lights and set off into a strong head wind along the ‘old’ A303 to Ilminster. After Ilminster it was properly dark with just a little help occasionally when the moon broke through the clouds as I started my ascent of the Blackdown Hills. I quite enjoy night riding and it does have the advantage that I couldn’t see the extent of the hill on the road ahead so I maintained a sense of humour while grinding up over the Blackdowns. The wind was very strong after Sticklepath and as I rejoined the A30 progress was slowed by the wind even on the descent to the River Yarty. My GPS rolled over to 300km so I was now on overtime as I began the slow ascent of Yarcombe Hill. This is a long hill but not particularly steep. Coming out through the trees at the top exposed me to the strong head wind again and I was feeling quite shaky and nauseous as the A303 merged with the A30 for the final stretch – predominantly downhill to Honiton. I didn’t follow the ‘proper’ route through the lanes at Cotleigh. This is very pleasant and picturesque in daylight but it’s a bit slower than the main road and I really wanted this ride to be over as soon as possible.
At last the Arrivee. 17 hours and 20 minutes. I was very tired and very pleased to stop. Ian’s kitchen was warm and I enjoyed a plate of the lovely veggie stew he provided. I set off to drive home just before midnight. At 1am Kevin, who had ridden 100 km to the event in the morning, set off to ride the 100 km home again! Bonkers!
At this stage of my Audax career it’s impossible to imagine riding further. 400km, 600km, 1200km – how’s that done?
Younger and male perhaps?