My riding hasn't gone as well as I planned this year so far, primarily down to illness and snow, meaning that I had only ridden 2 audax rides this year so far. However, I have been regularly heading to Richmond Park (about 15 minutes from my door) and attempting to ride faster, hard laps. 3 laps is almost exactly 20 miles - so if you can ride 3 laps in a hour (and it's not flat), then you're doing pretty well (some of the very fast guys on super-aero TT bikes will get times down to around 48 mins). I'm not the fastest rider in the world, and have managed 20 minute laps a few times in the past - but never strung 3 laps of 20 minutes together. Anyway, in the PBP year, I used the park a lot and it was beneficial for my fitness - providing me with an opportunity to ride at a much harder rate than usual. So far this year, I have only ridden laps on fixed (must have done 20 or so already this year), which is quite a bit slower than the geared bike, but a much better workout as I can't rest (and the long downhills provide just as much of a workout as the climbs!). I'm currently at 1:08:43 for the three laps. I really enjoy the challenge, and whilst I am not super-fast, I can feel the improvements in my fitness and pace already. I'm going to stick with riding on fixed for the laps - though may sneak down with gears at some point for a quick comparison with times of yesteryear! (I reckon gears are around 1-2 minutes quicker per lap due to the ability to travel at much greater speeds on the downhill sections (I am a scaredy cat descender on fixed and top out around 45kph!)). Anyway - I've been feeling pretty good of late and had planned to ride a DIY this weekend. My girlfriend has a couple of papers due next week, so I knew she would rather have me out of the house anyway! The forecasts just looked better and better, so I thought that I might try a sneaky 300. I'd ridden 270k already this year, so it wasn't a huge step up, but doing 300 at this time of year is never going to be that easy.
My route planned was to head to Wiltshire - stopping for breakfast at the cafe at the Avebury Stone Circle, down to Salisbury and then home. On shortest distance, virtually exactly 300km and the route I then planned was around 330km (which didn't worry me overly).
I was up just after 4, sneaking out of bed trying not to wake girlfriend or cats up (I was partially successful, but still had 1 cat sat on the kitchen floor inquiring why I wasn't preparing his breakfast as I was clearly up and about). I left the house at 5 and got the rubbish bit getting out towards Windsor (Heathrow and Staines get in the way somewhat!), before striking dead west for Avebury. My route took me a bit too much into Reading, so certainly needs some tweaking there.
I was riding really well, eating and drinking well, so when I reached Hungerford (where I had thought I might have a first breakfast at the legendary Tutti Pole much loved of audax rides), I just stopped for a few minutes to pick up more liquids.
All was going very well until I turned off the road around 10k from Avebury - up a quite steep metalled road. The surface got a bit worse, few potholes etc., but still very ridable and some great views. Sadly, in typical Sustrans path style, I reached the top to find that the next part of the 'National Cycle Route' I needed to take was suitable only for fully suspended mountain bikes! My choice was to head back down and then around or to remember all my mountain biking skills from my youth and risk the 2 miles downhill to Avebury. I have ridden some dodgy Sustrans paths - but this one was a quagmire! I made it without too many dramas (and some funny looks from mountain bikers coming up the road), but a very mucky bike.
I think, looking at it once I get home, the problem is that I had the GPS mapping website set to 'route via OSM' but was looking at the Google map - so OSM said that the route was perfectly usable for bikes, and it appeared as a road on Google - but once I was home, I clicked on the OSM map and it was clearly marked as not being a road. Oh well - you live and learn. It was all good fun.
Breakfast proper at the cafe at Avebury and a quick little look at the stones. Avebury is a superb place and should be high on any visitor to the UK's agenda.
But, I couldn't dawdle. I had to get to Salisbury and then home.
Within about 2km of leaving Avebury, my poor route planning came to a head again - the GPS led me up a track - I was now wise to it though and wasn't going to fall for it again. I know the track might look pretty good at the moment, but I guarantee that somewhere up ahead, it would have turned into a knee-deep mudpit.
A little bit of rerouting and I made it down to Salisbury, and was now really turning for home. I discovered that the A30 out of Salisbury is a properly terrifying road - national speed limit (meaning everyone was actually going 70+) with solid white lines being very common due to blind bends and summits. Clearly I had picked the day that the world close-passing championships were taking place. I am pretty comfortable in traffic - but cars at 70 a foot away from me - no thanks. My nerves were pretty jangly after the few km I had to ride on it - difficult to find away around it - my subsequent research shows a road that would work - but it appears to go through a private estate (Clarendon Park) - it is unclear as to whether one can ride through it - Streeview here
I pushed on for home - the plan was to eat again (I had been snacking on the road since Avebury) at Winnersh Sainsburies, but it became clear that I needed to stop before then as my speed dropped and everything started to get wobbly. Like an oasis in the desert, a Tesco Express appeared in Baughurst near Tadley and sold me such delights as Frijj and a Ginsters pasty. It was starting to get cold again and I put on my glove liners and earband to keep me warm.
By the time I reached Winnersh, I ticked over the 300km point in around 14:45 - considering the navigational challenges and that I had been off-roading, this was quite a high pace for me. In fact, outside of PBP, it was my fastest 300. If I hadn't been off road, I may well have been even faster than my PBP time.
This was all quite pleasing considering it was early in the season. The real key to it was that I hadn't stopped much other than the breakfast at Avebury. I'd snacked on the road and had only stopped at Baughurst for about 12 minutes even though I was getting the knock.
I stretched my legs, had a drink and some chocolate before heading out of Winnersh for the last 45-50 km home via Windsor. Largely uneventful - however, the earlier zip was disappearing a little and I found my pace dipping occasionally - more down to sleepiness I think than physical tiredness. I contemplated stopping for some proper food, and had a real craving for curry (which by the time I passed through Hounslow and Southall was just about all I could think of!). In the end, I just pressed on for home and crawled in the door, tired, but pleased, with 350 km on the clock (alright, 349!) in 17hrs40 - just under 20kph average for a good long-distance. Very pleasing.
So, that's the first 300 of the year done and puts me 5/17ths of the way through the first SR (I certainly have 2 SR planned, but it would not take much for that to be 3 - couple of 400s added on and I'd be there I think).
The best thing about all of it, is that I feel pretty good today - I could certainly ride a 300 today - maybe not as fast as yesterday though!
Need to keep my eye out for a weather window - might try and pop a 400 next month????
And here's the bike resting at Avebury!