Since deciding to start riding again, and booking myself up for an audax in late January thanks to my sister, the plan was to build myself up over the next 6-8 weeks until I was comfortable riding a metric century again. A few years ago I wouldn't think twice about going out and riding 100km, but as the time I've spent on the bike has declined so rapidly, I thought I had better work up to it. It started with 55km, then 65km the following week, and while I was planning a 75km ride for the weekend, my sister had the wise idea to text me, saying she was considering riding Saturday instead of Sunday, and that she might do the Abbeys 100km Audax.
So, within a few minutes I was booked on, and preparing to do my first 100km ride in longer than I can remember, with only 3 rides in the bank in the last couple of weeks, and only a half a dozen since summer.
Having ridden 100km before, and being pretty aware of the limitations of my body, the time I had in my head was 4 hours, plus a little bit for stops. The ride started at 8:30am, I'll be home by mid afternoon, can go and meet my friends for a spot of lunch, then jump on the sewing machine in the evening. That was the plan until we actually met up, and set off.
I met up with my sister and her partner in the car park of a golf centre in Frenchay at 8am on a Saturday morning and signed on to my first ever audax. I picked up my brevet card, and we headed out to the cars to finish getting ready. My setup was my lovely handmade Cake Cycles gravel/adventure/allrounder, with a Bar Bag, and a Frame Bag. The first amusement was remembering that I had cooked a lovely homemade pizza to bring with me to help fuel me through the ride, only to realise when I got to the start that it was in the fridge at home. Still, it would be there when I got back, and I was going to need it.
"My hands will be cold within 10 minutes" I said, as we set off down the road, my statement was echoed by my companions, the Garmin's were saying 0º when we set off, but we were determined to get it done, after all, we had nothing better to be doing (other than making bags, of course).
We all noticed pretty much immediately that all the cars were frosted over, and the grass at the side of the road was equally as frosty. I kept reassuring myself that the sun just needed to come up a little higher, and it would warm up. I had underestimated how long it would take for my hands to feel like blocks of ice, it was 15 minutes in, but periodically holding them up to my face and breathing onto them seemed to do okay for a few minutes at least. The only other area of me that was cold was the top of my thighs, but I knew they'd warm up eventually.
I think the first realisation of how risky it was going to be was probably when we got to crossing the A46 just before Marshfield. The road we were heading onto was white with a mild frost, although there were car and bike tyre marks which we followed cautiously. I don't think any of us had actually noticed that it had taken us over 45 minutes to ride 15km, but it wasn't long before we had to stop to sort out a quick rattling mudguard where we not only had a rider who had been at the start come back past us, but also looked at the time and saw that we were definitely not on track for a 4 hour ride.
We carried on through the lanes, the route was absolutely gorgeous, but the rolling terrain made for pretty interesting descents, as by the time you reached the top of the climb you'd be nice and warm, but coming down over the other side it would be straight on the brakes as you couldn't tell if the road was slick with ice, or just wet. At one point when my sister was about 100m ahead of me, she all of a sudden starting waving her hands up and down, as I got closer I could hear her saying how there was a sheet of ice across the entire road, probably 10m long, somehow she managed to get through it, but myself and her partner got off our bikes and pushed them, just to be on the safe side.
We got to the A420 after 1.5 hours. We had covered 23km, and our phones and Garmin batteries were not having a nice time, we knew the first stop in Lacock was only around 12km away, but at the pace we'd been going it was going to be another 45 minutes before we got there. Thankfully this point the sun had risen enough to come over the hedgerows either side of the lanes we were riding on, but it was still not enough to warm us up. Still, we carried on, suffering with cold extremities the entire way there, but cruising into Lacock was one of the most satisfying things, knowing that there would be the opportunity to warm up before getting back on the bike, even if it had taken us over 2 hours to get there.
A hot chocolate and bacon and cheese slice was gobbled down in no time, and after spending around 45 minutes in probably the most cosy little room ever, we decided to drag ourselves away from the wood burner, and get back on the bikes. Straight out of Lacock we found ourselves faced with Bowden Hill, thankfully I'd checked out the elevation of the route, and knew that after this the climbing was pretty much over with, so I just tick tocked my way up it, stopping around half way to take some photos of the gorgeous views, before carrying on around the corner and over the top.
From there it was back down the other side, and since the sun was higher in the sky and we'd all managed to get our core temperatures right back to normal, there was very little discomfort amongst the group and the roads were a lot less risky, so we tapped out an okay pace through to Derry Hill where we were greeted by a lovely bloke and his wife with a huge cake dome full of flapjack and brownies. Now I'm on a diet that restricts my carbohydrate intake in order to make my body more efficient at burning fat and thus allow me to ride further without bonking due to lack of carbs in my body, but I was unable to resist grabbing a slice of each and sticking them in my bar bag for when we got to Malmesbury.
We were convinced Malmesbury was at about 50k, but 50k came and went without there being any sign of it, so we cruised along at a steady pace, each taking turns to do a bit of work on the draggy 1-2% gradients we were faced with, and at the 65km point we hit our destination. Hot drinks were bought, and we found a nice spot in the sun to sit, and even had one of the other riders offer to take a photo of the three of us, which was very much appreciated.
I think we spent about half an hour sat there just chilling and warming up, enjoying the sun and respite from the cold air, before getting back on the bikes and heading back towards Bristol. Even though we were still 35km out, we knew it was the homeward stretch, and I started trying to do a little more work on the front, which admittedly didn't last for long, and I think the pace was definitely the highest it had been all day. As we got closer to home we started to recognise place names, and I knew that eventually what comes up must go down, and as we crossed over the A46 again, this time on the other side of the motorway roundabout, the descending started.
We spent the next almost 10km heading downwards, with a few little lumps and bumps along the way, before rolling up to a pub on the outskirts of Winterbourne where we were able to get our brevet cards stamped and stickered, and given our official finish times.
101km, in 6 hours, 35 minutes. Not quite the 4 hours we had planned. Then it was just a couple of km back to the cars, where we threw our warm clothes on, packed our bikes up, and headed home. I spent the entire drive with my left foot jammed in the heating vent as my toes were absolutely frozen solid, and once walking through the front door and getting a bath started, I opened the fridge to what I had been looking forward to all day, that damn pizza.