Distance: 230.6 miles Elevation: 5434 ft
One of my targets for this year was to complete a 300 km ride (186.5 miles). I had planned a route around the Kent coast to that end. When I saw the San Fairy Ann Flat Five audaxes announced I thought it would be the ideal chance to achieve my goal. There were five different lengths ranging from 50k upto 300k. I decided to do the 300k.
The 300k audax started at 02:00 AM on the Sunday morning! I had been out to London on Saturday evening and didn’t get back until 10:30PM. To make matters worse for myself I had decided earlier that day that it would be a good idea to ride to the start and ride back afterwards. This would add 36 miles to the total. That meant I had to leave at 12:30. Earlier on Saturday I had spent hours converting the written course notes into a route that I could use on my Garmin. I also printed out some other notes concerning where the control points were. Also, earlier on Saturday I had the worrying realisation that there was a good chance that the battery in my Garmin would not last long enough to record the whole ride. Last year when I did 250k my Garmin warned of low battery towards the end of the ride – and this ride would be significantly longer.
So, in the 2 hours I had before leaving, I prepared my bike; I fitted lights, lubricated the chain, fitted another bottle cage, made last minute checks and generally packed a light back-pack with food and spare batteries (for lights), rain jacket, etc. Looking back it’s difficult to think how that could have taken two hours, but it had! As it got closer to the deadline I was rushing around as fast as I could to get out on time. Inevitably I wasn’t ready on time and left ten minutes later than planned (checking the Garmin data later it was more like 15 minutes later!).
Earlier in the evening there had been heavy rain and I wasn’t looking forward to riding on wet roads at night. But luckily the roads were beginning to dry out. It was quite mild at about 15°C. Because I was so late I put in a big effort right from the off. Shortly into the journey I was thinking about how mild it was and it suddenly struck me that I wasn’t wearing my helmet. No! I’d been in such a rush that I had forgotten an item as essential as my helmet. I turned round and sped back home to get it. This little mistake added another mile and just under five minutes to my journey. So now I was riding even faster, which is not easy in the pitch black of a cloudy and moonless night. Nevertheless I still achieved a PR over the first five miles of the journey! Because of the heavy rain earlier there were occasional ‘pockets’ of mist en route, some of which were quite thick. There were also many instances of really foul smells emanating, I assumed, from the fields. Maybe this was also an effect of the earlier heavy rain. I hadn’t been putting my Garmin light on in order to save the batteries as much as possible so I had no idea what it was displaying. As I approached Bethersden village hall, where the event was to start, I was surprised that my Garmin hadn’t beeped to tell me that it had ‘found’ the course, but I thought no more about it.
I covered the 19 miles in 1 hour and five minutes at just under 18 mph. So I arrived ten minutes before the start. Just enough time to sign in and go to the car park to be ready for the off with the other cyclists. There were more riders starting the 300k than I had been expecting, maybe 40 or 50. I checked my Garmin and found to my horror that it had turned itself off – the display was blank! Damn! That explains why it hadn’t beeped as I approached the hall. I was worried that it may not have recorded the beginning of what was to be the longest ride I had ever done. I switched it on and it looked like it must have recorded most of my ride so far because the total showed as 19 miles which was about right, so it must have switched off shortly before I had arrived. Weird!?!
We all set off at 02:00 AM on the dot. I joined a fast group of about ten riders and we sped down to the coast. It was great riding at night because we had the roads to ourselves and could really spread out across the normally busy A20. One rider commented that it was like being on a closed-road event. I got chatting to one of the other riders. We arrived at the first check-point at 03:45, just as day was breaking. We had averaged just under 18 mph, so that was a good start to the event. We stood around chatting for a bit. Some had coffee. I grabbed a couple of biscuits. Then it was time to be off again. Just as I picked up my bike I noticed that the rear tyre was flat. Damn! The first thought that struck me was that maybe I had laid it down on something sharp like I had done in the past. The other guys weren’t going to hang around for me, so I resigned myself to losing touch with that group of riders. The thing that surprised me was that I was using my new 28mm tyres and it had been fine right up until the stop, as far as I was aware. When I investigated, I found that the tyre was not at fault – a patch on the inner-tube was leaking. I have never ever known that to happen before. I changed it for the new inner tube I had in my bag, and off I rode, now riding alone.
It was thirty-two miles back to HQ at Bethersden. Without the rest of the group to rely on, I now had to pay more attention to the route and make sure I got all the ‘clues’ at the checkpoints. This section had lots of long straight roads, so it was easy to get my head down; I managed to complete it in just under two hours at 16.7 mph. Riding alone allows you lots of time to think. While pondering the nature of my puncture, I suddenly had an idea – could it be that the patch on my inner-tube couldn’t cope with being in a 28mm tyre, because it was being stretched too much – and that was why it had failed? That would also explain why I have never known that to happen before. (I subsequently researched this and discovered that my theory is almost certainly correct – I’ll have to get some bigger tubes!) Back at HQ I tucked into a delicious bacon sandwich and a couple of biscuits. I topped up my bidon and set off again for the next part of the course.
This section started off on some really beautiful lanes I had never been on. I made a mental note to re-visit these again in the future. Following this was about 32 miles of heading west, straight into the prevailing wind. I knew that once I reached Hadlow, the route would turn back and I’d have the wind behind me. Until that point though, I was cursing the conditions. It was overcast and with a cold wind. My feet were cold and it was miserable. I looked down at the Garmin, as you often do on long rides; I had covered 110 miles. Not even half-distance! During this stretch I met another rider. We got chatting and discovered that we knew each other on Strava. We rode together for the next thirty miles, after which I was riding alone again. Riding now with the wind behind was much nicer. It felt warmer; the sun attempted to make an appearance; even my feet had warmed up. I focused on the next stop, Dungeness, another fifty miles further on.
There was another control point at Iden Green. There were some lovely cakes and coffee on offer. I just topped up my water and grabbed a bakewell tart and was on my way again. Just south of this, there was a hillier twenty-mile stretch. Nothing drastic, but I was glad to reach Appledore, after which the road levelled out as it dropped down to the flats of Romney Marsh again. I was hoping to see Dungeness power station on the horizon, but there was no sign of it. I was on an unfamiliar road on the western edge of Romney Marsh. Eventually I came to a section where the route met another part of the route we had been on earlier. I had to be careful to make sure I stayed on the right bit – I had even made notes to help me. There was a right, and then another right. That put me on a main road heading west. Still no sign of the power station. I kept my head down into the wind. I noticed a collection of rubbish beside the road as I rode by. I recognised it from earlier – it had a broken radio among some other bits. I made a joke to myself. “Same old rubbish”, I mentally quipped. And then “just a minute, same old rubbish?” Why was I seeing the same pile of rubbish beside the road? That meant I had already been up this stretch. I stopped by a gate. I got my phone out and asked it to navigate to Dungeness – sure enough it suggested I went back the way I had come. When I looked at my notes to double check them I saw that it said “right then left” on the same line. Earlier I had looked at them and only noticed the “right”. Damn! I turned around and backtracked to where I had turned right (instead of left). I noted the mileage. When I got back to the turning, I calculated that I had gone 4.6 miles out of my way! As if I needed to add any more miles onto this already long ride!
At last I did glimpse through the trees Dungeness nuclear power station on the horizon, but I wasn’t elated. It was small and grey, way off in the distance. I was hoping I’d be nearer by now. I eventually reached it, nine miles later.
The checkpoint was in the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway café at Dungeness. I got my brevet card signed and had a nice cup of coffee and a piece of cheesecake. By now the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. I was talking to one of the officials about the event and she said that the next checkpoint is at a café which closes at five. “It’s not nearly five o’clock is it?” I asked her. It was not even one o’clock. I had totally lost track of the time. I had been riding for over twelve hours. I had now covered over 180 miles. The good news was that I had less than forty miles left back to HQ and the official end of the event. Of course I still had another 18 miles beyond that to ride home, but I still regarded Bethersden Village Hall as a sort of end point.
I started riding the last section with another rider. The wind had picked up now and it was quite breezy, coming from our side. We caught up with another rider and the three of us rode together for a couple of miles. I was feeling pretty good still at this point and I broke away ahead of them. The next control was another café after another twenty miles which I reached in an hour and twenty. I topped up my bidon but didn’t really need anything to eat at that point so I pressed on.
The final leg started with three and a half miles of dirt track along the side of the Royal Military Canal, followed by a further five flat miles before the route climbed back up from Romney Marsh via Bilsington. Nine miles later I had reached Bethersden Village Hall where I handed in my completed brevet card. I had completed the event! I was ravenous by now and tucked in to quite a few of the goodies on offer.
After about ten minutes, I left for the last part of the journey home. I did it from memory. At one point I turned left and thought something was wrong, but I carried on, not convinced. Some time around about this point my Garmin warned of low battery. Drat! I took it from its mount and put it in my back pocket, figuring that the heat from my body might be able to extend the battery life a tad. Eventually I did become convinced that I had taken a wrong turning earlier. I saw a signpost, but Headcorn, to which I was heading, was not mentioned. I stopped and got my phone out but there was no signal. There was however enough detail on the map to tell me that Smarden was a better choice than Biddenden. I rode towards Smarden. About a mile later I saw a couple cycling towards me. “Excuse me, could you tell me the best way to Headcorn”. “Ah. You’re on the right track. Just keep going to the end then left, then right and that will take you to the main road to Biddenden”. I must have looked a bit confused. His wife turned to him and repeated “Biddenden?”. “Er, I mean Headcorn, sorry”. Then he excused his mistake by saying that they were just on their way back from the pub! I thanked them and rode on.
As can be seen from the map above, my Garmin battery finally gave up the ghost about a mile north-west of Frittenden. So the rest of the ride wasn’t recorded. Therefore it didn’t really happen! Ha! I’m joking, but to a certain extent, that’s how I feel; If I don’t record a ride then it didn’t really happen! Obviously it did happen and I got home safely after my longest ride yet. Increasingly, over the last fifty miles or so (actually I don’t have a clue – could have been a hundred), my knees both became sore and my butt was sore, or rather the back part of the top of my left leg. Apart from that, I felt fine. I had been drinking and eating regularly on this ride. My legs didn’t ache at all. If it were not for the sore bits I could have carried on riding for miles. So, I had certainly achieved my target of 300k. In fact I had surpassed it by a large margin, ultimately reaching over 370k.
Next stop: 400k! Coming to this blog soon…
Don’t take a 1kg bag of food/supplies on an audax
I only consumed about three energy gels from my supplies. The food supplied on this audax was plentiful.
Don’t use a patched 23mm tube in a 28mm tyre
Even though the inner-tube itself can stretch, the patch can’t, so the tube pulls away from the patch.
Get external battery pack for Garmin
There’s no way I’m going to risk not recording a long ride in future.