Audax: Are EWE Abbey yet? (Roland Karthaus)

A 600km East-West-East circuit around London, picking up a few Abbeys on the way.

Adam Vincent and I took part in our first 600 audax last weekend after having so much fun on our last 400*.  The clue to this route is in the title** as it begins in Battle and the checkpoints are all connected to Abbeys, some of which are almost worth the cycle ride to visit.  As with the 400 (see London Wales London) we were incredibly lucky with the weather – warm, but a nice breeze and some cloud cover.  We set off at 6am with about 24 other riders and pegged it quickly up to Gravesend after the first information control (you must find a piece of information to put on your Brevet card), crossing the north Downs with a brute of a 17% climb. We arrived at Gravesend pier at 9.07, some 2 minutes after the ferry had left.  We had to wait an hour, by which point most of the riders had arrived and we all squeezed onto the tiny boat to Tilbury.

From Tilbury the landscape is described as ‘bleakly charming if you relax into it’ in the organiser’s email, but it whizzed by quickly enough.  After experiencing the joys of Basildon and Billericay we entered familiar territory around Hanningfield reservoir.  At Coggeshall we reached the most north easterly point for the control, where tea and food were provided.  We just managed to escape before the Sunday fete brought the whole town centre to a standstill.  Beautiful single-track road through wheatfields took us west, now with a bit of a headwind.

Braintree was a bit ‘urban’, followed by the relentlessly straight B1256 (Roman?) – fast but mind-numbing.  More familiar roads around Bishop’s Stortford, Green Tye and Widford, Ware and Hertford. St Alban’s Abbey was the next checkpoint at around 5pm, by which time we’d clocked up 250k.  I ordered tea and cake, whilst Adam had a little nap on the pavement, much to the consternation of the patrons of Gail’s bakery.  A brief information control at Godstow as the sun was setting and we hammered it as fast as we could into Oxford.

The sleep stop was hard to find, but it did have mattresses and blankets, making the luggage I had carried the whole way mostly redundant.  I didn’t manage much actual sleep, but just lying down for a few hours after 337km was worthwhile.  The next morning we got up at 4am, by which time most people had already left.  A few had carried straight on, whilst others had slept for just a couple of hours.  I felt tired as it was and don’t know how they stayed awake through the night.

The first day had been pretty good – I got my hydration and feeding right and felt comfortable on the bike, but the pace had been quite high (we were 3rd and 4th to get to Oxford).  I felt quite rough on the Sunday morning – everything aching and not feeling right on the bike.  Sunrise was welcome though and the temperature was perfect. Some long, grinding climbs through the north Wessex downs, but none too steep.  Winchester was a full control with cooked breakfast and real coffee which sorted me out – my aches vanished and everything clicked into place.

We headed south and soon Portsmouth and the sea appeared.  Info control at Titchfield and then heading west across the skirts of the South Downs – relentlessly lumpy and hot.  This was probably the toughest bit of the ride and we slowed right down, below 25kph.  Commercial control in Storrington (collect a receipt from any shop) and then the final push through to Battle.  Good stretches of flat roads to pick up speed again, with a medium climb at the end.  Back into Battle at 5.25pm on the Sunday.

Audaxes are a unique experience – there’s a whole community of volunteers that run them on a shoestring, providing controls, food and general camaraderie.  Audaxing requires a particular, stoic mindset and the shared experience means you quickly bond with others out on the road.  I was amazed that several of the riders had completed the Transcontinental Race – something I’ve always been in awe of – yet they weren’t any fitter or faster than us, just more willing to put up with the discomfort.  It’s a state of mind – if you decide to enjoy it, you will do. On the other hand, we’ve only done audaxes in good weather and I’m not sure we’d be so sanguine if it rained the whole way.  Hydration and feeding are key – it does vary from person to person, but I’m happy to share what works for me with anyone who’s interested.  Also, if you’re wondering why I’m not in club colours, keeping cool is a challenge and this light jersey does that job best.

Next year’s ‘Chase the sun’ looks good.  Hope to see you on an audax soon.

*Type II fun

** Audax humour

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