Kitzy's Corner - DORSET AND DEVON DOWNS
You may or may not have heard of Audax UK. If not, I'll point you towards www.audax.uk.net/index2.htm. In short, it's an association which organize long distance cycling events, starting from a short 50km, right up to the London-Edinburgh-London 1400km event.
After my friend Charlotte and I had miserably failed The Rural South 300km earlier in the month, we really wanted to finish a 300km audax. So after perusing the calender I came across the 3D 300. When telling Charlotte I glossed over the fact that it had 1 AAA point, though I did feel that it was fair to warn her it started at 1am. According to the site "there is no good time to start at 300".
So 11pm on Saturday night found me getting on a train (which Charlotte was already on) and heading down to Dorchester. We arrived at about 12.15am and rode the 2 miles to West Stafford where we were topped up with crunchy nut cornflakes and coffee at the organiser's house. Only 14 people turned up, which is probably just as well as I don't think we would have been able to get many more in the kitchen!
At 1am we were off. Some of the lighting systems were pretty impressive. The pace was immediately set to 'Pretty Speedy" as we raced through Dorchester and out the other side at about 18mph - far too keen for that time of the morning I thought! We hung on the the group for about 15 kilometers, partially mesmerised by the lighting arrays. That is, until we struck the first proper hill. At that point we lost the group and found ourselves riding with Chris who was in possession of a dynamo-powered front light and a local knowledge of the roads. He was still zooming along pretty fast and we clung to his wheel as he dragged us up Eggardon Hill. According to my trusty OS map it's 827 feet high and I'm sure we would've had a fantastic view if it hadn't have been dark! Zooming down the otherside in the dark was almost as tiring as going up as the road was narrow and twisty and we were looking out for a 'On R bend, L (sp Bridport)'.
It was about 2am when we arrived in Bridport, suprising drunken revellers weaving their way along the high street "Bloody hell, cyclists! Is there a race or sumfink?". Once out the other side Charlotte and I exchanged our repertoir of Truely Appalling Jokes. Yes, it'd got to that already. A little later on we missed an 'L at X' and ended up doing a 10km detour. Once we'd got back onto the route we met 3 other cyclists who must've got lost earlier, as I'm sure they'd been in front of us.
Going up one of the hills we lost the others and so pootled along the ridge, admiring what we could of the view below. At about 4am the puncture fairies struck Charlotte's front wheel. I did the torch holding honours and it didn't take too long to sort out. The sky was getting lighter and I could finally read the direction sheet without my headtorch (which had been slowly compressing my head).
At 5am we 'cruised' into the first control, the village hall in Stockland, manned by Pete the organiser. He'd set off at 12.15am from West Stafford (by bike) with porridge and bacon butty ingredients in his panniers. Now that's dedication for you. A bit of rummaging produced a jar of coffee and Charlotte and I gratefully tucked into our hot porridge and flapjack.
It was warming up outside...or that could've been 'cos we immediately had a rather large hill to ride up. On a long, straight stretch of old runway we came across a police car with speed cameras set up alongside...and two policemen fast asleep . That had me chortling to myself for a couple of km (you need to get your laughs where you can ). At around 7am Charlotte had a "fit of the dozies" so we stopped while she munched a caffeinated raspberry and cream flavour Power Bar and I studied the map trying to work out where we were - going the wrong way. Rather than re-trace our steps up a ruddy big hill I decided to take us on "Kitzy's Magical Mystery Tour" and to make up my own route to the next info control. I'm very very glad I brought the map with me, there's nothing worse than loosing your way on an audax on unfamiliar roads.
It actually turned out that my route was only 2 1/2 km longer than if we hadn't gone wrong in the first place, which I think isn't bad. We arrived in Crediton at 8.30am, after about 150km. The control was a Costcutter and whilst purchasing a banana I enquired as to the possibility of being able to find a hot coffee. "In Crediton?!" was the answer. I think that was probably the funniest thing she'd heard all morning...
We were joined in our bus shelter by Pete and his mad friend on fixed (otherwise known as Brian). If you ask me, they're both as nutty as each other. Pete had seen everyone through the control, washed up, packed up, and was now carrying the remaining supplies in panniers (including a jam jar of ketchup), and Brian was, well, on fixed. Pete warned us that the next stretch was "lumpy". This didn't sound promising. From the way he said it it sounded as if it was going to be the hardest bit so far, and I'd have classed the last 150km as 'bloody hilly'. As they'd arrived just as we were about to leave we left them to it and carried on.
He wasn't wrong. "Lumpy" was the kind of understatement that only a seasoned audax organiser can get away with. From Crediton the route flirted with the eastern edge of Dartmoor and all that implies in the way of topography and very very narrow roads with strips of gravel down the middle. By the time Pete caught up with us (he'd left Brian walking up one of the above-mentioned "lumps") I was seriously contemplating the fact that I wasn't going to finish the ride. The fact that I hadn't eaten enough percolated through my addled brain and I stopped at the top of a hill for a couple of peanut butter and Marmite sandwiches, at which point I noticed just how much my hands were shaking.
"It's all downhill from here" Pete announced. I knew better than to take that literally, but he was right in the fact that there were no more truely painful climbs, just moderately painful ones. We dropped down into Dawlish and stopped for food and a sit-down in the park. One revitalising Magnum ice cream (thanks Charlotte) and a tin of pear halves (it's amazing what you end up with if you go into a supermarket in that kind of state) later I was feeling almost human again. Also, Brian had caught up and was looking sickeningly cheerful.
To be honest I don't really remember much of the next 30km. As I rode I had the worrying feeling that I was just about to fall asleep and was having to concentrate really hard on not letting go of control of the bike and just toppling into the verge. I'm not entirely sure who's rear mech it was in front of me, but I fixed my eyes on it and blindly followed. At some point we'd lost Pete and Brian and at Newton Poppleford we stopped for a couple of those caffeinated Power Bars (official food of the Tour de France don'tcha know). They'd looked foul when Charlotte had been brandishing them earlier but now they looked delectable in their gritty, pink, caffeinatedness. They worked too . A few km down the road I remember Charlotte asking me if I was feeling any better and me shouting something along the lines of "Absolutely! I am filled with righteous anger!". I then started muttering to myself in German about cycle routes and swimming pools . I've been told that this isn't abnormal for these kind of events...
After navigating a road closure (it involved tip-toeing around a min-digger, sploshing through small streams, and hoisting bikes over barriers) and a wide tractor on a narrow road, we were reduced to walking up a very steep and rather long hill up onto Broad Down, just south of Honiton. "Where are the hand-holds?" wailed Charlotte. I made do with grunting unitelligably and wiping the sweat out of my eyes with the back of a mitt.
At the top we were greeted by a fantastic view, and Pete and Brian looking very relaxed whilst eating creamed macaroni out of a tin. I'm not sure how they do it. From there we rode along the ridgetop before dropping down towards Seaton where we stopped at a cafe for sundaes and coffee . It'd got pretty hot by now (5pm) and the holidaymakers were out in force. Charlotte decided that it was finally time to put on her spare pair of shorts and emerged from the Ladies with a grin that was even more beautific than when she'd been presented with her espresso.
I seemed to have found some energy from somewhere (possibly the triple chocolate sundae) and the next stage wasn't too bad. There was a short stretch of A35 and we had a bit of a race down a fantastic hill before Morcombelake. Charlotte won . We pottered around Whitchurch Canonicorum and Shave Cross, before getting back into Bridport and stopping at the last control point (a closed cafe). The four of us stopped at a bench made from recycled car tyres and refuelled for the last leg. Hummers (from ACF) text me, offering Charlotte and me a lift home from Dorchester - how could we refuse?
The last 36km were simply a matter of determination. There was no question of giving up after so far so all there was to do was to keep on pedalling. The drag up to Hardy's Monument was just that; a monumental drag. Charlotte and I 'posed' (ie managed to stand almost straight...or just managed to stand) for a photo at the top, then it was a fantastically fast descent back down. After that it was just a case of following Pete's back wheel for the last few km to his house. Brian and I even had a bit of a race once the end was in sight...he won.
I carefully swung my leg over my bike...and promptly plonked down very ungracefully onto the lawn. Pete's young daughter provided us with carefully hand-written menus but I just didn't have the energy to eat anything more than a small amount of pasta.
Hummers arrived shortly afterwards in shining armour and loaded us and bikes into his car. Despite my appalling directions we somehow managed to find my house and we staggered inside after thanking Hummers profusely (you're a star ). We managed to energy for showers and then went to bed (Charlotte got my sister's bed as she was out). I was asleep with 30 seconds of my head hitting the pillow.
330km overall, 40 hours of no sleep, 15 hours of cycling.
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