On 7th January 2018 I had a plan.
A ride that’s in our club’s annual Audax calendar is the 100k Watership Down ride. It’s there every year, and in my early Audax days I entered this for a couple of years on the trot.
The ride is hosted by Winchester CTC, starts in Kings Worthy, just outside Winchester. It then heads north into the countryside towards and beyond Andover, before winding its way back towards the start again, across some rather large hills – including Watership Down – famous home of literary rabbits.
It’s always a cold ride, sometimes wet or foggy too, but always cold.
The previous times I have entered this, I haven’t really enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely ride, but would be better in spring. I think for me, there just isn’t enough interest in the scenery to make up for the fact that it’s quite a hard ride in places, and I was pretty unfit on previous attempts.
So what changed? Why did I decide to give this another shot?
It was twofold really. First, I am now much fitter & I should have been able to tackle the hills in the cold without any issue. After all, I’ve tackled worse, and at colder temperatures. Secondly, my PBP training partner had also entered, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to get our 2018 training schedule off to a flying start. But that was last year, before winter had fully hit.
So when did it all start to go wrong?
New Years Eve, I developed a head cold. I wasn’t sure whether it would develop into something nasty. I took care of myself, took all the cold cures, stayed off the bike for a few days, and worked on getting over it asap. I was hearing tales from all around me of the dreadful flu that was sending many to their beds for a week or more – luckily I didn’t get that, I just remained with the head cold that wouldn’t quite go away. Although I didn’t feel brilliant, I was still able to get back on the bike without too much trouble after a few days, so was still on for the event. Most of the club were riding to the start, and although my timings were to be a bit different from the main group, I decided I would turn my 100k event, into a 200k DIY (I’ll explain the Audax terms in a different post). That mean’t riding there, and then riding back, plus a bit extra, after the event. I had also, received a call from my training partners other half announcing that they were both now feeling under the weather, and like me, were waiting to see what would come of it, so at best they would only be riding the main event and driving there. They sadly did develop the full blown flu, and were out of action for much of early January.
The problems for me started when I left home later than planned, which put me on the back foot immediately, and on a mission to get to the start point on time. I hadn’t had much to eat, it was below zero, and the wind was in the wrong direction. Adding a small detour after a navigational error in Winchester for good measure, and I got to the start, 15 mins after all the other riders had departed.
But never mind, I was feeling good, so after a very quick turnaround I was on my way again, trying to go as fast as I could to make up time. But it was still freezing. My feet hadn’t yet thawed out, so picking up speed was a slog, and not going as well as I would have liked. The head cold was making it’s effects felt on the hills, meaning I was sluggish at best – and I hadn’t really got to the biggest hills yet. I made it to the control just 5 minutes late, but was disappointed that the controller wouldn’t stamp my card. I was still frozen, and as the last person arriving, in a nice warm pub I took the opportunity to warm up with a nice fresh pot of coffee and the remaining control biscuits.
I had a decision to make. I already knew that I wasn’t feeling inclined to do the extra distance home to make the ride up to 200k, and in theory I had already failed the actual event due to not having my card stamped. I knew that the next section was a bit of a pig hills wise, and I just wasn’t enjoying the climbs at all since it was freezing and still suffering with my cold. However, I was 50 miles away from home if I didn’t follow the route, the sun had come out and was starting to warm things up a bit. With my training partner out of action, I also wasn’t letting anyone down at all. I made my choice, and that was to enjoy the day, enjoy a ride, just not the one that was planned. I checked good old Google for the route options home, and made my way in 13-15 mile chunks. My Garmin picked some wonderful roads, and I started to enjoy myself.
The change in direction was glorious. The climb out of the valley I was in, took me on a lovely route to Stockbridge with it’s gentle climbs, and beautiful long descents. The route was mainly rollers – my favourite kind on landscape to ride – especially when not at my best.
It’s funny, but many routes have taken me through or round Stockbridge, but I’ve never stopped there. Today was different. In need of lunch, I searched out the first place I could find, and enjoyed tea and the most divine leak and potato soup. All the time pressure was off, so I could settle back and take all the time in the world. I had warmed up nicely since leaving the control pub, so though it best to make the most of the temperature improvement before darkness again. The next route point was to be Eastleigh, and the route took me up my only big hill of the return journey, the climb to Farleys Mount. The sun was starting the set and the skies were alight with colour.
I eventually found myself in Hursley, so knew a better, less busy route home via Otterbourne & Bishops Waltham. It started to get dark again once as I headed towards Wickham, and again the temperature plummeted. As the temperatures dropped, so the wind also picked up. The last few miles from Wickham to home were freezing cold, and into a really strong headwind, but I made it back, and much earlier than if I had continued the official event, and then ridden home afterwards.
In the end, my ride didn’t go according to plan, but with the time pressure of the event gone away, it was just perfect being able to meander home, stop when I wanted and just enjoy the ride..
I still rode a little over 100 miles, so all in all, not too shabby a ride at all, and a great start to the cycling year.
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