The Tentative Randonneur
As is topical at this juncture, Politicians love to tell us that they represent the ‘new’ this and the ‘new’ that. Despite being overpaid, self-interested troughers at all other times, an election really makes them think that they can convince us that somehow things have changed. Like the archetypal drinking, gambling loser they spin us the old yarn – ‘Give me one more chance! It’ll all be different….I promise!”
Well, if you’ll forgive my politics-weary cynicism a propos an introductory paragraph, I would like to think that today marked the start of a new era in cycling for me. You see, I did two notable things today.
Firstly, I did 100km on a glorious morning ride from Mid Suffolk up to Mid Norfolk. 61 miles – mainly to get myself into the big mileage mentality for my 100 mile sportive in a fortnight’s time, but also because it says ‘Audax’ on my bike and I see it every time I look down and it makes me think that I should be using it for the purpose it was obviously designed for.
And secondly, and by far the most significantly, I learnt to slow down.
Yes, after 2000 miles in the last year with a road rider’s mentality of ‘go as fast as you can, all the time‘, I have finally realised that this is emphatically not an attitude which is compatible in any way with audaxing. So I have spent the morning with the average speed indicator on the computer displayed, as opposed to the usual mileage figure. And I’m really pleased to say that instead of the usual 17mph average, my figure today was exactly what I had been aiming for – 13.5mph.
You see, it’s occurred to me that actually, and especially when the weather is as balmy as it has been today, you can do the following things much better when you go slower:
1. You can see and enjoy your surroundings much more.
2. You can ride much farther.
3. You don’t get soaked in sweat as quickly and end up red-faced and shaky.
So you could call this the conclusion of my ‘road to Damascus’ conversion as far as bike riding goes. And it’s something I’m very happy about.
Today’s ride, all 61 miles of it, began on a familiar route through Thurston, Great Barton, and over the A143 onto quiet, open roads towards Thetford. These roads are reasonably flat, but often prone to the most unsettling breezes if you are unlucky with the headwind. Today, though, was tranquil and I powered on past the RAF base and through Sapiston, where I stopped briefly to take in the first stretch of water on the ride.
I turned north and skirted the southern fringes of Thetford, but took a left that I have never tried before and soon ended up at the A1066 Thetford to Diss road – a fast, smooth road which is very busy and always a little bit unsettling to ride on when traffic is about. I did a short and fast stint on this road and then turned off, before I had planned to, and ended up in unknown territory, beginning with a short downhill into Rushford.
Pausing to take in another lovely river crossing and a very picturesque village centre, I pedalled on and headed north, aiming for East Harling.
I rode for some five miles along quiet roads, always watching my average speed. I actually found it quite an effort to keep the speed down; the temptation to pace myself at 17mph was always at the back of my mind, but for the most part I resisted.
By now immersed in an almost rampant sense of bucolicism (if there can be such a word), I turned onto another main road, and after a short pedal found myself facing a sign I had not expected to see – this sort of thing is supposed to happen in the north of Scotland!
Yes, there is an English Whisky distillery in Norfolk. It’s a large operation by the looks of the building, and while I was mildly curious, I have to say that spirits in general don’t really do much for me and so I was content to pass by and look for East Harling, which was to be the most northerly point of my ride.
However, as I left the distillery behind me, I found I had actually come two miles north of East Harling, to Roudham, adjacent to the A11 Norwich road. I turned back, not wanting to end up lost and stranded in bandit country, and found East Harling where I took a much needed five minute break.
From here, I turned due East and headed towards Kenninghall, where I would turn south again. This turned out to be a testing uphill drag for a good few miles, and by the top I was rewarded with some good views of Mid Norfolk stretching out on both sides of the road. My prudence in terms of keeping my average speed down was beginning to show by now – this was 30 miles into the ride and I felt absolutely great.
Pausing only to take some more snaps, (these will have to serve in this instance as my virtual Brevet card stamps, given that this was very much an individual effort), I then began the ride southward and into what was left of a headwind.
I was still on lovely quiet roads, and the temptation to increase my speed was gnawing away. On downhill stretches, I also consciously tried to reduce the pedalling effort to make gravity work for me – the principle being both with my coming sportive and with Audax in general that finishing is the key, not being fastest.
By the time I reached the A1066 again, I was still feeling good and this was a significant marker for progress homeward. I crossed over this busy road and then found myself passing Redgrave Fen, an area of unique beauty which is also home to the largest and rarest spider in the UK, or so I am told. I was lucky enough not to encounter one, and rode on another five or so miles, passing another marker as I did so.
Back in Suffolk again, I was almost on familiar turf, as this is the northern extent of a lot of my rides. However, a 2 mile stretch of the A143 was necessary to get me back onto quiet roads again, and this is another of those busy trunk roads where the traffic is intimidating, fast and frequent. Luckily, there was a reasonably wide hard shoulder to ride on for most of the way until I turned south once again. 40 miles up now, and I was still feeling like I could go on and on. I consciously slowed back down, having put in a couple of fast miles on the main road, and considered a route home. I began to realise I could easily make the magic 50 miles, and so I took a well used scenic route through Wyverstone and Wetherden.
Having clocked off the 50 mile marker quite easily, and looking for a quiet and scenic route back home, I took a slight detour and by the time I returned home, the odometer had just passed 60 miles.
So, once my backside recovers (the Brooks saddle is breaking in nicely), I shall be considering my next Audax move…..