I finally got around to doing my first audax (Scouting Mam Tor) so here’s a few highlights, lowlights and learnings from the day. And if you’re thinking about doing one, definitely do it – brilliant atmosphere and so many great people.
This 200km Audax began in Winsford for most but I rode there so it actually began at 6am at my flat in Manchester. Frustration ensued as I got to the A556 and had to follow a diversion meaning I eventually went 15km out my way. Thankfully, my clubmate Steve Graham is crazy on the bike so I managed to suck his wheel as we team pursuited down a couple of dual carriageways.
Despite being about 10 minutes late, we made an effort to try and catch a few riders who’d already left. I didn’t like to admit it to Steve at the time but I was in struggletown trying to hold his wheel! Eventually the flat lanes of Cheshire ended with the wall of Rainow. This was a sign of many hills to come. Fast forward a couple of lumps and Rushup Edge was soon underneath my wheels and what a beautiful day it was: sunshine, tailwind and views for miles.
After I crested Mam Tor, it was time to say goodbye to Steve and embark on my own little adventure starting at the first checkpoint down in Edale. I hadn’t seen a proper Audax brevet card before let alone know how to use it so naturally, I pretended like I was an absolute pro and handed it to the lady with the stamp like it was no big deal. It was a huge deal, I was excited to have got the first bit done!
A nice long decent along the valley floor was much needed after the chunk of climbing I’d just done and then came old mate Pindale to say hello. Bit of a stinker of a sharp climb that one and I managed to get dropped by a couple on a tandem…
More lumps, rises, mounds and slopes through to the information control (a tiny brown sign with the distance to the youth hostel nearby) then the real climbing began. Bradwell, Tideswell, Hulme End, …disgusting climb with the Mermaid Pub at the top, sharp descent to Meerbook for the penultimate checkpoint. At this point, I had eyes bigger than my belly and ordered a coffee, chips and a huge scone. I had about 5 chips, all of the scone and none of the coffee. Realising I still had about 80km to go, I jumped on my bike and carried on. The last climb was up through Biddulph, which was a bit nasty but thankfully not too long and it was downhill from there.
This is where the second low point came in. Turning left when signs for Winsford indicated right was a real blow to the enthusiasm but thankfully it lead to roads I was familiar with after riding my club’s Cappuccino 180 ride at the end of daylight savings last year. Beeston Castle towered in the distance behind a magnificent sunset and full moon while I made a dash for the final checkpoint in Gatesheath. This wonderful owners of this cafe stayed open until 8pm for us crazy Audaxers so I tucked into a biscuit and can of sunkist. I must’ve been there 10 minutes before I decided I was getting this last bit over and done with.
I latched on to a few more wheels and we powered through to Winsford. A great feeling rolling into the scout hut to get my brevet card validated and the day was over. Kind of.
In case you’re reading this Terry, thanks for helping a damsel in distress and offering me a lift home. It was much appreciated after I didn’t fancy hanging around two hours for the next train or riding to Sandbach. You’re a legend, a kind legend!
So for those starting out, here are some lessons I learnt during my first audax. If you haven’t done one yet, all you’ve got to do is pay a very small cost and upload the route to your Garmin. See you on the roads.
- Don’t put food in your handlebar pack
It seemed sensible at the time that the only pack I had would contain all my food but in practice, this proved to be a huge pain. It was all very well unrolling one end of my pack but given my experience of no-hands is very poor, I had no chance of rolling it back up.
Learning: put essentials case, puncture repair, electronics and other items found in jersey pockets in the pack in place of food.
- Layer up
I got my kit pretty nailed on the day. I checked the weather at 10pm the night before just in case and it’d changed from a few hours of drizzle to lovely sunshine. I switched bikes and prepared my dry-weather kit. I wore my club jersey, mesh base layer, thermal souplesse shorts, brevet insulated gilet, merino arm and knee warmers and merino gloves. I couldn’t fault my choices until the last hour or so when it was cold and dark, after a small drizzle shower a few hours earlier. My kit was sweaty and therefore a bit damp which doesn’t help when it’s cold.
Learning: take a spare dry layer for later on.
- Take a battery pack
My garmin was running low (30%) about 150km in and I realised I wouldn’t be able to use navigation for the whole 250km ride. Thankfully I knew the capabilities of my Garmin and took a battery pack and charged it at a couple of checkpoints, which lasted me until the finish. If I’d needed to charge lights and phone as well, I might be telling a different story so now I’m on the hunt for a bigger but still lightweight battery pack that can do a couple of Garmin charges, top up my phone and deal with the option of charging a light or two.
Learning: battery packs are necessary unless you’re a technophobe
- Talk yourself up the hills
There were two low points with one being uphill towards the Mermaid Inn. It had a raging headwind, was totally exposed so there was no shelter and the climb was long. What else are you going to do other than keep pedalling? Nobody else is going to ride up the hill for you? Others might be going past you but just hold it together and take it one pedal stroke at a time.
Learning: that headwind’s going nowhere but you can!
- The home straight is a long one
As I mentioned eariler, once I’d finally got down to the flatter parts of the ride, I had mentally committed to making a beeline back to Winsford. However, there was still one more checkpoint to go and at every signpost pointing to Winsford, I was going in the opposite direction. This proved to be really mentally challenging, even compared to the puncture I got not long after. Why was I not heading for Winsford?! It was only with about 15km to go that we were on a road that actually took us in that direction and what a feeling that was.
Learning: study the route and prepare to go past your finishing point