I never planned to end up cycling a 300 km Audax ride… but it happened in 2022. It all started actually in 2021, when I couldn’t do the Dunwich Dynamo (DD) because of the COVID pandemic (DD: A night-ride that takes place every July, on the closest Saturday to a full moon. Free to all, not really organised. Starts in London Fields and finishes in Dunwich, Suffolk. 185 km/112 miles). I tried to do it by all means, but trains running back to London would hardly take any bikes (six per train, I believe. Six. Seis), and I didn’t really have a way to return home once I would complete the night ride. I think the weather wasn’t too promising either, so sleeping in a field wasn’t an option either.
I was quite cross about it. I had done the ride in 2019, and I was looking forward it. Horsham Cycling, my club, normally organise a bus and a van for 15 riders, but they didn’t this in 2021. Who would risk paying deposits for rental vehicles when lockdowns were still happening with one or two days notice? I eventually gave up the same week, probably by Thursday. I finally assumed it wouldn’t happen.
Audax awakening: SeaShore200
It was then when my friend Rowan told me about an Audax ride, starting… well, at home, in Horsham, just some weeks after (September 2021). I didn’t really know what an Audax ride was, and I will refer you to Audax UK for details. But in short: an Audax ride is an unsupported long-distance event; in other countries they call this type of cycling «randonneuring«. It’s not a competition, and it’s not an sportive. It’s a test of oneself, I like to think. You ride a course, passing by some control points, and return to the origin. The proof of having passed by a control point consist of shop receipts, answering questions about a place (e.g. «what’s the distance to Brighton on the sign to the right»), or, if the organiser is at the control point, a stamp in the riders brevet card.
I signed up with Rowan for the ride, the SeaShore200. A 207-kilometers ride, starting in Horsham and reaching Eastbourne, and returning via Brighton and Shoreham. AJ, another rider from Horsham CC, joined us, and then we were three. Along the way we found several Horsham riders, but most of the field was formed by people from other clubs and I had never seen them. At first you nod; then you greet; and at some moment you just chat with those friendly strangers. Say hello, say goodbye. You may see some in the next event. There is always a next event, be sure of that.
The day went well, and I remember the exact stretch of road when my Garmin indicated we had passed the 185 km barrier (my record so far, which was the 2019 Dynamo). I was feeling exhausted and euphoric at the same time. By then we were riding with lights on because it was already dark. We finished, and I felt great. During the day I ate and drank regularly, which was a first for me. I logged the activity in Strava, of course!
A transition: Gently Bentley
I was instantly hooked by this new world I had just discovered: long distance riding. Eating and drinking properly and regularly was the obvious key to ride longer. I wanted more of that. Soon after, I became a member of Audax UK, and in March 2022, Rowan and I were doing the Gently Bentley, another 200-km Audax ride (this time starting in Kensington, London, going to the west, and back).
Something happened in the last 20 km of that early spring ride. We were feeling relatively fresh, and energetic, and we wondered if we could have just carried on for another 100 km (if we had planned for it!). We pretty much decided on the spot that we could go for the next frontier: a 300 km Audax.
Hail Venta 300
We wanted a ride that would take place not too far from home, on a not too hilly course, and very importantly, during summer. We wouldn’t really like to ride in a cold autumn day for nearly 20 hours, and we obviously wanted to ride in day light. It was actually quite easy to find a candidate: the ride was not other than the Hail Venta 300, starting in Hailsham (north of Eastbourne), taking us to Winchester, and back to the beginning in an elongated recumbent figure of eight, while passing by Chichester and other smaller towns. We were unaware that the ride was in fact the 100 year celebration of the first BRM ride, a sort of … well, an important ride in the Audax circles (Ok, it’s a ride that can count as qualification for other events). We would be getting a special medallion for this (see at the end).
As the ride had a 6 am starting time (Saturday), we had to find where to sleep in Hailsham before the event. It didn’t matter that we were close to home, because we still had to find a place to sleep in Hailsham the previous night. We realised that adding one hour to our driving, in what would be a very long day anyway, would only contribute to stress and tiredness. For a 300 km ride, Audax UK rules a 20-hours time cut. So we had to be back before 2 am on Sunday. Yey.
We took the depart easy. Or rather, Rowan waited for me to sort out my thoughts and usual panic. Do I have everything? Wallet? Car keys? Inner tubes? Well, I didn’t have everything: I left my brevet card in the car; yes, the document where I should collect stamps and write down the answers for the info stops. It wasn’t a big deal. Just a small hiccup.
I won’t bore you with a report of that ride. It went well. We didn’t enjoy some segments along major roads (an autocaravan did a very close passed, most likely intentional). We headed westwards from Hailsham, parallel to the South Downs, reaching Dial Post and from there heading towards Chichester, were we had lunch. From there the course was north, towards Venta near Winchester (blimey, sounds easy).
At about 120 km, I was feeling rather tired. Sore right knee, and the saddle was feeling like made of sand paper. The mood was basically collapsing, and we were not talking much. We did a longer stop in Venta (which was the farthest point from Hailsham, hence the name of the ride), and we enjoyed food and coffee from a Costa (and Nurofen). Now, if you haven’t done any ride like this, I’ll tell you the most important thing about long-distance riding: There are highs, and there are lows; there are good patches, and there are bad patches. After each low, there is a high, and vice versa. You’ll earn about yourself. An Audax ride is a scaled version of life. Ups and downs. And that’s all the philosophy for now.
The ride to the next stop, in Rogate, was fuelled by caffeine and the early evening breeze. I felt it was easy, and we finally reached the mark of 200 km. The organiser, Anton Brown, and his wife, Shirley, managed the control point (I apologised once and again for having left my brevet card in the car), and food was available: Excellent cakes, rich sandwiches, and fresh fruit. We had a good chat and moved on. Last 100 km.
Sooner than we imagined we were riding through the night. We were tired, but not exhausted. One last stop by a service station in Pyecombe, near Brighton, and a couple of hours later Rowan and I were arriving to the finishing stop: another unglamorous service station, this time just north of Hailsham. We bought some Coke and water and we kept the receipt as proof of having been there. The time, fifteen minutes to midnight.
We rode back to the cars, and we started to get conscience of what we just did: We rode over 300 km in one single ride. I was so tired, but also so satisfied. But really more tired than anything else. We sent by post the brevet card with proof of having passed by the control points to the organiser, and a couple of weeks later the ride was validated by Audax UK. Does this matter? I don’t think so, but it feels ceremonious, and I like it. What was far more important and that moment was to find a McDonald’s where I could have the two Big Macs I craved since early evening. I slept for a while in a layby, and I was at home by 8 am.
And this is it. This is how Rowan and I rode a 300 km Audax.
And yes, you guessed it. We are riding 400 km next. Hopefully this May (2023).