The weekend saw me complete Mr Pickwick's January Sale audax. This was the first time I had entered this 200k event. A map of the route is presented below.
The ride also scored 1.5 AAA points. A lovely ride to keep the RRtY and the AAARtY going (killing 2 birds with one stone style). A graph representing the hilliness of the ride is presented below:
I did not complete this audax alone. Chris Hodge and I rode it as a double act along with about 30 others. As is usual with Black Sheep events, we started off from the Royal Hop Pole pub in Tewkesbury. It was a great days cycling and my thoughts are recounted below.
Chris had readied his bike in London some days before the event. Why Chris had decided to use his winter 35mm tyres was anybody's guess! Chris sorted the 'dashboard' on my bike out for me the night before - I now have a route sheet holder, speedo and Ay-Up lights all suitably mounted around by bar space. I knew I had invited Chris for good reason! Aid and Ron were invited too, but both found excuses to miss out on this great day.
The event started in waves - an early batch leaving at 7 a.m and a later batch leaving at 8 a.m. Chris and I left in the later batch of course. This was a better time to leave as it was now just about daylight. Initially it was very cold, must have been colder still for the earlier batch. The first stage passed along lovely quiet country lanes that were largely traffic free and provided ample time for us both to chat nonsense as we love to do. We passed through Shuthonger, Defford and Churchill before reaching the first info control. Info controls gave us an excuse to dig out some of Chris's home made flap-jacks (or Chris's beef jerky or jelly beans) - he really was well prepared on the snack front. These lovely quiet lanes took us to the first 'proper' control, which was Rowberry's Farm Shop in Chaddesley. We both tucked into our staple audax diet of beans on toast here and washed same down with a cup of tea.
Stage 2 followed slightly busier roads and our chats became less frequent. Once we passed Tutnall, I was on familiar ground. The route was essentially a part of Ron's TROAD (The Route Of Absolute Doom) in reverse. We cycled past the place where Ron's tyre left his wheel and where he hit the ground up to the summit of Cobley Hill. Cobley Hill is a cracker of a hill, a nice stretch that climbs higher and higher after each hump back bridge it crosses. This time we were cycling down the hill and whoosh we flew down. The first bridge hit would have caused most cycles to get airborne and with a bit of speed, the second bridge could be a lift off too! Similar to TROAD we cycled to Aspley Heath and along Blind Lane. For a short while we cycled with another chap 'All knowing Allen', who informed us of the hills and horrors that lay ahead (with great accuracy I might add). For a brief spell we used a bridle-way (concrete) that soon led out to a cycle path. We passed this grave-yard for electrical appliances which we found a tad bizarre.
Not long after the grave-yard, we followed 'NO ENTRY' signs to the M40 South Services. These directions were printed on the route sheet. I was initially quite excited to reach these services because they had a Burger King here. However, Chris wanted a healthier option, so we ate food from Waitrose instead. How could I argue after eating all his snack food?!
Chris appeared a lot happier during stage 3. Not sure whether this was due to the fact that he had eaten what he wanted, or whether he was just happier because he had pumped his fat 35mm tyres up to pressure, or just because he felt at home...
All smiles were soon wiped away when we reached the foot of Edge Hill. This hill was a 14% beast and much panting occurred as we climbed (guess that made us a pair of pants). Once at the top, we were all smiles again. A lovely castle pub graced the summit of said hill.
During this stage we spotted lots of wildlife. However, lots of these sightings were quite strange. We saw what looked like a cross between a German Shepherd dog and a deer and then we spotted this other weird creature. This other weird creature looked like a llama but didn't have a long neck.
It looked to fat to be a deer. From the side, I thought it looked a bit wolf like. What on earth was this strange creature?!
Shutford appeared to be full of strange creatures. Just as I thought things couldn't get much weirder, I spotted a pet cow in a locals rear garden. Weird indeed!
After another info control we continued on to Chipping Norton via Sibford Ferris and Hook Norton. The 20k or so to control was along nice pleasant country lanes. We reached the Old Mill Cafe just before it got dark enough to require lights. This cafe was nice enough but I found it a little pricey. Chris opted for a tuna melt here, I had a more substantial pepperoni panini.
The last stage was in the dark. Cycling in the dark always slows me down. They say 'it's better to light a cycle lamp than to curse the darkness' and indeed it was. I was pleased to have my Ay-Up lights on my bars and helmet to keep the road ahead lit up. Things at the rear were great too - I had a regular light on my Carradice bag and these awesome 'bone head' lights attached to the rear forks. Chris got me the bone heads for a Christmas present (and funnily enough, I brought my other cycling buddies the same for Christmas) and boy, do their eyes shine bright. Spookily awesome!
We were both lit up like Christmas trees! In the dark we cycled and soon I was in familiar territory in Stow. I vaguely recognised some roads and at times it felt like I was cycling the Cotswold Corker in reverse. Two major descents were encountered which both gave me the fear. One of these descents must have been Sudeley Hill (though in the dark I didn't recognise it) and the other took us down into Winchcombe in a ring-twitching style. The last 20k back to the control was along fast roads. We whizzed through Prescott and Tredington in no time. We witnessed 2 trains pass before us on a level crossing but when we reached the crossing it was clear. We reached the arrivee at 8.05 p.m, which meant we cycled this 202k event in 12 hours and 5 minutes. Great value at £1 entry fee!
Mr Pickwick's January Sale was a great event. No major menace encountered at all. Perfect cycling weather. Even my bike behaved, it was as if she was on her best behaviour. Oh and talking about best - Chris got a book for Christmas entitled '100 Best Bikes' - and my bike featured on page 48. How cool is that?!
Before cycling the audax above I rode 2 shorter routes in the week. These short routes were about 16 miles in length and were dubbed 'Ron's 1 hour loop'. I completed these loops in, strangely, about an hour. That brings my total mileage up to 158 miles thus far this year. I also cycled a few miles on Ron's turbo trainer but am not counting these miles.
One last thing... I have a place in the London-Edinburgh-London audax! Chris persuaded me to enter (he has a place too). As pleased as I am with this news, my mothers comments were quite disturbing 'on your bike Tim ... [he] would love to hear, so maybe I'll say "get your pram out Tim" 5 weeks time you wont be able to even THINK about a bike ride! You really are a laugh a minute !'
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