Monday, 18 May 2009

The Bryan Chapman Memorial 600

When I explain what Audax is to people who show the slightest bit of interest (!), I always say its about unsupported long distance cycling. The long distance cycling is of course true, but the 'unsupported' is really something I need to find another word for.

The support for and on the BCM was amazing. From friends and family, work colleagues, the organiser, the volunteers at the controls, the cyclists, the check in lady at the Travelodge ...

She was the start of a good weekend, she was so friendly, welcoming and helpul. She wanted to help Pete out with storing his kitbag till Sunday, but her boss wouldn't have it. It would be a health and safety risk. I would have thought that the BCM would be much more of a health and safety risk to us, than the bag would be to anybody. Still she let all of us take our bike into the room.

And Pete gave out good signals too: "You'll love the BCM" he said, "Its a wonderful ride".

After checking in, Bez, Pete, the Faccombe Four and I went for a meal at the Boar's Head in Aust, joined by several more BCMers.

Bez and I cycled over the Severn Bridge to the start the next day. It wasn't too windy and we took it really easy. I was nervous at the start, anxious. Good though, to see familiar faces from other Audaxes. I was wanting to take photos of extremes, like Hummer's ultra lightweight setup as if he was going out for a 30 miler; to the bike with full double panniers. But I was too focussed on being ready for the start. I knew that if I didn't take photos then, I would never have the opportunity again!

If you can spot me, you can see how focussed I am on the start!

I really enjoyed all the way to Menai Bridge. Going over the suspension bridge was a highlight for me (halfway point and interesting bridge). After that, it wasn't a ride of many highlights, but a matter of survival. The night ride back to Kings YH took far too long, leaving me with 30 mins for a quick sleep and skip breakfast. Charlotte, Greenbank and I discussed tactics here, not knowing if its better to invest time in sleep and go in time deficit, or to just keep going. I decided to do the next 'short' section and have another kip there. But again, I was too slow and felt I had no time to sleep, so carried on. I wasn't feeling too bad, I didn't get too cold compared with others (only once where my hands were freezing, that was when I caught up with the Faccombe Free by then!), didn't feel hungry at any stage and didn't run out of water.

It was at Kings Youth Hostel that the first magical moment happened, although I didn't fully realise this till I finished. I had already chatted with RichForrest when he was contemplating spending the rest of the day/night/day helping out at the YH. When I did arrive at the hostel in the early hours of Sunday morning, he made me the best, strongest coffee ever and him being around was just so good for me. Now skip to the finish or even the following day where my mum was so delighted to tell me that RichForrest's comment on my blog, saying he saw me leave the YH, meant the world to her! Waiting two days for a worrying mum is quite something, then to get such a message out of the blue ... Silverbackcyclist ... thank you so much - you are a star!

The controls were fabulous. The volunteers would know exactly what you need and want: have a chair (oh thanks!), would you like some hot soup (oh yes please!), or rice pudding (oh yes! both!), cup a tea?
Another magical moment was on the last leg. I had a quick kip of 1o mins on the grass verge, because I couldn't go anymore. I was falling asleep on the bike and was seeing double. Then an angel appeared. He tapped me on the arm and said he was going to make sure I'd make it to the end. I put my whole trust in him - no point fighting this! This was with 80km to go, which is a long way for not wanting to go on anymore! That would be about 4 hours worth of your body and mind saying stop. Thankfully, an Audax is "unsupported", because if a broom wagon had come along with someone saying 'hop in', I would have (would I?).

It didn't rain the whole way, but that is how I remember it. At first, it would shower and you'd dry off again, but towards the end, the rain was continuous. The hailstorms also were painful. Everything became wet, even my brevet card, which I normally treasure and keep dry. All the stamps probably washed into one, I don't know, I didn't look anymore, just handed it in.
Which brings me to another magical moment! From the finish control, I had to cycle back across the Severn Bridge to the Travelodge. Not far, but I didn't want to. Sorry I don't know his name, but a fellow cyclist (and budding beekeeper!) offered a lift in a van that would have enough space for the bike. Oh yes please!

Other moments: the fireworks at Beddgelert, the Honeypot Cafe where I wanted to buy one of their T-shirts (Blacksheep offered his instead), hearing cuckoos and owls again, the hallucinations not being too bad, learning about "Death Shimmy" (but sorry it happened to LEE, who then packed), the crossing of Barmouth Bridge, hearing John 'two punctures before the start' Spooner shouting "wake up" as I was shaking my head in dozy disbelief of what was going on...
Here are a few quotes from the YACF forum which made me realise what has been achieved by all participants - well done everybody!:
  • Out of the 80 or so that started about 30 packed and went home at some point in the ride due to the bad weather (RichForrest).
  • He said there are still about 20 still out there, and that he'd not want to still be riding - it's raining, windy and very cold (Fidgetbuzz).
  • I am wondering if this is the hardest ride I have done to date (Bianchi Boy).
  • That decides it; never doing this ride again (Martin).
  • Just starting the ride in those conditions merit a medal (Jethro).
  • First rider back was about 3 hours slower than last year (teethgrinder).
  • Youtube clip (geraldc) - don't know why this made me laugh so much!
All the people who made a difference: the Faccombe Four, Greenbank, Scotlington, John Spooner, Pete, Mel, Mercury, Bez, organiser Mark Rigby, RichForrest, Charlotte, Pompey Phil, all the volunteers, Paul and budding beekeeper ... thank you! .. and Hummers, how can I forget Hummers!
My recovery was really strange. I now know about the Tuesday Blues, which I got badly, but its as if my body was in three parts. Apart from sore feet, my physical body was OK. My brain wasn't switching on again for a long time although my emotions were on overdrive. And the weirdest was very sore top stomach muscles and pain inside to the core.

What have I learned? I [sort of] enjoyed the first 520km. In the penultimate stage, I could really push it, eventhough I was tired. My disappointment was my complete collapse in the last 80km. And I think it must be due to lack of sleep and lack of food. I wasn't hungry at any stage and tried to eat deliberately, but it was probably too little.

I need to find out my own sleep strategy, whether to invest in sleep despite going in time deficit. And I need to find a way of eating better. I think I do OK with food, but my calorie intake was probably far too low.

Would I do it again? Certainly. I'd like to do the ride over five days. I would wait for the best 5 day weather forecast and then set off and visit some friends in Anglesey while I'm there.
Have a look at the photos - on the slideshow till the next ride or click here.