Green and Yellow Fields Audax

300km Audax

May 2014

If you are reading this, then I have a completed a SR series.  No ordinary SR, a Super Randonneur series of Arrivée articles. It started last summer with Severn Across 400, then the KSW 600, then LEL 1400, then my RRTY 200’s, and now finally a 300 article.

I find a 300km audax creates two impressions on me. The first is that physically, it feels like an extended 200km audax.  The second, mentally, is that it is a 400km audax that falls short. Why the latter?  Well there’s something about riding through the night, that feels special, a rite of long distance cycling passage, a 400km audax gives you that. A 300km ride gives you a small taste of that, as there is usually an early start so you lack sleep, riding throughout the day, and  some riding after sunset, unless you are really fast. But it then stops, you’ve finished, after that brief flirting with the night, the Arrivée arrives. You are not sated with your fix of riding through the night.

So last year, during my LEL build up, I skipped a 300 and jumped straight from my 200 to a 400. I felt the 400 would teach me more of what I needed to know.  This year deciding to do another SR, I started to look for a 300. I found the Green and Yellow Fields 300, and it tackled my reservations about the distance.  You see, it started at midnight, after a curry; you ride through the night, and it allowed an afternoon or early evening finish.

Every bit of advice I’ve read about audax says to ensure you are well rested before the event. I’ve yet to manage that, I’m just not very good at going to bed early. This time was to be no exception.  So it was that 10pm on Friday; I left the house to drive round to Manningtree, not feeling particularly full of energy. I wondered how I’d stay awake.

Tomsk the organiser had given advice about suitable parking near the start. I’d put one of the streets in the sat nav, and that took me straight past the Mogul, as I arrived around 11:15pm. This was the venue for curry before the start. There were many bikes outside, and I felt I’d missed out on an essential element. Next time I do the event, curry it will be.  Parking spot was perfect.

By time I’d put leg and arm warmers on, bike shoes, got bike off rack, and cycled round to the Mogul, the others were setting off to the official start at the station. I chatted a while with a fellow rider, whom would be riding his first 300. A good choice, it turns out, if riding through the night doesn’t worry you.

Midnight start at the station
Midnight start

It was a fine turnout that gathered at the station, Steve Rowley amongst others was there.  It’s always nice to meet the real people behind the online forums and Facebook profiles. We chatted awhile, and some potholes near the start were mentioned by Tomsk. The start felt special, meeting at a railway station at midnight, to go for a long ride. The absurdity of it all, one big private joke we were all in on.

We started, which involved bunny hoping a small bit of tarmac being resurfaced overnight. Right and right again at roundabouts, before a final right took us into the lanes.  I was riding on the front, when Dmitry went past on the right turn.  We were entering the potholed hilly back lane, and I overtook Dmitry again on the first downhill.  I commute year round and have got used to descending pot holed roads in the dark winter months, how bad can it be? Not bad at all, and I was able to keep a good speed with no one in front to hide the imperfections in the road.

Dmitry latched onto my wheel at this point.  For the next hour he sat there, neither going past, nor coming alongside.  I was mildly irritated by this, if you’re going to ride together, either share the front, or ride side by side chatting.  So I stopped pedalling and urged him to come alongside. He didn’t quite get what I was saying, so then rode off ahead faster than I intended. We parted company on the road for now. Turns out he’d been terrified of those dark pot holed and hilly lanes and so followed me because I was tackling them with confidence. I wouldn’t find this out till later.

The night was clear, the stars were out, and spotting constellations became my focus.  Dmitry’s rear light disappeared in the distance, occasionally catching a glimpse as it blinked up ahead on a straight section.  Eventually I found myself with neither lights ahead, nor lights behind. I expected to be caught on the road, but it never happened. I’m not very good at riding in groups anyway, I love the conversation, but my pacing never seems to match.  So I settled into a good rhythm, and listened to odd owl hoot, the birds rustling in the trees, the silent sounds of night.

Night time is meditative, long distance cycling in meditative.  Put the two together, and you enter a world both beyond and within yourself. A world, nay a universe of connectedness and awareness.  I don’t have the words to express the feeling; for those that have ridden through the night, perhaps to the coast or on a long audax, it is something special, to be experienced and savoured. So it was that I continued in this blissful state, a journey alone, but not alone, into the night.

I’ve been putting in hilly rides to prepare for Mille Cymru.  I practice hills via pushing big gears, small gears, in saddle and out.  I decided to push big gears through the ride, and stayed in the large ring, getting out of the saddle to climb hills without slowing too much.

After a while of riding alone, I began to doubt I was going the right way round the route. You see, with a GPS, it would be easy to follow a circular track the wrong way. Fortunately my GPS puts arrows on the direction of travel, and a more careful glance confirmed I was going the right way.

The route headed north, and I passed through Long Melford. I pass through here on the Start of Summertime 200 audax ride from Stevenage. There’s a bench I’ve always stopped on, for a snack, when on the other audax. Being dark, and colder, I just gazed at the bench as I ghosted through the village.

Barton Mills, the first control came up, as I joined the A11 dual carriageway, fortunately quiet at that time of night.  I saw Dmitry’s bike outside the first service, but no Dmitry. This meant he was inside, so I stopped there, instead of the second recommended place.

Inside there was hot chocolate and I had a chicken sandwich whilst leaning on the hot bakery.  We chatted a while, ate and drank, and got some warmth back in us.  As the others arrived in a large group, including Tomsk; Dmitry and I headed off.

Dmitry left a minute or so ahead of me and steady pulled away for an age. We were on the straight road that runs past Lakenheath Base to Brandon, so I could clearly see him.  I got a real sense of the scale of Lakenheath Base just from this straight road, it went on for ever. End, eventually it did, at Brandon, where you turn left.

I could no longer see Dmitry’s lights and was once again alone in the night.  Signs for Swaffham and Bury St Edmunds dominated. Swaffham has lovely forestry (you cycle through) if you like walking or mtn biking. On through the night I pedalled. The roads were straight and long. The navigation easy, with only the odd glance at GPS when a junction came up.

Signs of the coming dawn
Dawn approaches

At Castle Acre the first signs of the coming morning, with a slight green in the sky. Up through another sleeping village; under the arch, right and left and right, and back into the lanes. Here I disturbed a hare and deer quietly nibbling some grass on the verge. Like apparitions they bounded into the still dark yellow fields, and were lost to the night.

I watched the green turn yellow then orange as the Sun climbed the hills towards the horizon.  My star gazing turned to watching the changing light, willing the Sun onwards and upwards. I watched the horizontal rays begin to filter through the woods. Finally it cleared the trees on the horizon, and it was as though I was renewed, the tiredness of a night with no sleep but a memory dissipating with the evaporation of morning dew.

Renewed; I carried on, arriving at Burnham Deepdale, the 153km control, not long after. Now, sunrise was 5:37am, and the café didn’t open till 7.00am.  Yes, you’ve guessed it; I was far too early for the control.

I never thought I’d find myself in this predicament. I’m usually mid pack, and I didn’t think I’d trouble the timings.  But this is a fast 300, and I’d been able to big ring it most of the time through the night.  Tomsk had a fall back in the notes for this. Take a selfie of you with your bike, in front of the village sign, with your camera. This is what I did.

Selfie as proof of passage
Selfie as proof of passage

I’d really been looking forward to breakfast. I deliberately have the GPS set to map only with no distance to time indicators on it. So I had no real idea I wouldn’t be having breakfast at Burnham Deepdale.

I rode on a while before finding a wooden bus shelter on the left. I made myself comfortable, and ate some pork pies and jelly babies, plus more water for breakfast. Not the breakfast I’d been thinking about, but it did the job.

At the roundabout where you turn right past Fakenham there’s a garage. I went there for a hot chocolate. I saw a familiar bike outside, and indeed Dmitry was inside. We chatted a while, whilst taking on more calories and drinks.   He set off slightly ahead of me once again.

I arrived at the 215km control, Waitrose in Wymondham, and once again saw Dmitry’s bike outside.  Locked bike up, and straight to the café, and I saw Dmitry at a table just getting up.  I thought he was about to go, but no, he’d been too pooped to eat anything when he’d got there. To be honest we’d both been running on fumes, on the last leg, without that breakfast.

We queued together, in the café. I saw the perfect pick me up. I ordered a coke, a hot chocolate with marsh mallows, plus porridge with honey.  After eating; we sat and chatted a while, to let the food do its work. A couple of other riders turned up, and put their stuff on our table, the first we’d seen since the Barton Mills control. We left whilst they were still queuing. A main group, including Tomsk turned up as I was unlocking my bike.

Somehow I lost Dmitry again on the next leg. So I was surprised, when standing outside a village shop at 264km with a coke and some crisps, to see him riding up.  He asked if I’d wait for him, as he’d made a bit of a navigational mistake when ahead of me, was feeling tired, and was worried about doing it again. I said yes, we’d both been solo, other than meeting at controls, up to this point. Turns out, in conversation, we’d been riding about 6-7 minutes apart for the whole ride.  We should have stuck together from the start.

Outside the shop where Dmitry and I joined forces
Outside the shop where Dmitry and I joined forces

The wind had been relentless, southbound since Burnham Deepdale. Dmitry talked about the relentless wind a lot, and it’d taken its toll on him. Now was a perfect opportunity to share the workload, but he looked tired. So I’d stayed on front, other than when riding side by side on the quieter roads. Despite being mildly irritated by this arrangement at the start, under these different circumstances, I didn’t mind.

At Needham Market we spotted the Seasons café just after the turn left onto the High Street. They had comfy sofas facing each other, Chai, Chocolate Brownie (for me) and Red Cake (for Dmitry). We lingered a while at that last stop.  Friendly service, and nice atmosphere, and bike rack outside. I’ll be back.

We set off on the final leg. Hills began to appear again, long draggy ones, nothing steep.  I haven’t mentioned the key feature of the Green and Yellow Fields, and the clue is in the title. There were vibrant yellows and greens everywhere you looked. The nature of the Suffolk and Norfolk lanes meant often the rape seed yellow flowers were at head height, and their scent drifted across and tickled the senses.

In the final few km we entered the back lanes once more, and they qualified on many counts being twisty, narrow, and steep, with gravel in places. We passed a lovely bluebell wood on the left, stunning. Before long we turned right and onto the 2km downhill to Manningtree Station.  It was very fast, and I had to brake as I gained on the cars ahead. I loved that finish.

Being an x-rated event, means you use commercial controls to get a receipt at every point, with no volunteer managed controls with cake.  This meant obtaining a receipt at the finish. I asked Dmitry if he had time for a pint, he did.  So off into town we went, and settled on the Crown. Yes you’ve guessed it; the final receipt was obtained by buying a round of drinks. Since Dmitry also needed a receipt, he bought a second round.  What a great finish to a great event.