How to tackle the April RRTY? That was the question. Options were endless. A flat easy 200? An event to be mollycoddled round? A DIY from home? A new route? In the end I went with a route I knew, with enough climbing to keep things interesting but that wouldn't stress my arm too much with out of the saddle work. Plus company. Really excellent company from Mark, Brian and Bairdy.
Entries went in to Mr Blacksheep's Kings Priests and Castles permanent 200 km route and we set Saturday as the date, and the audax-loving Royal Hop Pole as the rendezvous.
Saturday morning this happened.
Bairdy text, he was out with a headache and I pondered the likelihood we would all DNS as I drove to Tewkesbury to meet the others. I prayed for their 'I can't make it' excuses as I sat waiting in the pub, watching the snow fall out of the window.
Of course, Mark and Brian are reliable as sunrise, and they turned up on time to also drink coffee and stare out of the window. However...between the three of us, there was no chance of bailing and we were on the road to Ledbury by 8:20 am.
The sky blued as we reached Ledbury, although the biting northerly wind still made itself felt as we obtained our first 'proof of passage' of many. Old school audaxing is fun, finding places with stamps, obtaining receipts and hunting out working cash-points, but only when you aren't on the time limit.
Luckily, even with my serious lack of audax fitness, we were never close to full value, having plenty of time to sit around in Cafes and recover. The arm was fine all day, but my legs were totally unresponsive for the first part of the ride, loosing power at the slightest incline and false flat. The guys showed just how good riding companions they are, slowing their pace, and waiting for me to catch up when I dropped off the back without any complaint. It was like the legs had forgotten what to do (and I suspect mentally I was concerned about my longevity for the day, thus subconsciously operating on 3/4 power to save as much as possible for the later hilly kilometers). I felt the weakest I have ever felt on the road bike, but happy as larry to be cruising along in the sunshine and just being out, able to travel the distance under my own steam.
After Earl Grey tea in Ludlow, the proper climbing started, and the legs came back to life. How I have missed the Shropshire lanes. Stomping climbs that make the heart pump, legs burn and sweat pour, but drag you kicking and screaming right into that moment, where nothing else matters other than reaching the next crest and the instant satisfaction of knowing you've made it.
The weather warmed as the day progress, and we passed through towns, villages, up steep climbs, down huge sweeping descents with views for miles. Bluebells, primroses and wood anemones glinted against the fresh green of the verges. People drank beer in the sunshine as we passed, such a change from the icy greyness of the morning.
Mr Blacksheep messaged later in the ride, and arranged to be at the Royal Hop Pole on our return to validate our ride. What a fabulous organiser he is. Such an asset to Audax UK. Volunteers like this are few and far between and we really must value them.
It really was a perfect ride, and topped off spectacularly by Mark and I bailing from bivvying in freezing temperatures in favour of chips n mushy peas, a warm fire and possibly far too much tea.