I set the alarm for 1am and tucked into my sleeping-bag on the floor of my office: it was going to be an early start and I didn’t want to disturb anyone in my family. My plan was to ride the Bomber Country Audax run by Richard Parker of Audax Club Lincolnshire and thought it would be fun to cycle to the start too.
After an uncomfortable few hours on the floor, I woke at 1am and was on the road by 1:30am heading west on the A63 dual carriageway. At this time in the morning there were no motorists about, and I covered the 2.5km between the Welton and Melton junctions at a good speed; thanks to the howling tailwind! The wind pushed me along to the Humber Bridge, shining like a string of fairy-lights across the estuary.
The ‘Danger High Wind’ sign was flashing but thankfully the bridge was open anyway and I rode with care to the other side. The strength of the wind became apparent as I turned east and after dropping into South Ferriby found the flat exposed roads gave me no shelter. I slogged my way onwards to Gunness where my route turned south and I gained some respite from the headwind.
The night was warm and I was overdressed; for winter cycling. There was no rain but the unrelenting wind was draining. I was drenched with the sweat of effort, but didn’t dare remove layers in case I caught a chill. This night ride was proving difficult because there was very little to distract me from the physical exertion: just the pool of light on the road ahead and the red lit chimneys of West Burton and Cottam Power Stations. These wide open landscapes change slowly as you cycle through. In the daytime one field merges into another as the journey continues, in the night the lights ahead hardly seem to move.
I left the river Trent at Susworth and rode for a long while through the Laughton Forest. This was a single carriageway lined with trees which gave me shelter, although a new anxiety was laid on me: falling branches! I had to stay alert to avoid the twigs, sticks and occassional thicker piece of fallen wood, but made it safely to the other side. Beyond the forest I was back on empty quiet country lanes with only the power stations for company.
The dawn began with a glow and a sense that I could see beyond my own pool of light – but it was the sound of dawn that gave me the biggest surprise: after hours of silence, I was jolted back to reality by the crow of a cockerel beside the road, so loud it made me jump.
I arrived at Carlton le Moorland at 6:30am, with 103km covered and looking forward to some company for the rest of the day. Audax Club Lincolnshire had hot drinks for everyone and there was a wonderful turnout giving the village hall a real buzz. I think Richard said there were 44 starters, and from the AUK result sheet there seem to be 44 finishers too.
I met up with Graham Thornalley at the start – it was his suggestion that we enter this event and I was fortunate to have the day off. This was to be his longest ride so far and the first time he’d entered a Randonneur level event. I also met up with Marcus Lancastle, who is thinking of riding some the the East Yorkshire Audaxes I’m organising.
The wind had not dropped, but as we started our Audax heading east, we found the joy of a glorious tailwind pushing us along. The Bomber Country Audax would make a good first 200km event for those who cope well in breezy conditions.
Graham and I rode along together and although he was chomping at the bit to power on, he chose to ride by my side instead. Graham’s riding style seems to be more speedy than mine, perhaps because he has less cake and beer holding him back. We crossed the river Witham for the first information control at Bardney and then climbed gently and imperceptibly into the Lincolnshire Wolds until we reached the last steep ramp of Red Hill by Cadwell Park Motor Racing Circuit. This was our high point for the day, at about 150m we crossed Bluestone Heath road and began our descent to Louth and then the coast.
Our first commercial control point was the petrol station in Louth just off the A16; it seemed as though everyone stopped for at least a coffee. I made the rookie mistake of having a lukewarm Greggs chicken bake. I would regret that later. There was a hubbub of general enjoyment of the ride so far, with slight misgivings about how this tailwind would become a headwind in the afternoon. Graham and I watched as others set off ahead of us and I commented that the couple of Woodhall Wheelers on the tandem would be great to draft – if we could catch them.
Catch them we did – Graham’s strength lifted our combined pace until we made the back of the group that had left ahead of us, then we had a good sized group to ride with to Mablethorpe. Despite the benefits of drafting a tandem, the relentless 30kph+ pace was taking a lot from my legs. So once we got to Mablethorpe I was happy to drop off the group and pootle along for a bit – we started by sightseeing and climbing the bank by the A52 onto the South Promenade to have a look out to sea.
I wished I had captured a good photograph of the beach huts lining the promenade, there was a ‘Sam Toft‘ feel to the place.
Graham and I continued south now along the coastline, beside the Sandilands Golf Course and the old Roman Bank which would have protected the land from flooding. At Chapel St Leonards our free wind assistance came to an end and we turned west. My pace dropped dramatically and Graham kept me company as I struggled on – this was going to take a long time to get back to the start! I was certainly ready for some lunch when we reached Burgh le Marsh. Four other audaxers had spotted the Fleece Inn and we joined them.
The section post-lunch involved climbing back over the Lincolnshire Wolds. There was nothing difficult about the climbing itself, but the headwind was making the going slow. I glanced at the elevation profile on my little garmin device and gave Graham a running commentary on how far we had left to climb. I’m sure he wanted me to shut up. We passed through Mavis Enderby – a village not a person – and reached the final high point on our return leg beside Snipe Dales Nature Reserve. All down hill from here as they say, but the windy theme was not going to stop and we battled onwards through Horncastle and back to Bardney again.
Our final rest point for the day was the Bardney Heritage Centre beside the river Witham and the gentleman running the cafe was really friendly and chatty. I felt better for the Rhubarb Tart and black coffee.
A large group of us set off at the same time for the final push back to Carlton le Moorland and this was the section I enjoyed the most – the cycle path running along a bank of earth between the river Witham and the Silkholmes Drain. It felt like cycling along a very long and narrow island and although the wind continued to make cycling hard, I was thoroughly enjoying myself again.
After about 9 miles of this ‘Spires and Steeples‘ trail we reach Lincoln and followed the river Witham right through the centre. I understand that Lincoln is in a gap in the Lincolnshire Wolds, and that is where the cycle path bisects the city. The cycle path had been a highlight for me so far, but my favourite moment was crossing the A15 on a high level cycle path / footbridge with great views of the Cathedral.
There were only 24km left to get back to Carlton le Moorland and all of it flat, in addition the route was southbound so we were finally out of the headwind and everyone’s pace picked up for the final push. I even found myself racing the clock to get back before 6pm, as though this was some significant cut-off time.
I had become increasingly tired as the ride had progressed, the relentlessness of flat roads and headwinds making this a hard ride for me – but I’d made it: an Extended Calendar Event of 300km. 1am to 6pm. 314km. I was certainly grateful that Graham had offered me a lift home. Congratulations to Graham too for his first ever Randonneur event, he made it look easy!
Big thanks to Audax Club Lincolnshire, to the organiser Richard Parker, and to volunteers Sarah Freeman and Paul Bolton – and huge thanks to Debbie Parker for the delicious sandwiches and voluptuous cakes. What a great ride and fantastic hospitality. Thank you.