The rain was splattering against the windscreen as I drove down to Alfreton for an early season Audax. If I was doing this solo… just going for a ride… I’d have rolled over under the duvet and not bothered getting out of bed. However, because this was an ‘event’, the “Straight on at Rosies“, and with other people riding I felt compelled to at least go to the start line. It wasn’t the £6 entry fee that compelled me: it was the curiosity as to whether I’d be alone. I wasn’t: old Audaxers are a hardy breed.
The forecast was for near freezing rain all day, and there were thirty ‘old audaxers’: that is thirty men and women of all ages eager to get going. Many of them were reflecting that at least the weather wasn’t as bad as 2016, “We had a strong tailwind all the way to Blacktoft Sands – but grovelled home into freezing sleet and rain coming down like stair-rods.”
I met with three VeloClub 167 clubmates who are regular riders on this event, Nick, Bob and Ian – and also met up with the usual faces – those who ride long distances and make it look easy. Those who’ve ridden some of my events and those I’ve ridden with before, such as Marcus from Audax Club Lincolnshire. I’ve been saying for a few months that my “Randonneur Round the Year” attempt was feeling more difficult than in previous years. The cold weather had combined with a growing sense of ‘only doing it for the sake of doing it’, rather than doing it for fun. I think this is the Do-It-Yourself effect – lots of solo rides in the cold and dark. I had booked a Saturday off work and entered the Straight on at Rosies calendar event specifically because I didn’t want to plod off alone.
The whole event was shrouded in drizzle and periods of heavier rain, with a temperature that chilled my chest and arms. I rode with Ian for the first 60km to Rosies Cafe near Gainsborough, and although the terrain rolled up and down it passed almost unnoticed as we chatted; about seeing the world while travelling for work, negotiating skills, prophecy and the nature of different types of spirituality.
Rosies looked grim from the outside, but inside was a seething mass of cyclists and truckers comparing overflowing plates of breakfast. “ELEVEN!” – “ELEVEN!” – “YOUR FOOD’S READY!” hollered the waitress from behind the counter. If anyone missed their food order, then a moment later “TWELVE! ELEVEN! FOOD!” bellowed into the dining area. I opted for baked beans on toast with hot black coffee and it was ready before I’d paid. I needed this plateful of food because the chill on my chest and arms was quite noticeable.
As soon as I’d eaten, I was off again. I left Ian with Nick, although I probably should have said cheerio rather than just cracking on – I think solo riding might have diminished some of my ride-etiquette. I soon reached the banks of the River Trent and the flat road weaved along following the meander of the river. I could always see riders ahead, and riders behind, moving along at enough of a similar pace that we didn’t catch each other.
It might seem like the road from Keadby to Blacktoft Sands is a pointless out-and-back along the same piece of road – but for me it was a highlight of the event. I was able to smile and wave at the riders ahead of me coming back from the turning point, and I was able to give an equally cheery wave to those still heading north as I headed south. I’ve ridden around here in windy conditions and found it almost impossible, so even though the light rain didn’t stop it was a relief that the air was still.
My text updates to Carol had started out with ‘wet’, become, ‘very wet’, then ‘soaking’, before resorting to ‘glug, glug, glug – drowning not waving’. As darkness started to fall, the ‘wet’ texts became ‘wet and cold’. I had brought spare gloves, and they were now soaking too. I stopped in Clowne to refuel for the final leg to Alfreton. With more food in my stomach, even though I was freezing cold, I was able to tackle the hills. The extra energy in my legs helped me raise the pace a little, and this in turn helped me raise my temperature.
With the extra effort and the extra hills keeping me warm in the rain, I was starting to enjoy the route more. I loved the views on the second half of this event; once we’d climbed up into Derbyshire hills around Bolsover. Here the views were opening out west towards the M1 corridor, with the stream of lights and towns on the hillsides lighting up the evening sky and heavy clouds. I was in very high spirits when we turned onto the estate of Hardwick House, but not so foolishly high that I forgot to walk over the cattle grids. The metal bars were very slippery under my tyres.
Once the final climb back to Alfreton was done, everyone was welcomed back to the Control with hot coffee and slices of cake. This was a hard ride – and I think it always will be a hard ride. It wasn’t the terrain, it was the weather. I think that this ride will always have challenging weather because of the time of year, but also because the flat marshland west of the river Trent, just south of the Humber, is so exposed to wind. However, I was right about one thing – doing an event was so much easier and more fun than doing a solo DIY at this time of year. (Right, what should I do in March… the Yorkshire Gallop?)