Back to the Smoke 412 kms

As coordinator of Muswell Hill Peloton’s crack Paris-Brest-Paris squad, The Wattmeister was attracted to this ride by the title, which suggests getting away from the increasingly tedious Smoke, and the fact that it was a linear 400 km ride.

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Accompanied by Bubbles, Old Grey Socks, and Long Tom, we initially set off with about 30 other riders from Exeter St. David’s station at midday on Saturday, following a prescribed route via Wells, Durrington, Stow on the Wold,  Buckingham and finally, to arrive in Marylebone Station in London by 3 p.m, at the latest, on Sunday afternoon….a veritable tour of some gorgeous areas of natural beauty.

Now then, in the run up to this event, Bubbles had contracted a throat infection, but she was bravely determined to give it a go. A visit to the doctor yielded some antibiotics, but these are not compatible with her home grown remedy of gargling with prosecco…..gargling won and she was fit and ready to go, if a tad unsteady on the bike

Unusually for an audax the weather was nice, it didn’t rain, and we had a tailwind for much of the way.  The ride report could end right there, a miniscule drop of happiness in a world of uncertainty.

However the contract says, “….pedal stroke by pedal stroke account….”.

Departing buzzing Exeter in the warm sunshine via numerous traffic lights, we soon lost contact with the front riders. We are in the process of  honing our long distance riding plan to avoid wasted time off the bike and to ride steadily and sustainably on the bike. The plan soon went out the window as Old Grey Socks had made up his mind to get to the first control stop in Wells, 100 kms distance by 4 p.m.

He towed us along for 70 odd kms, like a machine…..nearly 62 years of age….does the man NEVER STOP FOR A WEE?

Goodbye Devon, hello Somerset, goodbye Taunton, hello Middlezoy……hello verdant Somerset Levels swathed in cowslip, cleaved by narrow burbling waterways and framed by ancient tors, hello Wells with your magnificent cathedral.

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A faff free cafe stop adjacent to the street market to collect the all important proof of passage. Goodbye Wells, you are etched into The Wattmeister’s fading memory.

We set off onto the ridge at Horrington via the Old Frome road….quite a climb…which affords magnificent views in all directions. It was now Long Tom’s turn to force the pace as we hurtled down off the ridge through Frome, Warminster and on to our second control at Durrington.

Traversing the vast expanse of Salisbury Plain on a bike in late afternoon sunshine with a tailwind is one of life’s great pleasures.

Grabbing some food at Tesco’s in  Durrington at 7.30 p m, we now headed North, a 100 kms leg to Stow on the Wold. Some of the verve and brio of earlier had disappeared, but Old Grey Socks set off again with ants in his pants along the glorious secret lane to Upavon, passing the hamlets of Brigmerston, Figheldean and Fittleton.

The light was beginning to fade as we winched ourselves up to Clench Common, just south of Marlborough. We still had 70 kms to go to Stow, the Clysts of Devon were long gone in a blur of frenzied energy, and the Ogbournes and Draycots would be passed more sedately and unseen in the darkness.

My word this section was a slog, briefly enlivened by another Old Grey Socks 20 kms blast from Highworth to Broughton Poggs, at which point we turned off to climb through the Cotswolds. The Wattmeister was not a happy boy, dealing with a painful bout of hot foot , as we proceeded through the Barringtons and Rissingtons with a final brutal punch up to our control point, the 24 hour garage at Stow.

Over 13 hours, the group mood had changed, tiredness had replaced the exuberance and confidence of mid-afternoon. Bubbles dreamed of getting a taxi back to London…”f*ck PBP” she whispered before huddling up next to  LongTom and Old Grey Socks on the cold concrete forecourt of the petrol station.

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Even The Wattmeister was having doubts….”what if we miss breakfast?” he fretted.

Other riders preferred to kip in the cemetery across the road. It was 1 a.m…the glamorous side of audax riding unfolding in all its glory.

At 3.30 a.m, we had a group hug. Although is was a mild night, we set off to conquer the the 70 kms leg to our next waypoint in Buckingham wearing every item of clothing at our disposal to ward off the chill that inevitably sets in after a long break.

It wasn’t long before Bubbles suffered a puncture. Surrounded by three capable men, one of whom once owned a bike shop, what could go wrong? 20kms down the road, she flatted on the same wheel….the diagnosis was that Bubbles had pressed too hard on the C02 canister and crushed the inner tube valve….the competence of the male riders remained untarnished…phew!

Buoyed by the fact that he could do no wrong, finally, after nearly 300kms, The Wattmeister did a turn on the front…..the other riders guffawed….”we’ll never get there at this pace! ” snorted Bubbles.

By the time we had dispatched Buckingham to our list of receipts, the ride began to have a “justwanttogetthere” feel to it. However, an opportunity to waste an hour in Tring presented itself, so we sloped off to the excellent Espresso Lounge for a cracking breakfast.

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Bubbles fell asleep at the table whilst ordering so ended up with a “crushed avo…” (guess the rest to win a prize), LongTom manfully attempted to remain awake by closing his eyes, and Old Grey Socks demolished a Bubble and Squeak and yoghurt creation….all the while The Wattmeister wordlessly and clinically dismantled a superb full english breakfast, an act of leadership which alas went unnoticed by his companions who were otherwise engaged.

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The Espresso Lounge in Tring….worth repeating. The owner is a formidable but friendly man. The food is very good. The ceiling on the toilet is very low. The Wattmeister rode the final 78 kms with concussion.

Not really much to say about the finale…more traffic, the circumnavigation of Watford, Bushey Hill ( who knew it was so long?), the slog along the A5, crossing the North Circular, a grim return to the Smoke.

We arrived at Marylebone station, had another group hug, acquired receipts, The Wattmeister downed a Pale Ale in the twinkle of an eye, and Old Grey Socks thrashed us in the sprint back in Regents Park as we rode home.

A great day/night out, not without its low points, but with a plethora of high points. Thanks must go to Bubbles for finally, finally, finally getting her rear bag packed nice and neatly so that it doesn’t rub on the mudguard.

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