New Forest at the Double – Part 2

You might want to read Part One before you read this!

Day Two

After making the wrong decision over which bed to sleep in, I reverted to the sensible option and chose my wife’s comfy king sized double.  I figured that as I was so tired, she would not disturb me when she got in… I was right… the best night’s sleep in ages and I was fresh and raring to go come Sunday morning.

I also decided not to go to the HQ and waste another couple of hours queueing.  That would mean, no official time, no medal and no t-shirt… all things that I could do without.  “Does my t-shirt drawer really need another t-shirt?” I joked to myself.  I kept yesterday’s number of my bike, so at least I could still get an official photo.

I drove to a village called Hurn, the nearest part of the course to where we were staying, about ten miles into the course.  I still had the route on my Garmin and of course the signage would still be out.

I readied myself quite quickly today, eager to commence part two of my ‘sufferfest’.  I was lucky enough to jump on the back of a group almost straight away, but this splintered at the first rise and I followed the fastest wheel, leaving just the two of us.

We chatted for a while, my co-rider was from South Africa, although he’d been living in London more recently.  Once we’d established our aims for the day, we decided to work together.  This didn’t last long however.  We were passed by a slightly faster group, which we both latched onto but the pace was too hot for me… yesterday it may have been OK, but I needed to be realistic and waved my new friend goodbye.

There were other groups of course, but the pace was bit too sedate for my liking, so these were caught and passed as the miles were gradually ticked off.

These were the last groups I saw for a while.  It felt a bit like yesterday where I was soloing for a large chunk of the ride, albeit under different circumstances.  The site of yesterday’s mechanical came and went, and I grinned at today’s improved fortune.

A feed station, around half way, provided me with a dilemma.  I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to use it, but did I really want to loose momentum by slowing down for a tight u-turn?  The alternative was to skip the out and back section and turn right at a T-junction.  I chose the latter, confusing a couple of riders… “It’s left here!” they shouted.  I did reply, but I don’t think they heard me.  I would, of course, need to tag some mileage on at the end to complete my double century.

The last feed station of the day (22 miles from the finish, but 32 or so for me) was the only one I stopped at.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t usually stop at feed stations, but I could still taste those jelly beans I’d  picked up yesterday… it was just too damn tempting.  I pulled in, grabbed a couple of handfuls, filled up one of my pockets and I was on my way… a nice treat for later in the ride.

The wind direction had changed today, so luckily for me that headwind on the climb up to the moors was no longer there.  However, after taking that 90 degree turn at the top…there it was… stronger than yesterday… and head on!  As I was preparing for an epic battle on the exposed moor, a couple of riders came passed me “thank you very much” I thought to myself, as I latched on to the cover they were inadvertently providing. As soon as we were down the other side of the moor, I passed them with one other rider and the pair of us pushed on, working together.

Wind aside, we had been blessed with quite good weather over the weekend.  But nature always has something to throw at you when you’re least expecting it… today it was a torrential downpour.  Initially it was quite refreshing, but my thin layer of lycra was not the best defence for this deluge… I was starting to get soaked.  A sensible option would have been to pull over and slip my showerproof on, but I didn’t want to lose momentum this close to the finish.  Fortunately, the shower only lasted 20 minutes or so.  Even though I was soaked, I wasn’t cold and the sunshine that followed soon dried me off again.

By this time my riding companion was approaching the driveway up to Somerley House and the finish line.  I explained my alternate plan, we wished each other luck and went our separate ways.

I was now on the last leg of my adventure, soloing the last 10 miles back to my car plus a few miles to tag on to make the century… now, where are those jelly beans?

Pretty soon I found myself passing my car and after some quick maths I rode out for another mile or so, did a u-turn and rode the same distance back… and that was it.  My ‘moving’ time was only nine minutes slower than yesterday, but more importantly I had just completed my first double 🙂

Epilogue

Reflecting on the past two days, all in all it had been a fantastic weekend.  I had been dogged with bad luck on Saturday, but the stunning scenery and wildlife more than made up for it… the famous New Forest wild horses, roaming cattle and sheep… I even saw a large pig grunting on the roadside… glorious memories of a truly memorable weekend.

Of the 3,500 riders who completed one of the routes on one of the days only 27 rode on both days.  Of those 27 only 10 completed the 100 mile course on both days.  Of those 10, only one rider covered the 200 miles in less than twelve hours… which just goes to prove that white beards are more aero than any other colour!

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New Forest at the Double – Part 1

The Challenge

I set myself three century based targets for 2016. My longest… 125 miles ridden in June, my fastest… 4 hours 27 minutes ridden in July and one more challenge for the year… ride a century on consecutive days… my first double!

Wiggle kindly provided the opportunity by putting on their New Forest 100 on a late September Saturday and Sunday.  Most riders choose one or the other, but for me, it was both.

Day One

I awoke bleary eyed, around 6am, after a bad night’s sleep.  I’d made the mistake of choosing the wrong bed. It’s not like I didn’t have a choice. I’d arrived at the three bedroom apartment yesterday lunch time, ahead of my wife and her friend who would both arrive late afternoon.  Choice one, and the obvious one, share the comfy king sized double bed in the master bedroom… no, Theresa and her friend Ali would be staying out late and I didn’t want to be disturbed.  Choice two, the other double room… no, not very gentlemanly, so I left this for Ali.  That left the twin room with two single beds to choose from, they seemed OK, either will do… decision made.

Roll on Saturday morning and decision regretted.  As I said, bleary eyed after a night of tossing and turning trying to get comfortable.  No use crying over spilt milk however, so I stepped into a cold shower and followed it with a large dose caffeine… bleary eyed no more.

The car journey to the sportive HQ, Somerley House in Ringwood took less than half an hour… “Perfect” I thought to myself as I pulled off the main road and joined the queue for the car park.

Queue!  This is a word I’d need to get used over the next couple of hours… it took longer to get into the car park than it did getting here.  I’m used to turning up at these rural sportives; parking, registering and crossing the start line all within half an hour of arrival… not today though.  After eventually parking, I made my way to registration and noticed that the queue for the start line was already a few hundred riders strong.  By the time I got my number fixed to my bike and back to the start line the queue had more than doubled, in fact it was so long that the venue could no longer handle its length as it meandered like a river around the registration marquee and in-between various refreshment stalls.

After chatting with some fellow queuers, we began to realise that we’d miss the 8:30am cut off for starting the century ride, in fact this was missed by an hour as my group eventually rolled over the start line at 9:30am.  This had already hampered my timetable; I was hoping to have a post ride massage before lunch, this was already looking unlikely.

Time to focus on the ride, time to think about what lay ahead and not dwell on a frustrating few hours.  The plan for the day was to take it as easy as possible, saving something for tomorrow but still fast enough to get back within six hours (my target was to ride the combined 200 miles in less than twelve hours).

Early on I chopped and changed groups a few times until I found the one I wanted… a small determined looking bunch, not too quick, not too slow.  I slipstreamed them for a while and although I took the odd turn at the front I didn’t think I was working too hard.  My average speed was 18.5mph, well ahead of my target pace…  It was going so well, “what could go wrong?” I thought to myself.

I got my answer after 35 miles… I had trouble changing gears and while fiddling with one of my levers I was dropped from my perfect group, but worse than that I could only change down.  My fiddling had left me in the lowest gear and that was it… I couldn’t change up anymore… stranded in my granny gear!

I got off and frantically tried to work out if there was anything obviously wrong (bear in mind that I’m not a mechanic) but to no avail.  I was too far from the nearest feed station to get help, so my only option now was to call the emergency mechanic number and wait… and wait… and wait!

I called back after some 30 minutes “someone will be with you shortly” I was told again.  They weren’t.  I called again after 45 minutes and then again after 60 minutes.  While I was on the phone for the fourth time, the mechanic finally arrived.  “Sorry for the delay, It’s been a bit busy today” he said.  “No problem” I replied, trying to disguise my general grumpiness.

After taking a quick look, he said he wouldn’t be able to fix it and it would need to go to a bike shop… my general grumpiness turned to shock, bordering on devastation… I was on a mission to ride 200 miles and barely 35 miles in I’d have to quit!

While I was sinking to the floor, he carried on twiddling with the lever “a-ha, I’ve done it” he declared.  My eyes lit up “really?” I queried.  Somehow he’d managed to click the lever back into place, he quickly checked all the gears and I was back in business… what a hero!  I waved goodbye to my knight in shining armour and I was back on my way.

The elation overshadowed the last frustrating hour or so, watching endless streams of cyclists riding past me.  Once I got going again it didn’t take long to realise that the nice speedy groups had all gone, in fact all the riders had gone… I was now facing the next 65 miles or so riding solo!

I arrived at the next feed station some 45 miles in.  I don’t usually stop at feed stations, preferring to carry what I need, zooming past them conscious of that ticking clock.  Today, however, I had consumed some of my precious energy food awaiting mechanical rescue.

So I pulled in, grabbed a few items… but when I went to pull away a steward announced “You can’t go that way”. “Sorry?” was my bemused reply.  “The long course is closed, you’ve missed the cut off, you’ll have to switch to the short course” he explained.  This made sense, I started an hour late and lost another hour due to the mechanical.  “I can’t do that… I’m a Centurion!” I thought to myself and sped away back onto the long course.  Fortunately, the steward was on foot, so couldn’t do much about it.

The course closure highlighted one important fact to me… I was now indeed last.  It was another ten miles before I saw anyone else and I only passed a handful of riders before the last feed station… at least I wasn’t last anymore!

From this point onwards, I knew there wouldn’t be any issues with cut offs and course closures as there were about 50 other riders taking on one last dose of sustenance before the last 20 miles or so.

My average speed was still good, but it was gradually slipping with the back end of the course loaded with trickier terrain and a small matter of a strong headwind blowing up from the finish line.  The worst of which was a full on, in your face gust, blowing down from the top of the moors.  It was a relief to get to the top of that climb, but with no shelter and a 90 degree right turn… that pesky headwind turned into a cross wind… now it was a case of just trying to stay upright on the long descent.

On lower ground and out of the wind, I found myself passing ‘Sandy Balls’ a holiday park where we’d had a family holiday several years ago… I didn’t know this was on the route.  I reminisced about the joyful times we had when our boys were children.  This gave me a lift making the last few miles fly by and before I knew it, I was riding up the driveway to Somerley House and the finish line.

The ride was not as easy as planned, a lot of energy and time wasted.  I was still really pleased with my ‘moving’ time of 5 hours 32 minutes, but I knew I had an uphill battle recovering for tomorrow… no time for a massage, no time for lunch and very little time for anything else.

I arrived back at the apartment in time to catch up with Theresa and Ali just before they went out for their night on the town, while for me it was just a case of eat, sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

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And here it is… Part Two!