Posted on Friday 1 August 2008 by Martin Hayman
Martin Hayman was the only Central London member to ride the Muswell Hills 200k on July 27th, his report follows:
This was the first time out for my new bike, the Dave Yates lugless. The bike however was the least of my problems. The worst proved to be…well just about everything else really. I’m afraid I didn’t have a very good day of it. Things started quite well, I was at the départ in East Finchley in plenty good time and we all set off at 8:00 am in a cheery pack, I suppose three dozen of us. I was with the lead group until just after we got outside the M25 (via the M25/A1(M) interchange…interesting).
The route plunges into a suddenly very rural valley with two deep fords after a short section of rough track. As I remounted after the portage I realized I’d twisted a cleat (Looks, not SPDs) getting out of the pedal. This was to be the start of my downfall, indirectly down to the new bike because I put on the pedals with the tighter grip — with the softer pedals previously in use, the disengagement requires less torque and the cleats had stayed put.
Audax being an individual event, everybody pedalled off into the blue leaving me at the roadside tinkering with my shoe. Fortunately I had brought my multi-tool and it was up to the job. But from then on I had to do my own navigation based on the turn-by-turn text instructions. I have got very lazy about nav, partly because it requires the use of reading glasses which I prefer not to wear on the bike, partly because I don’t any longer have a computer.
The turn points are all marked by cumulative distance on the route sheet but I missed the next important one and headed off into Hemel Hempstead, a good 5 km off course as I discovered. I dithered in a gas station looking for a map for another 15 mins perhaps before deciding that retracement was the only option. I was at that point seriously tempted to abandon but sheer bloody-mindedness I guess drove me on.
From then on in, I was coming from behind the whole day. I chased hard for about an hour before catching up with some back markers at the cafe stop, sitting in the sunshine over the remnants of their eggs and bacon. I had time merely for a coffee and a refill of the water bottle and glommed on to their party. They weren’t especially good but they kept plugging along, and I was glad of the shelter after chasing. By about midday it was really very hot, 30C-ish and very humid and I was really starting to suffer. My mouth was very dry despite having drunk a one-litre bottle and its refill. My shoulders and hands were aching — that’s a new one. My bum was itching. Even the previously reliable Sidis had developed a tight spot. But the worst of it, as ever, was my back. I was very much looking forward to the control marking the halfway point (I think by now we had just passed into Oxon).
It was at a village at the top of a long steep hill. I had got off at the bottom and as I watched the others struggle up it, I knew it was out of the question. I pushed the bike up the hill solo, eyes down, feeling very sorry for myself. At the control there was food, water and a certain amount of sympathy but I had barely time to woof down half of my sandwich, lots of water, and a couple of Ibuprofen before the party, who had some 10 mins on me by now, set off again.
As the drugs reduced the pain in the back, I started to feel a little better, but the terrain got steadily more testing with several major hills as we crossed the Chilterns. These hills are amusing to attack when you’ve just ridden out of London but with 140 km or more covered, no gear seems low enough. Plus now I was struggling with quite agonizing cramps in the calves and thighs, and was having to pedal very gingerly to avoid setting them off.
Our party sort of fell apart and I then went off-course again with another guy (Chris), taking us through the traffic-jammed centre of St Albans instead of the carefully planned back route that sneaks to one side and under the M25. And do not let it be said there are no hills inside the Orbital. Coming so late in the day, these were some of the worst of the lot.
I was back in at around 7:00 I think and after a debrief (and a gasper) trundled home ever so slowly. Fate’s parting blow for what had been a very testing day for me was puncturing at West End Green, only 10 mins from home. I could scarcely bend over to do the necessary.
I think the ‘lessons to be learned’ (as politicians are wont to say) are two: take definite action to avoid deyhdration and cramp; and improve navigation. Staying on course and not dehydrating would have made my day much more of a success I think. The back-ache is just a fact of life.
The bike was pretty good, but I wasn’t really thinking much about the bike most of the time, just me! I have never before cycled 240 km in a day (210 course, 15 off-course, 15 to-from start). Now I know I can do it, I shall probably do it again, but I shall take greater care.