New Forest and Coast 100k Audax
I first did this event a few years ago with a friend and we made a real hash of it, losing the route and adding many extra miles on busy roads. Every year since I have meant to go back and do it properly but somehow it has never happened. This year I decided it was high time I redeemed myself.
I didn't really feel in the mood for turning this into a century ride by cycling to and from the ferry and I also fancied a spot of camping so we spent Saturday night camped a few miles from Yarmouth. As I cycled to the ferry on Sunday morning I met a steady stream of cyclists coming the other way. I was taking the easy option with the 100k route, these were the tough guys on the 200k – cycling 100k across the Isle of Wight and back before getting on the ferry to do the same 100k route that I was about to ride. The front bunch were travelling at quite a speed but those further back looked like normal mortals and I did wonder if perhaps I should have gone for the 200k route. I didn't wonder for long, I know for sure that if I rode 100k on the island I would then want to head home and put my feet up. I regularly ride 100k here and I've never once felt the urge to then go across to the New Forest and do another 100!
It had been sunny when I boarded the ferry but it was drizzling as I got off and pedalled rapidly to the start. As I signed on I was told to help myself to chocolate biscuits and bananas. 'Take as much as you like' said the nice lady, 'I've bought far too much as always'. Free food already, this was starting to feel like my sort of event!
We headed off at a nice steady pace, no one seemed to want to take responsibility for leading at this point. I had attached a small board to my handle bars with cable ties and had the route sheet firmly clipped to it. I was determined not to go wrong this time but I was also hoping to use my favourite navigational tactic of just following everyone else! We'd gone less than 3 miles when I had a horrible sinking feeling – my back tyre was flat. I pulled off into a gateway to fix it as the rest of the field pedalled past. Several people asked if I was OK. I was, but I was far from happy. A few moments ago I had been in the front group of an event, now I was on my own with a flat tyre in the rain! To make matters worse I couldn't find the cause of the puncture. I removed a miniscule piece of flint but was not convinced that it was the culprit. I put the wheel back on and hoped for the best. A quick squirt from my CO2 inflator (oh how I love this in such circumstances!) and I was back in business. It was now raining heavily. I was so glad I'd had enough sense to put the route sheet in a plastic bag, I nearly didn't bother as the forecast was for a dry day. I have to admit that I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, left behind after only 3 miles and not convinced that my tyre was going to stay up. I almost considered packing it in but couldn't live with the humiliation of admitting I gave up because I had a puncture in the rain and was afraid I would get lost on my own!
I set off riding hard to try to catch up. The route instructions were easy to follow and I began to relax a little although I was convinced my tyre was going down every time I rode over a rough patch. I passed a group of cyclists huddled under a lone tree trying to shelter, they had believed the forecast and not brought a jacket. I was now onto the open heath and the rain glinting on the heather reminded me of Scotland. It was misty, flat and exposed with no shelter anywhere from the teeming rain, a second puncture here would be just too grim for words. Fortunately my tyre remained solid and I began to overhaul the back markers. I'd been hoping for company but found I was enjoying riding on my own, I didn't need anyone to follow, the instructions were perfectly clear.
I past the first point where we went wrong last time by turning off too early. The first control was not far away but there was a sting in the tail as the route looped round up a series of sharp climbs. I past a couple struggling on a tandem 'I can't pedal any slower. We go at this pace or we get off' said an exasperated voice. Tandems it seems are not a recipe for domestic harmony! The rain was easing and by the time I reached the control at a garden centre cafe it had stopped. I was glad I had brought a flask and my usual saddle bag full of food as there was a long queue in the cafe, sodden cyclists mingling with the Sunday lunch crowd. I collected my sticker and settled down to eat my lunch on a pile of compost sacks. As I was eating, a familiar face arrived, Russell from the Isle of Wight, although to be honest it was his bike I recognised first! I don't know him well, we usually just wave as we pass each other going in opposite directions round the island but we decided to team up and finish the ride together. He was particularly glad the rain had stopped, he hadn't brought a jacket and had spent a while sheltering.
The second part of the route was where we had gone really badly wrong before but that was several years ago and it had now been changed to be both easier to follow and pleasanter to ride. We looped round to rejoin the morning's route before heading out of the New Forest and along the south coast looking across to the Isle of Wight, the Needles just visible through the mist. We were so busy admiring the view of Hurst Castle that we sailed straight past the information control and had to backtrack to record the number on the flood gate that we had past without noticing. There was then a choice of routes, the short way along the Ancient Highway, a rough gravel track close to the sea shore or the longer way along the road. I've ridden the Ancient Highway before, its very scenic but very rough – just the place for another puncture, so we took the slightly dull road route. Back at the hall there was a great spread laid on. Tea, rice pudding, tinned peaches and cake were put away rapidly before heading back to the ferry. A most enjoyable day!