New Forest On & Off Shore 200k Audax
The New Forest On & Off Shore is the only Audax calendar event to include the Isle of Wight and since I joined Audax last year it had become a 'must do' event. Actually I've been meaning to ride this for several years but I've always chickened out. I've ridden round the island umpteen times but I've always gone home and put my feet up afterwards. This event required that I catch the ferry and ride another 100k in the New Forest afterwards – a prospect that had never appealed! I have to admit I was worried about this one. The audax minimum speed of 14.5km per hour looks very generous but it includes all stops including those for catching ferries. A narrowly missed ferry at Cowes or Yarmouth could easily add an hour and if you then got a puncture or two or made a route finding error time would be disappearing fast. It would also be possible to finish within the cut off time but miss the last ferry home at 9.05 pm. I really didn't fancy riding 200k then sleeping on the floor of the ferry terminal!
I was feeling ridiculously nervous as I waited in Yarmouth for the ferry to arrive. The event actually starts in the ferry car park in Lymington and riders immediately board the ferry and head for Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight where, according to the route sheet, they would be joined by Isle of Wight riders whose brevet cards had been posted to them. I wasn't terribly surprised to discover that I was the only cyclist waiting for the ferry. I thought that this was a pretty low key event and was only expecting 20 or 30 cyclists to arrive on the boat. I got a shock when the ferry pulled in and almost 100 cyclists were waiting to disembark. As I said I was expecting 20 or 30 all sporting mudguards and carradice saddlebags. Instead there was a fleet of carbon bikes – no mudguards, no saddlebags, just lots of fit looking guys mostly sporting club jerseys. I wasn't expecting this and I felt totally intimidated. Should I just give up and go home now?
I joined on behind the first wave of cyclists to come off the boat and started heading for the Needles. Its basically uphill all the way and I was soon left behind by the first group and steadily overtaken by the second. Its a lovely ride up to the Needles and it made a nice change to hit the hairpins with fresh legs, I've usually ridden 40 miles by the time I get here. There was a control at the top to make sure no one missed this bit out and I joined the queue to get my sticker. Riders were still coming up as I headed down and I was pleased to note that I wasn't the only one not riding carbon. There were hardly any women though. (59 riders completed the 200k, 6 were women. 31 riders completed the 150k, 3 were women).
Surrounded by faster riders, and still worrying about finishing on time, I hammered along far faster than I would normally ride round the island. Local knowledge meant I passed the first info control without needing to stop and headed on towards Bembridge. I found myself riding with a group from Lewes Wanderers. It was their first visit to the Isle of Wight and they were very impressed with how nice it is. There is no obligation to follow the route sheet, only to visit all the controls, and I had a trick up my sleeve! Ignoring the shouts from the Lewes guys that I was going the wrong way I headed along Adgestone Lower Road as they followed the instructions to take the Upper Road. My route was slightly longer but a lot less hilly. I wasn't sure if it would be quicker but it would definitely be easier. Rejoining the route there was no sign of the Lewes guys and I hammered on, hoping to beat them to Bembridge. Actually they caught me just before but they were very impressed by my route choice! There was a long queue at the cafe at Bembridge. No problem, I had my trusty flask and a large chunk of bread pudding so was refuelled and off while the others were still queuing. I knew that saddlebag would come in handy!
I chased off on the next leg to Cowes. I was getting a bit carried away now so when the lights changed just as I reached them I decided to follow the car in front as it went through them. It went left but I was going right just as the traffic started to come through with the lead car seeming to aim straight for me to teach me a lesson. He did. I won't do that again! Slightly chastened I continued to Cowes only to find the ferry just leaving. Damn! I went off to the shop to buy some much needed chocolate milk and returned to find the first fellow female audaxer I'd seen waiting for the ferry.
I'm afraid I didn't take my camera on this event so all photos were taken on other occasions.
I'd been hoping to catch the 1.10 ferry at Yarmouth which would mean that I could relax and forget about not finishing on time. Now I had a dilemma. I might still make it if I rode hard and it was slightly late, or I could just forget about it and go for the 1.50 which actually would still give me plenty of time. I knew I would be cursing if I took it easy and then found it had been a bit late so I would have caught it if I had made the effort. There was only one thing to do. There was quite a group of us now all with one aim – the 1.10 ferry. We hared off up the hill from the ferry but it was soon clear that I was going backwards, the other lady overtook me and the group disappeared into the distance. It might have been sensible to give up but I persisted, puffing and panting as I rode flat out to Yarmouth. I thought I'd blown it, there were only a couple of minutes left, but I was closer than I realised and just made it, breathless and dripping in sweat, as the ramp closed behind me.
I now had 35 minutes on the ferry to eat my sandwiches, drink as much tea as possible, refill my flask and get myself into a fit state to ride the remaining 100k. It seemed a tall order. I really shouldn't have pushed it so hard, I was knackered and still had another 100k to go! As we queued to leave the ferry I got talking to the other lady. She was riding the 150k. Great! She was faster than me and had only half as far to go. Depression was setting in. Why hadn't I chosen the shorter route? My feelings were in stark contrast to my last 200k when nothing would have persuaded me to take the shorter route. Now I was sorely tempted to follow my new friend on the shorter route home!
The main bunch disappeared into the distance leaving the two of us to cycle together. I began to cheer up a bit. It was a fine day, I always enjoy cycling in the New Forest and, unlike the Isle of Wight, there are very few hills. When we reached the parting of the ways it was a bit of a non event. She carried straight on, I turned right and with a quick wave I was on my own but back to enjoying myself again.
It was a warm day and my water bottle was getting low. I didn't want to drain it as I knew there were a couple of sharp hills before Cranbourne and little prospect of acquiring anything else until then. I had my flask but didn't want to stop before the next control. I knew I must be getting very thirsty when I started fantasizing about Coca-Cola! The control was at the pub in Cranbourne and I was rather surprised to find a large number of cyclists lounging in the garden drinking beer and eating crisps. How the other half live! I had a quick orange squash, finished my flask, more of my trusty bread pudding and was on my way again. It was good to know that many of the people who had been in front of me were now behind me, even if they would probably catch me later! Even better was the fact that the return route was almost completely flat and I had a tail wind. Weehoo! I can do this! With no more worries about time I had a pleasant peaceful ride back, chatting briefly to other riders before they left me and went on their way. The route heads down to the coast from where the first control on the Needles is plainly visible. It seemed a long time ago now!
I always enjoy cycling along this last section through Keyhaven and past Hurst Castle. The flat coastal scenery is completely different from anything else in the area and the Isle of Wight looks great from this angle. It was a pleasant peaceful end to the day.
Back at the finish I hurriedly gobbled down some pasta before dashing off to catch the 7.25 ferry home. The day ended as it began – in a bit of a rush!