The event "Benjamin Allen’s Summer Outing" is a brutal 605km cycling event through Mid Wales, starting from Bushley, Nr Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. As an Audax event, it has control points at Talybont-On-Usk, Llandovery, Pontrhydygroes, Wigmore, Allensmore, Shepherds Patch and Bushley. The aim is to complete the event in under 40 hours. NRC Rider Gideon Rabinowitz lets us know how he got on …
This weekend of madness started on Friday evening with me driving to Tewkesbury for a short overnight stop and carb load before waking at 3am to get ready for the send-off at Bushley at 5am with the objective to be back at Bushley just after 6pm on Sunday – the plan was to be awake for 39 hours!! So, I ask myself how did it come to this?
I started road cycling a few years back and in 2020 I joined the Audax club, well, I mean I paid my subscription and did one 200km ride before Covid hit the world… then spent the time reading tales of valour in Arivee, never imagining I could do such things. January 2022 arrived and the chance to apply to do London Edinburgh London (LEL), so after consulting with my wife, I mindlessly pressed the apply button and then I was in. OMG a day or so later I’m wondering “what have I signed up for….”. I’d done LEJOG three times – a professionally organised event covering a mere 100 or so miles a day fully supported, but this, oh no, LEL is different! So, I started to book some rides and was given some advice by LEL veterans regarding what experience I should get – they said I needed a couple of 600km rides under my belt! I started to plan my spring and after some 200k, 300k, a failed 400k, a successful 400k, here I was in Tewkesbury Premier Inn, reviewing the sanity of my predicament facing my first 600k.
There were about 50 riders in the car park and we set off from Bushley at 5am, after Mark, the organiser had briefed us with the control changes. We travelled up what felt like a short rise to Simmons Yat and to the first control. After that there was some gravel path cycling, which was an interesting change to the tarmac, eventually ending up in Talybont on Usk at 70km for some well-earned breakfast. I always find on rides I can’t wait to get to the control, then when I arrive it’s always a race to eat and go! As the sun rose higher it had started to warm up and the slow strip off commenced, stuffing the layers into my seat pack. This felt like good going.
Then came a bit of climbing and along a lovely river valley floor to Llandovery for the main control point and some great lunch at the West End café. After that it got really hilly and I confess to walking some of the hills then, up and down to Tregagon, negotiating escaped sheep on the road. We also went over Devils bridge (another walking job!), then got very close to the coast near Aberystwyth which was stunning at dusk, and we could see the sea! That was another free control, so we ate our tea being looked on by Saturday night revellers in Wales. Several of us had our bums pinched…they must be really sad because we certainly would have smelled rank by then.
At some god-awful hour when it had turned dark, we ended up in Machynleth, where a glamorous Spar supper of chocolate milk, sandwiches and crisps was consumed on the pavement. Now it was real night riding so all gear was put back on ready to face a bit of rolling terrain and then some narrow and very steep climbing with a switchback where one rider fell off because it was so sharp! Heading through this area I was alone and on a slow hill I was followed for some distance by a car before being slowly overtaken and asked, at midnight, by a very kind lady driver, if I was OK. I thought I was just in her way, but her brother is a cyclist, so I think I know what she was thinking seeing a lone cyclist in the middle of nowhere and I was touched by her concern.
Eventually the climbing stopped followed by 14km of fast downhill sections in the dark of night. This would have been welcome relief, and even fun in the daylight, but in the dark it had to be taken carefully. The temperature had dropped quickly during the evening from a high of 24oC during the sunny day down to 3 oC and even with all my layers on and pedalling hard I was still really cold. I eventually ended up at Wigmore at 400km for the night stop shivering and very tired to be greeted by Mark asking for my works of fiction, (Brevet Card) and telling us he had been unable to get mats and just to lie on the hall floor! Well, I say night stop, but I lay down for 90 mins and dozed fitfully, but woke up being able to consume breakfast. I was quite surprised at what a difference a short nap made.
Off we went to Hay-on-Wye – more bloody hills – but then I got back in my stride and motored on so well after my snooze that I missed my next control point. Apparently, someone did shout as I whizzed past but I did not hear, and it was not until I was walking up another hill, I was told I had missed it some time ago, about 10 miles back. To say I was not amused, would be an understatement, the air went blue!
So, after conquering the rolling hills on the route down to Monmouth, more liquid refreshment was on-boarded, from which vicious hiccups ensued, then I headed off into the Forest of Dean for a fast section along the river, which when crossed, became a series of long climbs leading up to Chepstow Racecourse. One thing that I kept thinking was that having come up we would have to go down and then up again to get to the bridge, but somehow the route took me directly to the top of the Severn Bridge entrance – a welcome surprise. It’s the 4th time I’ve crossed the bridge this year on the bike, so although the exposure is always breath-taking, now the crossing itself is bordering on routine.
Then back onto some rolling roads and all was going smoothly when I became aware that my rear end was growing into an oasis of pain. The sweat was not the required lubricant in this area, but I didn’t have access to a suitable treatment so I cycled much of this section standing up! At this time my Wahoo rebooted for the second time and I thought my luck had turned. I later discovered this happens at about 275km and they don’t know how to fix it, but stopping to try to get it going again gave 10 mins of much appreciated bottom respite before heading off to the Black Shed control. The next route was down the canal path, bumpy and uneven with my bottom taking all the pain now; continuing into the centre of Gloucester through a tortuous pedestrian route, where the Sunday shoppers had no idea that you were exhausted and in pain, and then ambling to final journeys end at 605km.
I got some very strange looks running into the hall, with the click clack of my cleats turning heads, looking in vain for the loo that I was eventually told (having had my Brevet card demanded of me) I had just passed in my urgency. That was at about 18.10 …. Just under three hours before the cut-off - I’d done my qualifying time! I now know that anyone who says they do not have a sore arse on a long Audax is either lying or has a severed feeling of one’s rear end.
To say I was tired is an understatement, but in really a short time my bike was loaded back in the car and I ambled off home getting in for 9pm where I turned myself into a human being then fell into bed! So that was the weekend. Monday was an indistinct semi-conscious blur, followed by Tuesday which was just a blur. Human interaction really started on Wednesday.
Now I am provisionally an SR in the Audax community (awaiting authorisation), which stands for Super Randoners, for doing a 200, 300, 400 and a 600 all in the same season and it gets some pre-qualifier to next year’s PBP or Paris Brest Paris. If you told me on January 1st that I’d be signing up to LEL, and have pre-qualified for PBP, by May; I would have been at the least a bit sceptical!!
So that was it, 40 hours of amazing experience, unpronounceable Welsh towns, and a degree of pain… I recommend it to anyone like me, under the age of 127 with a lack of self-belief. Oh, and the stats; 602 km, 22,150ft of climbing, average heart rate of 119 bpm, (I won’t frighten you with what it got up to in the heat of the day on a big climb), 22,000 kilocalories burned and I have no idea of any material weight loss that I will now quickly replace.
I’ve met so many people so far on this short journey and on this ride, there were many faces I remember, but only a few names, Carina, (who I met on my 1st Audax this year and the Dean, Peter from Reading who I apparently sat next to at breakfast in Wigmore, Ian an LEL veteran giving lots of good tips and Kevin at who shouted at me at the control I missed. Lastly big thanks to Mark Rigby, Chris James and all the other Audax organisers who make these adventures possible, kudos to you all.
Gideon Rabinowitz. Newbury Road Club. July 2022