Yes, he’s been at it again! NRC’s intrepid Audaxer has just completed the 312 km ‘Railway Connections’, organised by Bristol-based Great Western Randonnees. Starting in Warmley Station, the route heads towards Didcot Railway Station onwards though the Cotswolds and to the railway museum at Toddington, winding back through Ross-on-Wye and finishing back in Bristol. Gideon Rabinowitz shares his cold and soggy diary of the day...
Another winter adventure for me and my bike!
“Having completed LEL in 2022, I was unfortunately hooked on my next target, which if you know your Audax worship goals has to be Paris Brest Paris or PBP in 2024. To enter PBP you need to pre-qualify in 2022, by riding over 1,000 km in one go, (tick- done) and then you have to do it all again to qualify, by doing BRM (Brevet de Randonneurs Mondiaux) Audaxes of 200, 300, 400 and 600km. I’d got two 200s done in February and now it was time for my first 300 of the year and what a time to pick! It would be cold, it would be wet, it would be challenging.
Late despite my early start
"So, let’s start with step one, getting out of bed, hard anyway but harder at 4.00 in the morning, only to be in the pre-packed car with 5 layers on, and off by 4.20 with nothing but a half full bag of Maltesers and a curry pasty to sustenance. Journey was uneventful apart for looking at the external temperature drop below zero …and stay there. Many was the time I thought, should I just turn around and return to that warm bed I’d vacated? I got to Warmley in Bristol at around 5.50, with 10 mins to unpack the car and get to the start, which I did, just as all those riders who’d got out bed earlier than me promptly departed! I collected my card, said hello to organiser, Will Pomeroy, and off I popped, in some vague hope I would see someone again.
"Off, passing where I’d parked the car wondering when I would see it again. Up lots of hills making our ways towards Bath, the dark subsided only to be replaced by a grey sky with flecks of snow, even with all my layers, it was cold, plus there were lots of frozen puddles on the verges. Fortunately, it was dry and the roads were gritted, so no mishaps… it got brighter as I approached the outskirts of Swindon via a very steep hill and then on to familiar roads going through Wilshire; Ashbury, Uffington and on to Oxfordshire.
Who ate all the pies?
"Luckily the Oxfordshire plain is flat and I started seeing other riders – not many and eventually made it to Didcot at around 11.45 at 108km. The entrance was via the main station and to the end to the railway centre to be greeted by Will again, who was the bike monitor. We walked 100 meters to the café and, as you expect there was a queue and a diminishing number of pies, to which the lady behind the counter said “no one had said that we would be buying food!” So, I put dibs on that last pie, fortunately the rider Infront of me wanted a baked potato, (or it would have meant a bail to McDonalds) so I got my wish of pie and beans. Tea and lunch consumed, card stamped off we went again.
Feeling deflated in Didcot
"Coming out of the station noticed I had a flat, this was a bit of a nightmare as my tubeless would not inflate ☹ and my first tube had a hole and the second inflated with the help of some local cyclists to help sooth my panic, only to start deflating again. Failure felt like it was near, well I was probably at one of the closest places to a station and a somewhat easier way back to Bristol but I teamed up with a couple of lady riders – Lynne and Fiona who in my hour of need donated a new tube, which I duly fitted an caught them up on the way to Toddington. The weather had stated to turn and the was light cross wind and it was getting rather wet.
Toddington to Ross-on-Wye
"Made it to Toddington at 186 km – railway centre for an excellent and large pie, mash, peas and lashings of gravy. All too much for me. Quite a few cyclists were there by now, so I was not alone. Food consumed, ablutions completed, card stamped and off into the grotty weather I went, and it got wetter and colder and by now at 5.00 pm … darker. I saw more riders …which was nice in the dark, and made it by about 8.00pm to Ross-on-Wye services at 240km – Burger King where the clientele were kids in suped up cars and sad wet, cyclists. Tea and nuggets plus that all-important receipt and then back into the dark I went. My light was showing about 11 hours of charge so should be enough for Bristol, didn’t stop me panicking though!
Night ride up the Wye Valley
"The dark got darker and up a number of long hills came and went on the way to Chepstow, where it got misty just to add to the fun factor. Up and down at speed if I could see enough, slow if not and into Chepstow down the hill to the bridge. Quick stop for chat and up out of the town to the bridge. By this time I was alone again and followed the route on my Wahoo only to be greeted a large gate across the cycle path stating in no uncertain terms ‘BRIDGE CLOSED’ . Oh what to do? Well for me it was simple, lug the bike over the gate, clamber over and off I set slowly waiting for the ‘gottcha’ when I’d have to turn back or throw the bike in the river. Well, I didn’t suffer that fate, but was greeted by a second gate at the south side of the bridge and repeated the procedure.
Home straight to Bristol
"Then back onto familiar dark roads, happy my light was still working well. Up and down and eventually into the outskirts of Bristol. Some interesting detours to find the cycle paths and by about quarter past midnight, yes it was now officially Sunday, found myself approaching the platform at Warmley station. Greeted by Will, with lots of cakes, tea, coffee and relax. Light relief was via a Tardis, (I kid you not), where the toilet was located plus there were few other riders. One said they recognised me from my article in this quarter’s Audax magazine, it appears I’m famous now.
"Finally I got to look at my phone to let Ruth know I was alive, with dark warnings of the drive home it being so cold. That turned out to be funny as by the time I started the car it greeted me with a balmy 8 degrees Celsius… Not quite sure how I got home, the Satnav said I would arrive at 2.30 am which I did. Fell out of the car with second pasty in hand. Up the wooden hill, showered and in bed by 3.00 am! Only 23 hours this time.
"Sadly few pictures as this time as I was in rush! So that was an adventure, really gruesome weather. I had booked Mark Rigby’s ‘A Rough Diamond’ next weekend but don’t need to do that now as I got this one in the bag. Next stop London-Wales-London LWL in April.”
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