Updated: Sep 28
WORDS & PHOTOS | LINDSEY BONNER
Ferocious headwinds, an un-syncable Garmin or the barbed words of inner demons could not stop Lindsey Bonner from completing her first Audax ride.
203km. 126 miles. Whichever way I looked at the numbers, today’s ride was a daunting one. Throw in the fact that the route hadn’t downloaded onto my Garmin properly, and the nerves had well and truly kicked in on the short ride to the Hop Pole pub, the meeting point for Benjamin Allen’s Spring Tonic – my first ever Audax ride.
This was not my first attempt at 200km, but I was hoping for it to be my first success. I’d had a bash on New Year’s Eve in a final push to complete the Rapha Festive 500, but after a fall, a bent rear mech hanger, and three punctures in quick succession I decided to scratch and call the support vehicle, also known as my Dad. Getting around safely and incident free would be a good result this time.
As a predominantly solo rider, I tend to shy away from big organised group events, and have no appetite for racing or competition, so when I heard about the specific format of Audax, it definitely caught my attention and despite this being out of my comfort zone on many levels, I signed up.
An Audax ride, or randonnée, is a self-supported cycling event, with a set route and a fixed time limit to complete the ride, varying by distance from 50km right through to an eye watering 1,400km. For my 200km, I had to finish within 13 hours and 28 minutes, but crucially this includes all stops – from the coffee, to the cake, to the nature wee, to photo opportunities, to any kind of break, the clock does not stop ticking.
In addition, there are a number of mandatory checkpoints, known as controllers that the rider has to pass through. I had four, some of which required me to get a receipt from a local business or ATM in the control location, others were a stamp in my Brevet card, and one was a question I had to answer that I’d only know if I was at the right location.
I loved the idea of this as a way of breaking up longer distances, as well as not having to think about refuelling stops as part of route planning, with most of the controls having hot food and drinks available to buy.
As I walked into the pub where the other riders were gathering to start, the lack of diversity was immediately apparent. I counted only a handful of women out of a field of around eighty.
I found a friendly face at the bar, explained that this was my first Audax and wanted to know where to get my Brevet card from, what will happen at 7:30am when the ride started, and generally offloaded my nerves. “Don’t worry, it’s super relaxed”, they explained. And he was right.
Whilst some riders were raring to go on time, others held back enjoying a more leisurely coffee. There was no fanfare or any sort of official start, but the thirteen-and-a-half-hour countdown began at 7:30am, regardless of any stragglers.
Off I pedalled, pretty much one of the last out the door due to my standard last minute faff, and ‘just one more’ emergency wee. I’d ended up sticking one headphone in and following Komoot audio guidance to navigate the route, which was actually pretty easy and saved me constantly having to check my phone whilst riding. I settled into a rhythm, and soon caught up with some riders, undoubtedly having headed out far too fast, despite my better judgement and advice I’d been given.
I spent the first ninety minutes riding alone, until I was joined by Dan, a seasoned Audax rider, who had been enjoying the events for the best part of three decades since his first at just 13 years old. We chatted about my upcoming bike tour from Turkey back to the UK and he recounted stories of his own adventures across Canada. He also shared how he was riding today in honour of his late friend John who he’d completed many Audax with in the past, pedalling the route on said cycling buddy’s fixie.
The remainder of the 57km to control one at Leominster flew by, but the unforgiving winds meant I was ready for a hot drink and some respite from the February air. I’d been worried about how busy the check points would be, with such a large field of riders, but one of the benefits of having started at the back, and not being particularly quick in comparison, meant most had already left and I bagged myself a seat and a hot chocolate inside the café.
I was joined at my table by Richard, a seasoned randonneur, who normally rode with his wife but was solo today. We chatted and ended up at every checkpoint throughout the day together which was welcome company to break up the long day in the saddle alone.
Having checked the wind reports, I knew the next stretch to Control Two was going to be tough.
40km into 20mph direct headwind meant my speed plummeted and I felt like I was pedalling nowhere. I battled the demons in my mind that tormented me about my speed and whether I was able to finish the distance, needing to remind myself the trickery of the wind was at play here. It was head down, keep pushing and try to beat the rain to Hay-on-Wye for lunch and to refuel before the biggest climb of the day up to Snodhill.
I ate into the kilometres little by little and felt pretty strong leaving Control Three, finally believing I was capable of finishing, but knowing I’d be riding the last couple of hours in the dark. Dare I say it, I think I was actually quite enjoying myself.
About 10km from the finish, I faced my second rookie mistake of the day; with my front light battery dying I was plunged into darkness on some remote country lanes. Erring on the side of caution, with a very mediocre iPhone torch, made for a very slow finish, and was relieved to arrive back to base with just over an hour to spare before the cut off. Dan & Richard were kindly waiting for me at the finish, having informed the race organiser that I had returned safely.
I had heard positive reports about the Audax community and discovering that two complete strangers had my back out there on a cold February evening was all the evidence I needed.
BEFORE YOU GO!
If you'd like to watch Lindsey's adventure in a bright televisual medium have a gander below!