Cycling in Sydney Australia
...and as any self-respecting randonneur would do, I checked the Audax UK website for rides and there was one starting at 08:00 only 50 mins by train from London Liverpool St which happens to be a mere 2km ride from my brothers flat. Next, bike....? Can I hire a road bike or will I have to get my bro's 80s steel MTB road worthy? Yes, yes I can hire a road bike, and only 10-15 mins walk from my brother's flat. No excuses.
So, on Saturday morning, I found myself standing on a street of converted warehouses waiting for my Garmin to find satellites. Good luck with that and I have a train to catch...
Somehow I managed to navigate my way over Tower Bridge (that was actually the very easy bit, but enjoyed riding over it) and all the way (all 2km of it anyway) to Liverpool St station without making a wrong turn. Plenty of time to get tickets and get onto the train.
As I approached the train, unsure of bicycle/train etiquette, I noticed a suspected audax bike on the first carriage so hopped on. The owner, whose name now escapes me, was wearing a PBP flouro jacket.
"I guess you're doing the audax ride at Henham then?" I ask.
So we started talking bikes and stuff, and were soon joined by another rider called Kate who was also on the ride and wearing a LFGSS ladies jersey, which made me feel very suburban despite her having a geared bike for the ride.
Anyway, my hired bike, audaxed up and on a train:
50 mins or so later the train arrived at Elsenham station and we disembarked and jumped onto our bikes for the short ride up to the Shaftesbury CC clubhouse where the ride started from.
Flying the Audax NSW flag by wearing my Audax NSW jersey, a very friendly Mick...
...knew who I was and was disappointed at my lack of aussie accent. You can just see it in his face :). He told us to ignore the far to many informational checkpoints (8 informational and 3 proper) and just get the card signed/stamped at the main controls which was a relief as I did not have the full details in my Garmin, only the route. With ~40 starters for just the 200km ride, it was certainly bigger than the vast majority of Australian audax rides so I was sure there would be someone I could keep up with to find the checkpoints anyway.
As I walked out of the clubhouse just before the start of the ride I heard "You look like an Australian!" in a broad aussie accent thus proving the rule that wherever you go there is always an Aussie. We rode together at the start of the ride for all of 1km until he decided he had a derailleur problem and stopped to sort it out. Another person whom I chatted to whose name now escapes me.
I found myself riding by myself through the picturesque and relatively flat farming country (not pronounced with a silent R as my toddler son does) of rural Essex, with only one rider, looking like he was TTing it, in front of me, expecting the UK equivalent of a Howard or Ricky to come steaming past me at some point. 10km later, still waiting. 20km, still waiting. ~30km Kate and another rider I had not met called Ian caught me up at a good rate, so I hopped on.
A couple of km later with a truck approaching us from the other direction Ian, leading, calls, in a Scottish accent (I think - genuinely struggle with british accents nowadays), "Truck down!".
After avoiding said motor vehicle, the calls being more important than oz due to the much narrower country roads, I ask something similar to "Excuse me kind sir, I only speak Australiancyclese would you be so kind as to provide a translation for me?"
"DOWN yer throat and UP yer arse!" <smile>.
I laugh and on we ride.
We arrive at the first checkpoint, a picturesque canal-side cafe. They actually had someone sitting there, stamping cards and making a note of the riders stopping there. I guess that's what happens when you have a lot of riders and a proper club type culture. Worried that my new found followies would depart without me I just grabbed some carrot cake and waited for them rather than take the obligatory riders eating cake at a checkpoint photos.
On we rode through more picturesque, even on a cloudy day, country Essex villages and very quiet country roads until we arrived back at the clubhouse for the 115km-ish checkpoint just as it started to drizzle. The clubhouse has been turned into a home cooked fantastic value cafe.
I failed to take full advantage though, indulging in just a cheese and salad roll and a banana, but did remember to take some photos, including all of the photos above and the one of a very interesting Airnimal folder below:
Refreshed, Ian, Kate and I rode off into the drizzle to do the second loop crossing into Herts, the county (wonder how my son would pronounce that) of my teenage years. Lots of familiar names on road signs. Having chatted a bit over lunch, there was a lot more friendly banter on this part of the ride. The roads were also a lot narrower and more slippery - all of us almost lost the rear wheel on a few corners so we slowed down significantly.
This photo was actually taken where we had been staying the week earlier, but it is sort of road we were mostly riding on:
The difference between riding in Australia and the UK was highlighted on one short climb on a very narrow road. A woman in an Audi (don't know why the car brand is significant... honest...) was descending, albeit slowly. There was a natural gutter on our side of the road, which left less than 50cm to pass the car. Leading, I squeezed through with my tyres right on the edge of the road, however, Kate slipped into the gutter and Ian hit her rear wheel - not hard and both remained standing. Kate shouts out:
"You could have left us some room!"
Car stops, door opens, woman gets out. I expect "Get off the fuckin' road" or something similar. Instead I hear a sincere
"I'm really sorry! Are you ok?"
"Yes. We are ok. But you could have left us some room"
On we ride, until Ian gets a puncture. Most of the country roads in the UK seem to be separated from the fields by hedges so it was not overly easy to find a spot to repair it. This gave me the only real opportunity for an on the road photo:
By now the drizzle has stopped and remained stopped for the rest of the day. The terrain on the second loop was noticeably hillier than the first 110km loop, nothing like Sydney... well that is not entirely true, it was a bit like rural North West Sydney, but without any of the gorges/big climbs. There was only really one climb that had steep sections of ~8% but it was a short km or two with Kate aptly demonstrating that perhaps it is true that fixies/single speeds make you quite a strong cyclist.
The final checkpoint was an "any shop/cafe" in Buntingford, a town that sounded very familiar, but I could not work out if I had been there before, had friends there in my teens or just knew the name. Getting too old, my memory fading or something I guess. We just stopped a Sainsbury's and I had my usual chocolate milk and filled up a bidon with a powerade. And maybe a chocolate bar. Or two.
Continuing on, we crossed the A505 just north of Royston. It occurred to me that the last time I had ridden on that road was when I was twelve when six of us decided to ride from Letchworth to Cambridge on our BMXs. Well actually, decided is a bit of a strong word. We just started off in that direction and just kept riding. Getting back from Cambridge was somewhat more interesting though involving at least two responsible adults with station wagons, and a few lectures on how not to be a teenager and not to do teenage things of course.
With around 50km (or ~31 miles, if people insist on using such primitive units) we worked out that we had no chance of making the 17:49 train so relaxed the pace as the next train was at 18:49. Ian apologised for his puncture slowing us down, but no biggie Kate and I had been following him around all day. We made it back to the club house in just after 18:00, so around 10:05 elapsed and 8:15/26.3kph moving for a 217 km ride. Not too shabby. Sat around drinking a coffee and eating a cake until it was time for Kate and I to ride to the station and catch the train back to London.
A short ride to the station and wait for the on-time train we spent the 50 minutes talking all sort of stuff until arriving back at Liverpool St where we departed ways. Due to my GPS problems in the morning, I had the cunning plan of keeping the GPS on on the train so that it should, hypothetically, be able to get a satellite fix more quickly. By jove, it worked. With my meticulously researched route back to my bro's flat there should be no dramas.... unless of course a key road on the route was closed, which it was...
So I found my way to the northern approach to Tower Bridge only to be held up by what I assume to be a bucks night on one of these, barman on board and all, which was absolutely hilarious:
Drivers were beeping, apparently not to express their displeasure, but in a "have a good one" way. They offered me several drinks as I rode past. I wondered at the reaction to one of these blocking the SHB. It certainly could not make it up the steps on the cycleway.
Would moving back somewhere for the transport options be stupid?
I had the bike for another couple of days, which allowed for one more adventure...