There is definitely something perversely comforting about night riding and Tomsk's Green & Yellow Fields 300, with its one-minute-past-midnight start, delivers in spades: quiet roads, calm weather, deserted towns and villages, the moon and the stars, you can't see where you're going (so any hill could be either very big or just a blip), the dawn chorus at full volume, sunrise. I find a feeling of calm and serenity that I don't get during the day and I do enjoy a good bit of lanes by lamplight. There's also a feeling of mischief and insubordination about being out and about when everyone else is tucked up in bed.
Note: this ride report is a mild rewrite of my submission to yacf, here. Codified names are the nicknames of people on the forum, sorry about that. The post date has been changed to the date of the ride.
This is also an x-rated event, which means garage forecourts and supermarket benches, but it also means the organiser, Tomsk, can take part in the ride as well, which I think is great!
It was an eerie gathering at Manningtree Station, meeting up with Tim first at just after 23.30, and other riders joining a few at a time. I very nearly didn't make it because the guard at Cambridge refused to let me take my bike on the train as there were already twice as many as they claim it's safe to carry. He eventually relented when I
threatened offered to sing him anything he'd like and we proved it was still safe with one more.
This is only my second calendar ride since November, and only my second on funny-sized wheels, so there was a certain amount of double-take and friendly banter given and taken by those I had ridden with last year There was also an element of Russian Roulette, because the wheels were new — to include a dynamo for this event — and hand-built, by me — the first wheels I've ever built. And I hadn't even ridden them any distance yet!!
It was great to see Veloman, Big Saxon, DavidC, Rob, Halloween, Denise, others (whose names I will be reminded of in due course) and of course Tomsk at the start.
We started in the usual way: a rush up Cox's Hill to split the group. We followed Denise who had local knowledge about severe potholes on the provided route and so took us on a diversion … which also had potholes. But with another local, whose front door we passed, we were guided back to the given route, where we rejoined a few other riders. With a gentle tailwind and above-freezing temperatures we made good time.
The first stage is a 75km ride through Essex to Mildenhall (almost) and so was typically Essex-lumpy. We set a good pace and for a while Veloman and I sat on the front and made sure it didn't drop too far: it's easy in the dark to misjudge your speed and think you're going faster than you are, so I kept the numbers lit up and we cruised along nicely. There's no point in over-doing it, though, because Tomsk's rides tend to be 25kph upper speed, with a view to keeping riders grouped together for company, which works well. As we rode we seemed to pick up riders in ones and twos and it formed into a good sociable bunch, which I enjoyed (last year I tended to ride on my own or with a single partner, due to the gearing constraints I had imposed on myself).
At some point we must've dropped Denise, but in the dark it's impossible to tell from the front when riders are dropping off the back, because when you look behind you are blinded by all the head torches and bike lights, which is so disorientating that you're likely to unbalance into the nearest ditch! It's hard enough trying to take any photos. So, sorry Denise
We picked up Rob on his fixie after an hour or so and it was good to catch up on his news. Although he stopped to flip his wheel once we got to the end of Essex (and the route got a whole lot flatter), he soon caught us again and stayed with the group into Barton Mills (nr Mildenhall) control.
As others have said, it's a garage forecourt control, with two garages available on either side of the dual carriageway. We went to the "official" one, which is around the roundabout, but the cashier had been told we would be through by 01.30 — in fact the control doesn't open until 03.01 — and he wasn't able to open the doors now, so we returned to the first garage where we could go inside to warm up and get coffee. Even with this diversion we were exactly on time, so we'd ridden a good pace on the first leg — thumbs up to funny-sized wheels (and profligate number of gears)
Last year when we got to this control the forecast temperature of +2ºC had dropped to around -4ºC and fell further to nearly -7ºC!! Most people's bidons froze, as well as my brake cables (they are inverted and seemingly collect water). The cashier had refused to open the door and by the time I had a receipt, I was almost hypothermic!! Only riding away at high cadence restored any core warmth and my extremities were ice blocks for nearly half an hour. What a complete change for this year: nearly 10ºC warmer and plenty warm enough, a really pleasant evening to ride in Also, it seemed that most of the riders arrived within 15 minutes of each other and so it was a very sociable forecourt gathering at 3am — mildly bemusing for the cashier.
The second leg is an A-road bash in the dark around Mildenhall and Lakenheath airbases to Swaffham, which then becomes a laney/B-road sight-seeing fest in the morning's new light up to the Norfolk coast at Burnham Deeping for breakfast. In spite of the A-roads being fairly dull, we had a good group together and it was very sociable.
Most of our original group rode off before we were ready, so Veloman and I tucked down for a couple of kilometres work to tag back on the back — Veloman doing most of it, as he's a lot stronger. We tucked in at the back to let our legs recover, but the bhoot tandem was doing a fine job on the front keeping the pace high and Rob mentioned that it was a little too quick for him. I took the front again to bring the pace down a notch and ride to the numbers again, but Veloman mentioned that I may have mispaced it myself as the Red Bull was having a 'positive' effect
We caught up with Halloween and a VC Norwich rider (whose name I can't remember) and tucked in behind for a while. They seemed happy on the front and the pace was about right. The numbers suggested even at that pace we'd be at the breakfast control about 40 minutes before the café was due to open (and about 10 minutes after the control was due to open), so I suggested a short (3km) detour to MacDonald's in Swaffham for a coffee: the group voted yes and we turned off the main route momentarily. We arrived at McD's at 5am exactly when the doors were being unlocked and I daresay brightened up the staff's day … It was at this point I noticed we'd accidentally lost Rob, which was a shame: if he'd stayed with us then he would've been able to use the loo instead of the hedge as he reported elsewhere — sorry, mate :-[
It was a quick stop in McD's and we were quickly back out on the road. It was amazing how much lighter the world was than 20 minutes earlier and we could easily ride without lights now. Watching for the second left after we rejoined the route caught a few riders out: it's a fair distance to the first left, but the second left is right there with it, and everyone except a couple of us missed the turn and had to turn around, including the tandem, which was fun to watch ;)
Up through the gate into the picturesque Castle Acre and through to a lovely lane section. The sun was definitely up now and it was a lovely ride in the morning air. The pace was creeping up again as everyone felt renewed and awake and so alive on such a lovely spring morning! Again we set about chasing down distant red lights and passed a small group of riders, but an over-enthusiastic Garmin call put us on the wrong road and we had to double-back again, having been repassed by the group we'd just passed, with a bit of a shameface on
The final few miles drop down through some ancient woodlands and valleys and are truly beautiful in the morning light but we could feel the wind had risen and although so far it had been a quick run to the breakfast control, it was going to be a tough slog back southwards again!
Breakfast was slightly erratic: some of us were served very quickly (and possibly out-of-sequence) while others had to wait, but on the whole it was very efficient, and they certainly tried very hard to please, so thank you to the café staff. I had a full-English (standard size), which was great.
We set out again as a group with Veloman, the bhoot tandem, DavidC, Halloween (I think) and some others. We passed Denise coming at us from the wrong direction: looked like a navigational error somewhere? A couple of miles out Veloman mentioned I appeared to be a bottle down — aargh! I'd left it at the café having gotten them to refill it for me. No matter, it's gone now, only a couple of quid and more important to stick with the group.
The third leg is a bit of an anticlimax after the first two: it's a bit flat and passes through or near towns but not so many villages and uses more main roads. By now the sun is definitely up, although the skies have clouded over and it does look like we may get some of the forecast rain. It's a bit grey, really, and the stiff headwind is definitely going to make it a tough day on the bike, especially as the terrain doesn't provide many places to hide from it.
We caught up with the Tomsk train and Veloman took the front. It was quite a big group with plenty of riders to hide behind, but the discipline in the group wasn't so good and as riders moved around the wind blasted at me near the back. Veloman set a punishing pace and seemed to delight in the pain he was inflicting on those trying to hang on! I kept being pushed back and off in the wind and having to bridge back onto the group. After 15km the pace was just too hot and I had to drop off — I wasn't the only one, but I may have been the first.
From then on I spent at least two-thirds of the return journey on my own into the wind: a good bit of mental and physical endurance training. Last year at breakfast I had been suffering from the dozies BIG time, but this year an hour's kip in the afternoon appeared to have put that issue to bed, so to speak, and apart from ten minutes or so while on my own, I was pretty okay. However, this year I think I ate too much and of the wrong thing and was having trouble getting any energy to my legs: next year I will stick to the baked beans on toast and avoid the sausages, bacon and black pudding.
The lost bidon had a greater effect than I had thought it would: I had drunk about a litre in the first 150km and so thought 500ml for 70km would be okay. However, the extra effort into the wind and possibly a touch of thirst remaining from the first half, meant I was getting dehydrated long before Wymonhdam. I tucked onto the wheels of a couple of other riders for a couple of kilometres into Dereham and stopped to refill at the Co-op. A couple of riders followed me off-route and I didn't see them return, so hopefully they worked their way through the one-way system and out the other side okay!
Unfortunately I didn't take many pictures after breakfast, being on my own for so long.
On the final run to the Wymondham control I was picked up by Wilbur and Bunker, who I'd passed and been re-passed by on BCM last year, and DavidC (I think) and I tucked in behind for a chat. At this stage I was feeling it in my legs having been out on my own for 50km, and so I was happy to let someone else take the wind.
It's a peculiar feeling wandering into Waitrose at Wymondham in the middle of a Saturday morning: you're there in your smelly, sweaty, slightly uncoordinated cycling clothes, clacking your shoes on the hard floor, surrounded by middle class, middle-aged people doing their grocery shopping wondering what on Earth's happening! While I sat eating my salad on a bench, I was approached by a woman wanting to know more about where we were going and where we'd been, with the inevitable "are you riding for charity?" question :facepalm:
I was joined for lunch by Oscar's Dad, who I've ridden with before, but never been introduced to — it was good to chat with you. He explained he was taking it easy on the ride and being efficient in the controls, which is a great way to approach such a ride, and at this point I was wishing I'd done the same.
Not wanting to let my legs sieze up, I was back on the bike all too soon. I left Wilbur and Bunker finishing their lunch outside, fully expecting to see them later as they passed me again, since they were clearly much stronger than me at this stage.
The fourth leg to Needham Market is more up-lifting than the previous one, because there are more villages and farms and the like en route. Also, more hedges to hide from the wind, or maybe that was just my imagination? And it's still a reasonable distance at 60km, so plenty of time to get into a groove and keep pumping out the miles into that headwind.
By now my digestion issues seemed to have worked themselves out: I felt good and reasonably strong and able to work on my own steadily into the wind. My Garmin, though, indicates that I was exactly the same speed, so I just felt better. Nevertheless, apart from passing a couple of stopped riders, I didn't see anyone else on this leg.
One other thing I didn't see was an enormous pothole, which rattled the whole bike. Nervously I applied the brakes to see if there was any out-of-true brake rub, but fortunately the new wheels appeared to have held up well. Dodged a bullet, so to speak, whew! The wheels are still true today, another 70km further on.
In Stowmarket I opted for the slightly more direct main-road route to the Needham Market control, as I've ridden it before on a DIY, so know the cycle path's okay. As I was drinking my milkshake from the corner shop, the group I'd left breakfast with arrived from the another direction, having stopped for longer at the local farm-shop café instead. Veloman dropped off the group so we could ride the final 25km stage together, expecting the bhoot tandem to catch us at some point.
The final stage is a 25km mostly main-road bash through Essex to the finish, with several sting-in-the-tail climbs that Tomsk takes pleasure in at the end of a long ride :thumbsup: Nothing particularly huge, but enough to cause discomfort and a bit of swearing. Some short and beautiful laney stuff as well, through ancient woodlands replete with amazing swathes of bluebells — a picture that can't be captured on film (or digital). Glorious!
Reinvigorated by having good company, we started out on a bit of a time trial to hunt down the group just a minute or so ahead of us, but I was being far too optimistic and had to ask to cool the pace. It was a shame really, since Veloman had done such big turns on the front all ride long that I wasn't able to join him in the fun from here on in, but I was feeling pretty spent. We managed a steady 23kph to arrivée, including up several Tomsk-esque sting-in-the-tail climbs at the end of the ride, so not too shabby, but nowhere near quick enough to catch the others.
Some unexpectedly sudden crosswinds in the final kilometres caught my front wheel in a way I've never experienced before and nearly swerved me under the wheels of a 4x4 that was passing — smaller wheels aren't so badly affected and so I wasn't expecting this.
And then finally at the turn into the station and arrivée, where we met up with Tomsk and the rest of the previous group in the station café, shortly followed by bhoot.
Compared to last year that was not at all shabby: 16h25m (18h40m last year), 13h23m moving (14h42m moving last year).
As Veloman mentioned, I returned from New York on the red-eye on Tuesday, so jet lag may have been a factor, although I think I had that under control. The thing that I think made the difference was being off the bike for three weeks in US of A and putting on half a stone of flabby stuff — the only vegetable I saw in the entire first week was a carrot floating in a bowl of chicken soup! I felt unfit before the start and really felt it in the second half. I was also carrying the remains of a chest/throat infection, so wasn't feeling 100% anyway.
That aside, I am happy with my performance: a new bike and a year's fitness and experience mean I no longer worry about finishing any ride, which mentally affected me badly last year. I know I can finish in time, it's now a case of learning to be quicker — or at least how to ride with less effort — so I can enjoy the ride more. More practise, methinks.
Thanks Tomsk for another great event — always slightly different, always enjoyable, and I do like the stings in the tail you throw at us ;) :thumbsup:
No Asparagus and Strawbs for me this year: it's my sister's wedding that weekend. BCM the weekend before.