An Audax is a long distance cycling event. The course is not marked, instead participants must navigate using a route sheet – a set of instructions telling you where to turn and what places to head for. As far as I can tell, distances start at 100km and go up – 200km seems to be normal for a “short” one, 300km, 400km, 600km all exist, and then you get to the really stupid distances… There’s a minimum time (for shorter ones, it corresponds to 30km/h) and a maximum time (which also depends on the the length of the ride, for the shorter ones it is 15km/h).
I came across the Snow Roads Audax on a cycling forum a couple of years ago, and for some reason thought “I want to do that”. The route is quite simple: over Cairn O’Mount to Banchory, north to Dufftown, then south over The Lecht to Braemar and back to Kirriemuir via Glenshee. The webpage says 4800m of climbing… So this year’s training involved getting the running miles in to be able to run the London marathon at the end of April, while not neglecting the bike. Since I finished the marathon, I have not run at all. Instead I’ve cycled around 1500km, including 4 long rides – back-to-back 100 milers to visit my parents, another at about 150km and another of 185km. It wasn’t ideal, because I would have liked to do a 200km, but it would have to do…
So I arrived at the hall in Kirriemuir where we some of the riders would be staying, sleeping on the floor. Food was provided, and I got a nice corner to myself. We were all up at 5am for breakfast, and off at 6am. 75 of us streamed out into the early morning sunshine – it was forecast to be a beautiful sunny day, and the forecast was right – wall-to-wall sunshine, hardly a cloud in the sky. I got dropped off the back fairly quickly, and did wish I’d tried to stay with the group for a bit longer. However I just went on at my own pace which was probably a good thing. Soon we were on the first climb of the day – Cairn O’Mount. This is probably the hardest of the three in the sense that it has the longest stretches of steep stuff – if does come early on in the ride, however! Over that, down through the first control at Strachan and on through Banchory. For a time I chatted to two men on a tandem – I was told that the older of the two is in his seventies…
The next section of the ride takes you through the Aberdeenshire countryside to a place called Oyne, where the next control was. This was a relatively easy section, rolling gently along, though you did need to keep an eye on your navigation… somewhere on this section I ended up riding with a man called Aidan, and another man whose name I never got – this is apparently quite usual in Audax, you just ride with whoever is around. The cafe at Oyne was great – they’d set aside one room for the cyclists, with jugs of water for us to refill our bottles, and were turning out soup and sandwiches as fast as they could. (Obviously they made money from all that soup, but I liked their attitude in terms of making sure we got our food as quickly as possible.) I had an interesting conversation with one of the ladies on the counter who remarked on the fact that I’m female and that there are very few women doing Audax – something I hope to blog about more in another post.
From there we headed for Dufftown – I carried on with Aidan for a bit and then decided that I couldn’t quite keep up with him and let him go on ahead. There way you demonstrate that you’ve completed an Audax is by showing that you’ve visited all the controls – the route is the shortest distance between those points. So you have a card which you have to get marked in some way. The first control (in Strachan) was two volunteers with a stamp. The cafe in Oyne had a stamp too (there’s no obligation to stop for food, just most people do). Between Oyne and Dufftown there was an “information control” at a place called Rhynie where you had to answer a question about a sign in a shop window. Then you had to get a receipt in Dufftown to prove you’d been there. I still had a lot of my own food left, so I decided to just buy some drink (and some chocolate) and keep moving.
The section from Dufftown was the hardest section of the ride – the climb over The Lecht itself wasn’t very bad (there’s one very steep section which was hard, but the rest was OK) but it is followed by two more climbs which old hands informed me are known as Bastard Hill 1 and Bastard Hill 2… then there’s a descent to the Dee valley and Braemar, before the final climb over Glenshee. The descent off The Lecht was quite steep, and just after that I was caught by a group some of whom I’d spoken to in the hall the night before – they suggested that I join them for a tea stop, and I accepted – we called into a very nice cafe and it was nice to have a rest. So on (over Hills 1 and 2, with some fine views over the high moorland to Lochnagar) to Braemar where beans on toast were being provided in the village hall at the final checkpoint. I decided not to hang around for my friendly group because they cycled faster than me – I thought they would catch me up. The Glenshee climb is relatively easy compared to the others (coming up from the south would be hard). I passed a few people going up it and they all passed me again on the descent! When you get to the turning off the Glenshee Road it tells you how far it is to Kirriemuir – only 19 miles – and yet I thought I might not make it, I’m not sure why. On and on, slowly and steadily through the gathering dusk – and I made it back before it got dark, much to my surprise. I was exhausted – I couldn’t even summon up the energy to speak to my wonderful boyfriend. I got my soup and bridie (for a £10 event there was quite a lot of free food…) and went to bed.
That’s possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done… there’s no way I can see myself going for longer distances than that.