Tell a citizen you're going to ride 60 miles, and they look at you, mouth agape, as if you have just indicated a desire to to push yourself beyond the limits of human endurance. Tell them you've just ridden 140 miles in one sitting, and it barely registers as an interruption to their discussions on CelebrityWhoGivesA****Factor. Though it is the farthest I have ridden in one go - which is true - it wasn't as if I bounded up to people like an eager Labrador all wet nose and spindly legs. No, when asked what I'd done at the weekend, it was a simple "I went for a ride". Invariably - as I am The Cyclist on my floor of the office - this was followed by "Did you go far?". Now, I had ridden a long way, this is true, and the number was revealed. A very early start on a dark and grey Sunday lead me to ride off from my front door the few miles to the start of the Mere 200 audax. Having never ridden an audax, and living close enough to the start, I figured the least I could do was do as the Randonneurs must be doing, and arrive on two wheels. Spurning a lift from a club mate as he drove by window down "Doyouwannaliiiiiiiiiiiiifffftt?", I arrived in time to sign on and assess the other riders.
Expecting an eye gouging of hi viz, heirloom saddle packs and beards of similar heritage, disappointingly, only the first two were in evidence - the former because it was still dark, and the latter on one or two bikes clearly designed to be ridden all day by men and women with physiques telling quietly telling us they regularly tested that theory. I also thought audaxes were fairly sedate affairs. Apparently not as we set off at 20mph, upping it and then adding a little more. And all before 8:30. Though the slow dawn revealed only grey, there was an evident zeal to get to the cafe stop at 120k. As the miles ticked by, and the serious ones collected road sign info for the their cards and noted mileages, the group of us at the front gradually began to whittle down. Little wonder really, as the headwinds in Cheshire are insistent and nagging at this time of year. Mudguards and sizeable mudflaps did little to prevent the intra-group filth being thrown up and around as if muckspreading in Gloucestershire, and we arrived at the cafe wet and hungry. It was a literal truck stop, resplendent with a thick blue haze of frying and large portions of jet propelling beans on toast and custard soaked puddings. Not many truckers in this day, but we kept our end up, swaggering in as lycra coal miners. Thirty minutes of warmth passed, with little let up on the chatter, the tallest of tales and banter with new found friends. And then back out into the rain. By this time, our little group was as if Harry himself had addressed us and we rode knitted together for warmth. Wind on our tails, there was more willingness to hit the front, and in spite of the early season miles the pace was kept nice and steady. Tap, tap, tap. Though the dim January had never really shown light, night started to fall as we were within Bisto distance of HQ, village hall chairs and hot soup. And the biggest Bakewell tart that could be fitted into a jersey pocket. One of the happy few limped in late, having suffered a tyre failure within two miles of the end, so we loitered to bid him farewell before heading back out into the darkness and its sharp cold for the final few miles home, and a top up to 140 for the day.