Audax Barnstaple Bash 200k brevet, 1996

Last year, Ann and I rode the Barnstaple Bash 200km Audax ride, but were bit by an unclear instruction (and unfamiliarity with the area). We were heading for Thorverton, looking for a 'T junction' (what are those in the US? where the road you're on ends by running into the side of a more major road) where we were supposed to turn left. We came to what we thought was a T, just above the town, and turned left. Wrong. That was actually an 'offset crossroads', where we were supposed to jink right, then left down into Thorverton.

This error took us over a nasty hill, and recovering from it added about 8 miles to the trip (and another nasty hill), the net result of which was that we timed out. (Our one Audax failure so far.)

Being annoyed by that, we decided that this year we were going to get our revenge, so we signed up for the ride again. This year, the ride was on 28 July; last year it had been on 24 September. We were looking forward to the extra daylight.

The ride runs from West Buckland in Somerset (not to be confused with West Buckland in Devon, which it passes by - two of the riders did confuse it, as a result of which they had a half-hour late start) to Barnstaple, on the coast, then south along the water to Great Torrington, and back east to the start. West Buckland is about 3 miles east of Wellington - more likely to appear on large-scale maps. The ride is organised by the local cycling club, the Wellington Wheelers.

We set out at 0800, on a cloudy morning. Within about 1.5 miles the remainder of the riders, about 80, had lost us. (This is normal, we do these things slowly. :-) However, there was a secret control at about 2.25 miles, where we caught up with everybody again. It took about 10 minutes to get through that control - 80 people in line, 1 rubber stamp - and we were to begrudge them the 10 minutes later.

Somerset fields have high hedgerows around them, and there is a fair amount of forest. The first part of the ride, therefore, was through hidden, shady country lanes. Occasionally there would be a gap, and you could look out at the world around and realise that you'd been climbing gently for quite a while, and had gotten higher than you'd expect.

About 15 miles into the ride, more or less, we missed the sign identifying 'Cracker Corner' where we were supposed to bear right (we hadn't yet appreciated that most crossroads on Exmoor seem to have names) and went most of a mile out of our way before stopping to ask a local. He sent us back to a corner that we'd been suspicious of, where there was indeed a 'Cracker Corner' sign - just not visible from the way we'd originally come in.

We recovered from that, and were bashing along some rolling country, when I hit a very large rock in the road. For a minute, I thought I'd gotten away with it, but after a couple of hundred yards my front tire went flat. Someone up there really doesn't want us to finish this ride. I walked the bike up about 50 yards to the top of the current 'roll', where there was a grassy spot with room for laying the bike down off the road.

I stopped to change the tube. Ann's involvement in this is minimal, mainly consisting of helpful comments like 'stop panicking', so I sent her on ahead, with the agreement that if I hadn't caught her up by the control in South Molton she would wait there. I can go faster than her on this type of terrain, so this seemed sensible. While I was changing the tire, I was passed by about a dozen people from the 150km version of the ride - it started half an hour later, but shares the route for the first part of the ride.

Tire fixed, I got back on the bike and started down the other side of this mini-hill. Ooops, I'd forgotten to reattach the bridge cable of the front brakes. Quick (not really, but certainly exciting) rear-brake-only stop to do that. Discovered that when I'd reset the brake shoes the night before, I'd set them so close to the rim that I couldn't actually stretch the straddle cable onto the canti arm, so did a quick roadside brake readjustment as well.

Then started hammering up the road to catch Ann. I overtook most of the 150km folk on the gently rolling part of road. Then came a steep hill - I don't do hills - where they trickled past me again as I crawled up. Then some more rolling road where I passed them again, and finally lost them.

There was another long uphill before Bampton, with a sign by the roadside 'AUK, tea finished'. A joke. At the top of the hill was a second secret control, with a tea stop. Ann was there, just about to set off. The fellow who stamped my card said we were doing fine for time, but I didn't believe him, so I told Ann we had better step on it a bit. I know it's a mistake to push hard this early in a 200k, but... So, we bashed down the hill into Bampton (but carefully - allegedly someone had already come off on the steep, wet hill), along the Exe Valley, and into South Molton.

On this part of the ride, it started to rain. I mean, rain. We passed several groups of people sheltering under trees by the roadside. Their mistake. A final push up the hill in South Molton, to the control. That's the kind of hill Ann does better than me, and when I arrived at the cafe she'd had her card stamped. As I dismounted, she grabbed my bike, and told me to get inside with my card, 'NOW'. I did. (I can take a hint.) I got an (honest) time stamp of 1159; the control closes at 1200. We stopped for a snack and some liquid, and while we were there the shelterers began trickling in - timed out.

Then came the run into Barnstaple itself. This was mostly downhill - South Molton is on the edge of Exmoor, and everything is mostly downhill, but there were two ridges that needed to be crossed and we crawled over them. Mercifully, the rain had (mostly) stopped, but in its place was a mild headwind. We fought that through Barnstaple, and then along the railway path to Instow for the next control. At least, we were catching up - we arrived there with about 15 minutes clear, despite our stop at the previous control. More liquid, and then it started to rain, so we sheltered outside the public toilets for a munch from our on-board supply.

There we met a couple of guys from Birmingham, who were also doing the ride. They were faster than us on the flat, but one of them was having trouble with the hills, so we'd retake them on the ups. (His shifter was refusing to shift into the low ring, so on hills where he thought he'd need it, he'd have to stop and pull the chain across. If it had been my bike, I'd have adjusted it there and then. However, we don't have enough time in hand for me to feel charitable, at least not to someone who is basically managing to keep up anyway.)

Proceeded along the railway track again until we reached the hill up into Great Torrington. A slow crawl, though not as bad as I remembered it. Then a bash, mostly rolling but with a few hills, to the control just before Winkleigh. This is more Devon-like, lower hedgerows and more open, so there were frequent beautiful - if misty - views of the surrounding countryside down below. We were staying even, and so had 15 minutes clear again when we arrived. More liquid, more food.

Then comes a long, almost flat stretch, bashing along to Copplestone. We're going in a different direction now, so the headwind is beginning to turn into a tailwind. Of course, it started to rain (I mean rain) yet again, but we still managed a good pace. Slowed down a bit by the hilly route bypassing Crediton, and on through Shobrooke and towards Thorverton.

At last, at the top of a long hill, that blessed corner, where we went wrong last year. Hee, hee, we know better now. Zipped down into Thorverton, where there was an 'info control'. (Answer a question printed on the time sheet - just to make sure you've been there.) About 25 minutes in hand based on the notional time for that point, even after a short stop to move some more supplies from our daypacks into our stomachs.

Gently up the Burn valley, until the instruction 'on reaching the A38 turn left'... It's clearing up, and the sun is actually trying to shine a bit. (A message from the gods?) We reached what looked like the A38, and turned left. About 1/2 mile along, we met the Birmingham pair coming the other way, and they flagged us down.

They'd taken that turn, and at the next intersection had found a signpost indicating that this was the A3181, not the A38. We waggled our maps at each other, and discovered that there isn't an A38 down here any more - they must have renumbered the road, and the route sheet hasn't been corrected. We convince them that this has to be the right road, there just aren't any other possibilities, and we all carry on in the direction Ann and I had been going. Sure enough, a mile or so along is the Willand Service Station, just as described - the next-to-last control.

Despite the extensive map-waggling session, we've held our 25 minutes, so we get our sheets stamped and stop for a munch and another massive infusion of liquids. It's starting to dim a bit, so we put on our 'side-lights', the LED backups for our proper lighting. Don't really need lights yet, but... The two Birmingham lads aren't sure of their lighting, so they set off a few minutes before us.

From there, it's just another 13 miles of (reasonably gentle) run back to the start. Ann and I pull in with about 32 minutes to spare, expecting to be last in - as usual. We turn in our cards and grab a cup of tea and a bit of cake. The Birmingham lads roll in about 5 minutes later. They took a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up behind us. Sigh, our rightful last place stolen from us by a quirk of fate. But, at least we showed the Bash who's in charge. :-)

Distance: officially, 128 miles. Well, really officially, whatever that is when turned into kilometers; the Wheelers haven't gone metric yet. We measured it at 135, including about 2 miles of being off-course. Climb: about 6850 feet (Avocet 50 measurement).

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