Until I sat on it yesterday, I had not been on my race bike since the last stage of ‘Ras na mBan’. And, other than the Westport to Achill spin with Burren CC, I haven’t been out on the ol’ Winter bike either. So it was with rubbery legs and a head full of “life” that I rose before dawn, ate my porridge, spent a good 2o minutes layering up, and pushed my good bike out the front door into darkness, and trepidation, at 7:15 yesterday morning. I switched on my lights (never had lights before, thanks Jim!), pulled on my warmest gloves, clipped in, and pushed off.
Bliss. Cold bliss, fecking freezing in fact, but bliss nonetheless……
There is nothing like that feeling of sitting on a bike that feels like it’s always been a part of you. Within moments I’ve forgotten how to walk. The bars are an extension of my arms, the pedals have grown from my feet. My legs only move like this. I slide into that perfect place on my saddle, rest my hands on the hoods, the wheels roll willingly, it’s like embracing a loved one. Despite the onGodly hour, and the week behind me, I am smiling away to myself as I spin along beside a glassy-coated Grand Canal, and towards a whole new cycling experience…..
There are many types of cyclists. A Venn diagram of all categories would display plenty of overlap, the sportive cyclist is sometimes a racing cyclists, the racing cyclist is also a commuting cyclist, the commuting cyclist mountain bikes at the weekend. And then there are those who enjoy an Audax. They are on our Venn diagram too, and they intersect with all the other groups, but dare I say their circle is a little oblong? Extending, as it does, over the edge of the page, and into territory that other cyclists remain a little wary of….. 600km, 1,200km, London to Edinburgh…. and back, around Ireland, across America. It has been said that sportives are for those who like to pretend they’re racing, and Audax are for those who like to pretend they’re not. But there is a lot more to Audax than finishing inside the time limit, and yesterday I decided to investigate further.
In the giddy eagerness of the early hour, I was the first to rock up outside Spar on Baggot Street. Me, the homeless guy, and an exhausted taxi driver had a 10 minute conversation about what madness I was about to engage in. Once I’d convinced them that yes, really, REALLY, I was planning to cycle to Cavan and back, we all agreed that I was possibly, right then, the one of us most in need of tea & sympathy. Steadily more blinking lights and well wrapped-up cyclists gathered. Greetings were exchanged, brevet cards were signed, excess fig-rolls were given to the chatty man sitting in the sleeping bag, and then, at 8am, 37 of us crossed the bridge and made our way northwards across the city as it emerged from the darkness into the first frosty morning of a new Winter.
We cycled together for the first 30km or so, until we were well clear of the waking suburbs, and I was almost able to feel my fingers again. Then, as the pace threatened not to break the 20kmph barrier, a breakaway group formed through some unspoken code and disappeared around a corner. I hadn’t made a plan-for-the-day in my head, I didn’t really know how I felt about cycling 2ookm, and I was also interested in spending time with the people around me, so, even though I was anxious to cycle faster, if only to get warm, I didn’t race off after the fast group to join it. Also, I knew I was going to be too lazy and cold to stop and examine the route sheet, so as long as I stuck with some of the troops who clearly knew where they were going I probably wouldn’t have to think all day. Yeah, yeah, a bit of a cop-out, I know.
We passed through Donore, putting the first quarter of the journey behind us. Slivers of ice still lay carelessly on the roadside puddles, and the grass verges were white where the promising sun had yet to shine. We chatted as we cycled, praising/bemoaning the weather, comparing reasons for being there at all, and matching names once heard to faces now seen. After 70km I reached the First Control at Ardee in one of the many splinter groups that had formed. I had really only barely thawed out, so after a quick cup of tea, some awesome banana bread (thank you Andreas&Sharon!), and a visit to the “facilities” (thank you Wogan’s Furniture shop!), I was back on my bike in less than 15 minutes, and I was determined to up the pace to body-temperature, at least.
Kingscourt, the most northerly point on our Audax was at 93.5km, and it was also on top of a mountain; something those who had sold this 200km to me as “flat as a pancake”, had neglected to mention!! By the time our group had crested Alpe d’Kingscourt, and the drumlin country beyond, we were down to 5 merry souls….. Aidan was in charge of navigation, Bernard was our mechanic, I was wrong turn maker (Fiona! FIONA!!!! Not that left, the NEXT left!!!! ….. in fact with all the racing off in front, turning around, and chasing back on I did, my computer read 213km when I finished!), and Trish & Sarah were in charge of the horses ;-).
We five cycled the second century of the day together. We talked 300km events, Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 aspirations, and a bit of life-in-general. We enjoyed the backroads beauty of the Autumnal countryside, we mustered a modicum of curiosity in the villages and townlands we passed through, and we changed two puntures. Then we rolled through The Phoenix Park, back down by the canal, and landed in through the green door for homemade soup and a pat on the back.
And what did I learn?
Well, this is what I think………
Inside every Audax rider lies a dream.
It wasn’t really about speed today, it wasn’t about who got back first, or in the first group, it didn’t matter who cycled 200km the fastest. I believe everyone who set out from Baggot St. yesterday morning could have cycled ‘The Dying Light’ faster than they did, I know I could. But it wasn’t about that. I think it was about the smile inside your head as you rested your bike against the wall in Eoghan & Celeste’s back garden, that feeling in your legs as you climbed the stairs to their apartment. You still felt good, fresh even. Finishing a 200km cycle is part of a process. A process that includes knowing that you could have kept going. That you had another 200km in you still, that you could have kept cycling all night in fact. Audax cycling is about always having another goal.
London-Edinburgh-London, …….Paris-Brest-Paris, ……..Race Around Ireland, ……Race Across America…….. everybody needs a dream.
And finally. IT WAS NOT FLAT!
(putting my race bike away for the winter now…… might put the blog away for a while too….)
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”