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Riders gathering for the start of the Audax.

On Saturday morning, 88 riders gathered at Poynton Methodist Church to ride Mike Wigley’s Llanfair 400km Audax; a route that would take us to Holyhead and back. I thought it would be ideal as my first 400km it being a fairly flat route, while still being interesting. The sun was shining and it was already warm. There were a wide variety of bikes; some heavily loaded and others carrying hardly any gear at all. I looked at my bike, it felt pretty heavy although there wasn’t anything I was willing to sacrifice. The extra layers I’d packed would come in handy during the night as temperatures were forecast to drop to 4°C. Maybe the two snack pouches and top tube bag bursting with food was a bit excessive for a route that had so many opportunities to stock up but I was premenstrual so figured the extra food was warranted.

The route

After a quick briefing by Mike, we set off at 9am. I reminded myself that I had a long way to go and tried to settle into a pace that I could sustain for the next ~20hrs. We travelled across Cheshire and joined the Greenway at Mickle Trafford for a great off-road route through Chester to Connah’s Quay. Cycling over the A55, I felt rather smug to be breezing my way into Wales as the cars and campervans queued below.
The first control was at Hawarden Bridge. As well as using the traditional Brevet card, this ride also enabled riders to use the eBrevet app. When you reach a control, you simply tap the app and it registers. I tapped the app but not quite trusting this new-fangled technology, thought it best to also stop at Greggs for a quick sausage roll and a receipt for proof of passage.
At Flint, there was a route choice; along the coast, or up over Halkyn Mountain. In for a penny, in for a pound, I opted for the hillier option. At least it would give some respite from the headwind on the coast. It was a great choice, the views down to the coast were fantastic and the sunshine made it all the better.
Both routes joined again at Abergele and followed the coast to the second control at Rhos-on-Sea. I stopped at the Tourist Information to activate my eBrevet. Looking for a potential café stop, some fellow riders spotted me and beckoned me over to join them. Audax folk are so friendly and welcoming. We sat chatting in the sun, soaking in the seaside atmosphere. One casually mentioned a 1,000km hilly Audax he’d completed just a month ago. All insisted that a 400km was the hardest distance as there was no allocated sleep control. I wasn’t convinced but was enjoying being surrounded by people for whom long distance cycling was the norm. The usual response I get when explaining Audaxing to someone is confusion; “Why would you do that?”, “Is it for charity?” or “What do you win at the end?”. I guess I find it hard to describe that it’s really just the simple pleasure of having a day devoted to the simple act of pedalling and staying fuelled while taking in the passing scenery. Plus, there is something hugely rewarding about getting somewhere under your own steam.
Refuelled, I set off again. At Conwy, past the castle was another route choice; stick to the coast or take the old mail coaching route over the short Sychnant Pass. It was a no-brainer. I set off up the pass. The scenery was stunning. I took my time, savouring the moment. As I began the descent to Penmaenmawr, the view in between the hills opened up to the sea; it was stunning.
The route rejoined NCN 5 and I made my way towards Bangor. Over Britannia Bridge and I was on Anglesey. I’d heard that this section could be a bit of a drag, straight down the A5 to Holyhead. There was a cross headwind but at least it was warm and the sun was shining. I put my head down, ate some sweets and got on with it. About 3 miles before the next control, I punctured. Luckily it was a simple fix and I was back on my way in no time.
Over the Stanley Embankment and onto Holy Island, I arrived at the control and halfway point: Tollhouse Café. Mike was there to greet us. Here we had to scan a QR code to activate the eBrevet. I got two sausage rolls to go. As tempting as it was to stay for a while with the last of the sun pooling in the café garden, the temperature was beginning to drop and the recent mechanical made me time-conscious. I set off again to cross Anglesey for the second time, thankful for the cross-tailwind. My legs were tiring but I was feeling content. The road was lined with wildflowers and the evening sun was illuminating the trees and hedgerows in beautiful colours. In front of me was Snowdonia and the hills of the Llyn Peninsula. I crossed back onto the mainland via Menai Bridge, the sun almost touching the horizon.
I cycled back through Bangor and on to Conwy, this time via the NCN 5 route which skipped up and over the A55 a few times by way of some cool cycle bridges. Lights began twinkling on the coastline, casting reflections into the sea as the sky turned from light blue to deep indigo.
Just through Conwy was the next control, a 24-hour fuel station. I got a coffee and a Boost, hoping it met the label claim. I was joined by Paul, who I’d met at a few Audaxes now. He produced a portion of egg fried rice from his jersey; what a genius. I eyed it up jealously. Some more riders arrived and we sat on the fuel station forecourt while we consumed our various snacks.
I put on an extra layer and set off into the now darkness. The sky was clear and the stars were out. It was chilly. The route back followed the A547 and A548. It made for excellent night riding, and some welcome easy miles. I love night riding. The road was quiet and I could just take in the passing scenes; warm lights shining behind net curtains in caravans, smokers outside pub doorways. I caught a barn owl in my front beam as I cycled along a rural section. As the night went on, I saw less people save a few stragglers staggering home drunk. I chuckled as I passed two lads tunelessly singing their hearts out. Then it was quiet and I was able to get into a meditative rhythm of pedalling and following the pool of light in front of me; it was peaceful. Occasionally, I would pass or be passed by another Audax rider. We’d check in on each other, before carrying on. Although I was enjoying cycling on my own, I was reassured by this connection with the other riders.
Over the impressive cable-stayed Flintshire Bridge I rode, passing through industrial Deeside before I had to drag my concentration back and focus on the route as it picked up a cycle path, enabling me to bypass the feeder road to the M56.
I spotted a 24-hour fuel station, which I thought must be the next control. Hmm, no bikes here. A lorry driver came out of the shop and gave me a puzzled smile. I checked my eBrevet, the control was actually 10km away! I hadn’t been feeling too tired but fatigue had obviously affected my logical thought process. I continued down the A5117, past Cheshire Oaks and along the long drag towards Elton. It was a relief to pull into the actual control, Chester M56 Services. I wheeled my bike inside and was even more heartened to see some of my fellow riders who I’d been leapfrogging during the night stretch. I got a coffee and a flapjack. The McDonalds was open but I couldn’t stomach eating too much. I’d been pretty much constantly snacking for the whole ride. My teeth felt furry with all the sugar I’d consumed. I made a mental note to take a toothbrush next time. Three more riders joined us, “Why do we do this to ourselves?!” one exclaimed.
Worried I’d seize up if I stayed too long, I said my goodbyes and headed back into the night. It was about 3:30am and although it was still dark, I heard birdsong. Before long, there was the hint of light appearing in the sky and the dawn chorus was in full swing. The promise of a new day gave me a boost and spurred me on, although by now I only had one speed in my legs and it was very slow. I repeated a mantra to myself “just keep moving forward” as I rhythmically turned the pedals.
Back on familiar ground, I cycled through Helsby and Frodsham, Preston on the Hill and Stretton. As the sky lightened in front of me, I was treated to a display of colour before the sun finally made its appearance above the horizon.
When I got to Wilmslow, my navigation device showed 400km. I was almost there! The following 15km were the toughest of the whole ride. I think probably because my mindset changed. All this time I had been focusing on maintaining a pace I could sustain, eating and drinking, and not thinking about the end as it was so far off. I had to stay in the moment. Now I was thinking about the end, I became aware of all the aches and niggles that my brain hadn’t wanted to bother me with earlier. I shifted on my saddle, trying to get a comfortable position.
The bumpy cobbles through Poynton were the final insult for my saddle sores but finally I was back at the Methodist Church Hall where I had set off 21 and a half hours earlier. I was greeted again by a smiling Mike, who was supplying tea, coffee and toast; what a welcome sight. The hall was set up with air beds and blankets for anyone who wanted to sleep before heading off. Some riders that I’d met earlier were sitting around a table so I joined them while I drank my coffee.
And that was it, my first 400km done. No fanfare at the finish, that’s not Audax-style and that suited me just fine. I was tired and happy, pleased that the weather was kind, I’d had no major mechanicals and I’d completed something I wasn’t sure I was able to.
It has got me thinking, though, what next..?

The trusty steed, pictured from an earlier 300km Audax!