The route sheet instruction (at 38.6km on the Excursion and Century events and 34.4km on the Day Out event) reads: Follow Road L after ford (probably dry). Taken over all the years that we have been organising New Forest cycle events this is a quite correct statement, but on Sunday 29th April, "Probaby dry" could not have been more wrong.....read on.
During the week preceding Sunday 29th there was a fairly mixed weather outlook for Sunday, but it was not too bad so on Thursday we comitted to all the catering arrangements, did the final food shopping and delivered "Control" labels to the various café controls on the routes. By Friday morning the forecast had taken a serious turn for the worse with a preliminary severe weather warning for the area from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday and the message that "this warning might be up-rated in the next 24 hrs". By Saturday it was all looking dire so we contacted some AUK senior officials to discuss the question of cancellation. Generally AUK takes the view that entrants are on a "private excursion" while on AUK regulated events and it is individual participants' personal responsibilty to decide when and where they should cycle, if at all. Our stoic chairman commented, "I've cycled in worse". (Mind you when offered a free on-the day-entry, he discovered he had another appointment elsewhere).
We monitored the forecast and severe weather warning text through the day and took some comfort from the fact that by Saturday night the forecast suggested that the wind and rain might abate during Sunday afternoon leaving the remainder of the day calmer and brighter. Then it rained all Saturday night.
To start or not?
Sunday morning at 7.00 we set up the start control - rain moderate / wind severe gusts / temperature (with wind chill factor) about one degree above zero. We are pretty sure no-one will come and certainly no-one is going to turn up to sign-on on-the-line? So a few minutes later Steve U, not having pre-booked turns up having cycle out from Southampton and complaining that he hasn't seen Paul W who was due to cycle over from Portsmouth and join him. A trickle of other entrants appear. Some having decided to "give it a go" and others still dithering. Those who have cycled to the start confirm that there is debris and bits of trees everywhere. We phone Bryan, our secret controller, and give him the bad news that there are a few cyclists determined to set off, so he will have to head across the Forest in the teeth of the storm to set up shop at the secret control location.
Not too busy at the start control in New Street
We also make everyone read the Severe Weather warning and explain that there certainly will be water in the many New Forest fords today and there may be a bit of flooding in one of the lanes in the Avon Valley. The Forest is basically a clay plateau with short, steep and very flashy streams running off to the Avon Valley, Southampton Water and the Solent. The worst area for floods and raging fords is the Avon Valley. But because the event routes pass through this area early on we hope that cyclists will be through here before the water levels have fully risen - in this we hopelessly underestimate how much rain has already fallen overnight.
Read this and make your own decision - "you have been warned"
In the end out of 150 entrants 55 cyclists set off, including 3 tandems but no recumbents (too low for the water level?). Annemarie, Nigel and daughter Lauren arrive at the start. Annemarie and Lauren by car and Nigel by bicycle+tagalong. Not having previously booked they re-assess the weather and avoid both a DNS or DNF by deciding not to enter - opting instead to have a coffee at our house before swapping over with Nigel and Lauren returning by car and Annemarie by bike. Three of those who set off are on their first ever Audax event having been brought along by friends or relatives; and one woman is out with her husband for her 'birthday treat". Cyclists certainly know how to give their friends and relations a good time.
On the road in the morning
Within a very short time half of the starters, having taken in the full force of the stormy conditions with gusting wind, rain and debris phone in to confirm that they are going for an early DNF (delayed DNS ?) and have returned to their cars. Some of those who press on give up once they are faced with the full extent of the rapidly spreading floods and deepening fords in the Avon Valley. Not all who attempt the valley fords make it through to reach the high ground on the top of the Forest escarpment where Bryan (with bananas and chocolate bars) awaits at the Secret Control.
Versions of this with varying depths all along the route north in the Avon Valley
Are you sure we are still on the 100km route?
Into the afternoon
While theremaining cyclists who are still on the road are battling on towards the comfort of a Control stop and warm up, all is not going as planned back in Lymington either. After a brief moment when it looked as though the rain might be easing up a bit, it soon reverts to a full-on deluge. We arrive promptly to set up the finish control in Lymington Community Centre, knowing that we might be seeing some early arrivals who have given up the struggle and headed for home, hot food and drink, only to find the hall occupied by the "River of Life Church". Appropriate as their name might be today, this is not good news. After a bit of discussion and the fact that our booking is clearly shown on the schedule for the day, we take possession and assisted by friendly caretakers get stuck into putting out tables and chairs and provisions.
Early finishers are Lee, Simon and Richard. They had prudently e-mailed us on Saturday to downgrade their entry from 100km to 50km; and turned up at the start on mountain bikes shod with suitably chunky tyres for the conditions of the day. By maintaining a reasonably good pace they have managed to return to Lymington wet but ahead of the worst of the rising floods. Later in the afternoon when Karen and David reach the same lane out of Burley on the 50km route the two fords and intervening fields have merged into one unbroken expanse requiring them to wade through with water above knee level.
The Cranborne Cafe Control, for 160km and 200km cyclists, provides a warm welcome, offering at least one AUK the opportunity to dry (or at least warm up) his socks on the heating radiators. Similarly the half-way 100km Control at Breamore Tea Barn provides hot soup and comfort for the few cyclists who make it to the far north along the Avon Valley. Outside, life on the road is still quite testing. Several cyclists report inconsiderate motorists adding to their discomfort by providing an additional soaking; and the importance of having some back up to the route sheet is demonstrated when one 200km rider has his GPS rendered non-functioning after being swamped by the bow-wave of a passing 4x4. Some light relief is enjoyed by Mike L as he cycles on through water up to his wheel hubs past a BMW X5 4x4 stuck in the flood water.
Slow down! - apart from ponies there are cyclists ahead on this river (road)
Looks quite cosy in the Breamore Control - Do we have to go outside again?
Through the afternoon and back to the finish
Briefly the rain eases, as forecast, but then starts again, not as forecast. The storm force wind drops a bit as the eye of the storm passes overhead then picks up again, now from the south east instead of the north east so ensuring that as well as a head wind out there is a head wind back to the finish. You really do need to be out of the west of the Forest by now because the depth of water in the fords is still rising. Cyclists come in to the Finish Control in small numbers having made an understandable decision to cut it short and find the shortest (least wet) way back to Lymington. Sheila provides a personal meal service to each of them and John reluctantly writes "DNF" against their name on the Start / Finish list. All of the routes return through Brockenhurst, which is passable, but not immune from flooding. To quote one cyclist: "I've never seen the Watersplash (Brockenhurst) with so much water in it. I wouldn't have attempted driving across it - luckily there was a footbridge for us cyclists".
Ford on Godshill road
If you aren't through here soon the footbridge will be beyond reach too
Into Brockenhurst - turn left
Out of Brockenhurst to Lepe - luckily there is an alternative road
Two more 50km cyclists finish and also our first 100km cyclists who have completed the whole event finish - hooray. A few 160km and 200km cyclists make it to the Lepe Control. The one weather consolation of the day is that this storm from the north east is very rare on the south coast. If it had been a south west gale with a high tide there would be waves breaking over the road along the beach to the Lepe cafe. Not unreasonably, one entrant phones in to say that because he has to cycle home to Romsey he is setting off from Lepe rather than returning to Lymington. Four 200km riders press on northwards again to Minstead. More 100km cyclists finish, including Richard P a New Forest event regular, who confirms that it is a bit damp and windy out there, but the thought of the New Forest event finish catering has carried him through. The other Richard P (AUK Secretary), who had downgraded from 200km to 100km earlier in the week comes in wondering if his Rohloff hub is guaranteed for underwater cycling.
Audax newbies John and Marianne finish looking remarkably relaxed about the whole experience. They report the final hurdle - a tree has now fallen across School Lane 2km from Lymington and it is completely blocking the way back into town for the 100km route. Assuming this is also part of the Audax experience they have climbed through it (You wouldn't want to risk a DNF on your first Audax event would you?). Some considerable time later PBP veteran Pete S, who is John's brother and their mentor and guide, arrives having punctured umpteen times with a rear tyre that probably should have been thrown away in Paris.
The final frontier - tree across road on 100km route into Lymington
Mike and Sheelagh arrive back to make the first successful tandem finishers (Century Ride) and a short time later a second tandem, with Andrew and Laura arrives (100km finishers). Four 200km cyclists finish, including Steve U, who sets off again for Southampton after a short break; and Mike L, who recounts how a large branch fell from a tree nearby as he was writing down the answer to the Woodlands Info Control. He summarises the day as, " Did 200km and had a great time - never crossed so many fords nor got wetter feet; the wind was a bastard; great food at the arrivée."
Still smiling at the finish
Pete, John and Marianne
The final score:
200km - 9 started 4 finished (44%)
100miles - 12 started 4 finished (33%)
100km - 26 started 15 finished (58%)
50km - 8 started 6 finished (75%)
Youngest finisher - Laura (Aged 10) on 100km event
Monday morning in Lymington the sun is shining and we have just delivered 100 surplus bananas to the local primary school
* Chapeau to all who set off, whether you finished or not
* To those on their first Audax event - It is not always this good: it has been known for cyclists to get in late on our events because they have been sitting around all afternoon in sunshine in a pub garden
Thanks to Bryan (Secret Control) and all café Controls on the routes
and to Pete, John, Marianne and Geoff for photos
We hope to see some of you (in better weather) on one of our 2nd September New Forest events. If you take part in the 200km or Century events we promise your entry fee includes the ferry fares to take you across the three large wet bits on the route; and as is well known the fords in the New Forest are "Normally Dry"
John and Sheila
PS. It might have been tough
out there on a bicycle, but
you all did better than