Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ride Across Britain - Postlude

One reason the organizers prefer to do the ride north to south is that Lands End is a bit closer to civilization than John O'Groats. Of course, that makes getting to the start harder but there is probably something to be said for an easier exit at the finish. So those of us on the bus had a very long day ahead of us getting home.

There was no wake-up call in the morning and the thought of missing the bus was quite frightening, so I set all my alarms. There were a lot of hungover people around the camp site, not surprisingly. One final breakfast, and I have to say they were all very good, and onto the bus. The itinerary was Inverness airport, the hotel at Inverness where some lucky people, without bikes, had spent the night, Edinburgh airport, Newcastle train station and finally York train station. I had opted for Newcastle. Given where I was heading, there was no benefit of going to York as trains are faster than buses (in the UK anyway).

We started late and basically lost time at every stop, so I had missed my scheduled train by the time we arrived at Newcastle. Fortunately my ticket was good for several subsequent trains and there was one leaving in about 10 minutes. In comparison to the bus, the train was sublime. Fast, smooth and quiet. The only downside of the trip was that the connection to Northampton terminated unexpectedly a few stations short owing to electrical problems on the overhead lines. A bit of a panic, but we were instructed to board a Virgin train heading to London, get off at Milton Keynes, and then catch a local train back to Northampton. The Virgin train was seriously fast and in the end, I lost very little time. A 15 minute taxi ride and I was back "home", at the house of my mother-in-law, at about 9pm. So a 14 hour day, but mostly spent in recovery mode. The next day we were off to the Harry Potter studio exhibition near London, and then flying back to San Francisco the following day.

So how do I feel about the whole event now that it's (long over)? Well, overall, it was a great experience and I was happy that I actually felt stronger at the end than the beginning. I wonder whether other people felt the same. I had thought and, indeed opined on the RAB rider hub website, that we would all be steadily draining the tank as the days passed, getting a bit more tired and, correspondingly, a bit slower each day. This was based on my experience from multi-day randonneuring rides. However, for me at least this was not the case, almost the reverse in fact. The neck and shoulder problems I suffered with at the beginning got steadily better. I put this down to there being an adequate recovery time on each day of the ride. I was firmly in the middle of the rider pack, time wise and, perhaps if I had been at the back, with more hours on the bike and less recovery time it might have been different. Certainly, multi-day randonneuring rides do not have anywhere near adequate daily recovery time, they are basically an exercise in survival. I know some riders would have liked a recovery day, basically a really short mileage day, but clearly that would either make the other days tougher or extend the number of days, and it is already quite long.

The fact that I was already an experienced endurance cyclist obviously helped and there was nothing on the ride that I hadn't faced before in some form. Even the long day was really "only" a 200K brevet. None of the climbs compared to those in California in terms of length and gradient. The first day was hard because it was relentlessly up and down, but I had recently done the Mount Tam double century, which has a similar profile. So this speaks to the importance of appropriate training for the event. Although I didn't follow them, because I had my own plan, the monthly training plans provided for RAB looked really good and I am sure that anyone who followed them was similarly adequately trained.

The organization of the ride was outstanding. Even in the flooding crisis at Penrith, the organizers pulled it off. Many people have already commented on this, but I will also note that the attitude of the staff and volunteers was extraordinarly positive. One could forgive the people filling bottles with Powerade day in, day out, for getting a bit glum, but if they did, they didn't show it. It was just amazing how friendly and smiling the staff were. Perhaps this had something to do with the riders. My experience is that endurance cyclists are a pretty easy going bunch and not wont to complain. Certainly, everyone I interacted with, riders and staff, seemed very likeable, and I have been on rides where this is definitely not the case. No Prima donnas on RAB!

I liked the route overall, although some of the "green lanes" in England were a bit tricky and the urban section from Haydock was truly awful but might be better in the opposite direction, as it wouldn't be in the early morning rush hour. The road surfaces in southern Scotland were bad, but the north of Scotland was great, and overall my favorite part of the ride.

I met a lot of very nice people on the ride, not least the entire Bigfoot team. One of the features of the catering tent was that you were pretty much forced to sit with someone new at every meal, so the opportunities were always there to meet new people. One thing that I think would be a good idea would be to provide a rear-facing bike tag with the rider's name on, in addition to the front facing numeric tag.

One thing that didn't go very well for me was fundraising. I didn't go into RAB thinking of it primarily as a fundraising ride, unlike other rides like the Multiple Sclerosis Waves to Wine ride, that I have done a couple of times. Instead I viewed it more as a tour, since I was paying a significant entry fee. However, it was clear that fundraising was a big thing for many of the riders, and the organizers stressed this a lot in the daily briefings. My fundraising started well with close friends and family, but I drew a complete blank from email solicitations and Facebook posts, even from people who I had sponsored on their rides. Possibly there are now so many fundraising rides that people are burnt out and/or just don't respond except to direct requests.

So, if you are thinking about doing RAB, I can certainly recommend it, provided you are prepared to do the training. It's a unique experience that you won't forget. Will I do it again? Perhaps, especially in the other direction, but not next year as that's just too soon, and there are other rides out there!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent account of RAB. I'm on it this year and read this all with great interest.