You might describe an Audax as the cycling equivalent of a marathon. But, it is also something of an orienteering exercise as well. Audaxes are long-distance cycling events organised by individuals and groups and overseen by Audax UK. Whilst I have not yet taken part in one of these events, I have read a lot about them. Having had a look at the Audax calendar recently, I noticed the “Turf ‘n Surf” beginning from Newton Abbot. Intrigued, I thought I would pay a visit as it was fairly local and see what it was all about.
Where it all began.
Arriving at the Scout hall, Newton Abbot at just before 7.00am, I could see several bikes outside and riders making final preparations to leave. The intention was to keep out of the way whilst they made their start and then go and find out more. Around 18 riders left, heading for Bovey Tracey and I strolled over and introduced myself to Rod and Lisa Pash, the event organisers. Rod and Lisa were amazingly friendly – something that appears on first impression to be completely standard among “Audaxers”. They explained that there were, in fact, three separate events this weekend. Firstly, was a 400k route, second a 300k route and last but, by no means least, a 100k route. The 400k and 300k events began on Saturday, 22nd April and allowed just over 27 hours in which riders were required to complete the 400k. The 400k event was in fact the 300k course added to the 100k course on Sunday 23rd April. Approximately 40 riders were expected to be participating on the Sunday.
Meeting the organisers.
Speaking to Rod and Lisa was a pleasant and enlightening experience. They have been cycling since the 70’s, having done a lot of touring on bikes, and clearly the novelty has not worn off. They informed me that the “Turf ‘n Surf” had been the brain child of a gentleman called Chris Bennett who had come up with the course around 2012. Unfortunately, Chris passed away whilst on a cycling event and before he had a chance to run the “Turf ‘n Surf”. So, Rod, Lisa, and Chris’ family ran the event instead. The fact that the event has now run for 5 years and still heavily involves Chris’ family and others that he cycled with tells you much about the Audax spirit. It is a welcoming, enthusiastic, comradely and inspiring atmosphere. The “Turf ‘n Surf” now donates any surplus from entry fees to the Devon Air Ambulance in memory of Chris.
Following the route.
Having seen the start and chatted to Rod and Lisa, I decided to drive the route as far as Torrington to try and meet up with some of the participants at the first “control”. Every Audax event has “controls”, “information controls” and points at which you need obtain a stamp on a card or make a purchase and get a receipt. These provide “proof of passage” or evidence that you completed the course.
The route gradually climbed out of Newton Abbot and on to Bovey Tracey, then progressed further upward to Moretonhampstead on the edge of Dartmoor. From here, the course headed to Winkleigh and on to Torrington. The rolling Devon landscape with Dartmoor as the backdrop was spectacular and I was impressed with the pace that the riders were setting. The riders were not hanging about. Even at this early point in the day, they were really quite “strung out” in small groups. The weather was fantastic for cycling – clear, overcast, cool but not really chilly with little in the way of serious wind. Easy for me to say in the comfort of my vehicle cruising along effortlessly!
Time for a break.
After I located a parking space in Torrington – the view was one of the best I have had from a car park, I made my way to the “control” at the Green Lantern Café smack in the middle of the town. Clearly chosen by cyclists, the Green Lantern was a lovely local café and bakery serving everything from fried breakfasts to jam doughnuts made fresh on the premises. I did make a mental note to visit again if in the area. Sitting at one of the tables was Floey Bennett – “control” and, as it turns out, a daughter of Chris Bennett, the inspiration behind the “Turf ‘n Surf”. Floey was very welcoming and did not mind a bit that I just turned up out of the blue and started asking questions. Even though she still had to efficiently deal with arriving cyclists.
Torrington was 70k into the event and, due to the early start, probably very welcome indeed as a breakfast stop. The faster riders had begun arriving at just before 9.00 o’clock with most of those I met keen to take some calories on board. Baked beans appeared popular but, so were the fresh cakes from the bakery. I admit to being a tad jealous of the fresh doughnuts. So, I reminded myself that I hadn’t ridden the miles to earn one.
Speaking to the riders.
Every cyclist I spoke with was friendly and chatty. The age range was wide – probably between about 30 and 70 and more men than women. Most appeared to be fairly “seasoned” Audax participants for whom 300 or 400k was “normal”. Hats off to them, their “normal” is currently my “extreme”. I didn’t have time to speak in depth with anyone as they were, understandably, keen to get re-fuelled and back on the road.
The range of bikes people were riding was fascinating as well. They included a wide range of road, touring and hybrid bikes as well as a Moulton. Admittedly, I couldn’t quite get my head around the Moulton but, the rider informed me that it was just as fast overall as a road bike and more comfortable. You live and learn. Also interesting was the amount of kit people were carrying. However, when you consider that these folks were cycling up to 400k unsupported, that is not such a surprise. What kept striking me was what a friendly bunch of people they were. Many of them knew each other from previous events. Even so, they seemed much friendlier than your average “Joe” which means that you shouldn’t be afraid to enter an Audax.
The road ahead.
After Torrington, the route for the 300 and 400k visited Widemouth Bay (and the second control at 121k), Delabole, Polzeath, Camelford, Launceston, Okehampton, Cheriton Bishop, and back to Newton Abbot. Floey informed me that the control at Polzeath was being manned by her grandmother – how fantastic is that? The last 100k would be the 100k route for the Sunday from Newton Abbot to Starcross and on to Turf Locks and then following a loop through Okehampton, Tedburn St. Mary, Cheriton Bishop, Whiddon Down and back to Newton abbot.
I can only imagine how completely exhausted the riders must have been by the time they finished. No doubt, 400k Audax’s are not going to appeal to everyone but, 100k is well within the grasp of almost all of us. Maybe it is time to research some future events in which to participate.
Finally, a big thank you to Rod and Lisa Pash, Floey Bennett and the riders on the “Turf ‘n Surf” for being so very welcoming. If you would like to send us coverage of your Audax experience or would like to promote a forthcoming event on Cycledestination, don’t hesitate to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.