I had a Dutch colleague once whose practice when travelling abroad was to get lost. Intentionally. At a conference in Liège in the early 1990s I accompanied him on late night walk off the University campus (which is out of town at the top of a hill). I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent of his dedication to lostness, and the combination of pitch darkness, unfamiliar territory and dry Dutch humour will stay with me for ever.
I have been lost many times, and mostly on ‘audax’ rides (or randonnées as they really should be called, as on an actual audax, with a road captain getting lost is virtually impossible). My night-time navigation skills are becoming legendary in their inaccuracy, but I am equally capable of turning the wrong way or missing a cue sheet instruction during the day. Recently, Gavin Peacock, who wrote this account of his first 200 here, suggested to me that the absence of yellow arrows, the potential for navigational failure is a feature, not a bug, in the allure libre model of riding that characterises the brevets randonneur organised by Audax UK, and that this was something that positively differentiates this model of riding from the cyclosportive. Despite the cursing that results from my lack of ability to follow a cue sheet, I think he might be right. Even when I have tried to reduce my off-route wandering by using a GPS device I have been foiled by software and hardware failures, or lost signal: it is as if the gods of audax intend me to be forever questioning my progress from control to control, hoping for a sign.
There is getting lost, and the fear of getting lost. Actually being lost is disturbing, but is a problem to be solved, and as my Dutch friend would have argued, a means to finding the unexpected and unplanned. The fear of getting lost is quite something else, and because of the strict time limits on brevets, can lead to a level of stress which takes the fun out of what should be a challenging adventure, hence my attempts to limit my failings using a Garmin. When added to the uncertainty (due to inexperience) of calculating average riding speed versus sleep on my first Brevet 600 (The East and West Coasts) I nearly allowed it to corrupt my enjoyment. Strangely, despite getting lost quite significantly in the Fylde after the Glasson Dock control, and thinking I was lost looking for it, I managed my time very well, completing the ride with two hours left to spare. As per usual, my efforts to stay on course were stymied by lack of confidence, failure of said Garmin at the 400km mark (which wouldn’t even hard reset), and the loss of my watch at the HQ after my one hour sleep stop. Following a route sheet after 4-500km gets pretty tough even with a functioning odometer, but without even a watch I found judging distance and time almost impossible. Two things stopped me from becoming a latter day Flying Dutchman of the Fylde: my phone (which was still charged and working, I had plenty of external power) and, unsurprisingly, fellow riders (often as unsure of the route as this stage as I, but there was safety in numbers) on the same route, and at one point a random racer who actually waited at the next junction and directed me like a race marshal. I was so addled at this stage that I cannot remember the names of the cycling couple who allowed me to suck their wheels just before and after the mysterious Cartford Toll Bridge control, but they were a high point of my ride – I hope we meet again and I can redeem my embarrassment.
In the main, I kept to the route, however and despite the agony of the last 100km, where my lack of preparation and limited sleep caused me to lose position on the bike and end up with battered hands and arms and sore shoulders (more on this in a companion piece), this was a wonderful and magical experience. I had no mechanical or lighting problems (new Exposure light was very good) and felt great on the bike for most of the ride. This was a wonderfully organised ride, and a credit to Audax UK, Chris Crossland and his helpers. My second high point after the kindness of others was the experience of eating fish and chips in the LANTERN O’ER LUNE CAFÉ at Glasson Dock. Quite extraordinary, and every visit I have made there has been on an Audax, and each one magical in its own way.