Audax report: August 2023

My audax world – Naomi Bell

My interest in audaxes really first began in 2021, the first year when I started cycling. In nothing less than my usual style I threw myself in at the deep end, my first audax being a 200km. I’d never ridden 200km in my life, so to choose the Kidderminster Killer as my first audax was nothing short of a little bonkers!

I remember that day vividly. Mariana was volunteering that morning, serving out hot drinks. She took one confused look at me and asked: “You’re doing this?!” That morning eight of us started out and by the end, 11:30 pm, way past the cut-off line, a mere four of us rode into Belbroughton having barely survived! Following the traumatic experience of that ride I kind of gave up audaxes! 

Following the Kidderminster Killer, I completed Ride Across Britain and still did the occasional 100 miler and last year I even did my first 300km. That in itself was a story to tell, one where myself and Cédric were riding through Birmingham exhausted at 1 am, determined to get our cycling computers to 200 miles! 

At the age of six, my dad asked me what I wanted to do when I was older. I told him that I wanted to be an explorer! That passion for adventure never left and instead grew. In my twenties, I travelled extensively, backpacking for six months around Asia taking in the culture, history and breathtaking scenery in places like Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam and Laos. I once road-tripped in the USA with 10 people in a minivan for six weeks and during that time saw 40 states. I always felt at home on the road. 

I’m finding that audaxes are a great way to do a ton of miles, get fit, switch off from the stressors of life and most importantly to me, see new places. Over the last 12 months my lifestyle has changed considerably. At present I live half the month in the Lake District and the other half in Bromsgrove. This means that northern adventures to wild places in Scotland have suddenly become accessible! 

In February this year, I wanted a new challenge, and with a mixture of excitement and nervousness I signed up to complete the calendar event Efengyl (Gospel) 200. This ride commenced the Randonneur Round the Year (RRtY) for me.

I wish I could say completing 200km rides every month has been easy with a tailwind always on my back. Sadly, the reality is that that is just the Instagram story! The first 200km I did this year was the Efengyl through Bristol Audax Club in February. All weather conditions were thrown at us that day! I remember being at the top of Gospel Pass thinking that I was going to be blown off my bike! I was amazed by the grit and determination of some of the older cyclists. As I stood at the side of the road in the dark in pain, they soldiered on at a steady but consistent pace. 

 Brum 200 was challenging mentally. The route predicted the elevation was going to be 4,000ft; a nice flat 200km, so I thought! (So much so that I’d planned for my parents to come round for a BBQ at 6 pm!) One hour late for my folks and after 8,000ft of climbing, I’d completed the ride, very ready to throw my bike in a bush! I promptly wrote to Audax UK the following day telling them I felt lied to and that I wanted some AAA points! Instead, they sent me a Brum 200 badge! 

Facing adversity taught me the importance of adaptability, grit, and maintaining a positive mindset. One thing I hate doing is quitting. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is LEJOG in nine days. At that point I’d been cycling for nine months. I’d never really been into fitness or even going to the gym, so it was hard going. Anytime I’m having a hard day on the bike I remind myself of the tough things I have previously done and what I am capable of.

I go back to my ‘why’. For me, cycling gives me such a buzz, the sort where you’ve had the hardest, most challenging day and all of sudden you get on your bike and smile because you feel alive. There have been times when, being a children’s social worker, I’ve had such a stressful day worried about a child’s welfare. Previous habits would have turned me to a glass of wine to help me relax. These days, riding long miles are that replacement, providing mental clarity, being in the present and appreciating the simple joys of solitude, the beauty of nature, and the power of perseverance.

My dream is to explore more remote, wild and unexplored places by bike; the sort where you have to take a satellite phone as backup. For me, true beauty lies in exploring wilderness and cultures and in my view, that is best done on a bike. 

I’ll sign off with a quote, one I read for the first time a few months ago. Reading it sent shivers down my spine as to me it sums up everything about my ‘why’:

They say cycling sets you free, and it’s true. Take your hands off the bar, sit up and look around. You’re free as a bird. Or, as one popular Spanish saying puts it, you have birds in the mind. For as well as setting us free physically, cycling has the power to help us switch off. On the map and in our minds, where we end up is up to us. Tener pájaros en la cabeza.

This is the second in a new series of audax reports. You can read the first, by John Williams, here.