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Yes, that is a Hobbit reference. Bilbo Baggin’s journey across Middle-Earth is surprisingly relatable to me now. Like him, I journeyed with the brave and hearty company across a much less magical but equally beautiful land, not on a majestic steed or a mighty dragon, but on a humble bicycle.

And like Bilbo, I write: sharing my experiences with my first ever Audax ride, my first ever 300-kilometer bicycle ride. This was no easy feat and it certainly wasn’t a short ride, either. It was definitely an adventure.

Cyclists at Hue Hotel preparing to embark on their respective distances of 100km, 200km, 300km. Photo by Calvin Castillo

Brief History of Audax and Audax Philippines
Audax is a long-distance cycling event that has categories of 200km, 300km, 400km, 600km, and sometimes even 1,200km that have to be completed in a certain amount of time.

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How it works is: each rider has a brevet card (or nowadays, a QR code) and once they start, they have to ride a certain distance, checking in at the occasional Control Point where the rider has the brevet card checked and verified to give proof that the rider was there and to keep track of time.

Long-distance cycling or randonneuring gained popularity in the late 1800s to early 1900s, when the most famous cycling events in the world started to take place. Most of these started in France (of course it did), and the first ever Audax events were created to mediate between fast-paced cycle races and slow, much more time-consuming touring discipline.

The first ever French Audax in 1904, riding from Paris to Gaillon. Photo by BC Randonneurs Cycling Club. Retrieved from https://www.randonneurs.bc.ca/history/union-des-audax-francais.html?fbclid=IwAR13a23BRttnujukCvQtBE5Qne3NsE5sr6OQ_-Er11jWVo_uZcyp1G9HuiQ

Audax means “bold” in Latin, which is a characteristic of somebody who wants to ride one of these. The idea of Audax came about in 1897 when a bunch of Italian cyclists rode from Rome to Naples, which was a distance of about 200 kilometers.

It wasn’t until 1904 when the Tour de France’s founder, Henri Desgrange, formalized the regulations of Audax.

In November of 2010, Audax Randonneurs Philippines was established and is approved by the Audax Club Parisien to organize brevets (term for randonneuring events) here in the Philippines of 200km to 600km distances in different places every season.

Audax Ph. (N/A). Audax history. Retrieved from https://audax.ph/about-us?fbclid=IwAR3grXrOkF5XLDFphy-A0Eb5eZudFiTTpQCxE9PKHCpsy3KRpxpiTqxInrM

My Preparation Before the Audax 300
A month before the event, I signed up on the Audax Philippines website, thinking it would be a good idea to register to the 300km event, and somehow convinced my parents to pay the registration fee. The problem I faced was, in the next few weeks I would be busy with school, because our completion ceremony was coming up. We were also about to go on a trip to attend a relative’s wedding. I had virtually little to no time to train for my massive ride.

With the little time I had, I tried squeezing in some quick, fast paced bike rides at a higher intensity than I would be comfortable with normally. This is to compensate for the lack of time I had for longer rides. It’s not what I hoped for, but it’s all I’ve got.

I only rode twice during the week of the Audax, which was on Saturday. I rode on Monday and Wednesday on low intensity, with more spinning in the legs to relax them and stretch the muscles more. I rested for the rest of the week. On Thursday, I had a relatively light massage to relax my joints and plenty of sleep as well.

The day before, I went to the registration booth at Hue Hotel and received my QR code. I had bought a huge tub of yogurt and had it as a snack. For dinner, I had 2 servings of pasta and bread. This is what is known as carb-loading, and is normally used for strenuous physical exercise which requires high levels of energy. I also prepared my cycling apparel, helmet, sunglasses, energy bars and gels, water bottle, tools, pump, and spare tires.

Audax 300km Ride
I arrived a bit early and waited until we were allowed to ride out. I placed my backpack full of electrolyte drinks and snacks in the support vehicle one of my companions had brought. We were very much on time, riding out at exactly 5am, just as the website had said. The first 25 kilometers were a little fast, but a restroom break at Brgy Bacungan helped us set our pace better.

Bigger climbs started after the first 25km, and our pace slowed slightly. After the descent into Brgy Salvacion, our pace grew to about 30kph from the previous pace of 26kph. We arrived at Brgy Babuyan at the first Audax Control Point, 50km in. We scanned our QR codes, I had a bite of energy bar, and then we were off again.

The area around Brgy Concepcion clearly carried the effects of Typhoon Odette that ravaged the island a few months prior, but it has considerably improved since then. There were a few bridges with wrecked pavement on it which carried a risk of our tires getting a puncture, but we miraculously got through without any.

After Brgy Concepcion, the climbs were quite manageable, although the descents were quite scary. We stopped just after the Langogan bridge at around 8:30AM, just across the Puerto Princesa-Roxas border, to have a much-needed breakfast courtesy of another support car and went on our way.

It was about 32km to the next Control Point, and the terrain started to roll. Endless climbs and descents greeted us ahead, not a very welcome sign since it would be a very energy-expensive stretch of road. The heat was starting to build up, and we could feel the growing effects. The pace was great, we covered a lot of distance without feeling too tired (yet).

We reached the second Control Point, 110km into the ride, in Barangay Caramay. To quench our thirst, there was a water container filled with electrolyte water which was great for recovery after the first 100km. After the QR codes were scanned and we had rested for a bit, we pressed on.

100 kilometers into the ride, at the second control point at Brgy Caramay. Photo by Calvin Castillo

On the way to Roxas’ main town, the sun was glaring down at us and the climbs were getting much steeper. It did not help whatsoever that the road was covered in debris from aggregates and dirt transported by trucks. I had to refill my water bottle somewhere along the road because the heat and the climbs were taking their toll on me. The group I was with started to come apart as well, with the stronger riders going too fast for some (like me), and the slower riders trying to catch up.

The steep climb going into Roxas’ main town peaked at 15% gradient and caused me to cramp. This worried me since we were only 130km into the ride. Nevertheless, I popped an energy bar and continued to climb. We rested at a gas station for a while and rode 12 more kilometers in blazing heat and debris-covered roads, as well as riding up steep climbs.

Our group had ridden for about 157km at this point. We reached Brgy Dumarao, the final Control Point, at around 12:30 PM. A few more kilometers going north and we would’ve reached San Vicente. We rested for a while, and one of my fellow cyclists brought out some doughnuts for us to eat from the support car. After scanning the QR codes we set off again, this time going home. We reached a climb going back that was 11% in gradient, where I felt a sharp pain in my right leg. I didn’t cramp yet, but I felt it coming.

We stopped at the same gas station we did in Roxas’ main town. There we had some lunch and drank some sugary soft drinks to give us strength before ascending the long climb out of the main town. There were signs of rain at the top, which was welcome, considering the sweltering heat prior to our ascent.

On the way to the Brgy Caramay Control Point, I felt extreme fatigue and tiredness from the ride. At one point I was alone since there was a group way ahead of me and a group way behind me. I just did my best to reach the Control Point and somehow, I did.

After we had regrouped and recuperated, we set off again after we had our QR codes scanned. This time, we would ride around 60 kilometers towards the final control point, which was in Brgy Babuyan. Once we reached the border to Brgy Langogan, a huge storm came. Something told me we may have wished too hard for rain. We made it up three steep climbs and across the Langogan bridge, where we stopped at a carinderia to rest, wait for the storm to calm down, and drink something warm.

Three cyclists ascending a climb in Brgy Langogan despite heavy rain. Photo by Vince Castillo via Messenger App

The rain had mellowed down a bit, so we rode out again. We climbed a steep 9% average climb out of Brgy Langogan and from there I could finally keep up after being left alone for a while because I was getting slow. I was left in the last group with three other riders and we slowly made our way to the last Control Point.

By this point my right leg was aching badly. I didn’t know how I was going to make it 50+ km back to the finish. I tried to hold on, and it got really dark in the area. Luckily, we had backlights and there were support vehicles (ours and other cyclist’s) with headlights that guided our path.

Regrouped a few km later at a store in Brgy Salvacion, I arrived with serious doubt about finishing the ride and even contemplated just giving up. But I wanted to be able to say that I rode a bike for 300 kilometers so I decided not to. We ate some halo-halo which was kind of a bad idea after a storm and because the wind was really cold and it was already 7:30PM. After resting, we attached lights on our bikes and took off.

We climbed out of Salvacion in the dark, thank God for support vehicles and headlights. A fellow cyclist and doctor by profession advised me to spin my legs as opposed to applying more force so that my pained right leg could recover and not cramp. I followed him and I regained strength almost immediately. I’m definitely keeping that up my sleeve.

A cyclist climbs in the dark with other riders and a support vehicle up ahead. Photo by Calvin Castillo

We continued to ride in the dark. The scariest part was descending in the dark. Good thing my brakes still worked. Somehow, we made it to the last major climb on our way back, which was adjacent to the San Carlos Cockfighting Stadium. Once at the top, my adrenaline from all the energy bars I consumed had worn off and I felt the fatigue sucker-punch me. I did my best to crawl back to the finish point. I eventually finished my first-ever Audax event, in the 300km category after I had my QR code scanned at the finish point.

Conclusion
The ride was definitely the hardest ride I have ever done so far and I certainly do not regret it. It certainly was an amazing journey with great company, which I truly appreciated throughout the journey. A Global Cycling Network presenter once said: “Cyclists tend to hate the ride as they ride it, but feel a great sense of achievement after it.” Which is really relatable to me, now that I think about it.

Audax events usually keep your previous time in an event that you already rode, which is also a familiar route. So that next ride you do in that same route and event, you can beat it. If there will be another Audax 300km event right here next season, I might go ahead and beat my time.

An adventurer yearns for adventure once more. Just like Bilbo Baggins one day yearned to see mountains again, I too will want to ride in next year’s Audax season.

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