Distance 338.9mi moving time 27:35:16 climbing 29373.36 ft – Total duration 55:01:37 stopped time 27:26:21
So what is Trans Kernow? Well the organisers, Rockets & Rascals Plymouth, describe it as follows:
“It may take one day, it may take three days. We don’t know what route you’re going to take, all we do know is you have got to get to a few definite places, you’ve got to do it without any outside help and you’ve got to do it with a smile on your face. There’s no number board, there’s no prize for winning, there’s loads of feed stations (they’re called cafes, shops or even fancy restaurants) but they’re not always open, there’s no accommodation provided and we don’t even give you a map. The joy of Trans Kernow is its simplicity. It’s one great big adventure, or more specifically it’s many adventures taking place at once, all in Cornwall. The window of Trans Kernow is from 21:00 on Friday 28th April until 15:00 on Sunday 30th April…”
I signed up as it seemed like a perfect excuse for some extra training miles, and also because I thought it would be fun to be a little more sociable on some rides for a change.
I decided to increase the distance for myself by adding in riding from Falmouth to Plymouth for the start on the Friday and back home again on the Sunday because, after all, I am training for the TAWR which will be a lot tougher. The Trans Kernow was never billed as a race and I did not approach it as such; rather, my plan was to ride a segment and allow myself plenty of recovery time before riding to the next, with the idea being that I’d be putting in a lot of training miles but without over-taxing my system unnecessarily. It also seemed more fun to arrive at the checkpoints around about when they opened and compare tales with other riders.
With my trusty Genesis Datum cleaned, oiled and loaded, I set off for Plymouth at around midday feeling fresh and motivated. The weather was kind with gentle winds and plenty of sunshine; but as ever with Cornwall there was no shortage of hills to be climbed. I made it to Plymouth in a respectable 5 and a half hours door to door. One thing that troubled me in anticipation of the night ride to St Ives due later was that my route included riding back up over some of the very steep hills I’d just come down on the way across. This is a regular feature with Cornwall, A and B roads are hilly with occasional steep sections but minor roads are frequently very steep and also twisty making for slow hard climbs and slow descents. Great for training, less great for making decent progress. The saw tooth elevation graph below the map above gives a good indication of just how bumpy a ride is in these parts.
This was my first visit to Rockets And Rascals and what a great place it is; a proper bike shop and cafe serving mighty fine coffee. I arrived to find Simon Paice (Who’s also signed up for TAWR) sat drinking coffee and joined him to discuss the weekend ahead and our hopes and fears for the TAWR. It was great to finally meet a fellow competitor.
The next few hours were very chilled as I relaxed to the great live music of Jacob Riddall and met some of the other riders. I attempted a nap in an armchair in preparation for the long sleep deprived night to come but the excess of fine coffee actually made it more of a 40min restless day dream; I’m sure it helped a little though. Shortly before 21:00 we were ready for the off and gathered for a farewell photo.
It seemed the vast majority of riders had chosen to take a route using the Torpoint ferry and so not very long after the start I was once again off alone into the darkness heading towards the first tough climbs of the night on my route taking me between Trenaton and Liskeard on the same back roads I had ridden down earlier. Next time I really think I opt for some easier, faster roads!
Somewhere close to Victoria I began to meet a few of the people who’d taken taken a ferry route and finally ended up riding with Tom Probert the rest of the way to St Ives. Tom gave me a real schooling in how light strong riders can fly up hills.
Tom is around 62kg and I’m around 81kg; on gentle inclines I could keep up with him but needed 220w or so to do so. On steeper inclines I needed to be in the high 300’s or more to stay in touch and I can’t keep that up for long at all, especially in the early hours of the morning after a long days riding. I had to content myself with watching him spinning steadily away up the hill whilst I ground steadily along at my 250w-ish hill speed.
I find a power meter really useful for pacing hills, as without one it is very easy to start too hard and burn out mid-way up. The first minute or so may feel easy but in reality I can easily be pushing over 400w without really knowing it until the leg burn hits. That’s not a good endurance approach; far better to be steady all the way.
Tom says he loses this power to weight advantage on the flats and descents soon enough, but the experience did have me wondering about how I’m going to get along as a heavier rider amongst those competing in the hilly TAWR; time will tell. I can probably shed a combined 2kg or so from myself and my winter bike packing kit by then which will only help.
The weather was extremely kind to us Trans Kernow riders on this first night with zero wind, clear skies and cool rather than cold temperatures. The only improvement would have been a blazing full moon…
It so happens that Tom has entered this years Transcontinental Race so we easily passed the time discussing endurance race equipment, training, tactics and, sadly, the tragic passing of Mike Hall, the event’s organiser, during the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race.
We made it into St Ives at 03:45. Tom was riding directly onto Falmouth whereas I was ready for bed after nearly 150 miles of riding. We said our goodbyes I quickly found myself a sheltered bivi spot next to a boat on the harbour arm and was soon asleep.
At around 07:30 I awoke to a glorious sunny day feeling remarkably refreshed after so little sleep. Chris King had arrived at around 05:00 and was on hand to stamp brevet cards and guard bikes while myself and some of the other riders, who’d arrived during my sleep, went in search of morning coffee.
I was keen to get across to Falmouth and relax for a couple of hours lunch and soon headed off up the hill out of St Ives with a couple of the other riders, where it appeared that, on this occasion, I was the stronger climber. As I was here for training more than socialising I left them to it and carried on over to Falmouth solo. Solo that is until I was on the outskirts of town when one Johnny Van Hol caught up with me. As a Falmouth local I was able to guide him directly to The Hand checkpoint where he duly rode off again rapidly. It turns out that he managed a blistering ride time of 13hrs or so averaging around 16mph for the whole TK route which he rode in under 24hrs start to finish, so kudos to him!
Relaxing in the courtyard outside The Hand was a delight with the warm spring sunshine soothing my tired body and mind. Meanwhile the cafe across the way was doing a brisk trade with hungry cyclists and I have to say the poached eggs with wild mushrooms and veggies were truly excellent, though not quite substantial enough to compensate the amount of calories I was burning this weekend. My wife was going to drop by around 12:30 for a coffee and to see me off on the Widemouth/Bude leg of the adventure. Now, what I should have done until then was to grab a nap but instead I’d drunk too many cups of excellent coffee from the cafe and was a bit too caffeinated to rest. Oh well…at least I could treat myself to a good sleep tonight in Widemouth.
That afternoons ride across to the north coast was pretty wild and windy but as it was mostly a tail wind things weren’t too bad, and with views like the above to delight in all was well with the world, apart from some heart stopping cross wind moments when passing gateways in the hedgerows. You know, the ones where you feel like you’ve suddenly been blown half way across the road into the path of traffic… I’m not keen on that!
The final leg of this ride became a challenge as my route took me to Boscastle and back out on the coast road and included some tough climbs. Once again I cursed myself for not seeking out a flatter route. Finally I arrived at Millook Hill complete with a 30% warning sign, eek! This hill seemed to go on and on and in my weary state I finally got off and walked but as I pushed round a bend there was Trans Kernow organiser, Steve Toze, also walking. We laughed and rode down into Widemouth together where we met another couple of weary travellers about to head to their AirBnB rest stop for the night. It was well past 18:00 now and I was ravenous so I left Steve to manage the event and went in search of food.
The Bay View Inn was my first port of call and I settled in for a couple of hours feeding, quaffing ginger beer and spending too much money. The surf was pumping in the bay that day and it was great to sit and watch the surfers as the sun went down. I surf but was way too tired to feel in anyway like I wanted to be out there as well, which made things extra relaxing.
Rain was forecast and I was a little worried about it coming in overnight so I had a word with the landlord about finding a sheltered bivi spot and whilst he wouldn’t let me use his covered terrace he did say I could set myself up in the lee of the ice cream hut. This turned out fine with soft sand and perfect shelter from the cold wind. It was a bit of a dance avoiding getting any sand in my bivi but I was soon tucked in and getting lulled to sleep by the sound of the nearby surf.
I awoke bright and early, just as the first few spots of rain began, and was packed and heading for Plymouth just before 06:00. This really did turn into a very, very wet ride but at least with it being early on a Sunday morning the roads were quiet. I breakfasted at the first open corner store I came to, munching on scotch eggs and a fresh cooked sausage roll washed down by very bad coffee. Roll on the Rockets & Rascals cafe! Strangely, I quite enjoy cycling in the rain and made it to Plymouth soon enough at around 10:30. I rolled in to find the place was full of soaking wet, shivering cyclists… not the main Trans Kernow bunch but rather another Sunday ride group.
I found myself a quiet table and ordered coffee followed by a bacon sandwich and smoked salmon & scrambled eggs all accompanied by huge slabs of tasty artisan bread. This was probably more bread than I normally eat in a month but it went down very well. (..see nutrition)
So that was my official Trans Kernow ride completed; I was just left with the small matter of cycling back to Falmouth. Ummm, well I’d already decided that my slow hilly route used on the way to Plymouth was not to be ridden again today. It was close to midday now with other Trans Kernow riders arriving drenched, tired, but happy. We exchanged a few tales but much as I’d have liked to hang around and drink more coffee the road home beckoned.
I decided to take the Torpoint ferry and high tail it back home down busier roads. Foolishly, I included a stretch of the A38 in this, but never again; being overtaken by vehicles traveling at 70+mph is exhausting and, in my opinion, just isn’t worth the risk.
My ride time for this final stretch was only 4:30 but with many food and coffee stops it actually took me 6:15. Another eye opener for what is ahead in Ireland come June…I’m going to have to ride far longer and stop far less frequently.
A high moving percentage will be the only way I can achieve a respectable finishing time. I’m hoping race mode will draw out new levels of endurance from me, but really I have no idea and nothing to compare it to… Exciting/scary!
Thanks to Steve Toze and the Rocket & Rascals team for hosting this event. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Trans Devon!