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WGC Day 4 – The Big One

DAY #4 – DISTANCE 225.8MI, MOVING TIME 17:56:50, CLIMBING 13,156 FT, AVE TEMP 9C / 48F

A bright, cool, day greeted me as I emerged from my snug little bivi tucked away in the Savernake forest, near Marlborough.

Immediately before sleep the night before I’d polished off the last pieces of chicken that Martyn and Sarah had given me, as well as a banana. I think the protein combined with the other nutrients from the banana did a great recovery job whilst I slept, because my legs were ache free and I didn’t feel stiff at all. Note to self: always fuel up well before sleep to optimise recovery. Chilly but content, I was packed up and off in search of breakfast by 06:30.

Once again I used my programmed route as a general starting point and then refined it on the fly to follow either B roads or more minor looking A roads. Sunshine and following winds made for decent progress but I can’t say it felt particularly safe.

As previously mentioned these busy roads seem particularly plagued with dangerous potholes and sunken drain covers, and as a cyclist one dances the dance between holding a primary mid-lane position in the road, or alternatively hugging the shoulder or kerb so that vehicles can pass more easily.  The first approach aggravates drivers and can easily lead to them making some very ill-advised and dangerous overtaking choices. Opting for the kerb hugging position makes it inevitable that at some point you’ll have to suddenly swing out into the road to avoid potholes or the general debris that tends to accumulate along the road side; again, dangerous.

As both options are problematic I try to balance it somewhere between the two whilst also making a point of slowing to let traffic pass on winding stretches of road where it can quickly build up behind me.

Thankfully the drivers I encountered on this day passed wide and behaved very considerately, though even then there was an issue with the generous overtaking. This takes the cars’ and trucks’ wheels into the general grit and debris that accumulates between lanes in the middle of the road, and as a result you now get showered in dust and grit…. Doh!

Those are the negatives but on a positive note you enjoy the totally immersive, exhilarating experience that cycling on the open road gives you. I love that, and today it was made particularly joyous as a result of the NE tail wind that was mostly helping me down the road.

I was hungry though, and happily, around 30 miles into the day, a sumptuous breakfast opportunity presented itself at The Farleigh Road Farm Shop, near Bath, on the A36. I was in a fine mood at this point and delighting in my adventure. So with a full English breakfast washed down with 2 coffees and some provisions purchased from the farm shop I was soon ready to crack on again.

Before this trip friends had joked to me that “…at least it’s down hill on the way back to Cornwall”. Clearly it isn’t, but it had been feeling a little that way due to the helping wind. On approaching Wells however, things certainly took a turn into the downhill realm with a highly memorable white knuckle descent down to the town.

I recall an afternoon of steady climbs and increasingly frequent speedy descents. I was now finding the traffic more wearing than the exertion of riding with the constant hyper-vigilance required being both absorbing and exhausting.

As evening arrived I decided to indulge in some quieter time and left the A361 to ride the towpath along the Grand Western Canal cycle route as proposed by my RideWithGps plan. What a welcome respite this was compared to the endless hustle of A roads. I had myself a small picnic, a brief power nap and in my exuberance recorded a little live video of all the serenity.

It was around 17:00 now and I was still something like 120miles from home with at least another 10 hours riding to go. I decided to just carry on into the night and see how I felt. It was clear that I’d have to get back onto fast roads again soon in order to make better progress.

The arrival of dusk was welcome as this brought not only a glorious sunset but also the general calm of evening roads and approaching night. I was mostly on B roads now as I crossed Devon.

I had been using my iPhone a lot for navigation over the last 2 days and my power bank was nearly drained as a result. I thought I could probably make it home as it was but a top up would certainly be prudent. By around 11pm I was speeding along again on the A3072 and starting to head a little more west than I thought ideal. It was time to pause and review my onward route more seriously. Happily, I soon happened upon The Golden Inn in Highampton and pulled in.

A lone publican greeted me (apparently all his customers had just headed off to a stag do or similar) and kindly let me indulge in a bout of device re-charging whilst I quaffed orange juice and soda and munched on pork scratchings (Fat and salt cravings…). He clearly thought I was mad but humoured me none the less whilst recounting his battles with his insurers who’d refused to pay up when the pub had caught fire some years back.  Happily, it seemed he was now winning that battle.

My immediate issue was deciding my route home. The quickest would surely be the A30 but I’d sworn to myself and my family that I was not going risk life and limb on that speed strip. I wasn’t keen on the A39 either so opted for chasing B roads until I made it to the A395.

It was now the early hours of the morning and decidedly cold and windy. Although I still felt pretty energised the cold was now getting right into me even with 4 layers of clothing, including a quilted jacket and Gore waterproof. The temperature was around 5c but add in the wind chill factor and it felt truly icy. This meant I was warm to hot on the ascents, but soon freezing on the descents. The descents seemed to be increasing and I began wishing for hills just to warm me up.

The night took on an increasingly surreal quality with the howling of the cold NE wind across the moors interspersed with the occasional passing of big lorries making night runs. As I approached Camelford I concluded that this just wasn’t safe anymore and that I’d have to take a break.

My mind was starting to picture nasty scenarios of what might happen if I crashed and injured myself during one of the many, increasingly frozen, high speed descents (…I’d likely die of hyperthermia on the roadside before anyone got to me).

Finally I made it up a hill to BP’s mystically named “Camelot Valley Truckle Garage”. There I found an illuminated corner in which to take stock whilst sheltered from the bitter wind that was moodily whistling around and rattling every loose panel on the garage canopy.

Huddled in the corner I felt the warmth swiftly leaving me again so I decided the only thing to do was grab a nap in my warm bivi cocoon with superb Thermarest Neoair mat and down quilt. Magically, I awoke an hour and half later, at 04:30, warmed through and ready to finish this ride. Just 50 something miles to go…

Riding into dawn is a true morale booster, as the cool of the night recedes and tranquil roads with new vistas greet you. The mild warmth from the first rays of sun was so very welcome.

This was a great final run home; the sun shone, the wind had eased considerably and Sunday morning made for quiet roads. Happy days!

It was only as I approached St Austell that I realised I’d not seen the sea for nearly 4 days which is very unusual for me as I live on the coast and work in the yachting industry.

St Austell may be around 30 miles from my home but I already felt like I’d arrived. This sweeping approach to the town was glorious and set me up for the final few hours.

I made it home at around 10:00 feeling elated and somewhat less tired than I probably should have.
I duly celebrated with a protein shake washed down with a couple of bottles of Cornish stout! Still feeling whizzy from the ride it was several hours before I finally took myself off for an afternoon sleep.

Conclusions

  • This type of riding definitely suits me. Yes there were some tough times and long days, but over all I relished the entire experience. I never thought that I’d made a bad choice in taking it on. I want more of this kind of caper!
  • This 4 day trip represents less than half the distance of Transatlantic Way Race. I had ridden it very inefficiently with far too many stops for navigation and recovery. For the race proper my moving time percentage will need to be far higher. I’m under no illusions as to how much tougher the race proper will be.
  • Comfort. By the end of this trip my backside was decidedly uncomfortable with parts of me feeling numb that really shouldn’t. The tips of all my toes were permanently numb (it seems I subconsciously grip the inside of my shoes with my toes). The tips of some of my fingers are also permanently a little numb from the cold and hand pressure. Even now, several weeks later, none of these issues are entirely resolved. All this was after only 4 days on the road…

There’s a huge difference between what seems comfortable for a 6 hour ride and what is really comfortable for 16+ hour rides day after day. I don’t expect that anyone can hope to be truly comfortable riding a bike for days on end as it’s just not what our bodies are designed for, however I intend to do everything I possibly can to improve my bike comfort in the coming weeks. Sure you can “man up” and push through these things but that’s a young man’s type of foolishness. I’m aiming for better than that.

 

WGC Day 3 – The Re-Group

Day #3 – Distance 92.2mi, Moving Time 7:54:25, Climbing 3140 ft, AVE Temp 6c / 43f

For some strange reason I remember turning the light off by my bed at exactly 03:47 and, surprisingly, I was then wide awake again at 07.37. I briefly considered chasing more sleep but, no, there was an adventure to be completed, so better get to it.

Over the previous couple of days I lost a huge amount of time to navigational difficulties and riding slow cycle paths. It was clear that if I returned home down my previously planned route that it’d likely be Sunday before I got home, as this also followed many back roads and tracks. A revised route was essential and creating this was my next priority.

My clothing was getting a much needed wash and my lights, power bank, and phone were all put on charge. The Anker power bank I’d brought with me had really served it’s purpose by letting me ride at night with my Wahoo Elemnt continuously backlit (vital for map reading and second guessing some poor cuesheet directions) and particularly with all the power hungry supplementary iPhone navigation usage.

The hot seat…devices charging. Map, computer and remnants of a huge mug of tea…

 

This new route planning, however, was not going well. RideWithGps either wanted to route me down major A roads and motorways or down cycle ways, tracks and back roads. I wanted primarily B roads with some lesser A roads as required.

After quite some while I gave up on RideWithGps and switched to Mapometer instead. Mapometer has a checkbox option for cycle routing offering “keep to roads”. Sadly, ticking this checkbox did not actually to do anything. Dragging tracks to re-route down faster roads was not working either. Both apps kept creating maddening minor road diversions or confused double backs…

Time passed, a lot of time, frustrating time. Finally I set a deadline that I would set off again, regardless, by 14:00 and knock around 100 miles off my return journey that day. This would leave me a big ride to finish on Saturday but I still wanted to complete a 180+ mile day to see how I coped.

Thankfully, Martyn’s wife, Sarah, was wonderfully on the case with making sure I ate and drank loads. Between bouts of route planning I had 3 full meals, including scrabbled eggs, roast chicken, sheperds pie and lots of salad and green veggies.

Martyn had kindly adjusted my front disc calliper to stop the pads binding before he headed off to work, which just left me the simple task of lubing my chain and checking my tyre pressures. (I’m running Schwalbe S-One 30c tubeless at 70psi)

Shortly after 14:00 and with my feed bags full of roast chicken pieces and bananas I bid farewell to the home comforts of Martyn and Sarah’s and headed into the busy world of St Albans, Reading and Newbury. Though cool, the sun was shining and a stiff breeze was blowing from the north east; the perfect direction for cycling to Cornwall.

Ready to roll

Progress was a little haphazzard as I kept second guessing the route and seeking faster roads. Still, it was surely swifter than the journey up had been though I wasn’t enjoying the generally impatient traffic and hustle and bussle of the city. I looked forward to getting out of town and cranking out some miles.

Amusingly, I managed to end up at the other side of the same road in Temple that had had me doubling back and careening along a river bank on my way up due to a gated community claiming the road as it’s own. Happlily, from this side of the highend housing the escape route was no great drama.

Near the outskirts of Newbury I stopped at a corner shop to stock up for the night. I was just weighing up the risks of padlocking my bike or not when 3 guys armed with guitars and keyboards stopped to admire it. “You don’t want to leave that mate…not around here” “We can keep an eye on it for you, oh and they do great samosas in there…” Result! Another triumph for human kindness. Sadly I briefly considered that these guys might just be setting me up so as to rob my bike…! The workings of my jaded, city weary, mind…

Re-provisioned I joined them outside and got chatting between mouthfuls of the indeed excellent samosas washed down with less excellent Red Bull.

One was a keen cyclist and fascinated by tales of my trip so far and the upcoming TAWR event. It transpired that he’d also suffered the disappointment of riding down the little road in Temple, near Hurley, that ends in a posh gate…

Buoyed by this pleasing encounter I returned, somewhat refreshed, to the road with a vague plan of seeing how far I could get by about midnight. That would give me the chance to re-charge with maybe 5 hours of sleep before dawn and the final push home.

By this point I’d ditched my progammed route and was back to navigating old school style. Town to town and choosing the roads as I went. My pace improved greatly and was helped by the quiet roads night riding offers when you can also readily recognise approaching traffic from the lights ahead. There were still a fair few hills but on these faster roads they were no where near as steep and progress was swift with some exciting high speed descents added in as well.

Midnight arrived and a minor road turning off the A4 duly presented itself. I rode a few hundred metres to get away from from the noise of the traffic and then pushed my bike into the quiet shelter of the woodland alongside.

It was silent and windless but for the sounds of the inhabitants. At least 2 foxes were barking my arrival, then there were pheasants, oh, and what seemed to be an owl impersontating a cuckoo. It was cold though, and I wasted little time clearing my bivi area of bigger twigs and branches before rollinng it out, cleaning my teeth (This feels incredibly cleansing when the rest of you is a damp sweaty mess), messaging home and rapidly falling asleep as the sounds of the forest subsided…another good day.

One more to go, and not just any old day…

 

WGC Day 2 – The silly one

Day #2
Distance 160.1 Mi, Moving Time 15:03:55, Climbing 8,061 ft, Ave Temp 6c 43F

Day 2 dawned and I awoke happily warm and, remarkably, somewhat drier than when I’d wriggled into my little bivi cocoon 5 hours or so earlier.

My weather check the day before had suggested that sunshine and unfavourable northeasterly winds were to be the order of the day. Right now though it was bitterly cold and anything but sunny.

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The Week That Was

As seen from the King Harry Ferry on Saturday’s ride.

It’s been a scenic week out on the road with plenty of photo moments. I’m currently training 5 days in 7. Monday and Tuesday’s workouts are on the trainer indoors and targeting very specific power zones and cadences for about an hour. Wednesday sees a longer 2-3hr ride on the road, again targeting particular power levels etc. Thursday is then a recovery day. Friday calls for a more intense 1:30hr road ride.  Saturday is my long ride day with 4-5hrs on the bike where I am still working on certain zones and cadences but I view it as the icing on the cake at the end of the week where I get to simply enjoy being out on the bike.

Sunday is then reserved for family and catching up with other stuff.

The always scenic Gweek

 

I made the decision early on to enlist the help of a professional trainer to help get me cycle fit efficiently. I find having someone independent monitoring my progress also helps with the discipline needed to follow through with training week after week and avoiding the temptation to skip rides due to other priorities or general laziness. I felt that having expert guidance and a defined structure to work to was something that would really make a difference for me and add interest. I’m happy to say that working with Martin Burrows from KOM Coaching has been excellent; he lives and breathes cycle coaching, and has more knowledge than I could ever gain by reading articles online or following generic training programs.

The sun fighting through

Last Saturday’s ride was probably the best of the year so far, with spells of warm sunshine, light winds and quiet dry roads. Since October I’ve been predominantly riding to the west of Cornwall, around the Lizard Peninsular or across to Portreath, Hayle and Land’s End. I doubt I’ll ever tire of the spectacular scenery around those parts but as the months have past many of the roads have become quite familiar. I fancied something different for my Saturday ride this week and plotted a route out to the Roseland Peninsular taking in St. Mawes and Pendower. A day that was forecast to be drab and overcast turned out remarkably sunny.

Waiting for the ferry. Red bike, red railings…

I could have happily spent hours strolling around St. Mawes with my camera but as this is training rather than touring I mostly limit my photo moments to brief food, drink and stretch stops. I had to have a pause by the castle.

You can view my route, lots of hills, lots of wonderful Cornish scenery and mostly quiet roads. I think I’ll keep exploring eastwards and the Roseland Peninsular in the coming weeks; the landscape is softer, greener and feels more spring-like and there’s still plenty of hills.

 

Why Age UK?

 

This challenge of mine is supposed to be enjoyable rather than easy, in part it’s about pushing my limits and stepping out of my comfort zone.

It would be a lot easier to just ride the event quietly and see how it goes. Adding a charity fundraising aspect to things increases my motivation to do well plus the thought that my effort is having a direct benefit to others is also rather exciting.

The choice to support Age UK came to me quite easily.

Age UK’s vision is for a world where everyone can love later life

Loving later life seems like a fine plan to me.

It saddens me to think that many of our elderly population maybe struggling alone with the challenges and obstacles that later life can bring and it feels good to be doing something to help. I’ve long held a special regard for the elderly, possibly triggered by the happy times I had as a youngster listening to the stories my very elderly next door neighbours would recount to me over the garden fence. Some things always stay with you…

Between 2015 and 2020, over a period when the general population is expected to rise 3%, the numbers aged over 65 are expected to increase by 12% (1.1 million); the numbers aged over 85 by 18% (300,000); and the number of centenarians by 40% (7,000).

With these increasing numbers the needs and issues of the elderly are only going to become greater and more apparent in our society so do please donate as generously as you feel can.

Thanks!