Mayhem Weekender

Sometime after midnight on Monday morning in a 24 hour petrol station on the edge of Brighton

Cashier: “Have you done the bike ride today?” [Sunday was the annual London to Brighton charity ride]

Me: “No, I’ve done a different bike ride. A little bit further.”

Cashier: “Wow, further! Where have you ridden from then?”

Me: “From near Gloucester”

Cashier: “Gloucester!? Flipping heck!”

What I didn’t add was that I’d actually ridden there on Friday evening, done a lap of a mountain bike race that morning, before riding home from mid-afternoon until now. There was already a look of incredulity on the woman’s face and adding this additional information would have only led to the inevitable “Why?” question and I was frankly far too exhausted to think of an answer. I took my change, picked up my ready meal for two, stuffed it in my musette, and walked out of the garage, hopped back on the bike and rode into the light pollution for the final couple of miles home.

The weekend just gone was the last ever Mountain Mayhem 24 hour mountain bike race. I came to this event late, only attending my first one four years ago. That year I was there to help out mates and take some photos. That in turn prompted me to buy a mountain bike and return in 2015 and 2016 and do the solo race (in for a penny, in for a pound). This year being the last ever one I considered soloing again but sensibly decided it was a bit close to the start of the Transcontinental to recover in time properly. A plan to ride from Brighton to Gatcombe Park and then back again was hatched instead. This would mean I could hang out with mates and watch the last race with the added benefit of getting a couple of 200km night(ish) rides in as Transcon training. What with camping at the race too it gave me an opportunity to test out my sleeping stuff for the Transcon and see how most efficient to pack it on the bike. In the back of my mind I knew that if there was a spare bike kicking about I’d try and get a cheeky lap in too.

Friday

I left Brighton just before 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon (due to having run out of annual leave allowance I needed to fit the riding in around work. A couple of long days in the preceding week meant I could bunk off early) and headed along the coast for a bit before turning northwest. Annoyingly there was a stiff breeze coming from precisely the direction I didn’t need it to be coming from, but the sun was shining and the forecast was good for the whole weekend.

It says a lot about the last few months that I now consider the roads as far as Petersfield as ‘home roads’. Distances have not only become greater but there have been a lot of rides out this way, to Bespoked a couple of times, to Wales on an audax, and various long rides that have headed further into West Sussex that I ever did before (I usually head into East Sussex as I know the roads better). It’s only once past the climb over the Ashford Hangers or “Little Switzerland” as it is known locally, and there is something alpine-esque about the climb, in character rather than height, that the roads start to feel foreign and the excitement and anticipation of the long ride kicks in. I have ridden across parts of Hampshire and Wiltshire many times in the last two years but my route this weekend took in new roads to me. I was in roughly the same areas as previous rides, familiar names on signposts triggered memories. It was early afternoon by the time I got past Petersfield and Hampshire looked about as pastoral and bucolic as it’s possible to be. Narrow lanes carried me through endless fields of wheat and barley rolling across low downland until I popped out on a familiar road through the Bourne Valley towards Wiltshire. I crossed the border as the sun was setting and headed for Marlborough. Somewhere along the way a rustling sound from a field to my left startled me and I turned to see a group of deer bouncing through the golden field, not only a sight to behold but the sound of them swooshing through the tall crop was beautiful. Then a barn owl swept across my path. Idyllic.

The last of the light was fading from the sky as I reached Marlborough around 10 o’clock and by the time I dropped off the Marlborough Downs stars could be seen in the dark sky. There was an orange glow on the horizon to the northeast which I guessed was Swindon. From previous years of driving to Mayhem I knew this is where we turned off the M4 so it couldn’t be too much further. The Garmin distance told me similar, somewhere around 50km to go.

The next section passed close to Royal Wootton Bassett, Malmesbury and Tetbury but I’m not sure what the landscape was like as it was properly dark by now and I was tired and concentrating on pedalling, snacking and drinking. At 1 o’clock in the morning I was sat on a bench outside the pub in Avening eating the last of the emergency peanuts before the last couple of kilometres up the hill to the Mayhem site.

A few minutes later, and after getting lost on the campsite, I pulled into our camp where Rory and Shaggy gave me a hug and a beer, and Jo handed me a plate of pasta. Part one completed, 215km in ten and half hours.

Saturday

Much sitting about in the shade trying not to melt in the sunshine. Beer. Food. More beer. Heckling mates racing. Due to some motorway closures one of Jo’s team of ten, My Knees Hurt (usually a team of four and raced all 20 years of Mayhem, singlespeed in the old days hence the team name, this year all previous riders and helpers have combined to make a team of ten) can’t make it to Mayhem so they are a rider down. Frazer from the Pivot Boompods team very generously offers me his Pivot Les to do a lap standing in for ‘Scottish Phil’. Some number crunching is done and it is decided that I will go out for the dawn lap on Sunday morning. I then drink some more beer as I have hours to go before I have to ride.

Sunday Morning

I awoke to Jo saying “Oi, you’re supposed to be awake. You’re out soon”. I checked the time, it’s 04:18 and two minutes before my alarm is due to go off. Bleary eyed I gave Jo the spare number board to go on the bike whilst I dragged my kit on. Half a flapjack and a spin around the campsite to make sure the bike is set up OK and I set off to the arena to take over from Rory when he gets in from his lap. Yes, I know it would have made sense to check the bike the day before but it was being saved as second bike for Rich who was racing solo so I didn’t want to mess around with the seat height until I was absolutely sure he wouldn’t need to use the bike.

Rory beeped over the timing mat and handed over to me. I hopped on the bike and headed out of the main arena into the field before the woods. First corner and the rear end squirmed all over the place. Bloody hell, I’d not ridden a MTB since last November and I had completely forgotten about how low pressure you can run a tubeless tyre. I minced around the first few corners, almost slid out over a root into a tree, until I got used to it and then I was off. It’s a lot more fun knowing you only have to put one lap in rather than ride non-stop for 24 hours. For the first time I was riding up behind people and saying “on yer left” or “on yer right” and slaloming between slower riders. Most of the course was ingrained in my mind from two years of solo racing and the trails are so dry it was easy to get some flow going. Despite not having ridden a mountain bike for months it felt like the best I’ve ever ridden.  After a few corners I can see the sun squeezing between the trunks and branches, sun rise! A magical time of day to ride a bike. I love riding at dawn but my previous experience of dawn at Mayhem is utter exhaustion and a slow (rapid) unravelling of my sense of humour or resolve. I’m usually having a lie down and sulk not long after the dawn lap. This was riding at dawn without all the tiredness and mental fragility of soloing and it was ace. I even rode the entire course, no parts were walked, a mix of having a really lightweight bike to ride and all the Transcon training, plus the fact I only had one lap to do so didn’t need to worry about conserving energy (I may have eased off on a couple of fire roads knowing that I had to ride home later in the day). It was the most fun lap I’d ever done at Mayhem. Through the campsite section I could see Phil was still at camp and not at the handover waiting for me. “Phil, I’m back…” I shouted as I whizzed past. Through the last bit of singletrack into the arena and I span along until I saw Phil riding round to take over. I rode over the timing mat just as he arrived. I passed the baton over and went looking for a bacon sarnie. Then I dozed some more.

The rest of Sunday

All packed up and goodbyes said I pedal out of the campsite just after 2 o’clock for the 200 or so kilometres home. It was ridiculously hot and I had toyed with the idea of just getting a lift home, but this was the last big Transcon training ride, and getting a lift won’t be an option on the Transcon. I had a framebag stuffed full of snacks and two bottles of water which would get me as far as the first shop. I had routed myself home pretty much the same way as I’d ridden on Friday, so knew that I probably wouldn’t see anything open until Marlborough. Two bottles of water would not get me that far, not in the heat, but I also knew that I would pass close enough to Malmesbury to detour if I needed to. However it turned out my route back was slightly different, I rode through Royal Wootton Bassett rather than near it, so was able to buy some food and water to keep me going to Marlborough.

The section between Wootton Bassett and Marlborough was gorgeous. I’d not been able to see it in the dark on Friday but white horses in the sides of the hills at Broad Hinton and Hackpen hill glowed in the bright sunshine. On the Friday I had a feeling that the road between Hackpen Hill and Marlborough was nice, the twilight meant I had been able to make out silhouettes of the surrounding landscape, but it was an absolute cracker made even better by the fact it was a gentle but fast descent for the best part of 7 or 8 kilometres. More food and water in Marlborough before a quick blast along the A4 to get back into the quiet lanes across Wiltshire and Hampshire. The Bourne Valley again. Love this stretch of road. Under the A34. Dinner sat on a step in the shade by the river opposite the little Tesco in Whitchurch. Over the M3. Yet more hedge lined lanes through yet more fields. This part of the country always makes me think of Lemon Jelly record sleeves.

Picture Perfect England™.

A kestrel glides low over the field to my side before swerving across the road and through a gap in the trees to my right. Then I chased a hare along a lane a few minutes later.

Petersfield again. More food, more water. Home roads. Tired. Hot. Probably dehydrated. Actually, absolutely definitely dehydrated. Twilight. By this point I was starting to lose interest in riding, bored even. Close enough to home to just want to be there, far enough away to know it was still a couple of hours away. I plugged my earphones into my phone and hit shuffle. I pedalled on. Home roads. Autopilot. Village names got ticked off the mental list – Harting, Cocking, Graffham, Greatham, Storrington. Dark now, it was late. Even the main roads were quiet. Swerved a hedgehog. Route 1 home. Washington, Steyning, Shoreham. Head down, high gear, push pedals as hard as possible. The fast road and the cement works. A way I would never ride in the day, but 11 o’clock on a Sunday night it was OK. Tempted by the drive-thru MacDonalds, but no, cracked on. Didn’t even cross the lock gates for the quiet of Basin Road, I stuck to the coast road. Hungry. Tired. Get home, maybe stagger to the kebab shop. Then I saw the lights of the M&S shop at the all night petrol station near Hove Lagoon…

“Have you done the bike ride today?”

six hundred

I can feel tears welling up. My sunglasses are in my jersey pocket so there’s no way I’m going to hide this. I drift backwards from Jo’s side. I look at the trees, and my stem, and my feet turning the pedals, and back at the trees. I wipe away a tear with a filthy, snotty mitt. I am utterly exhausted. It’s suddenly hit me that I’ve decided to pack. The shear scale of what is left of this endeavour has overwhelmed me like a wave and I’m too tired to keep my head above the water. Doing the sums I know it’s possible to complete the audax in the time allowed but chances are when we get back to Hailsham it will be too late to get a train home. The thought of having to turn around in order to ride the extra 35 kilometres home is more than I want to think about. I really don’t want to pack though. It’s my first 600 and it would complete a Super Randonneur series for the season. More than that though I don’t want to let Jo down. He didn’t enter the audax, he’s just come along for fun, well, maybe not fun, we did a pinky swear about trying something really stupid next year so this is a test, and it’s a test I sense I may be about to fail. I’m the one that is supposed to be able to do this. Jo has never ridden more than 200km and it was my idea to ride 600 and I said it would be OK. I can reconcile myself to bailing on the audax but to not ride 600 kilometres? I can’t stop, not now, not this far in, giving up is out of the question. I reckon we’ve ridden about 540 kilometres so far and it must be about another sixty to home from here. We’re near Petersfield and if I can get there then I can get to Midhurst and if I can get there then I can get to Petworth and if I can get there then I can get to Storrington and if I can get there I can get to Steyning and if I can get there I can get to Shoreham and if we can get there we can have a pint by the river and we can say we did it. We can say we rode to Wales and back and we will have ridden 600 kilometres, further and for longer than either of us have ever ridden. It’s been ridiculous and it’s been brilliant and it’s not quite over. I ride back up to Jo and tell him the new plan hoping he doesn’t notice the emotion cracking my voice.

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https://www.strava.com/activities/692622452

Bespoked 2016 weekender

Since first visiting the Bespoked Handmade Bicycle Show in Bristol a few years back the thought of riding to (and maybe from) the show has been floating around my head. I finally got around to it this year. One reason was that my friend Jo did a framebuilding course (that link is part one, the rest of it can be found on road.cc if you want to read the full story) and did a pinky swear with Downland Cycles that he would ride his bike to Bespoked, so it could go on their stand. This seemed as good an opportunity to ride there as any. Second reason was that it then transpired that road.cc needed Jo to report on the show and someone to take photos. All sorted then. Well, not quite. The frame built at Downland Cycles was still at the sprayers. A back-up plan was hatched, there was another frame being built by Reilly Cycleworks that would be ready. Just. [See the film]

Thursday 14th AprilIMG_20160415_091124

Big ride day. Friends of Jo live “just the other side of Salisbury” which sounded feasible in a day, around 100 miles. Actually, they live near Warminster which is a bit further than “just” the other side. When the shortest line was plotted between Brighton and there the first day’s riding worked out at around 115 miles. The line drawn was roughly through Petworth, Petersfield, Winchester, and Salisbury but without actually going through any of those places. I think that Jo was secretly happy that the fixie frame was still at the sprayers as it meant he could ride the bike with gears. The route wasn’t too hilly, gently undulating across West Sussex, Hampshire, and Wiltshire. Navigation for the first half of the ride was relatively simple – keep the South Downs and the sun on our left. We missed a couple of turns so wiggled about more than we needed, but the sun was shining and we made decent progress. After a short alpine like climb out of Petersfield we dropped onto the A272 for a few timetrial-esque miles and stopped for a pub lunch. After lunch we managed to go the wrong way, or I managed to send us the wrong way, which I should have realised when we ended up in the middle of a town I knew we didn’t go through, but then shortly after noticed my shadow was on the left of me – “Hang on, we’re heading in the wrong direction”. Once back on route we managed to find some bridleways, after turning off a main road that was no fun. A quick glance at the gps app on my phone and it looked like there was a network of lanes that would get us to where we wanted to be. IMG_20160414_142331The lanes got narrower and more farm track like and then over the brow of a hill we could see a gravel track extending into the distance. It went from gravel track to grass track to mud and puddles. Jo’s 40mm gravel tyres suddenly came into their own as my 28mm slicks became less useful. Overall it only lasted a few miles which turned out to be some of the nicest of the day. It’s always worth getting a little lost to find gems like this. Crossing the border into Wilstshire we traversed Salisbury Plain past Porton Down and various MOD installations, the spire of Salisbury Catherdral pointing into the sky down to our left. A couple of lumpy climbs made us use all the gears, the 110 miles ridden so far started to bite. Finally we found our way into the Wylye Valley for the final 10 miles of the day. The road along the valley was lovely, all gentle sweeps and rises, but every little gradient made itself felt, and every opportunity to freewheel was utilised. One hundred and twenty eight miles and 11 hours after leaving the south coast we made it to our destination, in time for fish and chips, ale and a couple of whiskies.

https://www.strava.com/activities/545515887

IMG_20160414_143056 IMG_20160414_223041 IMG_20160414_225104 IMG_20160415_064402 IMG_20160414_223415IMG_20160415_085614Friday 15th April

Before the off we nip down the A36 to a transport caff for a fry up. Marginal gains, obviously. It’s a shorter day today, just 45 miles, and a bit greyer and damper. From Warminster we get our heads down along the main road to Trowbridge where we pick up the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath into Bath. After a quick tea stop in the centre of Bath we go round in circles for a bit trying to find our way out to the Bristol & Bath Railway Path because the canal towpath is closed throughout the city. The cyclepath leads us slap bang into the middle of Bristol and we quickly find our way to Brunel’s Old Station for Bespoked.

www.strava.com/activities/546033558

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IMG_20160416_095959Saturday 16th April

After a very nice breakfast at Hart’s Bakery* we spend the rest of the day at Bespoked. [I’ll add a link to the road.cc report and photos when it’s online]

Then we went to the pub.

*Pork and black pudding sausage roll, cheese & roast mushroom sourdough toastie, custard tart. Three courses! We missed a meal the day before and woke up quite big ride hungry still. I can heartily recommend Hart’s if you find yourself in Bristol.

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IMG_20160417_173547Sunday 17th April

Riding the full 160 miles home was discussed and a route plotted all the way home, but with various bail points near train stations. On the day it was decided that aiming for between 80-100 miles would be most sensible, and then jump on a train. Immediately leaving the hotel car park I noticed the tell tale wibble of a broken spoke in the front wheel. Oh well, just as well I’ve got disc brakes. Snapped spoke wrapped around the one next to it we find found our way back to the railway path into Bath, for breakfast at a cafe recommended by Andrew from The Bicycle Academy. Two veggie breakfasts are ordered, but one with bacon added and one with sausage. From Bath we picked up the Kennet & Avon Canal all the way to Devizes. Again, Jo’s tyres came to the fore, but it being a sunny Sunday the towpath was quite busy, and our speed was fairly pedestrian at times. After lunch next to the canal in Devizes, we rejoined tarmac and headed south-east across the southern edge of the North Wessex Downs, the Alton Barnes White Horse visible on the slope of Milk Hill. We rolled gently across the landscape into Hampshire and down the Bourne Valley towards Overton, where we decided enough was enough for the day and hopped on a train home via London.

https://www.strava.com/activities/548358896

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The Three County And Three Cathedral Randonnee

First 200km ride of the year, starting out at Salisbury Cathedral.
First 200km ride of the year, starting out at Salisbury Cathedral.
Not far out of Salisbury and the tarmac ran out for a short while.
Not far out of Salisbury and the tarmac ran out for a short while.
...and a couple of kilometres later the gravel ran out.
…and a couple of kilometres later the gravel ran out.
Crossing the River Test on the way to Winchester.
Crossing the River Test on the way to Winchester.
60 km in and the second cathedral of the day at Winchester.
60 km in and the second cathedral of the day at Winchester. A bit behind schedule due to some poor navigation half way between Salisbury and here.
In order to avoid some busy road junctions out of Winchester decided to join the South Downs Way for a few kilometres.
In order to avoid some busy road junctions out of Winchester decide to join the South Downs Way for a few kilometres.
Gateway to the South Downs Way.
Gateway to the South Downs Way.
High on the South Downs Way and to the south I could see the lumpy silhouette of the Isle of Wight and the Solent shining silver in sunlight.
High on the South Downs Way and to the south I could see the lumpy silhouette of the Isle of Wight and the Solent shining silver in sunlight.
Wheely Down
Wheely Down
Looking back down Old Winchester Hill.
Looking back down Old Winchester Hill.
Descending from Old Winchester Hill towards East Meon.
Descending from Old Winchester Hill towards East Meon.
After a few navigation issues eventually get to Selborne, home of Rev. Gilbert White, 1720-93, pioneering natural historian and writer. Well behind schedule at this point due to wind and a lot of stopping to look at maps (route notes featuring names of lanes are only any good if the lanes in question have name signs. It seems Hampshire doesn't do name signs.)
After quite a few “I think I’m here, oh hang on, I’m not” moments I eventually get to Selborne, home of Rev. Gilbert White, 1720-93, pioneering natural historian and nature writer. Well behind schedule at this point due to wind and a lot of stopping to look at maps (route notes featuring names of lanes are only any good if the lanes in question have name signs, and it seems Hampshire doesn’t do name signs). Need to plan a 2-3 day ride that allows time to visit Gilbert White’s house. Maybe an Edward Thomas ‘In Pursuit Of Spring’ type ride.
Heading towards Midhurst.
Heading towards Bepton.
Starting to feel tired about 150km in, and daylight is fading, on the way to Heyshott. Decide to deviate from planned route and head for the coast via Arundel. The coastal ride home isn't as nice but in the dark it gives me the option of lit cycle lanes rather than pitch black lanes. It also takes me past many train stations if I decide to give up for the day.
Starting to feel tired at about 150km, and daylight is fading. Between Cocking and Heyshott I decide to deviate from planned route and head for the coast via Arundel. The coastal ride home isn’t as nice but in the dark it has lit cycle lanes rather than pitch black lanes. And it’s flat. Oh, and it gives me the option of many train stations if I decide to give up for the day. However I did forget about the absolute sod of a hill I have to get over to get into Arundel.
167 kilometres in, Arundel Cathedral.
167 kilometres, Arundel Cathedral.
Almost on Littlehampton. Seriously considered the train at this point, but I know if I can get to Littlehampton then I can get to Worthing, and if I can get to Worthing I can get to Shoreham, etc.
Almost on Littlehampton. Seriously considering the train at this point, but I know if I can get to Littlehampton then I can get to Worthing, and if I can get to Worthing I can get to Shoreham, etc.
Cycle path out of Worthing and I can see the lights of home along the coast.
Cycle path out of Worthing and I can see the lights of home along the coast.
Shoreham Harbour. Almost home.
Shoreham Harbour. Almost home.
210 km, home.
210 km, home.

big day out

 

 

Tourist Trophy 2013 // Stage 6a // June // Bath to Salisbury

a.k.a Getting lost in the mid-West

The original plan was to travel by train to Salisbury on a Saturday morning followed by a leisurely meandering ride to Bath over two days. However a few days before the ride I realised that I’d planned the ride for the same weekend as the annual London to Brighton charity bike ride. This scuppered plans. Southern Trains, in their great wisdom, ban bikes on trains anywhere near Brighton on this day, despite telling me everything would be fine with a bike when I pre-booked my tickets. Grrr. A squizz at the map, a couple of re-bookings, and a new plan took form: Train to Bath, then 2 day ride back to Brighton via Cheddar and Salisbury. It meant more miles but it looked feasible, if a little daunting. However as Tourist Trophy instigator Jo Burt said, “Do something that scares you once in a while.” So, here is the tale of a two-day ramble…

Day 1

The day didn’t start well, due to a slight lack of planning and, more honestly, my own idiocy. Due to the late change of plans I didn’t have all the right maps so was relying on route planner print outs, a couple of pages torn from an old AA road atlas, and one OS map for the area around Cheddar and Wells. Then I went with the ‘follow your nose’ option to get out of Bath, guessing south by the position of the sun. I was vaguely correct but headed southeast rather than southwest. Oh, and straight up a very steep hill towards Claverton Down and Combe Down.

At the summit I decided it would probably be better to check a map. I really should have brought the OS map of the Bath area with me (jetisoned from my small back pack the night before in interest of space), rather than trying to use the tiny maps on printouts. Anyway I matched a place name on a piece of paper with a signpost and headed southwest towards Tunley in sunshine. The arm warmers came off and sunblock went on. Thirty minutes later the arm warmers went back on. Fifteen minutes after that the waterproof went on.

I needed to head for Temple Cloud, easy to remember as this is the name of an old Sarah Records compilation album (Sarah 376, released 1990. Being listened to as I type this), but I missed a turning somewhere though and ended up in Clutton. Twice. Don’t ask. Asking the local butcher the way to West Harptree I was pointed towards Bishop Sutton and Chew Valley Lake. Then the heavens really opened. The sky turned that featureless monotonous grey that indicates that the rain may never stop. It was utterly miserable. I was cold and wet within seconds and my route notes turned to papier mache. I kept trying to memorise place names and junctions a few ahead so I wouldn’t get the map soaked. I even considered giving up and turning back for Bath and a warm, dry train home. But that is cheating.

As soon as I got to West Harptree I turned for East Harptree rather than passing straight through the village. A few miles down the road the rain stopped and I decided it might be time to refer to the map properly. I’d gone the wrong way again. Can you see the pattern forming here? To compound matters I had cold, wet feet (overshoes had also been jettisoned in favour of space. Don’t pack too light when starting out on long 2 day rides kids, it’s silly). Back on the right road I started to climb out of West Harptree to a junction where there was a sign for Cheddar. At least there was a hope of going the right way for a few miles!

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

A long steady climb over Harptree Hill was followed by long straight roads, old Roman roads, through open farmland on the high flatlands. Then after bend the landscape instantly changed. I was riding through a shallow valley, with rocky outcrops and stone walls. The valley sides steadily got steeper and more wooded as I reached the upper reaches of Cheddar Gorge. The sides of the gorge got higher and rockier until the steepening road twisted through the deep, dark chasm.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHPassing Cheddar village I turned east towards Wells catching a tailwind. The Mendip Hills spread away to the south and east, weird looking lumps, like children’s drawings of hills, with Glastonbury Tor clearly visible in the distance. The bells of St Cuthbert’s rang out for 3 as I rode through Wells, around the Cathedral and heading towards the Old Frome Road. Or I hoped I was, as no signposts seemed to match any names on my disintegrating route notes. Just as I started considering it might be as easy to write the day off, head for Frome and take my chances with the lorries on the A36 I spotted Cranmore on a signpost off to my right. Hurrah, this was the next road I was looking for!

Miraculously, the sun started to really come out, so much so that I finally took my waterproof off. I found myself on tiny country lanes for the first time in the day which raised my mood considerably. In fact the next 20 miles were the best miles of the day, narrow lanes winding their way around steep hillsides and narrow valleys. I almost got caught as a farmer was herding his cattle across the road. Of course I missed another turning near Batcombe but I didn’t care so much. Strange how when the sun is shining and the roads are narrow and quiet getting lost is an adventure rather than a disaster waiting to happen.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHBack on course again I raced across the next junction with the Wiltshire Downs stretching ahead of me and a strong tailwind shoving me along. When I hit the A350 at the next junction I realised I’d gone the wrong way again! This meant one of two things; carry on and take the A36, or turn back and take the A350 south and pick up the road to Wilton as originally planned. I opted to turn back and head for Wilton.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHI’ve driven the Wilton road many times but I don’t remember it being quite so long or up and down. The sky ahead was grey but the sun and wind was behind me, leading to a beautiful silver-green shimmer of the underside of leaves against the clouds. Passing through Wilton a sign showed that Salisbury was 3 miles away, and not much further down the road I spotted the spire of Salisbury Cathedral framed between the trees. I’ve never been so happy to see the spire of any cathedral!

Strava link: http://www.strava.com/activities/60525192

Stats:

Miles ridden: 105

Feet climbed: 6300

Average speed: 15mph

Counties covered: 2 (Somerset & Wiltshire)

Number of times went wrong way: Too many

Bags of jelly babies consumed: 0.5

Emotional ups and downs: Too many

Lessons learned: One. Buy more maps.

Camera used: Olympus Trip 35

Film used: Out of date Kodak Gold 35mm

Tourist Trophy 2013 // Stage 4 // April // Dorset

It must have been spring, as not only was the April TT ride the first proper full day ride of the year, it was also the first camping weekend of the year. A mate and his kids were coming along too so on Friday afternoon we jumped in their campervan/caravan combo and headed west. The campsite was just over the border into Dorset, in Wigbeth, not far from Cranborne. I was glad that I had a campervan to sleep in as the temperature dropped to zero overnight! However I awoke to sunshine and broken cloud so opted for arm and knee warmers, and a waterproof, rather than winter kit.

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After breakfasting in the caravan, and arranging to meet my friends for lunch in Lulworth Cove, I hopped on bike and headed out of Horton. I slowly climbed gently rising and falling downland hills to the B3081, which would take me towards Shaftesbury. I was able to spin the big ring, maintaining cadence but my speed ebbing and flowing with the undulations. I crossed the border over into Wiltshire as the hills got tighter and valleys narrower, until I passed through Tollard Royal and started the climb over Cranborne Chase. Reaching the summit I was on the boundary of Wiltshire and Dorset, riding the ridge as if surfing a wave, the land dropping away on my right to the West Wiltshire Downs, and the Dorset Downs to my left.

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Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

It was to my left that I turned after winding down Zig Zag Hill, for the long run down to the Jurassic coast. However first I needed to get up the 1:6 incline of Spread Eagle Hill. I had noticed in Dorset that roads signs used the old ‘one in something’ notation for hills rather than percentages, and also measured distances down to quarter miles. When road signs measure quarter miles you know that life can be taken a little slower. A quarter mile doesn’t mean anything speeding along in a car, but it means something on a bike or on foot. Another thing I noticed is Dorset is very green, Wales green rather than Sussex green, like it rains a lot.

Anyway I digress…over the top of Spread Eagle Hill and past Compton Abbas airfield, the road was a gentle decline for a good few miles meaning I could crank up the pace a little bit, to make up time for all the stops to take photos in the previous hour. North of Blandford Forum I turned right and headed for Durweston, and Winterborne Stickland beyond that. It was nice to finally be on smaller lanes, cycling is always best on roads with no road markings. If it’s yellow on an OS Explorer map then it’s probably worth riding. Most of the ride so far had been on orange roads on the OS map, minor B-roads, which were relatively empty but still  some fast moving traffic. My scribbled route notes for the next 7-8 mile stretch simply said “follow river winterborne” so I was surprised to find that the River Winterborne was little more than a ditch (a picturesque ditch, but a ditch nonetheless), and often not visible from the road. However the place names along the way ensured I headed in the right direction, first to Winterborne Whitechurch, then Winterborne Kingston.

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At Winterborne Kingston I missed a turning and ended up riding past a traffic jam on the A31 for a few hundred yards before passing through Bere Regis. Out of town up Rye Hill I then followed a long, straight, relatively boring, but fast section of road leading to Wool. However along this road there is 1) an army tank training camp, 2) a shooting range, 3) a small airfield, and last but by no means least, 4) Monkey World. A low budget disaster movie waiting to happen!

From Wool the road to Lulworth is a bit lumpy, up and down through farmland, before a fast descent to Lulworth Cove in time for lunch. Along the way my friends passed me in the campervan so I knew I must be keeping good time. I chucked my bike in the van, swapped cleats for trainers, pulled jeans over my lycra, and we retreated to the nearest pub for lunch.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHBack on the bike I started the second leg of the ride, back north to Horton via Corfe Castle. After a steady climb from Lulworth Cove it was past Lulworth Castle and through more army tank training land in a heavy rain shower and a strong headwind (unpleasant flashback to last month’s ride along Military Road). The landscape changed from heathland to dense woodland to open fields and hills as I neared Corfe Castle. The dark clouds passed and the sky turned clear blue again. The stretch of road between Creech and Corfe Castle with it’s tight hairpin up over Ridgeway Hill was lovely in the sunshine.

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To avoid the A351 I took a bit of a looping detour across Middlebere Heath, where the landscape changed again, to wide open heathland covered in gorse with views of Corfe Castle silhoutted against the horizon. Rejoining the A351 near Wareham it started to rain again, so I just got my head down and rode as fast as I could to the junction a few miles up the road where I knew I would get off the main road again. It stopped raining as I passed through Organford and over the A352, and into Lytchett Matravers. I could see the sky darkening again and as I shot off down a lane out of town as another heavy rain shower started. It soon stopped as I whizzed along the narrow lane and ending up unexpectedly on the A350. Missed a turning again.

A short blast along the A350 and I was back on route as I turned off for Sturminster Marshall. Over the River Stour I rode along the flood plains, under clear blue sky again, to Wimborne Minster. From here it was a few miles through Furzehill and Holt back to Wigbeth through Horton. As I neared Horton dark black clouds passed overhead again so I upped my speed hoping I could race the clouds back to the campsite. I lost! As I entered Horton the heaviest hail shower I’ve experienced started. Massive hail stones bounced off the road, the bike, my helmet (interesting sound!) for a couple of minutes only, and then blue sky again. April showers.

No sign of my friends back at the campsite I checked my phone: “Your stuff is in caravan, it’s unlocked. We’re in the pub.” So I quickly got changed, and hopped back on bike for the half mile ride back up the road for dinner and a pint.

This ride reminded me (not that I needed reminding) why I love riding a bike. There’s something beautiful and enlightening about a day long ride over a long distance in Britain. The landscape changes so much, as can the weather, and you’re in it, feeling and smelling it all. One minute you’re riding in sunshine with a smile on your face, the next you’ve got your head down cursing the wind and rain water is dripping in your eyes. Every time your legs ache and you think about stopping you come across a gentle descent so you can freewheel for a bit. Or maybe I loved it because it was the first proper ride in sunshine and warmth since the year before. It feels decadent to ride out early morning and not get back until early evening, like you’ve wasted an entire day. Except we all know that riding a bike is never, ever, a waste of a day.

Strava link: http://app.strava.com/activities/50991915

Ride Stats:

Miles ridden: 92

Feet climbed: 5000

Average speed: 15.7 mph

Rain showers: 3

Local ale drunk: 1 x Badger Brewer’s Bee (lunch), 1 x Ringwood Best (post-ride)

Camera used: Holga 120

Film used: 2 x Kodak Portra 160