Monday, 1 April 2013

The best you can do is to fake it

Sometimes it all comes together, and as if by magic, the perfect ride appears. Of course, perfection is a very dangerous thing to aim for (as I'm always telling my participants & coachees), because it leads to all sorts of nasty obsessive and compulsive desires and behaviours. And we wouldn't want that, would we?

A few months ago I had an idea to travel by car for an hour before starting our ride. That way we could cycle some really lovely, and different, routes to the ones we usually do. For weather and other reasons, our fist ride at the end of February didn't quite come off, but Martyn came up with a great idea to ride out from his workplace in Huntworth (not Bridgwater!), and a generous offer to use the place for secure parking and changing/tea facilities. Coupled with the delights of the Quantocks & Exmoor, seven magnificent companions arrived on Saturday morning for a bracing ride.

Given we skirted close to Broomfield, that was pretty appropriate I think. Martyn, Trevor and Jon I had met before, but it was a first for me to meet Tim, James and Ed. We rolled through the suburbs of Bridgwater and soon we were out in the country and tackling the gentle climb up to Fiveways that goes around the back of Fynne Court. So far so good, and we then carefully negotiated our way down the 17% gradients and the twists and turns of Cothelstone Hill and into Bishops Lydiard.

Actually it didn't quite all come together. I got my timings a bit wrong and sent a text from BL but we failed to hook up with Gary at Wheddon Cross, and as the weather has still not acknowledged that it is in fact, definitely and definitively, SPRING!!!!, I don't blame him in the slightest for hurrying off before we could haul ourselves up to him. He would have been waiting 30 minutes too so a good call in the conditions.

For us though it was the gradual gradients out of BL before hitting the first tough climb of the day, as we slogged out of Elworthy and onto Exmoor proper. The climb had split us up but we all re-grouped at the top, although we continued to do a certain amount of that for the rest of the ride. I was touched by the trust placed in me to know where I was going, as I was the only one who had downloaded the route, pleased to say Laurens did a fab job as ever.

The hills roll up and down to Wheddon Cross, before a steep hill up towards Exford, although the latter village is in a dip, but we were now experiencing temperatures close to freezing. The wind had been pushing us onwards, but it wouldn't be long before we felt its icy blast on the exposed moor, so time for a coffee. The Exford tea room was fantastic, nice and cosy, indoor loo and genial host.

So far the roads had been surprisingly quiet, as was the tea room. Which is a shame because it's a great place. We all scoffed, drank, then scoffed some more. Good job too, because straight out of Exford the road pitched steeply upwards and yet again we were split asunder. Once on the moor we had a cross wind, but also some beautiful views. I've cycled on Exmoor quite a few times and I always seem to get the low cloud.

Not today. You could see for miles and miles, down to the coast and across the Bristol Channel to Wales. I contented myself with these few snaps:

We descended off the moor and swooped down the toll road into Porlock, accompanied by a group of bikers (what is their collective noun?) I don't know why, but I thought it was very funny seeing them all waiting to pay their toll to get through the gate.

We did likewise and headed into the tourist area. For now, the crowds were out on Easter Saturday. I managed to avoid the idiot who stepped into the road without looking behind him and we pushed down the A39 towards Minehead. With the traffic, the stiff headwind, and the hills, we were getting split up, so I attempted to bring us all together in some form of team formation. It was partially successful but as we headed out of Minehead we started to hold up the buses and the cars.

In part this was because the road is quite narrow, but also because the other side of the road was totally clogged with people heading towards a Christian conference for Easter. The traffic was backed up for miles meaning cars couldn't overtake us. Is that some type of metaphor?

We pulled over a few times, including once where we managed to coincide with the steam train at the station, and eventually headed again, for the hills over towards Stogumber. The cold was taking its toll so we pulled into a cafe cum tourist attraction just after Cleeve Abbey, for some extra refreshments and sustenance. It also had a watch and clock repairing service, as well as a random collection of farm animals and no Spring blog post can be without one of these:

On this day, the prize of alpha male must go to Martyn. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if he is in fact human. Jon and him were the only ones to make it up Crowcombe Hill without resorting to walking some of the way. And while Jon has a triple to make it slightly less than brutally impossible, Martyn managed it on a compact with a 12/25 on the back. What?

I have cycled a few hills in my time, but I haven't had to walk up any for years. Stop, and take a breather maybe, but walk?  I think the hill is about a mile long and three quarters of that are above 20%, with long pitches above 25%. I think I could do it if I had more miles in my legs generally, or less on a single ride.

Once over the top, we all clipped in to our bikes again and sailed down the last few 15 miles back to Huntworth, negotiating the Saturday afternoon traffic in central Bridgwater, and a final route that looks like this if you have Garmin access or this if you don't. I can officially confirm just over 80 miles and just over 8000 feet of climbing, so a tough ride for the conditions and time of year.

Thanks to all my companions for the day, a great ride made by all of your good humour and banter. Special mention to Ed and James, both making a big step up from previous longest rides, and coping admirably with the terrain, look forward to seeing them all on an ACG ride soon, with the rest of our band too I hope.

And particular thanks to Martyn for his facilities, and the inspiration of following his disappearing arse up Crowcombe. I will be back again make no mistake! We are planning a ride for 5 May, again from the Huntworth HQ, probably going south for the winter this time, so come along!

Because all the best rides are not ones you do on your own.

Next post will have exciting details of how you can give me money for a very worthy cause. Bet you can't wait!

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