Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ride Across Britain - Day 1

It's always hard to sleep the night before a big ride, and being in a tent didn't help. The alarm call (supposedly motivating loud music) was at 5:30am but I was already awake. Ride time was between 7am and 8am and, of course, everyone wanted to get an early start. That wasn't really possible, however, as riders were only let go in groups. So you were either first in line or you got to wait your turn. I found it pretty hard every day to eat breakfast, pack up the gear, haul it to the UPS trucks for transport to the next base camp, get ready to ride, etc., in the 90 minute window. I think I rode out at about 7:30 but I had plenty of company. Breakfast was a bit of a zoo; the porridge (oatmeal), one of my favorite pre-ride foods, was in short supply, but there was a full English cooked breakfast available, various other cereals, toast etc. I eventually stabilized on porridge and the cooked breakfast as my daily fare, but often had to wait for the porridge pot to get refilled.

The weather was good but fairly quickly we entered the mist; very reminiscent of San Francisco fog! The road was up and down, quite bumpy, wet from the mist and there were a lot of riders, so concentration was important. I fairly quickly found a group that seemed to be my pace when I noticed a rattling noise coming from the bike. I'm always expecting something to come loose after I've assembled the bike but was shocked to see the headset bolt rattling around! So I quickly pulled over and tightened it up and checked everything else before setting off again, which proved tricky as the stream of bikes coming down was seemingly endless. Eventually I rode off on the right hand side of the road and just merged in with the stream. Remembering to ride on the left side of the road was one of the my challenges!

It was not long before we entered Penzance, which is the local "big town" with rail connections to London, then we were off into the country with the weather still misty. I wasn't consciously riding in a group but at this stage the riders hadn't separated much so there were always others close by. Shortly we entered the first of the crazy narrow Cornish roads, more accurately "green lanes", basically a single track road with either grass or mud down the center, and a riding lane of about 3 feet. Tall hedges so you can't see what's coming around a bend and really not wide enough for bike and a car to pass side by side. Of course there are occasional passing places for two cars, which requires backing up, but the locals seem to drive on the assumption that they have the road to themselves. Needless to say, putting 500 hundred bikes on such roads caused a few problems!

The entrance to the first green lane was, unusually it must be said, also horribly pot-holed, and a couple riders in front of me collided trying to avoid them and went down. Fortunately, no serious injuries, but a warning that group riding in such conditions was a bit risky so I vowed to keep my distance from other riders.

After many ups and downs, both slow due to the nature of the road, I arrived at the first rest stop at about 37 miles. RAB had two rest stops splitting the day into three segments that were on the long side for a century but typical for the double centuries and brevets that I usually ride. I was a bit concerned about this first stop as it being the first day, everyone had left base camp in a tight time window and the distance wasn't enough to really break up the pack. And indeed, I arrived to see a very, very long line. Since I wasn't out of either drink or food, I elected to go to "rando" mode and continue on, hoping to come across a store in the near future. Given RAB's route through the back lanes this was actually a bit iffy but as luck would have it we soon skirted a town and to avoid a busy road crossing, went down to a roundabout where there was a garage with a mini-mart, where I was able to stock up.

By this time the mist had cleared and the day was warming up, so I'd removed the arm and leg warmers. The ride continued in much the same style to the second rest stop which was much better, being in a large open space, and much less busy. The rest stop food was basically pre-packaged, sandwiches, Cadbury's chocolate, bananas, energy bars and, yes, pork pies, a classic British delicacy. My dad loved them but not my taste even when hungry on the bike.

The ride, which had been hilly enough already, got more so as we skirted Bodmin moor and then started a steady but undulating climb to the destination at Okehampton which was at 1000'. The last 10 miles was an endless sequence of big rollers, each one climbing a bit higher than the last, but always descending first before regaining the higher summit. Finally we descended into the town and then, after a long delay at traffic lights, climbed up to the base camp at the local college. Jenny and her sister, Anna, partner Jim, son Sam and old friends Mike and Margaret, who had traveled a couple of hundred miles down from Sheffield, were there to cheer me in.

Racking the bike at the end of the day

I was pretty happy with my ride time given the amount of climbing and slow roads, but my left shoulder was bugging me quite a bit and I was looking forward to my massage which, although only 15 minutes, was being provided every other day by a group of volunteer physical therapy students from Birmingham University.

After finding my tent I went off to experience the portable showers, of which there were 14 in all. The line was surprisingly short and, even though we were requested to keep the shower to 4 minutes (500 riders, do the math), it was enough to wash off the sweat of the day. Time was rather tight as I wanted to meet up with Jenny and friends in the pub later, but I wanted some food asap as I was starving. I had scheduled the massage for 6:15 hoping to get food immediately the service opened at 6:00. On this day (only), they were late starting, but I just managed to scarf it down in time for the massage. Later I had a second dinner in pub!

My foray to the pub meant that I missed the "mandatory" daily briefing, and I struggled back up the hill to a very quiet camp and settled down for the night.

Elevation and Distance

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