Friday, October 19, 2012

Ride Across Britain - Day 2

Big decision - to put on the bike gear before or after breakfast? Today I chose the latter as I seemed to have plenty of time and knew the routine. Breakfast was packed again and, once again, the porridge pots were all empty. So I started with the full English and then had porridge later. I asked around if I'd missed anything important at the briefing, but evidently not. It turned out that the most important information, about the route, was retransmitted to each group of departing riders in the morning. Evidently today was going to be less hilly overall than day 1, but the hills were, in Andy's vernacular, more "grippy". This, evidently, meant "steep". Strange term really because, as the hill gets steeper, the front wheel gets less grippy and may even lift of the road.

My friend Mike had actually got out of bed and walked up to the start to wave me off, unlike my good wife! I just managed to spot him and call out as I was passing, else I'm sure he would have missed me as he was on the far side of the road with about twenty riders in the group.

A few years go I would have gone out without arm and leg warmers, knowing that the forecast was for a slightly warmer day. However, my knees don't like anything under 15C these days, so I was dressed for cool. Good thing too because, shortly after leaving Okehampton we climbed into the mist and it felt really quite cold and damp, especially as were now riding on a plateau so making a good speed.

Into the mist

Rest stop 1 was in the village of Bampton, where we encountered a big traffic jam entering the village. It turned out that a herd of sheep was being taken through the center of the village! The rest stop was just after the barn they were heading for so you can imagine the chaos. Not a good time to be in a car.

Sheep in town

The rest stop was pretty crazy, being on two sides of the road just after a narrow bridge over a river. There were bikes and bodies everywhere but, happily the lines for drink and food moved quickly. Since I had missed the first rest stop on day 1, it was a pleasant surprise to find that "lunch", by way of a variety of sandwiches, was part of the fare.

One half of the rest stop

I met a young girl on the bridge eating my sandwich and asked her how her ride was going. It turned out that she had only started riding in April, and here she was aiming for nine centuries in a row. The optimism of youth!

Sometime after the rest stop, the road surface deteriorated, and these were fairly main roads. Lots of badly worn chipseal made for a very bumpy ride. It seems that UK highway builders use a larger chip than in the US, around 3/4". So when the tarmac in between fails, the resulting surface is much bumpier. Since my left shoulder was also complaining I wasn't very comfortable on the bike. I was trying to keep my left elbow down to keep the trapezium stretched out, but it wasn't easy.

A little further on, we entered Somerset.

We then rode a fairly flat section that we had been advised at the start briefing to recover on. Unfortunately I was enjoying recovering too well and not concentrating on the route. After a roundabout at which I blithely carried on I went off course. My Garmin didn't alert me immediately or if it did, I didn't notice, but eventually I became concerned about the lack of bikes on the road - you are usually catching someone or they are catching you. Checking the map, and noting that the Garmin now said I was off course, I realized I had missed a turn, so back I went. At least it was flat but it cost me about five miles. Not so the correct route. That had been a sharp left turn just after the roundabout and went up very steeply at about 12%.

However, this was just a warm up as up next was the crossing of the Quantock hills.

These aren't very wide but they certainly are steep! The climb up Cothelstone Road was 3 miles long and had sections at 15% or more. A lot of people were walking up, but what goes up must come down and there was a nice descent before heading rest stop 2, which was at a pub with a nice garden. It was pretty warm and I had a wonderful a pint of shandy (Beer and Sprite in America), along with the usual goodies. There was then a long flat section into Cheddar and the big climb of the day up Cheddar gorge. This starts off steeply and there is a lot of tourist traffic but it soon flattens out to a reasonable grade even if it does go on for about six miles. I stopped just before the top for a food break and got on the back of a peloton, or "train" as we like to call them over here. The train rolled along very nicely before it got a bit hilly again and then split into two. I was surprised to find myself hanging with the faster pack but shortly before entering Bath I had to drop off as the pace especially on the uphills was just a bit too much.

We didn't have to enter Bath proper as the University, where we were staying, is on the south side and, feeling pretty good, I rolled into the finish to be greeted by Jenny and Anna again and Bee and Stewart, old friends who live in Bristol. A bit of a panic though, as Anna had almost run out of fuel in our hire car and couldn't get it started! Jenny, Bee and Stewart had also had a frustrating time going in circles and following the route signs for the next day trying to find the finish!

All I wanted to do was get a shower and something to eat, but first I had to get my room sorted. The room was great, quite new with en-suite shower, but it was on the fourth floor and no elevator. My legs didn't really appreciate that.

After the shower, we went off to find Anna and the car and, of course, it started first time for me! These hybrids can be tricky! Apparently Bath is built on an old volcano and certainly the hill dropped off very steeply to the south, where we went to get some fuel. At the garage I spotted a RABer who had sadly taken a wrong turn, waiting for a ride to the finish - he was done.

Another night playing hooky at the pub, with one pint of real ale this time, and then actually back in time for dessert and the daily briefing, and off to a real bed.

Elevation and Distance

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