My legs hurt. A lot! My sleep deprived brain is also trying to work out how a leisurely winter tour of England turned into a head down/stem chewing pedal as fast as you can for as long as you can ride.
I had a plan, I wanted to ride from Leeds to my parents house in Dorset for xmas. This would give me a chance to practice my ‘touring’ skills and use some of the bivy gear I have accrued. It seemed a relatively simple task, my route comprised of three 80 mile days with a 40 mile final day to top things off. Nothing in life is ever simple.
You see I thought, hmm I wonder if anyone else fancies riding with me for some of this? So I popped a post up on the club facebook page and a few people stepped forward wanting to get involved. Sadly everyone has their own agenda, John was riding to Bristol (approx 220 miles) and wanted to do it in two days which suddenly meant that my first day was rapidly becoming a century plus. Ed wanted to ride to his parents in the Midlands as his first century and then at the last minute Luke jumped aboard riding to Rugby. It was clear the first day would be a lot more than 80 miles.
Then the weather got in on the action, not cold or snow as you would expect in December instead wind and rain. It was clear we were going to be facing a pretty strong south westerly wind the whole of the journey and on Monday there was a forecast for gale force winds to push across the country with associated heavy rain. Balls! So I had two options, ride the distance so that I arrived home before the storm hit, or find somewhere en route I could shelter on Monday until it had passed. Naturally I’d have to play it by ear, I didn’t go into this planning to have to do it quickly!
So the four of us set off from Leeds at 7am (ish) on Saturday morning, the problem with riding 100 plus miles on the winter solstice is that your daylight is limited, by the time I got to my parents I would be very used to the dark. It was a fairly uneventful start, Ed forgot to start his Strava (meaning he missed out on the magic number of 100 miles for the world to see) and I’d already bullied everyone into my route of ‘quiet’ roads rather than the A61. My route I think was good, except it was clearly more meandering and it seemed to contain a lot of hills. The UK it appears is generally lumpy, Yorkshire and Derbyshire in the same day has the makings of being particularly lumpy. I think we did 6500+ feet of climbing on Saturday which isn’t a huge amount on the face of it, but when your riding a touring bike it’s a big task.
The four of us pressed on – sometimes Ed and Luke as they were carrying no/minimal luggage pressed on too far and had to turn round to join us back on the right route – and spirits were pretty high, we made it to Alfreton and decided to stop for some hot food in the Tesco cafe as the sun started to set. Night time, I wasn’t looking forward to this my intial 80 miles a day gave an outside of chance of mostly riding in day light. I think of the 50 hours I rode about 16 of them were in the dark.
Having survived (just!) Derby in post xmas shopping rush hour we neared the 100 mile point. Everyone was starting to tire a bit I think by now and the wind was picking up, when we got to Coalville the heavens opened and the rain came through. So we stopped to put on what waterproofs we had, I knew I had to stay as dry as possible or risk being really cold when trying to sleep later. Waterproofs on we set off again, except John was walking towards us with something in his hand. His chain! Never fret though, I had brought my chain tool. I recently have been reading a lot of Tom Allen’s blog and saw his film/Q&A at Leeds Uni. He talks about having the spare parts to keep you moving rather than needing the spare parts to maintain your bike. Hence I was carrying a chain tool and some spare ‘quick-links’. The only issue was that John’s bike was 6 speed (I think) so my quick-links wouldn’t work. John however managed to successfully rejoin the chain using the chain tool, no mean feat when it’s dark, wet, windy and cold!
So again we were moving, passing through various small villages and an honorary mention should be given to Belton where it seems courteous drivers are the norm even those driving ‘fast’ hot hatches. Soon we reached the turning where Ed would leave us and head for home. So we said our goodbyes and continued. I was really starting to struggle by now, we’d been on the road for almost 14 hours and riding for 10 of those. I indicated to John that I was beat and just about managed to make it to the outskirts of Hinkley. We spotted one field that looked an inviting spot to camp but it was on the wrong side of the road and too exposed to the wind.
Further up though we came to a boggy field on the right side of the road opposite some houses. It however had a dry strip down one side which was sheltered by a woody hedge to which I could tie my tarp and build a shelter. At this point Luke left us to continue on his journey to Rugby as we weighed up the pros and cons of various ‘campsites’. Despite a car reversing into me at this point luckily not fast or going far enough to break anything on my bike we started to make camp.
Tarp and bivy set up I snuggled up in my sleeping bag and actually got a pretty good nights sleep, despite some wind and rain that came through in the early hours.
to be continued…
(click here for day 2)