Kernow and South West Audax
It is a tough, but enjoyable ride
This is what Marcus Jackson-Baker said about the Kernow and SW 600. This was to be my first 600, as part of my LEL 2013 build-up. I’d successfully completed my first 400, the Severn Across, on 11th May. It was now a week or two later.
Talk had had turned to the 600’s everyone was doing. Whether it was Facebook or YACF; thread after thread appeared about upcoming 400’s and 600’s. In mid-May the Bryan-Chapman 600 took place, and after reading rider accounts, and hearing about the superb weather, my anticipation around my first 600 was building.
Some wondered whether the KSW 600 was a good choice for a first 600. It has over 8000m of ascent / descent, and broken up by lots of smaller hills, so you can’t get into a rhythm.
Like my other build up rides, I’d booked it back in Jan, after getting a place on LEL. At the time many other 600 events were not yet in the AUK calendar, and the KSW 600 fitted perfectly into my diary.
It was chosen mostly because of its location, I liked the idea of riding never far from the coast, and because of the date. I also thought a 600 by June was realistic starting from a 200 base in Jan.
Is 8000m of ascent / descent a lot in 600km? When I booked I didn’t give it much thought. I seem to remember the choice of 600’s that potentially fitted in the diary were the BCM and KSW, both had this climbing figure. So I figured that was just the numbers that 600km came with and thought nothing more of it.
Did it intimidate me? Well not really, as it was all a bit abstract, when measured against a distance I’d never ridden. When mountain biking I’ll often exceed 1000m in 50km, so measured against that, it would be a bit easier.
The weekend of Sat 1st June approached, and I had both the Friday and Monday booked off work. I decided to head down Thursday night, and had chosen the Holiday Inn Express, off junction 29 of the M5. I’d chosen it because it was about 1.5km from the start, at Whipton Community Hall. I’d offered a lift to anyone who wanted one, but had no takers.
The drive down went well, and I was allocated a ground floor room, in a quiet section of the hotel. I wheeled the bike in, and put it by the window. I slept well that night, and dreamt that my car had been stolen and turned into a work of art in some unknown town centre. No idea what portents that signified.
On Friday I decided to head into Exeter town centre. This was easy as the hotel is opposite the park and ride. The sun was out, a light wind blew, and I spent the day as a tourist. Many years ago, I’d visited Exeter, as a prospective student, as one of my 5 UCAS Universities. In the end I’d chosen York, but still had fond memories of Exeter.
In fact, I’d passed through before, on the way to Dartmoor for a bit of walking or letter boxing (geo caching before GPS came along). Anyway I had a fine day following the Exeter mediaeval trail, including a visit to the Cathedral. I finished off my time in the city centre with a fine pint of ale and lasagne and chips.
I decided to walk back to my hotel and try and find Whipton Community Hall. I didn’t have the route sheet or address with me, but I had picked up a cycling map in the city. I easily found Whipton, then the community centre, and then walked back to the hotel along a cycle track I’d seen on the map. Not far at all, and it’d be easy to remember in the morning.
Once back at my room I checked the bike, and gave the chain a little oil. I loaded up the saddle bag with my rations, jelly babies, jelly tots, some chocolate and chewy bars. I doubled checked my arm warmers were there after forgetting them for my first 400. I then went over to a pub that is right next door. Here I had something to eat and a couple of cokes. I also spoke with my wife, on the phone, before returning to the hotel.
I mentioned to the hotel receptionist that I’d be leaving around 5am and would any breakfast be available? He answered yes; he’d make sure something was available. Bonus!
Back at my room I filled up my water bottles and placed them in the cages. I then got my cycling kit out for the morning, bib shorts, jersey, buff, helmet, shoes, socks, gloves, sun glasses. I decided to save faff in the morning I’d put my other stuff in the car. So I put my cycling kit on and packed the rest of my stuff and placed it in the car boot. Returning to my room, I got out of my cycling kit, and slid between the sheets, I read for a while before lights out, and slept like a log.
I woke to the sound of a cockerel, a very nice alarm on my phone. Sliding out from between the warm sheets I sleepily stepped into the shower. Out of the shower, towel dry and cycling kit on. I headed down to breakfast. There were cereals available, fruit and natural yoghurt, bread for toast and spreads and jams, plus tea and orange juice. Perfect for 5am, the hotel receptionist had done well, always worth asking.
The day was dawning as predicted. It was going to be a hot sunny weekend. I retrieved my bike, and a few bits and pieces from my room and checked out. Bit and pieces dropped off at car, I pedalled along to the start, at Whipton Community Hall. It’s always a special time, when most are asleep, and this was no exception, lovely time of day.
Arriving at the hall, a few were setting up their bikes by their cars. I parked the bike near the entrance and headed in. Ian Hennessey wasn’t quite set up yet, but his able helper was serving tea. I had a couple of green tea bags in a jersey pocket. They were meant to have gone back in the packet and in the car, but I’d forgotten. Out came the green tea bags for my cup of tea and why not? I chatted with a fellow audaxer I’d ridden a section of the Severn Across 400 (3 weeks earlier). Others arrived, we picked up our brevet cards and soon enough it was time for the off.
There was still no sign of the nerves I’d expected ahead of my first 600. All was calm, as I waited for Ian to send us on our way. I think the understated nature of audax that helps. No big send offs, no blaring music, or “motivational stuff” that you find on more commercial cycling events.
Well I guess it’s now 6am, and you guys had better be off (or words to that effect)
was how Ian calmly started my first 600. Like I said, understated, and I like it that way. GPS on, I wheeled my bike down to road. Again, it didn’t have a satellite lock, but I set off with the group anyway.
The group headed off, and Ivan introduced himself, recognising me from my buff in my Facebook profile picture. We’d been discussing the ride the week before. Always nice to meet those you first have conversations with online. Before long I found myself on the front of the group as we headed towards the city centre. We were going along at a nice pace.
At some traffic lights only two of us got through with me on front. At a turning my GPS was playing catch up and I went left instead of right. The guy behind shouted right, but by the time my brain registered it, it was too late.
I slowed and then turned round, to see the group disappearing right. I was still in a high gear and by the time I’d got in the right gear, a gap had opened up. The gap gradually grew bigger, and it was no good, I was wasting energy trying to get re-attached. I decided to drop down to my natural pace. I was in my own gap we all find ourselves in, not fast enough to catch the group ahead, not slow enough to get caught behind.
The first leg heads west to Bude. Before long you find yourself on the A3072, and it takes you all the way there. Navigation is easy. You can just enjoy the sensation of moving through a landscape bathed in a thousand shortening shadows.
Gradually I found myself gaining on others; I passed some with punctures, and some I shared the road with. Quite small groups formed, where it is more usual to ride side by side; socialising, rather than any larger group style drafting.
The route was gently undulating, and it was quite possible to ride along in the big ring for long periods, and I did. This first section passed relatively quickly, and before long I found myself descending to Bude. A nor-westerly had been blowing against me on this leg, but I’m getting used to head winds, and it didn’t really bother me. I just got on the drops and kept pedalling away.
My brother in law lives in Bude, and I had entertained the idea of meeting up. But this was my first 600, and decided I’d focus on moving forward this time, as I could get easily distracted and lose time with family. . I did to say to Ian I’d offer to help at the morning Bude control next year, and that offer still holds (as I can combine it with a long weekend to visit family).
Rolling along the sea front into Bude, the signs appeared to the car park with the café control at the far end. It was perfecting situated, overlooking the beach, with blue skies above. A fine location.
All but the very fastest riders were sat outside enjoying a second breakfast in the sun. Popping inside I got my card signed by Ian (was he going to man every control?) and ordered the full breakfast plus a coke. I also got my water bottles filled by the patient staff. Returning outside I enjoyed the warmth of the sun, my coke, and the banter whilst waiting for my breakfast. A picture by the sea front, and then breakfast.
A quick toilet stop and then it was time to be off again. A few were lingering at the café, but I was keen to be off. KSW track section 2 loaded onto GPS. A turn right, back down the sea front and then right again. Ian had prepared some good advice in the KSW 600 notes. I remember it being mentioned that the next section to Looe was very hilly, and the advice was not to worry about losing time, which you would.
Before long I found myself on quiet narrow back roads. These are my favourite type of road, never having been one who likes to go direct from A to B. I like to get from A to B via C to Z. There was just the right amount of gravel in the middle, neither too much nor too little. I could see a rider ahead, and a rider was behind.
The choppy hills, as described by Ian had started, with climbing, followed by descending, followed by climbing, with little in the way of flat in between. This has the effect of creating an elastic connection between riders. The rider ahead stretches away, as you climb and they descend, the rider behind gains as you climb and they descend and so on.
I christened it “elastic company” and there was to be a lot of this later on in the ride. I think it’s in the nature of audax. You simply can’t ride to exactly the same pace with someone for long distances, well certainly not with someone you’ve ridden a lot with before.
Heading south to Looe, the wind was now on my back, and heat of the day was beginning to make itself felt. I stopped to put on my P20 all day sun oil. Alas I’d forgotten it and would have to get some sun cream later. This allowed the rider front and back to disappear into the lanes.
The roads continued to rise and fall, the gravel increased and decreased as I made steady progress to Looe. The signs mostly mentioned Launceston and Bodmin and who hasn’t heard of Bodmin moor? I knew the climbing would just increase as this section went on. Eventually Liskeard appeared more and more on the signs.
Out onto a B road and more speed increased on the improved surface. I hadn’t seen any other riders since those early lanes. I knew some were ahead and some behind and the gap probably wasn’t that many minutes. I could see a significant area of hill ahead, and on top was a tall transmitter. Down a fast hill, a sharp turn left where I had to rapidly scrub speed, and then a rapid upshift through the of gears to head up the long climb.
As I span away; a fellow audaxer on fixed, with a beard and red top passed me. I’m seeing a pattern of blokes with beards and red tops passing me on longer audaxes Out of the saddle onwards and upward he headed. I’d decided at the start that I’d spin the uphill and push the downhill and flats; to save the legs. I’m a great believer in doing your own ride, at your own pace. I find it tiring going faster than my natural pace, and I find it tiring going slower than my natural pace. That isn’t to say my pace doesn’t vary, but it does it when I want it to, and when my body and mind says it want to.
I crested the top of the hill, and it was the highest for a long way. The views were stunning and I just knew I was going to enjoy the descent. Unfortunately my GPS decided to have a 1 or 2 second lag as I was descending and I took a turn I should not have done. It was a long drag to climb back up the hill and get back on the right road.
Once back on the right road, it was a glorious descent and I hit 87km/h before I decided an application of brake might be warranted ahead of a bend I could see ahead. From here on I was on a fast road to Looe, and the traffic kind of agreed with it. Fortunately about 6 miles out of Looe, the route left the fast route onto a gravelly back lane, with high banks, with shade, plus the East Looe River. I met a girl walking down here, with a small daypack, who agreed it was a lovely spot to be.
Climbing out of this lovely valley I found myself back on the main road from Liskeard to Looe. The traffic was busy, like any touristy place, but the cars were polite. As a close on Looe, the road joined the Looe River and ran alongside as it neared the sea, the road was fast and flat.
Once again I engaged my big cog, and spun my way along, all the while enjoying the views across the widening river.
I arrived at the end of my GPS track. I had in my mind that it was a Methodist hall, but after getting my card out I realised the control was Kelly’s chip shop and café. I could see a few of the others scattered about the place. After the solitude of the route from Bude, it was a bit of a shock to be surrounded by all the day trippers and tourists. It was like I’d entered another world. Indeed, I had.
I popped into Kelly’s and got them to sign and write the time in my Brevet card. Being busy, and being mindful of Ian’s comment about losing time, I decided to head out of Looe and get something at the first garage I saw. It was the middle of the day now, and the temperature had climbed to around 20°C. I should have bought some sun cream whilst I could, but I didn’t and I’d pay later.
Being down at sea level, there is only one way to go, up. Up I went on the main road west out of Looe, a couple of the others on the audax passed me, out of their saddles as I followed my spinning strategy, staying firmly sat upon my saddle.
Up ahead, as the hill began to level off, I could see a garage. A sign pointed right to the Fowey ferry, but I ignored it, I need to refill my water bottles and get some more food. The garage wasn’t busy, and it proved a good strategy for getting my food and drink quickly. Just beyond the garage was a sunny grassy bank, recently cut. I sat on the bank for 15 minutes or so eating and drinking and enjoying the sun.
I set off in the direction I’d been heading and my GPS beeped, off route. I turned round and headed past the garage, watching the GPS count down the metres back to the route. The figure then started going up. I turned round again, tried a road, and then turned again and again. Eventually I went down a single track road that had the beginnings of an allotment growing down the centre. Originally I’d discounted it, but I should have known. If a road is unsuitable for motors, 90% of the time an audax route will head down it.
The road really was narrow, but incredibly I encountered quite a few cars try to navigate it. The first car came the opposite way. They stopped just ahead of a passing place, and refused to reverse the 10 feet back, forcing me to wheel my bike through the nettles. I thanked them for their consideration or words to that effect!
The second occasion I was climbing a hill, as the road rose and fell. There was nowhere for me to go, so they just had to wait till I’d crested the hill and found the entrance to a field where I could let them pass. Then a Mini, then a German registered car, then another etc. They all looked lost, blindly following sat navs but I guess they were heading for the Fowey foot passenger ferry.
Despite the cars and the nature of the lane, I decided to put a bit of speed on for the descents. This worked well and I managed to gradually make up for the ascending. Popping out onto a wider road, I could see the sea to my left, and the road become more undulating / less hilly. I flew along here, still with cars passing.
Before long I passed a car park beyond which only locals and pedestrians / cyclists were allowed. It was a steep descent and I hurtled down it, warning the pedestrians ahead. Glad I wasn’t trying to cycle up it, it must have been over 20% in places. As I neared the harbour a couple stepped out with a pram, fortunately they heard my shouts, as the brakes were slowing me down, but how quickly I’d be able to stop I wasn’t sure.
At the bottom, I followed the signs, thinking the ferry has left. Fortunately I spied the ferry, smaller than I imagined, and full of fellow KSW 600 audaxers. Picking up the bike, I ran down the harbour steps and clambered onto the ferry.
Shortly after I’d got on board, the ferry left, I was just in time. There were 8 of us on board, and I recognise my fellow riders I’d seen at various stages so far. Like I said earlier, elastic company. The trip across was short, but pleasurable, a mini highlight.
Climbing up from sea level, the gradient was steep, some initially walking, and some slowly turning the cranks. Despite the re-union on the boat, we were strung out in a surprisingly short period of time. Before long I found myself on my own again.
It surprises some, how riders, with what seems strikingly similar average speeds on paper, separate out on the stages of Audax. I’ve got used to this, and knew that we’d all be within 20-30 minutes of each other by Penzance.
The next section towards St Austell had some busy A roads, and I’m not a fan of A roads. On these sections I just get on the drops, take advantage of the speed they often offer, and look forward to when the GPS track diverges form the line of the road.
In St Austell one of the roads had a sign saying it was closed, but like all cyclists, I continued on, in the belief I could get through. I could.
Eventually I started to climb up into some hills, on the kind of lanes I like. They were quiet, they meandered, the offered continued interest, the views opened out. I saw a transmitter, and knew that was the highest point, and that I’d probably be passing it. I did.
The views really opened out and I could see the land falling away to the sea. There was then some fast and fantastic descending. I spun those pedals for all my worth, making a judgement between rate of descent, and safety. A bit of the A30, then through the villages, out onto the main road into Penzance. My GPS lagging a little again, I missed a turning and made a steep ascent up some cobbles from the sea front to the road with the control, a Methodist church.
Controls can have an amazing effect on you. It’s almost like they reset you, put some fresh batteries in, and send you on your way.
Chuffy (YACF name) was there in support, doling out tea, bowls of pasta, crumble and custard, orange juice and sandwiches. That may sound like a random order of things, but the order you eat things doesn’t conform to the 3 course meal of a restaurant.
Sure enough, many of the others from the Fowey boat were there. One by one they got going, as I continued to take on calories. Eventually it was just me and Alan Parkinson. Alan was a cheery soul, and he was good and getting me out of that control a bit quicker than I would have done on my own. I think he was keen for someone to cycle with. There were a number behind us, somewhere out there, each riding their own audax.
By now I was heartily sick of my hydration flavourings, and before we left, I asked Chuffy if he could fill my water bottles with sugared water. I’d also got sick of my Jelly Babies, something I thought would never happen. But there are things you will only find out on longer distances.
As we were heading into the night stage I replaced by prescription sun glasses with my normal ones, and put on my waterproof top (a short sleeved Gore active shell), plus leg and arm warmers. Lack of sun cream and a blazing sun all day had burnt my arms, legs, and a bit of my nose. I wasn’t suffering from the cold, as the heat of the day radiated back out, but I knew when the sun disappeared it would be a cold night.
We headed out together on the main road, at one point the GPS track branch left and we went straight. When this happens you have the choice of turning round and getting back on course or continuing in the belief that the road you are on and the route will converge once more. They did about a mile further on.
Alan road a little ahead of me, then we’d ride side by side, then he’d ride behind and we’d swap. I got the impression Alan wanted to rider a little faster. After leaving Penzance and further down the road, we caught another rider. Briefly riding as a three, they were ascending the hills faster. Following my spin up the hills and attack the descents strategy, their lights blinked off into the distance.
The km ticked by, with Alan’s and his ride companions lights side by side. Never too far away, never too close. Further on one of them needed to get batteries for the lights, and I passed them. Later on they would pass me again.
We passed through a few built up areas, but before long we were in the dark countryside. We were on an A road, but because of the time of night, it was quiet, with just the odd speeding car, in the darkness. The road climbed and fell in a regular almost hypnotic fashion. In fact so hypnotic and so little navigation to do, that I was falling asleep. The lights of Alan and the other rider, about 400m ahead, added to the effect.
I’d just passed rider when I began to feel really sleepy. Just before a roundabout I pulled over, sat on the verge, and pulled out a bag of jelly tots. As I was sat there, a car pulled up, and they asked if I was alright. I explained that I was just getting some sugar on board and was fine. I thought it was really nice that someone had stopped to check at that time of night. I later found out it was Chuffy, but I’d been so sleepy I hadn’t noticed.
I probably sat there for 15 minutes or so, intermittently dozing and eating my tots and drinking the water. It seemed to do the trick, and once more I set off into the darkness. By now I was in a gap, with neither lights ahead or behind.
As I neared Newquay my GPS warned of low battery. I switched on my other GPS before the first one ran out of juice. I only have two GPS’s because the first one was very buggy when I first had it, and would crash on anything over 50 miles. So I bought a different make and model, which has been excellent. But I hadn’t sold or got rid of the old unit, and a certain well known GPS manufacturer had actually fixed the crash bug in the meantime. Together they give my 30 hours of nav, before I need to worry too much about charging.
The signs for Perranporth, St Mawgan and Newquay came down to single digit numbers. I used to holiday in Treggurian as a child, on our summer camping holiday. With childhood memories floating around I entered the outskirts of Newquay, where we need to get a receipt. Seeing a garage on the right with a cashpoint, I did a balance enquiry. The receipt didn’t say Newquay on it, but some other name, probably a sub dsitrict. I hoped Ian would recognise it, as Newquay.
Continuing on, I turned right and say 5-6 of the others gathered outside a Tesco Metro. I pedalled on, but found a bench on the outskirts, where I could resist. I sat down for another rest, and had something to eat and drink. During this time Alan and a few of the others from the Metro passed me.
After Newquay the route climbed up onto the moors, the stars were out, wisps of fog were forming, and it was a beautiful site. I caught another rider along here and we cycled together for a while. I’ve no idea how long we rode and chatted on those high moorland sections. Time seems suspend, when riding a long audax at night. Relativity indeed.
Eventually he stopped for toilet break and I pushed on. I now had my second wind (or was it my third or fourth?), and was flying along enjoying the solitude and the world of night time audaxing. The moors bucked and twisted trying to throw me off. Every final decent turned into, just one more hill. What goes down must go up. I could see what I thought were the lights of Bude far in the distance, but they were a long time coming.
Eventually that final descent was the actual final descent and I found myself speeding through Bude to the control. I arrived at the same time as another rider, and we rolled our bikes into the hall. The same group of Fowey were in attendance eating, drinking and discussing the last stages.
Both Chuffy and Ian were in the hall, having just as long a day as the riders. Brevet updated, receipts collected; it was time for food. Beans on toast and a cup of tea, some juice. I had time in hand, so elected to use some of it to sleep. I spent 30 mins eating when I arrived, then headed off for my 2.5 hours of sleep. Ian offered up a chair or the floor in a room. I elected for a chair and fell asleep under a light sheet / covering.
I awoke, and sleepily headed back to the main hall where Chuffy was serving up full English and lashing of tea (yes please). I think porridge was also on offer but I don’t like too much sitting on my stomach before exercise. Despite the fact a few had woken before me, after 30 mins I was ready to go.
My bike has USB charging from the dynamo, with a cache battery. I’d put the GPS on charge before sleeping. Setting off, one of my GPS was on full charge, after 3 hours. I set off ahead of the others.
It was a cool but clear morning, the sun still low in the sky. The jacket and arm and leg warmers were back in the saddlebag. It felt wonderfully fresh, and the cooling effect on my sunburnt arms and legs was welcome. I started off a little slow, still waking up, as I climbed out of Bude.
Soon I found out two things, the 2.5 hours of sleep had done outstanding things for me physically and mentally, and I was on a really good road surface. I hadn’t had any real mental lows the previous day, and physically I’d just got sleepy at a time when I’d expect to be sleepy. But still, it was amazing how revived I felt. I soon found myself in my highest gear, cranking along at speed, loving road, the scenery, the peacefulness, and the cool of the morning.
Alan caught me, clearly also having a good session along to Hatherleigh. We caught another rider, and then I cranked some more and moved ahead a while, before slowing, and we reformed. Beyond Hatherleigh the hills returned, and we once more joined the lanes. Alan moved ahead here, and the other rider fell back.
I loved the next section, short sharp climbs, longer descents, rinse and repeat. All but deserted, but for the odd local. Later on, as we neared Tiverton, more cyclists appeared. Before the big descent to Tiverton I heard one say “I’m glad to have climbed that hill in one go”. I silently chucked inside, thinking back to all the hills I’d ascended so far.
I was so enjoying the fast descent to Tiverton I missed a turn, and zoomed out the GPS map screen, so I could navigate back to the route. Out of Tiverton I could see the M5, but the leg to Taunton Dean Services went on for ever, twisting and turning in the lanes. I hadn’t eaten since Bude, and so stopped to have some more Jelly Tots.
As I was doing this Alan caught up, and said only 30 mins now. I asked him the distance which didn’t know. I was then a bit grumpy with him, and Alan rode on at that point, and said he’d see me at the services. Sorry Alan, I must have been having a sense of humour failure due to lack of eating.
The lanes to the services gathered the gravel they could and spread it in my path, quiet and narrow lanes indeed. Whilst climbing one of the hilly lanes, I saw a zip lock bag with a card at the side. I stopped and picked it up, it was indeed a brevet card. Finally I crossed the M5, turned left and you see the services through the hedge, but no way through, till the service road at the end.
I saw Alan’s bike, but didn’t find Alan. Entering the cafeteria I got pasty beans and chips plus a coke. The guy at the till was the Worlds slowest. The couple in front were signing up to the loyalty scheme. They were the Worlds slowest customers. I gave them my stare which said, calories; my body needs these calories, NOW! It didn’t work. When he did eventually serve me, he operated the till as though he’d never seen it before, silently mouthing the items on my plate to himself. Did I want to sign up to their loyalty scheme? Nooooooo.
A couple of other riders came in during this time and I watch as they had the actually the same problem. Leaving I got some lemon juice for the bottles, and grabbed a can of red bull to gulp down. Initially the lanes weaved within sight, but more sound, of the M5, before making a definite turn in the direction of Yeovil, the next control.
I entered the Somerset levels, least I think it was, as it was very flat and the road turned in right angles for a while. I passed through Shepton Curry and thought of drunken Indian curry nights for a while.
It was whilst in these lanes, with a 3-4 foot high bank, that I encountered a deer coming towards me. I was cranking along in my highest gear and our closing approach speed was rapid. The deer continued bounding towards me. At the last minute the deer jumped over the bank and I breathed a sigh of relief, only to see another 20 metres further on.
The deer jumped from side to side, between the banks; I put my brakes on, but there was nowhere to go. With the deer making a last jump to the right, I leant left, and the deer crashed into my right hand. It was quite a weight, but fortunately it was a glance, and somehow I wobbled but stayed on the bike. My hand was bruised, and hurt like hell, but I’d live.
The section to Yeovil was a short one, and before long after a few small hills, and a horrible section of the A303 (slow down cars and don’t pass so close), I found myself on the descent to Yeovil. Yet again, I was enjoying the downhill and missed a turning, ending up in Yeovil industrial estate.
I zoomed the GPS map out, and figured the BP station control would be on a roundabout. After a few false turns I eventually found the BP station on the outskirts. Alan and a few of the others were here.
I offered up the brevet card, but it didn’t belong to any there, so back in my jersey pocket it went. I bought some drinks and snacks and got a receipt. A few of us, sat or stood outside the petrol station consuming our purchases.
The next section was along a busy road, the A30, with lots of weekend traffic. Having said that they were fairly patient drivers, and I didn’t get the revving of engines and intolerant beeps you sometimes do. Eventually we left the A30 and entered the Blackdown hills. I saw signs to Lyme Regis.
Lyme Regis is in Dorset, and hadn’t been on my list of counties for this ride. I should have expected it on a ride of this length. The rose and fell though the Blackdown. The climbs were different to previously and tended to be long drags and long descents, or at least that’s my memory of them. The roads were also shady, a welcome relief, but it looked like the roots had were under the road surface, and it was the roughest of the entire ride.
By this time I’d allowed myself to think about the remaining distance. There really wasn’t that far to go in the scheme of things, I was still up on time, and I was going well. I just had to get a receipt at Seaton, on the coast, then another 34km to Exeter and the finish.
So what did I think about, punctures! I don’t know why I thought about them but I did. I know that punctures are normally quick to fix, but sometimes they can kill your time. So what happened? Shortly before Seaton, my rear punctured on a descent. I found quite a few flints in the tyre, and it consumed a few minutes. I then rode for no more than 5 mins and the front went! More time lost. Do not think about punctures near the end of a ride folks!
Joining the A3052 to Exeter the surface was smooth, and the gradient flattish. I sped along before turning left for the descent to Seaton. Arriving at where I thought was Seaton, I realised it was Axmouth. I could also see an estuary, and didn’t fancy climbing back up the hill to the main road, to get to Seaton. I asked a local if I could carry on and get to Seaton as didn’t fancy climbing the hill again. He said you could, but I’d be climbing hills whichever way I went. If only he knew.
Crossing the estuary on the bridge, I saw Tesco’s to the right, and the garage was open. So I popped there, and got a chicken mayo sandwich and a couple of bottles of Ribena, Sitting at the side of the garage, in the shade, I hungrily ate my purchase.
Riding on through Seaton, I saw some of the others at cafes in the main part. The next section was a series of delightful climbs on those wonderful back country lanes. I was relishing the last bit, and knew that barring mechanicals I was going to finish my first 600 in time. Why I was thinking about mechanicals I don’t know, thinking about punctures hadn’t done me any good.
Eventually Exeter appeared, and despite the distance already covered, it gave me a new spring, and I cranked up the gears to bundle along. I reached a bit of Exeter where I knew the way to Whipton Community Hall. I switched the GPS to trip computer display and watched in satisfaction as the remaining distance dropped below 1km and the metres counted down. 800m, 400m, 200m, all the time my speed increased. With one final effort I rode up to the community hall door and got off the bike.
I was elated I’d finished my first 600. Not only had I finished it, I’d enjoyed the scenery, the riding, the hills, the elastic company, the volunteers helping at the controls, the visits to different coasts, the night time star gazing sessions. Not only that, but I’d finished it in good form, with no real lows to speak of. It also had great significance for me, finally I felt ready for LEL at the end of July.
After brevet card and receipt handover to Ian; it was time for some tea and light snack. I’d also handed over the brevet card I’d found, at which Ian said, ah there was a rider would lost his card, but he has left for the train. Alan and the elastic company was there, we’d all finished within 30 minutes of each other after all that distance.
After a few reflections, more tea, and Alan complimenting me on my choice of tyre, after hearing about my two punctures; it was time to return to my hotel. Before leaving: a photo of my sunburn self at the finish with mucky face (from fixing the punctures).
Back on the bike, the bit back to the hotel took no more than 15 minutes or so, and passed at my most relaxing pace for the last 2 days.
I picked up my bag from my car, and walked my bike into reception. I was on the first floor, but they had a lift, so that was fine. One receptionist came out to congratulate me, as I’d spoken to him at when I’d left at 5am the previous day.
Once in the room, I stripped the clothes, from my body, removed helmet and sunglasses and entered the shower. The dust and salt layers washed away from my body. I let the water run down over my naked form, cleansing me. It was wonderful. I applied some moisturiser to my sunburn then dried off.
I’d intended to go back out for a beer to celebrate but I was too tired. I rang the wife, to let her know I’d successfully finished, and was safely at the hotel. I then posted the photo of my sunburn finished self at the finish to Facebook. I had a choice of firm or soft pillow, I opted for the latter. I crawled between the sheets, and slept the sleep of kings.
Monday, next morning, I awoke and made it 10 minutes before breakfast closed down. Business meeting were already starting up. I had the drive home to Hertfordshire. Checking out I loaded the bike on the back of the car, and rejoined the M5 north.
I watched Taunton Dean Services go past, and where we’d entered them by bike. It was another hot sunny day and the sun through the windows reignited my sunburn. I tried to get my arms out of the sun, but hard to do when holding a steering wheel. I knew I was tired, and down the M4 decided I’d stop at the next services.
The next service was Membury. That had been the night time control on the Severn Across. I recognised the transmitter in the distance, and as I pulled in the memories of my first 400, only 3 weeks before, came flooding back. The two are connected now, and they forever will be with LEL 2013. I had a Whopper meal with a large smoothie then slept on a grassy bank outside for 30 mins. I hardly ever stop when driving down the motorways and it shows how tired I was.
Revived I continued on, the M4 10-8 junctions had an accident. I diverted across to the M40 at Swindon, then down to M25. Junctions 22-25 of the M25 had a an accident, I diverted via St Albans, eventually breaking free of traffic and following lanes to the A1 and home.
My first 400, my first 600, my preparation had gone well and I’d demonstrated that us new randonnuers are trying our utmost to succeed at LEL 2013. It is certainly an adventure I’m having, one of the best ones, next significant stop LEL 2013!