Life is Beachy

It’s a bitterly cold Saturday morning in late October, the last day of British Summer Time. A north-westerly rips through my shivering body, providing an unwelcome distraction to my pre-race thoughts. I’m not alone. There are over two thousand participants lined up on Eastbourne seafront, all of whom are about to take on the monumental challenge of the Beachy Head Marathon. Some will run, some will run then walk, but me… I’m walking the lot.

But how did a cyclist, who gave up running over six years ago end up here? Back in March a tendinopathy crudely interrupted my riding addiction and walking became my cold turkey. I started walking Parkruns; this led to a six-miler and even a couple of ten-milers, but with the first signs of my injury dissipating the riding resumed and walking was parked.

Summer came, my riding increased and I squeezed three more centuries out of my tendinopathy before it became grouchy all over again. “Three weeks off!” was my prescription. “Mmm… three weeks… I could train for the Beachy Head Marathon in that time,” I gleefully thought to myself.

A ten-miler, a half-marathon and an eighteen-miler became my three steps to Beachy, leaving me with six days recovery from my longest walk ever, before… my longest walk ever.

Back to the start line and four slices of malt-loaf, two energy bars and six gels are stuffed into various pockets alongside a half-litre water bottle. I may have looked like the Michelin Man but the experience of riding more than thirty centuries has provided the wisdom required to fuel for a six-hour event.

I was confident and raring to go, which is more than could be said for my sports watch. This glorified step counter developed a deficiency in the GPS department; either that or it’s scared of the woods. A quality watch and subsequent re-mortgage were out of the question, so I had to rely on the Strava App on my phone which usefully calls out your progress after the completion of each mile. “Distance: twenty-six miles, time: five hours… fifty-nine minutes…” was the dream announcement I was yearning for prior to crossing the finish line later today.

It’s now only a few minutes before the start and I’m staring up at the inaugural climb of the day. The Upper Duke’s Drive climb rises, Godzilla like, into the sky – staring down at us mere mortals daring us to take it on. My pre-race research found that most people walk or even crawl up this first climb… it’s sort of a tradition here. My sub six-hour schedule doesn’t allow me to get stuck behind pedestrians, so I position myself near the front with the elite runners, hoping for a clear path to the summit.

The calm before the storm

“This is going to be tough… seriously tough,” I think to myself as I delve deep into my virtual jukebox and pull out Unleash the Misery by Evil Blizzard. The lyrics reverberate over and over in my mind, “we need to unleash the misery… so bring it on… bring it on,” stoking myself up for the long journey ahead. I’m oblivious to my surroundings until the countdown begins, “Ten…” the announcer declares, “nine… eight…” athletes and spectators join in until “one… go!” and we’re off. It’s absolute carnage as the brutality of the first climb kicks in. Even some of the faster runners are walking as only the elite few are able to summit without breaking stride. My strategy of placing myself near the front has worked as my path is only blocked on a couple of occasions.

On higher ground, runners stream passed, having either walked the first hill or started behind me. “Don’t get carried away, keep my discipline and stick to my own pace,” I keep telling myself. The last thing I want it to do is get involved in a race now, only to blow up later in the day. My phone is ready to make its first announcement. “Distance: one mile, time: thirteen minutes… thirty-nine seconds…” Strava states. “Wow!” I exclaim to myself, I was expecting to lose a lot of time to that first climb. Godzilla has failed to put any kind of dent into my schedule.

The next three miles are all over a minute inside target pace. I remind myself that I need to rein it in, but my legs won’t let me. They’re behaving like the Duracell Bunny and they just won’t slow down as I arrive at the first check point in Jevington some four minutes ahead of schedule.

The feed station is a scrum as it seems like everyone’s decided to stop here. I’m not planning to waste time at any of these today, just glide by and grab a cup of water. But that’s not possible in the throng… I manage to slip my arm between two bodies, grab a cup and push on. Only a few seconds lost. Although I’ve got minutes to spare, I know the Seven Sisters will snatch a large chunk of time back later in the day, so I’m not hanging about.

The first long climb of the day is the half-mile climb out of Jevington to the top of Snap Hill. The initial route is formed of a narrow path which causes some congestion; it’s not an exaggeration to say everyone is walking. I have to call out. “On your right,” I announce as if I’m on a sportive. My cycle speak doesn’t always work, so I have to change tact. “Passing… on your right,” I announce. This has the desired effect as people move over to let me through. I also receive encouraging comments from those I pass. “That’s awesome passing on your right,” one lady cheekily calls out.

It’s still bitterly cold early on

One mile down through Friston Forest is swiftly followed by two miles up to Windover Hill and the site of The Long Man of Wilmington. Although I can’t see him from my lofty position, I know that he’s somewhere on the hillside below, watching over the South Downs. He’s the largest human hill figure in Britain, some two hundred feet taller than me. He stands proud, with a stave in each hand, which presumably aided his passage during an early attempt at this marathon route.

It’s a long descent down to Alfriston, the path is a mixture of damp chalk and loose stones, so I prioritise staying upright over the clock as I tentatively manoeuvre between grippier sections for traction. My thoughts are interrupted by a French accent. “Hey Dave,” Philippe, my mountain climbing buddy calls out as he draws level and slows down for a brief chat. We converse momentarily, exchanging plans for the day and then it’s “Au revoir,” as he moves ahead. A few miles later I manage to out-climb the climber as, unbeknown to me, I pass Philippe on the way out of Alfristion, but I don’t see him… and won’t see him again until we’re back in Eastbourne.

We’re on the longest climb of the day, it’s a full two miles to Bo-Peep Bostal and over six hundred feet nearer the sky. I’m looking forward to meeting my supporters, wife Theresa and good friend Anita, at the summit. The trouble is, I gave them a schedule to be there at eleven forty-five and at the pace I’m going I’ll be there at eleven thirty. There’s only one thing to do in these circumstances. “Hey Siri,” is my announcement “Text Theresa… gonna be early, far too early.” I haven’t made myself clear and Siri sends a garbled message, something about an early photo. I decide to call instead and ask Theresa to go straight to our next rendezvous.

Shortly after thirteen miles, a timing checkpoint signifies the half-way point of this mega-mile extravaganza. The digital scoreboard displays two hours and thirty-nine minutes, signifying an arrival in Eastbourne some forty minutes ahead of target. The expression about counting chickens springs to mind, so I dismiss any thoughts of arriving back at the finish line with a full complement of hatched eggs.

I’m close to High and Over, the hilltop between Alfriston and Seaford. I call ahead, with Siri’s assistance, and find that Theresa and Anita have arrived okay. I’m looking forward so much to seeing them that it motivates me to keep the pace up. Just before the road crossing, I get sight of my smiley support crew for the first time today, giving me a massive boost. I give them both a hug; it’s brief as I don’t want to lose momentum, but it’s enough. “See you at Cuckmere Haven,” I announce, knowing that they’ll have time to drive three miles before I can walk the same distance.

The White Horse watches the gallop down to Litlington

Ten miles to go and time for my caffeine fix. We cyclists are addicted to this stimulant; it’s our way of masking the inevitable pain of riding mile after mile, hour after hour. There’s no time to stop at the nearby Litlington Tea Rooms, so I delve into my pockets until I find a double-expresso gel. My teeth swiftly rip it open and squeeze the gloopy liquid down my throat. It takes a while to digest, but once it’s down I know my consciousness will forget the pain of the last three hours. Which is just as well, as lying between me and the Seven Sisters are a trio of ridiculously steep climbs.

The first two, Steepie out of Litlington and the Charleston Steps are tough, but in reality they only act as a precursor to the Steps of Pain. These are an almost endless set of wooden retainer steps rising skywards from the village of Westdean, delivering you to the edge of the Seven Sisters Country Park. The initial brutal gradient of twenty percent combines with uneven gaps between the steps, adding a degree of difficulty to the climb and breaking any momentum you may have brought into it. A hand rail to the left emphasises its steepness, but a narrow path to the right catches by eye and beckons me to take it on. I grit my teeth, take a deep breath and Unleash the Misery. Tree routes attempt to slow me down but inadvertently aid my ascent as I use them to gain traction, my arms are swinging like pendulums and I’m leaning so far forward my pumping fists are almost scraping the ground. The steps narrow towards the top as my path disappears, I am forced back onto the steps and my “On your right!” routine returns. It works as I reach the summit inside ninety seconds… a post-race Strava check places me some five seconds faster than race winner Andy Coley-Maud.

I’m on a high as adrenaline is coursing through my veins, momentum is everything now and I find myself climbing up and over a wall rather than join an orderly queue formed at an adjacent gate. Maybe it’s a bit reckless as I feel my already tight muscles pull some more, but I just about get away with it and am rewarded with my first glimpse of Cuckmere Haven. The view is absolutely stunning as the Cuckmere River meanders out to the glimmering English Channel. The descent down to road is steep, so my gaze is diverted back to my feet as I remind myself to stay upright.

The foot of the descent brings you to the busy A259 where marshals hold the competitors back to let the traffic flow. This pause gives me time to locate my smiley support crew, a quick look to my right and they’ve just arrived, proving the old adage that it is indeed quicker to walk. “Have we got time for a coffee?” Theresa calls out as I’m crossing the road. I turn back and defiantly call out “Noooo! Go straight to Birling Gap… get one there if you have time!”

My smiley support crew

Across the road you enter the Seven Sisters Country Park and there’s a completely flat cinder path which runs alongside the snaking river, taking you to the foot of the first sister. But this marathon has a reputation to uphold, so it sends you up and over a long drag before delivering you back down to the path. The route relents briefly and allows you onto the path, but it lasts less than a minute as its ends at the foot of Haven Brow, the first of the septuplets. She stands defiant, the mighty protector of her siblings. She’s almost a mile long and rises from the sea to over two hundred and seventy feet. I’m in awe of her majesty, but I refuse to succumb and power up her colossal slope.

The (all too brief) flat cinder path

I’m too tired for sums, but the latest Strava announcement provides some easy maths. “Distance: twenty miles, time: three hours… fifty-eight minutes…” the audio cue states. Having walked last week’s eighteen miler in a similar time, I knew I was a full two miles ahead.

Sisters two, three, four and five may be shorter but they deliver some hefty blows. I’m starting to reel, but Evil Blizzard make a comeback. “Unleash the misery… so bring it on… bring it on,” I sing to myself as my bravado returns and sees me through these mini-battles. The clear blue sky and the calm blue sea act as a stunning backdrop but are in a complete contradiction to the pain being dished out by these sadistic sisters. There’s been a lot of pre-race talk of a crack that’s formed near the cliff’s edge, but the only cracking I can see is that of people crawling up the gradients. The downhills don’t provide much relief either as the sheer steepness is painful on taut leg muscles. Gravity is having its say as well, trying to force me to run but causing me to stub my toe and I almost tumble in my efforts to resist.

I’ve dodged blows from the first five siblings but the penultimate sister, Bailey’s Hill, delivers a knockout punch almost stopping me in my tracks. I’m left with no option but to retaliate with my secret weapon, so I rummage in my pockets one more time and pull out my last remaining caffeine gel. I’ve had so many gels today, I’m not sure I can stomach another. The gloopy liquid has to go down one way or another. I gag but quickly follow it with a gulp of water; the caffeine stays down and starts to do its job.

Before you can say double-expresso the last sadistic sister is behind me and replaced by the smiley sisters as Theresa and Anita are waiting for me on the path to Birling Gap. “Blimey, that was a tough section,” I announce as I enjoy another round of well-earned hugs. “But, I’ll be well inside six hours,” I gleefully add as I begin the final push… the two-and-a-half-mile march passed Belle Tout Lighthouse and then up to Beachy Head.

“Distance: twenty-three miles, time: four hours… thirty-eight minutes,” Strava provides a further announcement. “So, three miles to go,” I think to myself, “Worst case scenario is fifteen minutes a mile, mmm, that’ll be five-twenty-three… What!” I exclaim. I redo the maths; it comes out at the same figure. It begins to dawn on me what I am about to achieve and spurs me on as I continue the long push up the last climb of the day.

On the way up Beachy Head

Beachy Head summit signifies an end to the climbing-fest, it’s now less than a mile to go and it’s all downhill. I’m on top of the world as I take in the stunningly clear view of Eastbourne below. Runners stream passed me on this fast-downhill section, but it’s of no consequence, I’ve overtaken so many runners today and I’m now some forty minutes ahead of schedule.

I recalled the TV programme Who Wants to be a Millionaire where a contestant knowing the answer to the million-pound question used his phone a friend to call his father announcing that he was just about to become a millionaire. I had so much time in hand, I felt like a millionaire. I stopped at the foot of the last descent for one last embrace with my crew before proceeding over the finish line… arms aloft as If I had won that million pounds.

Millionaire!

There’s no money in the world that can buy what I’m feeling at the moment… I’ve just walked one of the UK’s toughest marathons in five hours and seventeen minutes. I’m still in a state of disbelief as I watch runner after runner cross the line behind me, my legs are in agony but my head is buzzing with euphoria.

At this moment in time, life is definitely beachy!

© Mapbox © OpenStreetMap

Eoghan’s JOGLE

Back in July, Cycling Centurion Eoghan McHugh rode the length of Britain in ten days. From John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s End in England, via Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Wales.

Here’s his story (published on Sportive.com)… CYCLING JOHN O’GROATS TO LAND’S END: EOGHAN TACKLES THE CLASSIC BRITISH RIDE

Stage Route Distance (mi) Moving Time Elevation (ft)
1 John o’ Groats – Kildary 96.98 6hr 59m 5,108
2 Kildary – Pitlochry 114.26 7hr 49m 5,059
3 Pitlochry – Kilmarnock 114.68 7hr 44m 5,011
4 Kilmarnock – Stranraer 46.85 3hr 5m 1,980
5a Stranraer – Cairnryan 5.15 18m 108
5b Larne – Dundalk 77.49 5h 10m 3,940
6 Holyhead – Caernarfon 10.31 41m 380
7 Caernarfon – Chepstow 183.60 11h 27m 16,378
8 Gloucester – Exeter 128.73 9hr 22m 5,883
9 Exeter – Land’s End 109.87 7hr 20m 6,498
  887.92 59h 55m 50,345

Stage 7 was the only stage he had company, riding the classic Wales In A Day sportive with his Sussex Nomad teammates. I was fortunate enough to support them on this 185 mile extravaganza and ride a small section with them… here’s my photo gallery and my official video of the day (below).

The (Land’s) End is in sight!

By Eoghan McHugh

Well, I’ve been training hard over the last couple of months getting prepared for the John O’Groats to Land’s End cycle. Since the beginning of April I’ve been averaging around 150 miles a week which kicked up to 200 miles per week across June.

It’s been both a blessing and a curse there’s no doubt about that!

It’s been awesome to cycle as widely as I have – training for the last few months I cycled past the royal wedding (even had a few princesses entering Windsor Castle hold me up!), been all over the south coast and to lots of places I’ve never been before.

A couple of weeks back I took off for a dry run taking the opportunity to head out and around Kent. I packed the bike up with everything I’ll be bringing with me for the big ride and set off for 2 days (I managed 250 miles). It was great. At the end of the first day’s spin I pitched a bivy in an apple orchard and camped for the evening. Initially I settled down at 9pm thinking I’d never get to sleep only to be confused why it was starting to get brighter…

The next day I leisurely cycled all along the beautiful coastal path out of Margate around to Whitstable. I enjoyed that way too much – it took about 4.5 hours to cover 20-25 miles! The day was hot and I still had about 100 miles to cover – I had to boogie after that to get home and I struggled with the heat! I used the dry run to learn more about what I can expect for the big cycle – and I learned a lot!

Strava tells me that cycling 100 miles consumes about 4,500 calories – a tremendous energy output and a fair amount of time. There’s no doubt that it’s a privilege to cycle through some of the beautiful landscapes I have so far and will do, but on the other hand it’s a physical drain, a slog and can be terribly boring! In the span of an hour it’s easy to oscillate from thinking there’s nothing better than you can do with your time to questioning everything and thinking about who to call to come collect you! Of course, it’s all about the bigger goal and I found it useful to reframe the cycle to get out of a negative mindset. I’d break down the day’s cycle into smaller chunks, etc… I found having music as a distraction or some company to be a steadying influence. Stopping to eat (even just a snack) was also a way to break negative thoughts.

Another critical thing is refuelling. It’s crucial to replace all that energy. Over the dry run I got into the habit of a quick break hourly to dig into my kit bags to have a handful of sweets, fruit and nuts. I found having some dried fruit (banana chips were my favourite) and nuts (especially fatty ones, like pecans) to be very helpful. Pubs and service stations are also the cyclist’s best friend – they’re all over the place in the UK, they will refill water bottles and they’re ok if you go to the toilet without buying anything.

I’ve also learned I can’t rely as much on google maps as I thought. In cycling mode, google maps twists and turns with so much frequency it slows you down so much – you’ve either missed your turn or you’re having to stop every mile or so to double check if you should be turning. Fortunately, I’ll be cycling in mostly rural areas and so long as the compass is pointing south I should be ok!

It’s been great getting out on the bike, doing the dry run and now I’m looking forward to the challenge.

If you’d like to contribute – I’m cycling for Surfers Against Sewage – you can donate here.

Amstel gold 200KM

Amstel Gold 200
By Nick Westwood

As a self confessed middled aged man in lycra etc I have been riding for about two years and set myself a few challenges as you do and of course living in suffolk where a speed bump classes as a hill I decided to enter the 20127 maratona, and in training for this and browsing the net I found the entry page for the Amstel gold sportive, so as only a “Mamil” with no knowledge of cycling history does I decided that Holland equals flat and a nice run on the flat would be ideal preparation so I entered the 2017 tour version which runs is 60km 120km 200km and 240km routes around Valkenburg (hint the only town in Holland with a ski lift !) I plumped for the 200KM route and together my my long suffering wife decided to make a long weekend in Holland.

We took the overnight ferry from Harwich and drove down to our hotel about 20 mins from the start, we arrived at the registration and I had my first panic attack, the entire town of Valkenberg was basically full of bikes everyone was definitely a Pinarello dogma at least, and my basic Forme axe looked liked a it should have had a basket on the front, I also found the Cauberg the little 13% climb at the 201KM marker, at which i had my second panic attack and convinced my wife I couldn’t do it, I picked up my registration pack and found that there is about 10,000 riders over all the distances over the weekend and they were all in the amstel gold bar consuming bibilical amounts of, well Amstel.

In my state of shock we turned up at our hotel and found the carpark looking like a alladins cave of posh bikes, I was only person in the hotel that left my bike on the car overnight in the hope it would get stolen and put me out of my misery, Only in Europe would you see grown men taking their bikes not to the secure bike lock up, oh no but up to their bedrooms, a little
spocky if you ask me.

We set off the next day for the ride I was planning on an early start, and in common with all the other hotels in the area ours had put on breakfast at 5am purely for the riders. We drove to Valkenburg even though the hotel had little maps showing special routes to get to the start on your bike, plenty of special parking and I rocked up at the start and headed of for my 203KM which was the longest I had done to date. I started at about 6.30am and the rain started at 6.31am for which I was totally unprepared, Its not a closed road route until you come into the final 5km, but frankly with the number of riders and the dutch road priorities it may have well have been, a nice ride warm up though town before the first short little 8% rise, and then into the ride proper, the route in on those narrow cycle lanes/roads and basically I discovered early on the elbows and pushing are part and parcel of passing on such tracks if your are either dutch or belgium, by the end of the first 30KM I had sharpened my elbows unto the continental standard, the rain was easing slightly and I had a long straight road too myself lovely ideal I was enjoying this as the road reached a lovely little castle on a wood, and I relaxed as the road turned right up a nice little 9% climb up cobbles, I was more afraid of something falling off me rather than the bike but got to the top.

The first feed station was reached and mobbed but loud music plenty of drink and food gels etc and we started off again, the route is basically a huge figure of 8 around valkenburg and I headed back into town and started the second 100KM loop, feeling a little better little warmer and confident, thats when it really started raining just like being at home.

The last third of the route joins up with the shorter routes and it was easy to tag onto groups for a tow for a while you think your heading home and things are looking up but as you swing down into valkenburg, you turn away from town and head to the keutenberg climb which is again a steep little hill form about 2km but the big problem is its on all the routes and again on the narrow type lanes, so you turn a corner hit a hill as well as quite a few walking staggering walking overtaking other walkers, its bedlem ! you have people staggering in front of you stopping getting off, its the ultimate obstacle course on two wheels, a few choice words in that universal language helped clear my path and I made it without coming off or being knocked off ! You then run into the final straight down hill into valkenburg and then turn a corner up the Cauberg ! steady little climb but the road is wide and the crowd is huge and I actually found it did help, especially as I could hear my wife shouting out support at the foot of the climb, by now I was running on pure thrill and you hit the 1KM marked and I found I still had 37KMH in my legs, long wet cold and a stunning day, washed down in the party tent with lashings of frites and Beer!

The funniest thing was when we got back to the hotel there was a stream of dirty muddy bikes being taken upstairs in the hotel and on the sunday morning only sparkling clean bikes came down at breakfast, and not a murmer from the hotel staff !

Recommend Yes doing again yes doing the 240Km in 2018 hopefully if I can overcome my appalling bike envy.

Some things are best entered into with the minimum of planning and preparation…

Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Having completed a few centuries now, and with a previous ‘best distance’ of some 130 miles already bagged, I was going to have to come up with something decent as my next challenge. But planning isn’t really my strong point, and all my ideas for long rides seemed to lose credibility when closely examined. Mainly because I like to “fly solo”, as no-one I know has both the time AND the inclination to hit such big distances whilst being happy to slow their pace down to accommodate mine.

The problems though, are almost all logistical. I simply cannot (or at least prefer not to) carry all that I’ll require on the bike or in my pockets from the start. I also like to ride quiet rural routes which, as many of you will no doubt have experienced, means shops and cafes are pretty thin on the ground at the best of times. Creeping home through the darkness inevitably means that any shops in villages on the route will be closed by the time I pass them. So it’s a balancing act to carry enough to cater for the gaps between planned stops or larger towns.

Fast forward, then, to Friday 1st September 2017. I’ve come up (just the previous evening, in fact) with some harebrained scheme to ride from Farnborough to Bournemouth and back in a day. I broach the subject with my wife, announcing the plan with “tell me if you think this is a stupid idea”. Not a great start. The look on her face says it all. But bless her, she plays along and gives me permission to stay out past my bedtime if necessary. I’ve consulted Strava already, and the Route Planner feature has come up with a 152 mile route to follow.

The plan is to start early. 0730 hours at the latest, just as soon as get home from dropping my wife at work. This is a good plan, because it gives me a ‘fudge factor’ on top of the 12 hours that Strava’s route is forecast to take me. Sadly, the thing with plans is that I’ve never seen a plan that could survive first contact with the enemy. And so it was with this plan.

Admin, not an alien concept to me as an ex soldier, seemed to have deserted me. I couldn’t find stuff. Basic stuff. Where is it? I’m sure it was here yesterday. Who’s moved my slap-wrap reflective bands? Where are the charged spare batteries from the cupboard? Who’s eaten all my bleedin’ cereal bars? Where are those bottles I put down not more than five minutes ago? Arrrrrrrgh!!

Sit down. Breathe. Make more coffee…

There now! Isn’t that a whole lot better? One thing at a time. Bike OK? A quick pump of the tyres, and give everything a shake. Yup. That’s all good. Now lights. We’ll be back after dark, so the usual lights were charged last night and fitted. Extra lights from the household cycling “community chest” are found, filled with freshly charged batteries, and fitted. A quick tot-up reveals four front, and four rear, plus some ‘dire emergency’ lights too. We don’t want a repeat of the Combe Gibbet debacle after all. Eventually the slap-wraps and velcro reflective arm bands are located too. Two 710ml bottles are filled and added to the cages and the Garmin secured in the mount with rubber bands (it’s broken – don’t ask!) The bike is ready! Woohoo!

But what about me? Lycra needed. No phone box available so it’s back upstairs to change in normal time. Then the ceremony of the filling of the pockets can begin. Nutrition isn’t something I worry too much about. I don’t use gels or proprietary energy bars, so it’s off to the kitchen. The ‘pump sock’ goes in first. Vital that, CO2, pump, patches, multi tool, all wrapped conveniently in an old grey ‘trainer sock’. Next the little jacket, some cereal bars, a couple of peanut butter sandwiches, phone, ID, cash, camera, spare batteries…

All that in three jersey pockets? Nope! Not going to happen. Jacket out, and dangled off the back of the saddle. Jiggle some bits about, push hard on the peanut butter sandwich, and Hey Presto! It’s all in, after a fashion.

By now it’s very nearly 1000 hours. Two and a half hours later than planned. With some stops, if I keep to the Strava plan’s schedule I’m looking at a midnight finish. Lucky I got those lights together then. It’s OK. No-one really knows the plan, so if needs be, I can bail out in the New Forest, turn for home and call it a round century, and no-one will know any better. The preparation has been stressful. Very much last minute and a bit manic. I roll out down the driveway and begin to relax. Get to the start of the Strava route, “Course Found”! Reach up to clear something from the corner of me eye. Noooooooo! Glasses? Where are my shades? I can’t ride without them. Retreat, recover glasses (two pairs, clear and dark tint) and off again. Obviously the first 30 miles or so are quite familiar, but even so I go “Off Course” compared with the planned route. But I know better than Strava/Garmin, so I’ll cut back onto the route via this quieter, better detour, instead of that horrible ‘A’ road. I’m enjoying myself now. Getting into a rhythm, appreciating the beautiful weather and the scenery.

Villages come and go. Odiham, Upton Grey, Weston Patrick, Herriard. A long gap to the Candovers. A shop stop in Preston Candover when I spot a sign pointing to the village shop just back out of sight of the road. Fluids only as there’s not much food in the fridge. A bottle of Oasis isn’t going to get me far, but I’ve realised I’ve put a big dent in what I brought with me already. The rest of Preston Candover, Chilton Candover, and Brown Candover are dispatched quickly, mostly downhill after my climb to what my GPS trace suggests was the highest point of the route. This is most definitely NOT a “climbing day”. Northington is next, heading South before turning right through Itchen Abbas, over the M3 motorway into Abbots Worthy. The Worthys? There’s surely a joke in there somewhere. But before we hit Kings Worthy and Headbourne Worthy the Garmin Edge 500 curse strikes! You see, I’m following a ‘breadcrumb trail’ with no base maps, and about 50% of the time it gets to the route screen and simply refuses to draw the route for me. I guess, and guess wrong, heading onto the A33 Winchester Bypass. Thankfully though, I realise my error before it becomes a fully-fledged four-lane dual carriageway. Bail out onto the shared use cycle path, roll to a crossing point, and head back up to the correct turning. Plain sailing into Winchester city proper now, a slight downhill until the turn to climb up Romsey Road from the Great Hall. Up and up we go, passing the Hospital and the Prison. This is where I pass Keith (more on him later) as he breaks for lunch in a cafe at The Rifles Museum. Now it’s opening up. Pitt, Standon, Hursley, past Nan Trodd’s Hill, Ampfield, skirt the northern edge of Romsey. We’re off the Downs, and into the Test Valley. Old Salisbury Lane to Shootash, and on to the A36.

Well this turns out to be a mistake. Getting across the A36 is harder than it sounds. It’s still holiday season, and the road is very busy. I need to get over a right/left dog-leg into the New Forest National Park. It takes patience, and a few precious minutes, but I manage to make a small gap work for me. This is it! Cover me, I’m going in! (To the New Forest, that is).

I’ve been covering new ground since The Candovers, and this is another first for me. I’ve never cycled in The New Forest before, and I’m in full tourist mode. A photo by the National Park sign just after the cattle grid? Yup, that’ll be me. At the crossroads with Furzely Road there is a sign for a place called ‘Nomansland’, and a trio of Donkeys milling about in the middle of the junction. Another photo stop. Donkeys, interesting place names, all cool subjects for poor photos (I have a very cheap camera for bike trips). It’s warming up nicely now, so before I get too hot I take off my long-sleeved base layer. This is where Keith (remember him from Winchester?) passes me on the road. I head off behind some gorse bushes for a ‘comfort break’, having chomped through half of my squashed sandwiches. As I wander back to the road I spot some free food. Foraging! Hooray! A big old handful of fresh picked blackberries later and I’m under way again, but not for long. I get to the far edge of Bramshaw and there’s a cyclist sitting on the grass. A slow to check all is well, he raises a hand in reply, and I roll on past. But something nags at me to stop. I turn around, and it dawns upon me that this chap is wearing a Farnborough & Camberley Cycling Club jersey. I stop to say hello, and this, it turns out, is Keith. We are properly introduced, as I’m surprised to spot a ‘home’ jersey at an ‘away match’. Turns out we’ve left from barely two miles apart, and are heading to exactly the same place. He’s loaded with bike luggage for an overnight stay, but our planned routes turn out to be identical. What are the chances, right? Anyway, we sort of fall into plodding along on the bikes again, chatting.

We’ve not worked out that our routes are identical just yet, but two junctions later, when we’ve prepared to wave one another farewell, we realise that we’re on the same mission. At this point I’m struggling, too. Mentally, rather than physically, but I’m struggling to keep my rhythm and maintain a decent pace. Keith is a hero here, and really rises to the occasion. We are by turns riding side-by-side, and with me dropping in behind him to grab his wheel when there are cars trying to pass. I feel bad for leaching off a chap already laden with luggage but Keith seems cool with it. We’re fairly motoring too. Just north of the M27/A31 and heading south west through Fritham, Linwood, and Poulner, into Ringwood itself. From here I have the advantage of a little local knowledge, as Bournemouth is my wife’s home town.

Keith’s route wants to drag him down Matchams Lane. Not too bad in a car, but pretty grim for a cyclist. It’s just too narrow, and too busy. He decides to give my plan a whirl,so we drop south along the B3347 through Sopley and on to Christchurch. It’s not the prettiest road in the area by a long way, but there’s width and it’s not too twisty, so cars can pass OK without squeezing us to the verge. Somehow I’ve regained my Mojo, and I know that I owe Keith a favour. I lead us out, and stay in the wind all the way to the A35 roundabout. It’s a good workout. Keith is more comfortable ‘on my wheel’ than I was behind him, so I feel like I’m being pushed along by him. I nearly lost him on one small hill (he’s lugging 17 kg of kit with him remember) but i’m aware enough to rein it in and get him back on. We return a pretty decent joint 177/714 on the 7.1 mile “ringwood-christchurch” Strava segment at a shade over 20 mph average.

Nearly there, we relax a little, follow the cycle path along the A35, through the underpass, and on to Tuckton Bridge. As we reach the roundabout, and begin the climb up Belle Vue Road, we need our wits about us. To celebrate our arrival in town, the good people of Bournemouth have arranged for an air display by none other than The Red Arrows! Obviously this means that all eyes are cast skyward, with drivers craning their necks for a glimpse. We survive the climb, and the inattentive drivers, to arrive on Southbourne Overcliff Drive in time to catch a pretty decent chunk of the display.

Then the Red Arrows are over, as is my time riding with Keith. A proper gentleman, and an absolute pleasure to ride with, but we say our goodbyes as he heads toward Boscombe Pier, and I retreat toward Hengistbury Head in search of something to eat. A wander around some cafes turns up nothing promising. One is too busy, and I’ve not brought a lock, the other is dead quiet (the Air festival has killed trade inland this afternoon) and has stopped serving hot food. In the end I settle on ‘Simon’s Traditional Fish & Chip Shop’ on Broadway. Pie and chips and a drink, a little seating area fenced off to the side of the shop, so somewhere safe for the bike, and best of all the chips are close to perfect. Worth waiting 15 minutes for it to open in the end, but so annoying when you can see the lights on and the food going into the glass cabinet. I even catch a glimpse of the WWII B-17 bomber “Sally B” as she turns to land at Hurn while I’m waiting. Perhaps I should have stayed longer at the air show?

No. Not really. I’m behind schedule as it is. I’m riding faster than the ‘virtual partner’ in my Garmin is, but that’s just creating a buffer for my food and photo stops. No time to let my food settle, I’m going to have to crack on if I’m to get back on the same day I left the house. Yikes! Realisation is dawning. Best get cracking then.

I head off, same route back to Sopley. I turn too early for Bransgore (Garmin won’t draw the route again, so I’m guessing at times). No matter, I’m parallel with the palnned route and can get back on it easily at the next village. Sorted. But it turns out I’d have been better sticking to my incorrect route – correcting it has added some distance, and I’d have ended up in the same place anyway. Another Garmin refusal to give me a clue means another wrong turn. Quickly corrected but it’s all time penalties added on. Into Burley and another wrong turn. Damn you, Garmin! But this time it isn’t the Garmin’s fault. Damn you, Strava! It’s only gone and put me on an off-road section between Burley and Newton. To Hell with it, it’s not a massive issue. I’m still short on fluids, and there are signs for Lyndhurst. I’ll follow those to shops, I know Lyndhurst has shops. But this means a trip along the busy A35 in the growing darkness. Not the most pleasant route through the New Forest, but it all goes OK. Stop at ‘Forage’ to find that it’s a bit errrm? “Wholefoody”. There are no bottled soft drinks aside from locally produced touristy presses and sparkling juices. I tell the chap what I want, and he points me next door. A Budgens! Yay! Lifesaver. I order a coffee in Forage, they let me stash my bike in the garden out the back, and nip next door for still Lucozade, 1.5 litres thereof. Back to sup my coffee, use the toilet and wash my hands, and redistribute the stuff in my pockets. There’s great live music on too, but I can’t stay. I wait for The Real Raj to finish his track, give him some applause and a thumb-up, and I’m off again. Happy now that both bottles are full and I still have that squashed sandwich to keep me going.

North now, heading for Bartley, via a missed turn off the A337. Garmin playing the fool again. Another missed turn! Pah! This is not helping at all. Ower. Past Paulton’s Park. Bad news. This road looks familiar. A3090 dual carriageway, in the dark, up hill, heading into Romsey. I’m now wondering what other surprises await, I should really have checked the route before saving it. Over the River Test, passing Broadlands, out of Romsey to Crampmoor and Ampfield. This is where I get back on the route i came out on. Easy-peasy now, surely?

Through Hursley, through Standon. Into Winchester, down that nasty hill you climbed earlier, but now without the hazard of traffic. Through the one-way system OK, and on to The Worthys. I clear Kings Worthy at 2100 hours. It’s been well and truly dark for some time now, so a stop to check lights are still lit, and that batteries are still providing power is in order. All is good.

Over the M3 again, and on to Itchen Abbas. I miss my left turn. The Garmin is in melt-down, telling me to go up into a housing estate. I know it’s wrong, as there’s a “No Through Road” sign. Up the road, turn left, still off course. Reverse the route. No use. The Garmin is now dead. Low battery warnings have been a regular thing this last half hour, but I had hoped it was just being pessimistic.

Ah well. I’m guessing now. Up the road, turn left, then right. It won’t be the road I planned, but the end result should be the same. Restart the Garmin. It lives! Albeit briefly. Come on Garmin! Give me more than 45 seconds at a time! All I need is for it to get me to the Candovers and I know the way home from there. So I battle on that ten miles or so, repeatedly restarting the Garmin hoping to keep the GPS trace alive. It’s costing me speed, but “if it isn’t on Strava…” – I need this damned thing to keep going for just another hour and a half. Northington comes and goes. I finally hit The Candovers. I’m still repeatedly restarting the GPS unit. Every time it comes back to life, records a little stretch, then promptly dies again. It’s also massively under-recording my mileage now. Only tallying up the parts where it’s actually on. It knocks my mental maths right out when it comes to how far I have left to ride, but it’s OK, because Strava will sort it out when I get back.

The Candovers. Southrope. Herriard. And still the Garmin comes back to life in short bursts. Maybe I’ll get ALL of this data back after all? Weston Patrick, Upton Grey, Odiham. All is quiet save for some Friday night drinkers at pubs in the town, and the Kebab van at the roundabout. It’s 2300 hours. Not far now, we’ve got this one cracked! Then it finally happens. The battery in the Garmin is so low that it cannot get beyond the initial start-up screen. Scarily it’s just looping round between blank, and the initial screen. I’m just short of Winchfield at this point, only 8 miles short of home. I’m also thinking that I’ve pushed my luck too far, and all the ride data will be gone too.

Ho-hum. That’s not what this is all about really. It’s been a really nice day out on the bike, I’ve ridden 148 miles with no mechanicals, no punctures, no cramps, nor any aches or pains. This truly has been a good day. So with no more tech to worry about, I set about putting the hammer down a little, and just enjoyed the silence of the night. Until Fleet, anyway. I dodged the town centre, with it’s associated drunks and crazy taxi drivers, and set a course for home. A few minutes later, and having passed the temptation of yet another Kebab van (Marmaris Kebabs at the Fleet Road roundabout – they’re really rather good) I arrived home without further drama.

I’ve got to say that I’ve felt a lot worse after shorter rides than this. I certainly felt that I could have tacked another 50 miles onto this one if I’d left myself enough time by leaving earlier. The weather was pretty much perfect too, and I’d dressed just right for it. I’d put my base layer back on in Lyndhurst, switched to full finger gloves, and resorted to a windproof packable jacket a little later, but only at the very end was I feeling a little chilly. I even had a few cereal bars and half of a very squashed peanut butter sandwich left, along with a full bottle.

Not bad at all for a long old ride that had only been conceived as an idea a little over 24 hours earlier. Proper planning and preparation? Phooey! Just get on your bike and ride…

Yours,
yellowjack

Strava | Relive CC

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Look Marmotte Granfondo Pyrénées

The story of the day…
LA MARMOTTE PYRÉNÉES: DAVE BATTLES THE TOURMALET…TWICE

The Stats…

Ride
Distance Time Elevation Calories
miles
kms moving
ft
metres kcal
Warm Up 10.9 17.5 47:43 1,060 323 448
Marmotte Pyrenees 103.9
167.2  8:14:15
17,034
5,192 5,676
Spin back to town 19.7  31.7 1:16:05 1,711 521 685
  134.5 216.4 9:30:20 19,805 6,036 6,809

The Photos…
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The Videos…