Monday, 20 October 2014

Riding The Trafalgar Way - Falmouth to London in 24 Hours

Dawn breaks over Pendennis Point, Falmouth, one of the most westerly towns in the UK. Overnight an Atlantic storm has battered our hotel, and whilst the rain has ceased for now, the wind is still extreme. Time to start a bike ride to London.

The Trafalgar Way holds a lot of heritage, especially for someone that has grown up near the Victory in Portsmouth. In 1805, when Admiral Nelson died in the battle of Trafalgar, Lieutenant Lapenotiere rode non-stop along this route from Pendennis Point to Admiralty House in Whitehall, London. The journey took him 37 hours and he used 21 horses. I planned to attempt it on a push-bike, in 24 hours.

Joining me on the journey was a team of riders that would do certain legs of the course with me, as well as a support crew in a camper-van and a film crew. It was to be a real team effort.

We headed out of Falmouth, down the cobbled high street and up into the hills behind the town. The weather was mild, and the wind was from behind, all set for a long day in the saddle...
The cobbled streets of Falmouth

The historic route largely follows what are now busy A-roads (mostly the A30 in the west country), but we had a superb alternative route planned by our team leader and event manager Jim Bellinger, which took in some of the best roads that the south of the UK has to offer.

The route was all pre-planned, and I was following it on a Garmin 800; backed up when needed by a short range radio to our event comms in the camper van.

I'm not sure what happened in the first few miles, but we had a little navigational slip, and ended up a "fair" way off course (an additional 25kms it turned out). When we eventually realised this, we decided that Charlotte (a keen cyclist riding for Felt Colbournes) and myself would push on down the A30 to make up some lost time, and the other two would jump in the camper when it found them, and catch up.

We made great progress with the wind behind, smashing it through the Cornwall countryside and ticking off town after town. Before long it was lunchtime and we'd ticked off the first 100km. Time for beans on toast in the camper van and a quick social media update.
Cornish country lanes

After lunch I headed out alone, keen to see what the legs could do after a quick re-fuel. With the Garmin navigation now all sorted, and the camera crew following in the Land Rover, it was a fast few hours. Eventually I got out of Cornwall and into Devon...
One county down, only seven more to go!

The afternoon is all a bit of a blur to be honest, before long I was through Dartmoor and nearing Exeter. There are some big hills in that part of the world, but it remained dry and comfortable throughout. Things were looking good and I was enjoying seeing a whole new area of the country that I hadn't explored on a bike before.
Rolling green hills of the West Country

Jim and Oli joined me on the outskirts of Exeter and led me through the busy city with ease. Then we were back out on the open road and heading along the next leg of the three part journey - Exeter to Salisbury.

The sun was setting fast by about 5pm, and there were some looming storm clouds as I passed through Honiton, up the massive hill out of the town, and then blasted down towards Axminster.
Fading light en-route to Honiton, Devon.

In Axminster I met the support crew in the camper, and had a brief and encouraging chat, then headed back out onto the road. Keen to get to Bridport and our dinner stop!

I was re-joined on this leg by Charlotte, and she did a great job of lifting my spirits. It was a good job, because some of the twisty debris-strewn lanes and lung burning climbs heading down towards Bridport and the coast were a real killer. I was certainly glad to have the camera crew with us as well, lighting up the road from behind on some of the tricky mud-caked descents!
Quiet country roads, with some brutal climbs on the way to Bridport

Bridport was a very welcome break. Paul and Simon our support crew had cooked up a seriously good dish of chicken pasta, and after 12 hours of riding it tasted incredible. Setting me up for a long night on the road.

Charlotte joined me for another hour or so after dinner, and we started to push on towards Salisbury. After passing through Dorchester, the place names started to become a bit more familiar, and we were passing quickly through the deserted lanes. Suddenly the South East of England seemed within easier reach and the challenge far more manageable.

We met the guys in Blandford Forum; Charlotte retired for a well earned rest, and after a quick water bottle re-fill and a chat, I was back out on the road solo.

That leg from Blandford Forum to Salisbury was quick, I think that dinner was kicking in and I was beginning to get that "night riding buzz". Salisbury was a significant point to reach as well; after that is was only 90 miles into London - just a big Sunday ride really?!

I met Nick in Salisbury, and after a very welcome bowl of porridge we hit the road, just as the rain began to fall. Nick is a keen cyclist, and he was fresh, a lot fresher than I was after 14 hours riding. We smashed it out of Salisbury - despite the pouring rain there was no stopping us - I even got a third on the Strava segment from Salisbury to Andover. I also got soaked to the skin.

Wet road + darkness + fatigue = concentration face.

Salisbury to Andover, Andover to Basingstoke, Basingstoke to Camberley, Camberley to Staines. All of a sudden we were very close to London. All I can say about that section was that it was very wet. I was glad of a great jacket from Altura, some great lights from Lezyne and some really good protection on my feet, head and hands from GripGrab. At times like that good kit makes all the difference.

Somewhere near Staines we met up with the camper van again; time for a quick coffee and a warm-up before the final assault on London.

As we rode into the Capital the sun was coming up and first light brought a welcome illumination of the roads. We met all the riders in Brentford, and rode into Central London as the Grande Arrivée. Down Kensington High Street, past the Albert Hall, under Marble Arch and down to Whitehall. The finish. The Trafalgar Way complete in under 24 hours. Mission accomplished.
The Grande Arrivée

What an incredible journey. Less than 24 hours to complete the historic route from Pendennis Point to Admiralty House. Of course, I had to make up the mileage to 300 square, so we rode to Look Mum No Hands for breakfast - it tasted seriously good!

A huge thanks to Jim Bellinger for organising everything, to all of the guys in the campervan for their incredible support, to Charlotte, Nick and the others that did a fantastic job of keeping me going out on the road. It was a weekend I will never forget.

I think this could be the first of many more endurance challenges...


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Gearing Up For A Giant Challenge - Riding the Trafalgar Way fromFalmouth to London

I thought last weekend's ride was big, it was certainly my longest ride to date. This weekend things are about to get a whole lot bigger though...

I've been invited to 'Ride The Trafalgar Way' this Saturday; a route that follows the historic path a horse messenger rode non-stop in 1805 to announce the death of Admiral Lord Nelson. The route traverses the country from west to east; from Pendennis Point in Falmouth to Admiralty House in London.

The distance is 500 kilometers (310 miles). My hope is to complete the ride in around 24 hours. Non-stop.

To say that I'm a little nervous would be fair, this will be by far the longest that I have ever ridden in one go, and the latter part of it will be in the dark.

However, I'll be fully supported by the RTTW (Ride The Trafalgar Way) team, and will have a support car, camper van and some very experienced personnel on hand to help me through.

I'm not doing it alone either; at the same time as I hope to ride the route in its entirety, there will be a team of other journalists and keen riders doing a relay team along the same route. Hopefully, I can sit happily in the group for at least part of the time.

The event is to commemorate the anniversary of the Trafalgar Way, but it is also the launch of a new sportive that will open next year and follow a similar team-relay format to that which my fellow riders will be undertaking. It looks like it is going to be a great event!

It's certainly going to be an incredible ride, and a serious chance to do some kit testing and physical testing. I have a number of outfits that I plan to take to deal with varying weather conditions, and I have some specialist kit that I've bought for the ride as well (I'll blog on that at a later date).

I'm really looking forward to it. I'm a sucker for a good challenge, and this will certainly be a very significant challenge.

Wish me luck, and keep an eye out on the Life In The Saddle Facebook page and my Twitter feed for updates throughout the event!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Ride Report: New Forest 200

Autumn can be one of the best seasons to ride in; changing colours and interesting conditions. Yesterday was certainly interesting.

I decided that having let a number of my 2014 Objectives slip away from me, it was time to knock off at least one more, and complete a double imperial century (200 miles). If I was sensible I would have done this in the middle of summer, with a long summer day... unfortunately, those are now long past though, so I decided it had to be an Autumn Epic Adventure.

The plan was simple: ride to the Yarmouth-Lymington ferry, meet up with the Wightlink Race Team boys, head over to the start of the Wiggle New Forest 100 near Ringwood, complete the 'epic' sportive with them and ride home, probably with an extra loop to bring the miles up.

The reality, was that the weather made it far from simple.

In order to get to get to the start on time, I would need to be up at 04:30, out the door by 05:00 and in Yarmouth by 06:00. When my alarm went off though, I was greeted by far more than just a shrill tone; thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour provided a nice opening backdrop. The changeable autumn forecast had been right.

Sunshine at the finish
In fact, when I left home at 05:00 the rain had abated, but that didn't last long; as I rode towards the lightning storm the heavens opened about 20 minutes in. It wasn't long before my GripGrab overshoes were breached, and I was extremely grateful to have a good quality team-issue dhb waterproof.

I arrived at the ferry a "little damp", and met up with the boys. Time for a coffee to warm up a bit.

Once on the mainland things started to improve; the sun was coming up and the rain was holding off for the most part, time to get cracking.

The sportive itself all blurs into a bit of a haze to be honest. Frequent downpours increasingly broken up by spells of sunshine as the day went on, gorging out at the feed stations and having plenty of laughs with the lads. The wind and rain made riding a lot more difficult than a century ride in the summer months, but the New Forest is flat, very flat compared to the Isle of Wight, and I was grateful for the fact that we could spin along quite happily in our group.

Military Road sunset
The sun was out by the finish of the sportive, and a tailwind back to the ferry was a very welcome addition.

The ferry journey back to the island was a mix of emotions. I really felt proud and pleased for the Wightlink lads; this was the longest ride any of them had ever done, and they had been seriously impressive, even more so given the weather conditions. I was really pleased for them, just slightly apprehensive about the fact that I still needed to do another two hours of riding to make my mileage up.

It was still light when I rolled off the boat at 17:45, and I enjoyed the sunset as I turned onto the Military Road with a tailwind behind.

A few miles down the Mili, and Jimbo caught me up in his van, he lent a welcome helping hand and motor-paced me down the rest of the road. Nothing like a quick threshold session after 170 miles of riding!

As James turned off, I was on my own, and it was lights on and head down for the last 20 miles.

I finally rolled back into the driveway at 19:45. Mission complete. One EPIC day in the saddle.
Kit Prep
A bit damp for the ferry crossing
Temporary wash-off tan
Temporary wash-off tan lines
A great day in the saddle with friends
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