An early set off did not start in the most auspicious way as the B&B owners cat made a brake for freedom as I opened the door to wheel my bike out. After some embarrassing bartering with the animal in the street luring it back indoors with a food pouch I find under the sink I managed to start the 9 mile pedal to the start line of my big adventure.
Fresh breeze, early morning quiet roads and the morning sun made for chilly but spectacular views. As I rode into Land’s End through the empty visitor’s park I felt it had an eerie ghost town feel.
A quick stop to admire the Atlantic Ocean and a selfie or 2 at the famous signpost pointing me in the right direction and I was off!
Things were going very smoothly until just after I re-passed Penzance when those terrible words flashed up on the screen of my Garmin “low battery”! It must have turned on in my bag on the train last night “bugger”! Pulling into a snack shack and finding a very helpful lady that also supplied tea and bacon sandwiches I managed to get a bit of extra juice pumped into my digital map box that would hopefully see my through until
A pedal along the coast past the spectacular St Mitchel’s Mount and through some beautiful rolling Cornish countryside put a big smile on my face until my optimism of the amount of charge in my Gamin was found to be misplaced and it finally died. Luckily I had my End to End bible to hand and began navigating to the King Harry Ferry old school style.
The rest of the journey passed pretty uneventfully until I hit the main roads and fast moving heavy traffic on the way into St Austell. It was at this point that I realised I had almost finished today's stage and it was barely even lunchtime! Taking that as my que to chill out and slow down I found a nice cafe for a feed before the final leg into Fowey and a well earned pint or 2.
Lessons learned from day 1
Check charge on all devices every morning (evening surely?)
I can still do proper navigating when I have to
Chill out and slow down a bit
Cats are sneaky little fur balls
Day 2 started with my second ferry ride of the journey over the Bodinnick ferry. At the other side I was met with a mammoth gradient to climb out of the valley that almost broke my still cold and un-stretched legs.
Once the shock of the first climb had passed I was treated to some of Cornwall’s prime deserted undulating country lanes all the way to the town of Looe and then on ferry 3 (I do wonder if I could log this trip as sea time so far?). At the Torpiont ferry I bumped into my first other pair of End to Enders. Mike and Mike… a father and son pair from Hamilton near Glasgow. They had started the day before me in the torrential down poor and howling winds. Sensibly they cut day 1 short and waited it out.
At Plymouth the Mike’s were stopping for a bit so I continued through some confusing and frustrating cycle path roadworks out towards my chosen lunch spot at Yelverton.
A rather large ploughman's lunch and some time enjoying the sunny day in the beer garden as my legs stiffened up later and I found myself pretty much straight into one of the steepest and longest climbs of the trip so far up onto Dartmoor and into Princetown. What a huge mistake that was! Lunch was just beginning to settle and my legs had remembered what they were there for as I wheeled into Princetown and found myself filtering into a mini peloton at a junction. This caused me some confusion at first until I realised I had found myself in the middle of the Dartmoor Classic Sportive. This did nothing for the “slow down and take in views” cycle touring intentions, as all of a sudden there were people to catch and pass even though I was carrying kit. It also didn't help that this section of Dartmoor has some of the best descending I've ever experienced, this however was made terrifying as I realised my saddle bag was not very stable and gave the back end of my bike a bit of a mind of its own! As I finished in Mortonhampstead I was sun burned, parched and totally spent! But did have a big smile on my face
Lessons learned from day 2
I still need to slow down
Stopping for lunch and then going straight into a climb is rubbish!
Sportives make me want to race
I need to put sun cream on more
Somehow yesterday after finishing I managed to lose a glove?? Luckily I know of a really good bike shop in the local area and decided to stop in and pay the boys, Greg and Max at Hot Pursuit Cycles, a visit for a replacement pair and a catch up. Unfortunately as is usually the way when I get talking to people about bikes, things went on and the next thing I knew the heavens had opened and I had already been shooting the shit too long to have time to wait it out. Jacket on and a big dose of “man up” got me back in the saddle and back on route towards Exeter I went. By the time I hit town the rain had passed and the sun was threatening to appear. Once through town I hit back onto the “oh” so familiar rolling Devon country roads that were my training grounds for the last couple of years. While peddling through, admiring the views that I'm normally too busy trying to hold pace or power to notice I had a very close nature experience when I became a victim of an avian hit and run. A small brown bird rocketed out of the nearby hedgerow and straight into my face! Luckily there was no damage done, because said bird didn't even stop to apologize or swap insurance information.
After that excitement it was time to confront an old adversary. Broadhembury hill is one of the most challenging climbs I have, to this point, ever ridden and always really enjoy the feeling of it being over.
The best thing about Broadhembury hill is the eventual descent into Corfe which was now dry and really grippy. On the final few miles into Street I caught up with the Mike’s who had stopped in Exeter the night before. They had bumped into another couple of end to enders that had come across a bit of trouble when one of their bikes had experienced serious technical troubles on day 1. I rode with the Mike’s for a while before heading off up the road at my own pace. Another 5 or so miles later and I happened upon another cyclist. Gary was one of the other end to enders the Mike’s had told me about. He and his father-in-law Dave had started the journey to raise money for their friend’s daughter who had cancer. It turned out that Dave's rear hub had experienced a complete meltdown so was following up now with his bike in a rental car.
I rode with Gary until we arrived at Street for the now customary signpost selfie where we were caught by the Mike’s who had made a wrong turn and managed to find a short cut. This timely group finish called for a celebratory pint in the sun to bring day 3 to a close.
Lessons learned from day 3
Devon hills are the hardest!
You can't plan for British weather
More people take on the End to End than I had expected
Birds have no regard for the Highway Code!
I didn't ride alone today. My friend Will from Hammoon Cycles in Shaftesbury agreed to join me for this stage. This may have been a foolish move on his behalf as he had not ridden a road bike in almost 25 years. Still, no end like the deep end I suppose and at least the hills of Devon were behind us.
I met him and family at a cafe in Street for a cuppa and chat before we left his wife Alex and their daughter Isabella to some shopping at Clarks village and we headed off.
The morning started with some urban riding around the outskirts of Street and Glastonbury before a really nice section of quiet roar and cycle path scattered with interesting sculptures and Celtic symbols.
About 10miles in we hit the big hill of the day and to the “Big Man’s” credit he powered up there quite smoothly. As we topped out a minor disaster struck as I realised that at some point my saddle bag had loosened and my flip-flops (my only other footwear apart from road spd shoes) had vanished! Luckily today we had a support vehicle and personal shopper that was already situated in an area that was flush with reasonably priced footware!
Continuing on for a bit, the heavens gradually began to open until we were pretty soggy. Passing a pub between Chew Lake Valley and Winford we decided to duck in for a cuppa in the hope the downpour would pass. The cuppa turned into a second breakfast fry up that saw us nicely dry until the rain passed.
Rain passed we made good time into Bristol enjoying the ride through Ashton Court and onto the docks where we happened across a gem of a pump track situated under an overpass. My childish nature took over and touring bike pump track fun was very much had!
Bristol lead down into Avonmouth and the penance for having such a fun time in the town. The stretch of the A403 leading to the old Severn Bridge is a heavily used industrial road that we were very glad to see the back of.
Cycling over the river Severn was a fun experience made more fun by the childish fun to be had riding up the banked walls that separate the cycle path and the road.
As we entered into Wales though my riding buddy hit the wall hard and we had to make an emergency stop for coffee, cake and ice cream at Chepstow. Alex and Isabella caught up with us here. We managed to get Will full of enough caffeine and sugar to see him through to Monmouth.
Leaving Chepstow marked the real start of my adventure. This was the first time so far I was riding into an area I didn't already know and as a start… ‘boy’ did it deliver. The Sun had come out to play and the Wye Valley was a stunning mix of beautiful scenery, quaint villages, and a ribbon of nice flowing tarmac.
We ended the day in Monmouth with a pint where we were met again by family Norgan and sat out enjoying the afternoon sun feeling well deserved in the light headed felling a beer after riding 70 odd miles brings.
Lessons learned Day 4
Check the weather and don't be afraid to wait out rain.
Will can still pedal when he has too
Secure your kit better in the mornings
The Wye Valley needs to be ridden again
Today started late after waiting for family Norgan to mobilise and give me a lift to the start line. The late start was welcome though due to the slightly heavy head I had after a couple too many beverages the night before.
For the first time in a couple of days there was no threat of rain and the sun was out in full force from the get go. A steady climb out of Monmouth woke the legs up before paying me back with a very a nice fast descent to put a bit of a smile on my face. Once that was done the road meandered its way into And out of Hereford without event. At around the 30mile mark I pedaled into Gary and the Mike’s, my fellow end to enders. We stopped for a chat to recount the fun of yesterday. We parted ways myself and Gary made the move first and continued together for another 10 or so miles until I decided to stop for food.
It was after this stop that the day went downhill, I found the flat ‘ish’ straight line riding a bit dull and although the road was not busy it was still an A road so all the traffic, that was there, was passing at speed and a bit too close for my liking. Today was also the day that saddle discomfort became a thing. I continued on in a bit of a grump until the town of Walford where I made for a rehydration and under carriage maintenance stop. It was at this point that for the first time my headphones came out and I started back on route in my own little world. This distraction really helped and before I knew it I was at today's challenge. The route took me away from the A road and up what I think is actually the hardest hill I have yet encountered. A steep exposed potholed track that drives up in 2 stages about 2 miles from Clun. This would have been a challenge even without the heat but it was absolute murder in the sun. I loved it! (I do sometimes worry that it's the suffering I enjoy most about cycling?). Mercifully there was some shade at the top of the monster climb which gave me a chance to recover before riding over the top for the big payoff of the descent which was almost the same length and gradient down into Clun, finishing through a surprisingly deep and cold ford!
In Clun I caught up with Gary and after a refreshing ice cream stop and a chat head the last little way to Bishops Castle and my bed for the night. A bad day saved by suffering
Lessons learned day 5
Multiple undercarriage lub stops are now required daily
I’m not a fan of long straight roads (or I have a short attention span)
I may have some masochistic tendencies when it comes to cycling (or I am just a huge fan of the endorphin rush that comes after a slog?
Today has been a funny day. The stage was scheduled to be pretty flat with the exception of 1 large ish hill pretty early on. The weather was again supposed to be on the scorchio side until around 15:00 when the heavens were scheduled to open. Taking this into account I decided to head out early and get the climb done before the day heated up and get into the safety of shelter before I became a drowned rat.
The starting climb proved to be quite a mellow affair that was proceeded by an amazing flattering descent with wide sweeping corners and a gradient that encouraged you to push harder without being scary. The downward slope continued into Shrewsbury where I realised I'd made such good time it was time to stop for a cuppa.
Break over I enjoyed a nice long stretch of flat open road. Now I know yesterday's ride had me convinced that I found this type of riding boring however the combination of switching corners gave me something to do and with the absence of high hedgerows gave me a much better view of the beautiful surrounding countryside than I had experienced previously.
Stop for a cheese and pickle roll and a chat to a couple of other cyclists on their way to Chester. In Hamner there was a welcome break as the sun was really starting to heat up by this point. I then made my way through a village called Threapwood (awesome name (the legend of monkey island)) where I came across my second scarecrow contest of the trip thus far. After stopping for a few selfies I resisted the urge to push Humpy Dumpty off the wall and headed for an early finish as the sky was beginning to darken quite considerably.
The ride through Runcorn to my hotel was less than fun, given the high volume of junctions and traffic filling me with a little dread for tomorrow's ride through a number of similar areas. The other unfortunate result of the day is I am now sat in a motel bar in the middle of a motorway junction with the whole evening ahead of me and the rain forecast has not appeared instead the sun has returned in full force, bummer!
Lessons learned from day 6
Flat terrain isn't that bad.
Urban riding is a bit Kack!
Don't trust the weather forecast!
I had feared today to be a total horror show of convoluted slow busy built up urban riding. And to an extent it was! There were however a few gems scattered in the mix (like peanuts in poo).
The morning started with a bang average breakfast in the low rate motel I had stayed at the night before. I did however meet Gary and his father-in-law Dave who I must have missed checking in the night before. After a brief chat about how to find our way to the start of the day's route I left them to their meal, prepped my kit and headed out.
The route that I feared to be a horrid duel carriageway mercifully had a cycle path that took me down to the side of a canal which was pleasant until the path became fenced off due to works on a bridge further up the path. This meant that all bets were off on how to get to the route and some heavy use of google maps blue dot finally got me on track. From here it was as I feared, busy urban A roads. Stopping at the first supermarket I encountered for snacks, I made the decision to message home base (my parents) and set up an hourly check in system so that they would not be waiting all day for news in the event vehicular manslaughter.
As I came out of Warrington I was caught by Gary which was pleasant company as the roads became quieter. We pedaled together up the big climb of the day, through Bolton, and then into a pub in a village called Belmont where he was scheduled to check in with Dave. Waiting for Dave I began to get cold so parted ways with Gary and headed out for Blackburn alone. The gap between Bolton and Blackburn had some rather nice Moore like terrain that was only slightly spoiled by my chain starting to skip due to the link that I had had to repair back in Devon sticking. Luckily there was a bike shop on route just over the hill in Blackburn that I could coast down to providing the chain would hold me to the top of the rise. As it happened some heavy loading on the pedals and back wheel hauling me up the slope seemed to free the link. I still made a stop for a spare chain just to be on the safe side. In the shop I meat yet another fellow end to ender who was stocking up on chamios cream (something I may need to do myself soon!).
Pedaling out of Blackburn saw the end of all of the urban hell and the arrival of some of that grim north weather as the rain came in for a short show before I got into the open country of the proper rolling hills of the Forrest of Bowland. Even in a muted grey this area was still very pretty and had some fantastic descending and punishing climbs to get me into my first ever stay in a youth hostel at Slaidburn.