Lately it’s been hard to fit calendar audaxes around family commitments, so DIYs have filled the gaps, both to maintain fitness and to keep a half-hearted RRtY/AAARty going. It helps that the South-West DIY organiser, Tony Hull is helpful and encouraging and the new “mandatory route” system allows more precise planning.
Having taken a lengthy break from serious cycling after PBP, I first attempted this route last October. That time, after 100km and most of the hills, my legs felt weak and I’d gone a lot slower than anticipated, so I called it a day as the route passed close to home around the halfway point. Whether this is a sensible convenience or an unnecessary temptation is debatable. I finally completed the full 200 in December, after some more consistent training and commuting.
For my February attempt, the weather looked good for Sunday, so I set out at 7am, naively hoping to be back between 5 and 6pm. I had tweaked the route to include more smooth surfaces and straight roads on the descents, in the hope I could make up some time. As I wound my way through Biddestone, Castle Coombe and Ford things were going well. It was cold, but there didn’t seem to be any ice about and after an hour or two I even shed some layers of clothing.
I’m not sure what tune I was humming, but I think it was Everyone’s a VIP to someone, by The Go! Team.
After a thrilling descent of Bannerdown hill, I knew the steepest climb of the day was approaching. As before I struggled up the relatively gentle gradient of Bathampton High Street wondering how I’d cope with the wall-like 33% of Prospect Place. I’ve managed this climb a few times now, but it always calls for the lowest gear and an out-of-the-saddle effort for some 100m. I even weave across the narrow rough road in an attempt to reduce the effective gradient. Sometimes I wobble into the muddy bank and find it impossible to get back on again. This time I stayed on the bike, but by halfway up, not only were my legs aching, but I was puffing uncontrollably. It probably would’ve been smarter to walk, but I can be stubborn sometimes. At the top I rewarded myself with a banana and looked forward to the long gentle descent on the A-road. Then I doubled back on myself towards Bradford-on-Avon, over the viaduct at Avoncliffe and through Freshford, with plenty more climbs and some nice views. Crossing the A36 the lights were in my favour so I dashed straight onto the bottom of Brassknocker hill. Feeling the ache I used my habitual “photo” excuse for a quick breather. Up and down a couple more times, hugely enjoying the smooth surface on Ralph Allen drive, I got off to avoid the roadworks and congestion at the bottom and began the long climb of Widcombe hill. Around halfway up another cyclist caught up with me and we enjoyed some friendly chit-chat. This annoyed of a couple of motorists who seemed unaware that the highway code allows cyclists to ride two abreast. I gave a big, friendly wave in response to their hoots – what else can you do? I could tell by the ease with which my companion was talking while climbing, that he was feeling stronger than me. As he pulled away I resisted the temptation to give chase, knowing I still had more than 2000m to gain.
Back down through the centre of Bath I noted that the traffic was lighter than in December, maybe Sunday is a better day for riding through town. The short, sharp climb up Alpine Gardens was too much and I got off to push for a bit. I then had a good five minutes of fairly flat riding past Victoria Park to recover before Lansdown and the climb of Weston hill. Not ferociously steep, but long and relentless. I stopped for a brief rest and to moisten the hedgerow, but there was little cover – one car tooted their horn which I interpreted as saying “We know what you’re doing!”.
The long, straight descent back into town brought my average speed back up a bit. It was looking OK for my 12:30 lunch date in Lacock with my wife and daughter. At Charlcombe I was surprised by a closed road sign. Unsure of how far the detour would be, I thought I’d see if I could squeeze through. Further on the detailed warning explained about the annual toad migration. As it hadn’t rained in several days, I thought I’d go slowly and look out for amphibians crossing. Happily, I passed through without encountering any animals and went on my way. I managed the next couple of modest hills slowly, but steadily. It was only when I got to the long and occasionally steep Steway Lane that I got off to walk. At the top the Northerly wind which had pushed me up Bannerdown road now made even the slight downhill an effort, but it wasn’t for long. Climbing Ham Lane I was again forced to dismount by failing leg strength. After that there were few hills before lunch in Lacock, so I had a bit of recovery time. I was going to be a few minutes late due to walking, but near enough.
As I crawled up Mons Lane near Lacock an immaculate blue and cream VW camper van waited patiently for me whilst loudly emitting the sound of Green Onions. I passed slowly, nodding my head in time to the music and the driver grinned back at me. I met with my family and we hunted for a while for a place to eat which wasn’t full, eventually settling on a bakery where I had a veggie pasty, hot chocolate and carrot cake. I wasn’t sure if this was too much and would make me uncomfortably full for the next stage. My stomach was shouting “Bring it on!”, so I went for it with thankfully no discomfort, despite the 16% hill climb soon after. Based on previous experience, I think I was lucky. The second steep climb I had to walk for a bit, but it was my legs, not stomach that were protesting.
As I rounded a corner by Maud’s Heath Causeway, I heard the unmistakable hiss of a big puncture. Not a real blowout, but my front tyre was completely flat within two seconds. I had come prepared, so set out to fix it. A quick inspection showed nothing stuck in the tyre, but when I pulled it off the rim I noticed a 10mm rip in the sidewall. Ah. That could be tricky. If I replaced or patched the tube, the hole would likely cause it to pop through the hole in the tyre as soon as I inflated it. I remembered that I had some duct/gaffer tape wound around one of my tyre levers, so carefully cut a strip of that to cover the rip. It seemed to hold. As I rode off I remembered that I do also have a couple of tyre boots which would’ve been better than the tape.
The tyre seemed to hold up, but there was another problem. My light had run out of charge. Thinking I wouldn’t be out for long in the dark, I’d switched my dynamo light for the Ixon IQ battery light and had kept it on low power for better visibility in the day. This should’ve been fine for ten hours, but I guess the near-zero temperatures made the batteries less efficient. Anyway, I knew I’d have to stop to buy some replacement AAs. I was passing close to Malmesbury, so I diverted into town to the Co-Op and also got some water. An extra 2km, no big deal. A little while later in Tetbury I rode right past another Co-Op which would’ve been easier. Still, I’ll know for next time.
At some point the internal jukebox switched to Curlews, which I’d been listening to at work recently.
The sun was setting slowly and the scenery was pleasant. For another couple of hours I climbed almost imperceptibly into the Cotswolds, occasionally into the wind. I was tired, but comfortable. As I approached the final hilly loop towards Uley the road dropped into a pictureque valley, half-shaded by the setting sun. I almost stopped for a photo, but decided to keep moving. Nearing the bottom of the last downhill into the village my front tyre again went suddenly flat. I was pleased how the bike still handled OK and I was able to keep control for the 60 or 70m needed to stop. Yes, my earlier repair had failed and a 7pm finish was now looking optimistic, but I wasn’t too grumpy about it. At least the village had a bench for me to sit on as I worked on the repair. Knowing I’d have a bit of digestion time I started by munching a rather stale cereal bar and examining the tube. The previous self-adhesive patch seemed to be doing its job, but another hole had sprung up right next to it, in line with the rip in the tyre. It was so close to the first repair that I wasn’t confident it would cover the hole properly, so I went for a new tube. After getting this and the tyre boot into the tyre and onto the rim, I realised the valve was too short and no amount of struggling with the pump would make a seal good enough to inflate it. Argh, poor planning, James! Back to the original double-patched tube. Hurrying with cold fingers I thought I’d pinched it a couple of times, but eventually it went in properly and seemed to hold air. Phew! I texted my wife with yet another ETA and set off through the village to find the last big climb of the day.
I tried not to think about my bodged repairs and enjoyed the last good views of the day as the sun set. The climb was long, but manageable. I suppose it helped that I’d just had a half-hour rest! Back at the top with little or no wind and a slight downhill I made good speed back through familiar places such as Westonbirt and Norton. The only thing which impeded my progress was that my light was set slightly too low, so I could only see the potholes about ten metres ahead and I was nervous about crashing into them on an iffy front tyre. Nevertheless I made it home after a couple of hours in the dark, tired but not exhausted.
The tyre with the rip is a Continental 4Seasons, but it’s done about 8000km, so it owes me nothing and is destined for the bin. Next time I’ll make sure the tubes I carry fit the wheel!