Wednesday, 28 March 2012


After a few days R'n'R in Hayle (we're talking long walks, a 50 mile ride with Selene to Lands End, and generally gorging on great food), the time had come to get back into the saddle and finish off the climbs in the South West - this meant a ride from Tavistock to Sidmouth, crossing Dartmoor and finishing up on the South coast.
Eating the monster from the deep
- yes, lobster does make you go faster
We had been watching the weather forecast intently to try and pick the best day for the ride - so waking up to a freezing cold spring morning, with views of thick fog wasn't exactly what we had in mind. The drive up and over Bodmin was so foggy that progress was slow, and I wasn't particularly excited about the prospect of my tiny LED lights being the things keeping motorists from ploughing me down on the highway. On arrival, the usual 'get changed in a public carpark' routine kicked in - once again, putting on leg-warmers (or, as Selene refers to them, 'lyrca suspenders') when you're a lone cyclist amongst a bunch of 'normals' is an undignified process. But we soldier on...

Straight out of Tavistock was the road into Dartmoor, and instantly the road kicked up the Rundlestone climb. A strange beast, this is rated 7/10 by Simon Warren, and probably would be a killer climb if it didn't have a strange descent in the middle of it. I had forgotten this part of the profile map, so reaching the first 'summit' thought that the climb was over. After a short downhill section, the road went upwards again in a similar manner - again, nothing too difficult although I could have done without the headwind.
A slightly exaggerated view of what a
Dartmoor pony looks like

The view from the top of Rundlestone
After the first climb, the road headed generally down which offered a great opportunity to admire the views and the wildlife - in particular one intriguing specimen which appeared to be a cross between a sheep and a pony:
Sheep (left) and horsey-sheepy (right)
Unfortunately, all to soon the fog closed in over the tops, and I was plunged into visibility of less than 10m. Not ideal conditions to be cycling in, but fortunately the earlier sun had warmed the air up enough that it wasn't freezing as well as foggy. Before the next climb (Dartmeet), I did stop to take a picture, although I didn't check it and I think it came out a little on the drunken side of clear, making it look even more dense than it was:
Foggy, but not that foggy
Climbing Dartmeet in the fog was an experience. With no way to tell what lay ahead, it was a shock to run off the descent, over a cattle grid, and straight into a 20% climb - my gears certainly weren't prepared for that shock (climbing those kind of gradients in 53x12 is not recommended). Somehow the fog makes everything still, and going uphill felt like climbing in a bubble, making me very aware of my breathing and every squeak and creak from my bike. It also meant that I couldn't see up any of the turns up the climb, making it hard to gauge my effort, so I ended up pushing fairly hard throughout.

After Dartmeet, there was only a small distance to cover before reaching the pretty village of Widecombe, complete with over-size church and inviting-looking cake shop. Unfortunately, cake is on the 'banned' list for Lent so I pushed on up the 7/10 rated Widecombe climb. Similar to Rundlestone, this was fairly manageable once out of the the saddle and in the right gear - with the added bonus of being arrow straight, and with great views both up and down. I had agreed to meet Selene at the top for a bite of lunch so I set down in the car park waiting for her arrival. Unfortunately, Selene had been held up by the driver in front of her carelessly running over some livestock (the animal was unidentified, but apparently it was too big to be a sheep and to small to be a horse - I can only home that the horesey-sheepy I had spotted earlier hadn't thrown himself in front of a car in a fit of angst at his lack of identity). There is very little mobile signal in the middle of Dartmoor, so after around 20 minutes of waiting with no clue as to the hold-up, the car emerged over the brow of the hill and I jumped in to warm up and chow down on some delicious Tavistock market food.
Instagram view from the top of Widecombe

Undignified instagram self-portrait. Smile, man!

Happy campers

Slightly reluctant to get out of the warm, food-loaded car
Having eating my body weight in fresh olive and sun-dried tomato bread (plus the odd gingerbread man - thanks Selene!), it was lucky that the road from Widecombe was downhill all the way out of Dartmoor, allowing me to use my additional temporary bulk to shoot down at over 40mph. Looping around the moor to Bovey Tracey (this wasn't the wimps way out, rather that the next climb was going in the opposite direction to my destination), the next climb was the longest of the day, but turned out to be by far the easiest: the 5/10 rate Haytor Vale. In blue skies and with the wind at my back, I sailed up the climb without too much of an issue, pausing at the top to take a picture before turning round and heading back off the moor again.
View from the top of Haytor
(conveniently the rest of the hill has been obscured...)
With Dartmoor 'conquered' (crossing Exmoor seemed like a more challenging task than Dartmoor, but that conception might have had something to do with the road and weather conditions), and four of the five 'categorised' climbs for the day done, I headed towards Exeter in high spirits. Again, I had neglected to look closely at the route profile for this section of the ride, and paid the price for optimism as I grinded up the hills of the Old Exeter road towards the town of Clapham. Finally getting into Exeter, I emerged from an innocuous-looking industrial estate into the lovely River Exe park - equipped with traffic-free bike lanes and a great way to traverse the city. Rolling down my armwarmers and packing away my gillet to bask in the afternoon sunshine, it was lovely to roll through the green space nodding 'hello' to other cyclists.

The road out of the city down the coast wasn't so pleasant, being narrow and very busy with cars - climbing gradually again before descending into Otterton (which has a disappointing lack of otters, despite the name). Another sharp surprise hill sent me way up above the town of Sidmouth with a view across to the final hill up the opposite cliffs. After an extremely short and sharp descent into Sidmouth, dodging OAP drivers, I ended up lacing through the town going the wrong way up one-way streets as my Garmin demonstrated once again that it's not the best for town-based riding. Finally making it to the base of Salcombe Hill Road, the last push up the climb was again a tough one (rated 5/10, but in my opinion significantly harder than Haytor Vale). Rising up through dappled forest and past an observatory, there was plenty to distract me from the gradient, and 10 minutes later I emerged over the brow of the hill, where Selene had walked up to. A quick smooch (not sure she appreciated my salt-encrusted face, but I enjoyed it!) and I headed back down to the car for the 'get changed in a car park' routine again. Oh the cycles of life...
Top of Salcombe - with bare arms in March!
Recovery picnic on the seafront

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