Monday, 26 March 2012

The Day After The Day Before

After a pub lasagna and chips (a heady combination of cheese, mince and potato) plus a pint of the local bitter, it's fair to say that the previous day's activities had me sparked out, and the next morning saw heavy legs for the short trip downstairs to breakfast. Having given up coffee and cake for Lent (extra difficult, considering these are a cyclist's staple), I had to make do with putting on wet shoes from the day before as my morning 'jolt' - although a god-sent airing cupboard meant that a lot of my kit was dry, if not a little gritty from the previous day's roads.

If you have read the previous entry, you'll know that the weather meant that the climb of Crewcombe Coombe was impossible, and so with a stomach still brimming with fried breakfast I set off to tick that one off the list. Conscious sated and ego soothed, I headed back to the B&B to meet to with Clive for the day's ride across Exmoor. From the outset we knew that it was going to be a hard ride, and in Exmoor the road never flattens out. After coming through several showers and dipping down to the coastal town of Watchet and returning back to the busy A39, we turned off towards Luccombe and the hills of Exmoor-proper. The first hill was Dunkery Beacon, which started as a lovely climb through the forest before plateauing out and then kicking back up towards the bleak top of the moor. On the way up, I came across this chap who I chatted to briefly - if you watch the video you can see me at about 2.25, and let's just say I was envious of all of his gears especially on the steep bits towards the top of the hill!
Clive getting to the top of Dunkery
The fabulous descent off the back of Dunkery was curtailed by a steep turn and another couple of climbs (this time 'uncategorised') as we looped around back to the town of Porlock. It was clear that the previous day's efforts had taken their toll, and neither of us had the same 'snap' in our legs - Clive was doing especially well, given that he had been off the bike after an operation for the previous two weeks. Looking at the route map, I had worked out the last climb on that loop, and could see that the rest of the distance to Porlock (where we planned to stop for a Coke - the Red Ambulance) was downhill. Unfortunately, as a crucial turning point, I decided to follow the road sign to Porlock and to ignore the GPS' screaming that this was the wrong way. This meant that, rather than emerging on the A39 in the village of Porlock, we emerged a couple of miles further West and had to descend the climb before turning around to go back up it. This was something of a double-edged sword, as on one hand it was a preview of the steepest and hardest climb of the day, but on the other it did mean that we could enjoy a screaming descent down an absolutely mental road.

Reaching the village at the bottom after topping out at nearly 50mph, it soon became clear that nothing was open on a Sunday, so we turned around and headed straight back up. Porlock is a hill to be taken seriously - so seriously that it offers all who dare to climb it an alternative route (via a toll booth, naturally). Heading past the first hairpin (with the smell of burning clutches hanging heavy in the air), the climb just keeps on dishing out the pain with long stretches of 20+% before 'flatting out' to a mere 13% to the top. Fortunately for us, Selene had the forethought to buy up the last remaining sandwiches in Porlock before the shops closed, and we sat under the boot of the car stuffing our semi-traumatised faces to bring us back down to Earth.
Climbing Porlock - so slowly that Selene could take multiple exposures
Clive executing a perfect zig-zag climb manoeuvre in an attempt to reduce the gradient
Turning back off the A39 and into Exmoor, we descended back to the muddy farm tracks of Exmoor, before climbing up yet again, and then descending into Lynmouth. If this sounds like a rollercoaster, that's exactly what it felt like, with the requisite highs and lows. For inspiration, we had repeatedly passed a couple - clearly touring - on regular road bikes and all of their wares in large bags on their backs. Coming up Porlock the girl was going strong and way ahead of her partner, despite carrying an equal size bag and was powering away strong when we passed them again on the descent.

Our penultimate climb was the 'Exmoor Forest' out of Lynmouth - a measly 3/10 and really gentle compared to Dunkery, Porlock and Crewcombe. The gradient probablt didn't get above 10% for the entire length and the sun had even come out so we were able to enjoy the meandering views over the ravine below. Reaching the top (and the highest point in Exmoor apparently) we had a quick pow-wow with Selene in the team car and then pushed on for our final destination on the coast.
Talking tactics
The gradual descent from the top of Exmoor to Woolacombe was interspersed with short and speed-reducing kicks up, and we were also greeted by worsening weather. Stopping to put our wet weather gear on (a rain jacket for me, a DHL delivery packet for Clive), it was clear that Clive had had enough for the day. As we set off, a tractor came past and we picked up the pace to try and draft it for a while. We didn't make the tractor (which probably tells you something about the state of our legs by then) but at the end of his tether, Clive simply kept his foot on the gas and the remaining five-odd miles were done at breakneck speed - including a hair-raising descent down to the sea on wet roads. I'm not sure whether he knew it at the time, but the ride was due to end with the last climb of the day: Challacombe Hill, which goes from sea level to 700 feet in less than half a mile. To say that this hill was painful would be an understatement, and at the time it felt like the hardest hill of the day. To varying degrees of success (one of us fell over, naming no names) we zig-zagged across the gradient at a snails pace before reaching the top, gasping for oxygen.

After that it was a case of get changed, repack the car, drive to Tiverton to drop Clive off on the train, and then drive down to Hayle. The perfect recovery activities! Let's just say that not many of the snacks in the car made it to the end of the drive...
Clive on his last legs

Finally reaching the top of Challacombe


  1. Yes, I confess to having fallen off whilst riding *uphill* - it's easy when you know how. My zigzag was scuppered by the narrowness of the road, and the rest is history. I considered my job as the flat road and downhill specialist done when I delivered Nathan, as fast as possible, to the foot of the climb to finish it in his inimitable style. Thanks to Nathan for a great 'holiday' - if these are what Selene refers to as recovery rides then I've spent the last 21 years cycling in ignorant bliss - and I see no reason to change that now. On the plus side my legs are a lot stronger now!

    1. And now I know why Nathan's Twitter handle is stewedbrain ...

  2. For anyone reading this blog - the west country is beautiful, the road out of Lynmouth is particularly attractive. You should ride it.

  3. Thanks for the mention Nathan. The really low gears you were so envious of on Dunkery were actually a bit of a disadvantage as it made climbing out of the saddle and changing my pace a little difficult. A compact chainset will be going on soon!