or, The One Where Tony Hits the Heights (and the Shops)
Reasonable night’s sleep all things considered, but I was up at six o’clock with thoughts running through my head about how best to tackle the problem in hand – re-checking of websites and route cards didn’t do much to settle me!
After getting up and having a cup of tea the hostel owner advised me of a bike shop in Bideford (pronounced Biddy-ford, random English coastal town fans) that should be able to sort me out.
Rather than cycle over there then back, I thought I’d give them a call and see if she was right. A quick google and I was on the phone to Freebird. Speaking to the owner he let me know he couldn’t sort me out with a rack and panniers (‘we used to stock that sort’…) but they had ‘hundreds of backpacks including some specific cycling ones’. I asked what sort, but he suggested going to look. Hopeful, I set off…
…what a load of squit! His ‘cycling specidic’ bag (yes, bag…singular!) was a cloth musette with ‘US Postal Cycling Team’ printed on the side! As for the others, suitable for round town but not a hundred mile journey to Bristol!
Slightly peeved (to put it mildly) I headed out and onto the road for the four mile or so journey back out to Atlantic City – the lovely downhill into Westward Ho! the night before wasn’t quite as much fun in the opposite direction, and the headwind only added to the occasion…although it did mean I’d have a favourable tailwind for the day ahead!
Got to the outlet village, parked the bike up outside a massive ASDA and wandered into Mountain Warehouse. After perusing the massive range options (that’s hundreds of bags, Mr. Freebird!) I opted for a 10ltr pack, bought it and got ready to set off.
Realising it was now 11.00 and I hadn’t eaten I slipped into the ASDA and settled into the cafe with a Full Monty breakfast. Whilst eating, my situation hit me. Ten days to go and I’d encountered a problem that I’d never even considered would occur. It took a moment to convince myself that I’d manage fine but I got myself back on track, finished off my breakfast and set back out to return to the hostel.
After arriving I shifted all my stuff from the Carradice into the rucksack – hmm…maybe the bigger one would have been better, it was a tight fit!
Off came the broken rack and into the Carradice bag it went. ‘What did you do with that as you said your rucksack’s full?’ I hear you cry…well, I pootled into Westward Ho!, found the Post Office and got it packaged up and sent back home – where it will wait until I get back to return to its maker alongside an, erm, strongly worded letter!
Finally on the road at 12.15ish (so much for those early starts!) and after tackling the steep climb out of Ho! I joined the A39 heading towards Barnstaple.
It became apparent very quickly that the bag wasn’t working, and there was no way I’d cope with another ninety five miles or so. A new plan was needed, so I pulled over to the verge and got on the iPhone.
A google for ‘Barnstaple cycle shops’ threw back three promising results. Tried the first one (The Bike Shed), but their response to my request for a seatpost rack and panniers for a road bike without eyelets wasn’t inspiring; ‘er, I’m sure we could fashion something together’. Decided to try the next one, Planet Bike who simply said ‘yep, no worries’. Sold!
Put their postcode into my GPS and made my way through the ten miles or so into Barnstaple proper and arrived in an industrial estate where hopefully I’d get myself sorted…
…what can I say? Paul and Neil at Planet Bike were superb, my heroes for the day! Within minutes I had a new, secure, rack fitted and no more than twenty minutes later I had my stuff transferred over to a new bag.
It turns out that Paul did a LEJOG with his twin brother last year, so I had a bit of a chat. I knew the day would be tough, but his sucking of teeth and nervous laughter did nothing but confirm that. After looking at my route for the day he cheerfully told me I was in for a hell of a climb with a ‘terrific Cat. 1 effort’ for the first hill of the day. Oh joy…
The final ‘pep talk’ from Paul as I bid them farewell cheered me up no end; ‘I’m envious of you, a great two weeks ahead. Get through today and you’ll be fine, Scotland’s easy after this!’.
Pulling away from the estate with the weight back on the bike was amazing. Planet Bike I salute you and kiss you on both cheeks! Back on track, although it was 14.00 and I had sixty miles still to cover. And that climb…
A ride through town towards Snapper and the climb started. Dear God, what a climb! As I reached about three quarters of the way up I passed Bratton Fleming. Stopping for an ice cream at the village stores I had a chat with the owner. After telling him where I was off to, his reply of ‘another one?! You all come in here’ tickled me…imagining the state that some may be in at that point of the ascent. He assured me there wasn’t much further to go which, whilst a little bit of a lie, did cheer me up!
The road finally peaked and levelled onto Exmoor National Park. With the road to myself and the sun beating down on fields strewn with sheep and lambs I had a chance to reflect on the journey so far – passing a hawk (kestrel perhaps) literally yards away bathing in the sun only added to the experience.
A couple more ups and downs before reaching Wheddon Cross where the road plummets – winding through woodlands with a decent road surface. What a thrill, and a lovely reward for the struggle at the start of the day and I really enjoyed the few miles, despite the chill that the shadows of the trees cast onto the road.
Twenty miles ’til Bridgwater, but being back on the main road (A39) and with it having a reasonable profile gave me a chance to make some time up.
One spell in particular was magical, sweeping curves at a decent speed with the Atlantic in full view and the sun setting behind me…breathtaking.
I rolled into the B&B as the sun set around 21.00. A long old day…
Sure you’re desperate to know, but I’ve no idea what the state of Bridgwater’s fish and chips are like. With a lowly kitchen available in the B&B I took full advantage and used it to cook…an oven pizza!
So in conclusion. A long, long day both physically and mentally…bit so, so satisfying as I made it to Bridgwater.
Here’s hoping for a better day tomorrow, with ninety miles to cover and a trip over the Severn…
Stats for the day
Distance for the day: 86 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 6hrs 26mins
Average speed for the day: 13.3mph
Maximum speed for the day: 39.9mph (gah!)
Total distance to date: 234 miles
Total time in saddle to date: 17hrs 49mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.1mph
Route for the day…
Route profile for the day…