We would be starting on the Saturday morning from Ilfracombe with an overnight stop in Okehampton before continuing from there to the finish in Plymouth the following day, with a rail journey on the Monday from Plymouth to Barnstaple before cycling the last 15 miles back to Ilfracombe.
We all gathered on the Friday evening at the house of Rob's parents who had retired to Ilfracombe a good few years back which gave us an ideal starting point and we all enjoyed some pre-ride carb loading of fish & chips and beer watching the sun set over the Atlantic ocean before retiring for the night.
|Spot the difference.|
|Just follow this sign for the next 100 miles & we'll be ok!|
|Rolling downhill to Mortehoe.|
The effort to get to the top was worth it though as the downhill that followed was quite fun and off the back of this hill we rolled all the way in to Braunton, with our path passing directly through the centre of the town. I took the opportunity whilst here to track-down then nearest hardware store and bought a roll of duct tape and taped the pannier back together so as to be able to continue the journey with an evenly spread load.
Within the next mile I had to stop a further 3 times to adjust the setup of the rack and panniers as they were continually slipping and I became acutely aware that my mechanical issues were really dragging the rest of the guys back… Once moving again, with the mechanical issues resolved, the real problems started for me:
For breakfast I had only eaten 2 slices of toast, and with a combination of the bike weighing what felt to be an extra 20 kilos with the luggage rack, panniers and their contents (I had deliberately overpacked on repair tools etc.) and the drama of the breaking of them, I had neglected to eat anything since about 8am and I really was beginning to bonk.
Pedalling hard I managed to catch-up with the others as I crammed a Cliff bar into my mouth in an effort to get some food in to the tank, but with this section along the flat path of the estuary from Braunton through Barnstaple to Bideford, it was a real struggle to keep my legs moving at all. Once all grouped together upon crossing the bridge over the estuary in Barnstaple we decided that to make as good a time as we could we would ride this long flat section as a peloton, with each of us taking a turn on the front for a mile with the others drafting off the leader, before dropping to the back.
Even with the assistance of drafting, I was struggling to keep my legs going and stay in touch with everyone, but I lasted till it was my turn on front, and looking at my Garmin the whole time I hammered the pedals as hard as I could for a mile and a half, maintaining the speed needed before I dropped to the back, then really struggled to hold on to the rear of the ‘train’… From this point the others were really being slowed down by me, so it was a relief to finally reach Bideford where we stopped for lunch in a cafe overlooking the river.
|The view from the cafe... And a bold statement on the digger's arm!|
|The view from the bridge leaving Bideford.|
|A popular route with the locals!|
|Inky black waters.|
|Dean with a distant Okehampton & Dartmoor behind him.|
|This way home (Hook)... I think?|
We made our way under the A30 and onto the former railway line that was forming the cycle path here and rode the first mile till we arrived at Meldon Viaduct, stopping to admire the view where over to the South we could see the Meldon reservoir dam.
|The viaduct from the side.|
|Skirting the moor.|
|Beats riding round a town centre.|
|The cooling stream under the trees.|
|Heading down to the hydro plant.|
|Dean was so hungry he even ate the garnish.|
|Looking down on Tavistock from the viaduct.|
|Ascending the fiendish hill.|
At least with the miles ticking down there was the certainty that this was going to be the only remaining climb of note and on the back side of this we joined the Drakes Trail and skirted back on to Dartmoor again, passing some of the wild ponies along the way and the side of Yalverton, the last town before the finish.
|Chilling at the final stop before the end.|
|The easy roll down hill to Plymouth.|
|Wetting the wheels at the end.|
About 30 minutes later as we were inside and waiting our food, we found out what was the matter: A fellow patron had collapsed in the ladies toilets, so we were all hoping that we had not ordered what she had been eating!
|At least we weren't staying at the 'Quality Hotel'!|
Whilst on the train I discovered the problem with my pedal - it was the metal plate in my shoe that the cleat attaches to had bent so far it blocked the cleat so was now useless!
The ride from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe was found to be tough by all of us and I think we were all glad to have ridden north to south rather than the other way round, but eventually we managed to drag our sorry saddle-sore arses back to Rob’s parent’s house where a good lunch was awaiting us.
An uneventful drive home passed and as soon as I unloaded the bike from the van I removed the pannier and the luggage rack and tossed them in the rubbish. Looking at the rear tyre, the tread had completely disappeared over the 100 miles. The front wheel was still barely worn but the back was now a ‘slick’, which goes to show how much of a weight the rack and panniers were bearing down upon the rear of the bike. The cycling shoes followed the panniers into the bin with them being unrepairable - basically all the new kit I bought for the ride ended up broken and jettisoned at the end. During the rides I was chastised by my comadres for my choices where it was pointed out that ‘you get what you pay for’ and I was a fool for buying cheaply off eBay, but hey, you learn from your mistakes, adapt and move on.
Overall the route is a very enjoyable ride through the changing scenery of the countryside, covering everything from coastal road to remote moorland. The second day was a very easy one by comparison to the first, so it certainly makes sense to ‘break the back’ of the route on the first day before resting at Okehampton.
I would have loved to join Rob and Dean as they went off up on to the moors a couple of times, but the bike really was not up to it… Its safe to say that I’ve learned my lesson for luggage next time: hydration back pack, a beam rack with a small bag on top and to hell with the notion of cycle touring: ‘put all the weight on the bike and not you’. I did not like it this way round and found it uncomfortable!.. Also I will spend a bit more on the components in future and ensure everything mechanical is sound before embarking on the ride rather than 'winging it'.
Whilst in the pub the previous night after successfully finishing, our minds began to focus on next year’s expedition and it looks like it will involve another crossing of some sorts… Time will tell :)