In late March a friend and I entertained the idea of completing the longest bike ride of my life on the longest day of the year. I recently completed this ride with 18 other friends and had the time of my life! Honestly!!
The idea was to ride at dawn from Sandbanks in Poole 230 kilometres to Bude in Cornwall before sunset with a mate. Working at Ordnance Survey, an organisation full of outdoor types, the crew grew from two or three to 19 riders and two support vehicles within a few weeks. Awesome!
About a month before the actual ride a few of us went out to recce about half of the ride in order to find pit stops, get a feel for the route and just to #getoutside really! The weather was glorious on that day and I was buzzing afterwards. The distance was split into five stages where the support vans would be waiting stuffed with bananas, water, power bars, clothing etc… and dry, happy people.
As you can see 4:30am in Sandbanks on June the 21st was pretty wet and not at all part of the plan. To give ourselves the best chance to arrive in Bude before sunset we picked the Summer Solstice, longest day of the year. Far from a sunrise, it was wet as an otters pocket and stayed that way until past midday. Not so much Chase the Sun, more like Find the Sun…
In fact it was raining so hard I couldn’t see properly for the first stage of the ride, a 30 mile honk across to Poundbury. I was wearing wrap around glasses which, ominously, I anti-fogged the night before but the rain still made its way onto my eyes and I had to blink hard to clear my eyes and wipe my glasses regularly to clear them too. My Garmin 810 also gave out around 30 minutes into the ride so I had to reset it and unfortunately spent the rest of the ride guessing how far we’d actually ridden.
Poundbury came sooner that I thought though and as the Waitrose had a cafe we all climbed off and went for coffee and cake. The cleaner had just finished cleaning the floor so that was a waste of time! They were good sports though and when they found out we were riding for Solent Mind (the mental health charity) we got practically free coffee. Thank you Waitrose!
We set off after a very long stop, by which time I was starting to cool down. We regain heat and momentum pretty soon and settled into the next 40 mile stage of the ride. It hadn’t stopped raining but the reality had sunk in that it might not stop for a while. I managed to smash out a quick Periscope.
As a group we also began to work harder at developing a peloton. This has the effect of sharing the head wind/rain across the group and giving around 30% reduction in drag to the rest of the group riding behind. The conditions made it all the more important to spot and notify riders behind about potholes, drains etc…
And so it rained
By stop two, near Bridport, I was annoyed and soaking. I had to swap my weatherproof jacket to a full water proof. Not ideal as it wasn’t cold and I knew I’d be sweating pretty soon but it was getting uncomfortable. By the stage of the ride the early stages of fatigue were starting to show. I still had a lot more to give but my muscles knew they’d had a hard ride. After all I was toughing it out with seasoned riders in the ‘fast’ paced group.
In the preparation for the ride we’d debated the value of mixed ability groups versus paced groups. The benefit of more experienced riders spread across the whole group would have obvious benefits but the downside was they’d be riding well within their capabilities with the potential for less experienced riders having to work hard to stay on pace. There was also the added complication of the groups spreading out in the later stages and making support more complicated. We opted for paced groups in the end and muggins here got lumped in with the fast group.
In a hole
By stop three it felt like I had lost all physical strength and wanted to drop back. Having completed my longest bike ride to date with another 50 miles left to go it was looking a little daunting. In my in-experience I hadn’t planned my nutrition properly. I hydrated well but for food I was relying mainly on flapjacks and gels. I have a high metabolism and combined with a relatively low power base I was burning energy fast. I needed to feel satiated and what I had wasn’t working well enough. I tucked into a couple of bananas and talked to one of the group about dropping back to the medium paced group, then the sun came out!
Oh, what welcome relief.
I dropped my jacket, got back in the saddle and kicked on. About two miles down the road the heavens opened and I started feeling miserable again! The van was tracking us and when they pulled up ahead I grabbed my chance to get the jacket back on again.
We were now heading into the closing stages and by now the lack of sufficient nutrition was really telling. I’d started letting the group get away from me, not by much but by enough to know they might have been slowing to support me. Not a good feeling. This was the low point, and I’d decided to drop back at the next stop.
At this stage my chain also started to sound like a bag of spanners. at one point I had to pull over at a garage and get some WD40 on the chain in order to make it to the stop without the thing snapping! Also for some reason my rear brakes had completely worn away leaving only the front brakes which wasn’t ideal. Things like this played on the mind making it harder.
Stop Four. Time to drop back.
We pulled into a lane behind a garage forecourt and I thought to my self “Self. You’ll be here a while so go get some nosh”. I came out of the shop with a chicken tikka sandwich (white bread), a steak slice and
sat on the floor and ate all of it. Plus a couple of bananas and a mars bar.
A stroke of fate meant that the coach to drive us back to Poole was involved in a crash the day before. This meant the group leader spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone trying to sort the mess out. This gave me another ten minutes and in that time one of the group talked some sense into me. We only had another 30 miles to go, dont drop back now for God’s sake?!
I choked down a handful of jelly babies, finished the rest of my bag of dry roasted peanuts and rode out again with the fast group.
After ten minutes, and on encountering the first of the hills, I realised my folly. There was an internal battle going on which went a bit like this
Belly: I need blood, energy and anything else to deal with the feast we’ve been tasked with digesting.
Legs: No chance mate, we need to climb. Give me that blood…
Belly: No. Tough…
Legs: Yes. Tough…
And so indigestion kicked off in a major way. But only for about 5-10 minutes, then I was like a new man! Having the fuel in my belly worked wonders and I was back at the front in no time. The difference was tangible and the lesson was learnt. Onwards to Bude…
The last 7 or 8 miles of the ride was really great. I felt good and probably could have ridden on much further. The sea was a welcome sight, as was the on coming sunset and the mood in the group was fantastic!
Everyone completed the ride. The fast group ended on just over 11 hours with an average speed of 20.1km/h which bearing in mind the conditions and a couple of punctures wasn’t bad. We ended on 2500+/- elevation mostly gained over 5 or 6 major hills. The GPX file is here.
The massive plate of fish and chips, loads of beers and a sound sleep were to follow…
Check out this awesome video one of our riders Andy W captured on his GoPro.