Thursday, 16 July 2020

118 miles in a day

I had been thinking about doing a hundred mile bike ride for a while now. People always ask me “What’s the furthest you’ve ever cycled?”. It was a 93 miler from Southampton to Bridport on the start of my 1000 mile ride around the west of the country. It is pretty flat until you get to Dorchester as well and then it sure climbs. 93 miles seemed a bit lame. I knew I could cycle 100 miles on my mountain bike so why not do it? I am a very slow and leisurely cyclist though. Nothing serious about me. I often stop to take photos and add a pub or two in there somewhere.

I was keen to get back onto the Wylye valley again. I had been up there twice before. Once I cycled 85 miles to Bath by mistake and had some beers with a friend before deciding to catch the train back. The other time I ran from Salisbury and quit at Warminster and got the train back. I was learning the route to run to Cardiff. The plan was to run a 50k a day for a week to get to Cardiff. I think I worked it out as about 200 miles. It was about time I raised some money for charity again, it was going to be Asthma Uk but it needed to be a big challenge. Sadly, I had a bike accident and tore the cartilage in my knee requiring an operation which I later cancelled and decided to strengthen and rehab myself to great effect. So, I ran from Southampton to Salisbury one day (32 miles) and Salisbury to Warminster (25 miles). Then I would catch a train to Warminster and continue the run into Bath and Bristol. Maybe I’ll do that in September for a bit of fun. Anyway, I’m rambling again.

The challenge was set. 100 miles would be cycled for Fluffy butts rescue. I had entered the virtual race a while ago and my medal hadn’t shown up. I messaged them and they said they’d send another one, which they did. Very nice people indeed and they take in and look after various neglected animals. Lovely vegan people and they always post adorable bunny photos on their facebook page. Check them out. I knew I could do it with a bit of effort but it still seemed a bit daunting. This was during lockdown. There would be no option to get the train back home. It would have to be done. At one point I remember the ride being like a swim out to sea and wondering if I had enough energy to turn around and get back to the beach or had I swam out of my depth? A little bit of panic set in at one point. But that’s just my brain’s way of telling me to be careful and think about what I was doing right?

I couldn’t sleep. I think I got 4 hours and woke up at 4.30am. The plan was to set off at 6am. I had coffee and crumpets and set off at 5.30am. I made sure I had the vital stuff in my rucksack. Spare inner tube, bike pump, tyre levers, spare t-shirt, water, energy bar, pumpkin seeds and nuts. I even went back for my sun cream. I also bought a power bank to charge my Garmin watch. My 13 hour battery now lasts for 6 hours. I have had 6 garmins now and they all do this after a year when the warranty runs out and I no longer have any friends who work at Garmin for the 40% discount. I will probably switch to Polar or something. Want to get back into the ultra running again. So will need a better watch. 

I set off in shorts but with a thin jacket, hat and gloves as it was still cold but the sun was coming up. The roads were peaceful, even Romsey road on which I reside. I was heading for Romsey. I usually do Lee lane to Romsey and Belbins to get to Timsbury because of the heavy traffic but not today. Straight down the A3057 which was actually safe to cycle down 25 years ago when I worked in Romsey. Then straight through to the Stockbridge road without doing the little climb in Belbins. It was feeling a little laboured already. It was flat but felt kind of hard going. My front tyre looked a bit deflated. I decided I would stop and check it out at Mottisfont. I stopped at the river test bridge. It was very flat! I pumped up the tyre and put my jacket in the rucksack with my hat and gloves. It was warmer now and I was 9 miles in. I was a little worried about the tyre despite having a spare inner tube.

I carried on into Mottisfont and turning left onto Hatt lane and down the hill into Dunbridge. Right into Lockerley. I knew this route so well as I had done it so many times now. I was getting a little bored of it to be honest. It is very flat though until Alderbury at least. I was cycling through West Dean when I decided I would take a different route back via the New forest. It would be a few more miles and hillier but more interesting for me. As the miles passed I planned out the return route in my head. The roads and lanes were still empty. I saw some deer and a Kestrel hovered above. 

I had a few ideas leading up to this ride: If I got tired early on, I could just do a 50 miler to Salisbury and back. Maybe a 100 miler to Warminster and back? Ideally I wanted to get to Longleat and back which would be 108 miles by my calculations. Wouldn’t it be cool to do 3 counties though? Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset. Let’s see how it goes I thought.

My tyre was flat again when I got to East Grimstead. It had to be changed now. The road was narrow but there were no cars out here yet. One girl came past on a bike and another girl out jogging. This was my only spare inner tube. It took me a while to locate where the puncture had come from. Always check the tyre! Feel around on the smooth inside parts. Glad I did as the thorn or whatever the sharp spike was, was still in there. Took a while to retract it from the inside of the tyre. 9 miles to Salisbury now? This was the only place to stop off at Halfords for another inner tube if I needed one. I generally don’t get punctures on a mountain but my front tyre hardly has any grip or tread left. I should have replaced it months ago. Bad Dean Jones.

Into Alderbury and then Salisbury. The roads still quiet at 7.45am. I got to Halfords but they didn’t open until 8am. Do I wait 10 minutes for a spare inner tube? With my patience? No way. I carried on through the park reminding me of the Salisbury parkrun course and past the Cathedral. Under the usually busy tunnel and left past the wetherspoons and the railway station and towards Bemerton.
Once in Bemerton I filled up my water bottle in the cemetery from a tap. I almost forgot this water stop was here. A great way to get free water on the go. I carried on into Quidhampton. Great memories came flooding back from the Salisbury 54321 race. Right and a left and on to the busy A36 for a short time before a left turn into Wilton. More people around now. Straight on until I see the right turn for Great Wishford.

Now, I remember Great Wishford having some hard climbs. I kept pedalling in anticipation but they never came. What I thought of as a hill 3 years ago has certainly changed after living in Cornwall, Devon and Wales. West Hampshire is very flat (Not West Dean hill though!) and this part of Wiltshire isn’t too bad either. Just one quiet road running parallel to the A36 for miles now. Hardly see any moving cars. Most of them are parked in the villages that you pass through. You can’t even hear the A36 even though it just to your right in the distance. All I can hear are the calls of the Yellowhammers in the trees and bushes. Buzzards and Red kites loiter effortlessly above as I easily cycle the flat road. Nothing but fields here but then you occasionally go through the little quaint villages.

I am surprised though as there are quite a few cyclists about on this sunny morning. 90% of cyclists say hello, wave or smile at you. The other 10% think they are too cool to acknowledge or just miserable I guess. I never find many runners very friendly. They never look like they’re enjoying their run either. What’s the point? How can you go through life so miserable? Anyway, I am getting hungry and it’s about 9.30am and I’m about 30 miles in. Nearly a third of the way! I was a bit worried that I had made a mistake about not waiting the 10 minutes at Halfords. There is nothing out here at all really. There is one place I know of though and I was hoping it was going to be open. It seemed to take ages to get there. Where was it again? One of the villages but I couldn’t quite remember. I did the Langfords. Little Langford, Hanging Langford. Then through Wylye, Bapton, Stockton, Sherrington  and finally Boyton where the Ginger Piggery is located. 

When I got to the Ginger Piggery I saw two cyclists leaving who had not long passed me on the road. They were coming out of the courtyard. It can’t be open I had thought. My heart sank. Nearly 40 miles in. I got off my bike and walked around. Yeah, it looks shut. I looked through a few windows and eventually a window opened. “Hello” the woman smiled. “Are you open?” I pleaded. She said I was 20 minutes early but would fire up the coffee machine for me anyway if I could be bothered to wait. I was so happy to get a Latte with soya milk. So much cake on display that looked so good. Sadly no vegan cake though so I just sat down in the sun with my Latte and ate my pumpkins seeds and an energy bar. The little comforts! I managed to take my watch off and plug it into the power bank too, which charged about 15% in 15 minutes. Good stuff. 

More cyclists arrived laughing and joking. A nice bunch. I said goodbye and got back on the bike feeling refreshed from the much needed break as my calves were burning a little bit and my lower back was really sore. I managed to stretch it out on a bench for a bit though. Into Corton and past Tytherington which, as you can imagine, has a very long looking name sign. Sutton Parva and Sutton Veny follow. Up a hill and you’re now off the Wylye valley. It changes. Everything looks more built up now as I head into the town of Warminster.

I miss a left turn and go through the town and end up on a very busy A362. A few cars beeped at me. It was a scarily fast road but I went with it. A nice bit of adrenalin to keep me going. I had lost the NCN24 at Warminster but never mind. This road would get me to Longleat eventually via Cley Hill which looked very nice for a walk. Will have to check it out another time. 

I still wasn’t sure where to go from Longleat as I was at a different entrance which I didn’t recognise. I continued on the A362 and took a photo at the “Welcome to Somerset” sign. I had made it to my third county. Corsley Heath? Never heard of it. Rodden? Never heard of it.

I got to Frome. I had decided that this would be far enough. After all, I had to do a return journey yet and I was 54 miles in by the time I got to the centre of Frome. More race memories returned and a drunken night during the Frome folk festival. A great day indeed. I got myself a couple of Vegan sausage rolls from Greggs and a can of coke and sat in a quiet place by the river. My back was killing me so I stretched it again on another bench. Was so nice sitting in the sun. I was so hungry now as well.
It was time for my return journey but now I was able to easily pick up the NCN route to Longleat.

 I still remember the first time I cycled through Longleat. It freaked me out a bit. It’s all woodland. You cycle past the entrance booth with all the cars waiting to pay to get in. Go past the house and are following signs to the safari park. It’s just parks and gates. I was expecting to get attacked by Lions. I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way. What a strange cycle route. Was I going to get eaten? I sped up as I scanned the fields for hungry Lions. I was sure they would be running for me soon. Maybe I’ll just get the Monkeys? Anyway, they never appeared. I seem to have a habit of thinking the worst of situations. I’ll give you a couple of examples: As teenagers, some friends and I were on the Magic carpet ride at Chessington world of adventure. I hate adventure parks. Scare me too death. Don’t know why I went. I was on the magic carpet ride with my friends when we heard the bolts coming loose and banging on the mezzanine of our magic carpet. So I obviously shouted with fear “THE BOLTS ARE COMING LOOSE!” A few people started screaming louder while my mates laughed. Someone’s pockets were just ejecting a loads of 10p pieces and they were flying about the place.
Onto the Beaujolais marathon, Myself, Mikey, Di and Lawrence were looking for our gíte in a remote area of France. It was dark and snowing. A car pulls up and asks if we’re lost. We are up in the remote hills in heavy snow, there is no one else around. We are going to be led to a barn where we are mugged, tortured and killed. I am panicking with fear again. I am working out my escape plan while Lawrence is being raped in a field! It actually turns out that they were just really nice people trying to help us out! Weird.

Where was I? Ah yeah. I got told off in Longleat for trespassing. It was super busy as well with people picnicking on the grass. No social distancing here! I was taking a photo of Longleat house when a 4x4 turned up with security. I am to stick to the cycle route as I am not a paying member at Longleat. I never would pay. I am certainly not in favour of animal captivity. Goodbye Longleat. 

I climbed a big hill and soon got lost again in Maiden Bradley. The sign was heading for Shepton Mallet. Definitely not the right way. Salisbury was signed behind me. No internet signal for google maps out there. I pondered on directions for a minute or so until I saw two more cyclists. They didn’t know the best way but said maybe through the Deverills. They gave me directions and I spoke to them as we cycled and we both took the right turn. It was very nice around here. They went on ahead and told me to take a right turn at the end. I could see the guy gesturing a right turn with his hand as they cycled out of sight. I was lost and in new territory. It was exciting though and the views were lovely. I think I may have cycled through all the Deverills too. Kingston Deverill, Monkton Deverill, Brixton Deverill, Hill Deverill (No hill?) and Longbridge Deverill. Hills were all around with lovely fields of livestock. I was at the bottom of the valley the whole time. Nice, flat and fast route and then contrastingly back onto the A360. 

It wasn’t too long until I found a right turn back into Sutton Veny and then I was back to familiar territory. I probably still had 45 miles to go but I could relax a bit more now and would stop back at the Ginger piggery for a Sports drink and a Vegan Ice cream.
The sun was still blazing as I sat there in the lovely courtyard but there was a family with a bunch of screaming kids that didn’t offer the serenity that I had yearned for. I charged my watch again and got chatting to a cyclist on the next table. He was my age, maybe older? From Salisbury and supported Wycombe Wanders. His son supported Chelsea. We spoke about cycling around Hampshire and Wiltshire and how busy the Wylye valley was this morning with fellow cyclists. I said goodbye and told him he’d probably catch me up on the way home.

He did catch me up and he cycled at my slow pace for about 5 miles while we chatted away and moaned about the screaming kids from earlier. He also mentioned another café in Hanging Langford at the Nature reserve. Apparently there is a nice lake to walk around too. I’ll add it to my list. He had to leave me to get back home to watch Chelsea lose 4-0 with his I never did ask his name but then I’ll probably never see him again. He was a nice dude though and very down to earth. The miles flew by as we chatted and I was back in Salisbury in no time. Still no puncture either. 

Salisbury was busy with people walking around the town and the cathedral now. I had to cycle on the path to get back to Alderbury because of the traffic. I took a right turn and followed the sign to Downton where I decided I would be stopping for a nice cold beer in the pub. I had remembered how hilly it was from Alderbury to Downton and this time is was true. Hilly for Hampshire anyway. I had just passed the 93 miles. I was now setting a record for my longest mileage in a day. I felt ok too. Legs were a little achy but nothing too serious. I was surprised that I didn’t have a sore bum. I must be putting on weight again! After some biggish climbs I arrived in Downton. Chained my bike in the garden of the Wooden Spoon pub and ordered a nice cold pint of beer and some salty crisps. This is was heaven. I sat in the garden alone and charged my phone with the power bank. The beer went to my head quickly and I felt quite light headed. I really wanted another one but thought it might be a bit dangerous. I’ll wait until I get to The Compass Inn in Winsor for another pint. Only 8 miles from home. I gave my details to the landlady while I chatted to the 4 men sat down in the pub. “You’ve cycled 98 miles because you can’t run and are injured?” They all laughed. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true. I would have been running instead of cycling if I could. One guy was from Swaythling. We chatted about pubs and other stuff and then I told them my route home as they had asked. Up the hill, through Woodfalls, Brook, A nice fast downhill into Bramshaw. Furzley, Newbridge and Winsor. 

Sadly the Compass Inn was rammed and my Gear cable had just snapped (or so I had first thought). I didn’t bother with the pub and carried on and now stuck in 2nd gear. The Rembrandts song came into my head frequently. Mostly that day though I had been singing Eddie Money’s - Two tickets to paradise along with Knick knack Paddy whack give the dog a bone. Random.
I was so hungry now. It just hit me. I was starving. I might even starve to death! I was over 100 miles in now. In fact, I had passed the 108 miles planned at the pub in Winsor. I was so tired now. Through Tatchbury mount/Loperwood and down to Calmore. As I took a corner, my back wheel clipped something like a block of wood or something. I lost control for a short time and the car coming towards me dramatically swerved to avoid hitting me. I thought it was a slight over reaction but then I was tired with 110 miles in my legs and 10 hours in the saddle. Still no sore bum but my left palm was going numb now and losing the feeling. My back was really hurting too. The rucksack felt heavy now. I didn’t even use the clean t-shirt in there but you never know. It was a nice sunny day but not too hot with a nice breeze. I had picked the perfect day. Rather than go through Testwood lakes I chose Hill street and Manor farm and onto the testway out to Lee lane. I knew I only had 4 miles to go now. Maybe I would stop at the Four horseshoes for a pint in Nursling? Nah, I was too hungry and it was full of chavy looking kids. I couldn’t be dealing with that. I was becoming irritable now. 

At 118 miles I was home and safe. 10 and a have hours in the saddle and 7000 calories burned according to strava. I think I ate that when I got in though. I was suffering from Nausea when I got in. Head was spinning, the room was moving. It wasn’t hot enough for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Not enough food eaten? I think it was probably motion sickness from riding for so long. Anyway, I’m all good now. I remember thinking about 75 miles in… Why do I do these things? It seemed like a good idea. I think that when we push ourselves like this, these memories get etched forever. My happiest memories strangely enough are of me struggling through bouts of endurance. My 1000 mile bike ride, Running for 12 hours, The Thames Trot 50. The Ely 45 mile Ultra. These are my favourite memories. My greatest and proudest moments that I can relive over and over in my head. Money can’t buy these things (although I did pay to enter them). Anyway, that’s my story about my longest bike ride. I went into more detail than I realised I would. I love writing these blogs but struggle with motivation to start them. If you got this far.. well done and thank you. Join me for an adventure sometime.x

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