Some weeks ago, during my down time but when feeling a little optimistic, I decided to plan my first Cornish bike ride. It was not my intention when I planned it to have been off the bike for nearly two months by the time I got round to it, but that was how it turned out. My time has been filled, when healthy, with walks, chores, visitors and holidays and not an inconsiderable amount of windy, grey and wet days in between. I was sure I was now over my most recent bout of MS fatigue and wobbliness – we had done a cliff walk the day before and I wasn’t reacting badly to that – so, with the sun finally arriving yesterday, it was time to do a fettling of the bike and then head out for a ride.
Mrs B normally tells me to go steady and not do anything too strenuous; I’ve travelled some of the back lane routes around here in the car so had already decided that a lot of these would be too challenging and not be a good idea for a first ride. Instead I had planned a simple ‘there and back’ over the old Davidstow airfield and past Crowdy Reservoir and Roughtor, the profiles on the mapping software didn’t show up any scary looking hills that way once you were up there.
It was a nice flat warm-up to begin with but I took some time to feel comfortable. Part of my fettling had been to slightly adjust the handlebar height but it wasn’t the bike, that all felt better. I was just taking some time to settle back in to the feel of cycling. Then within 2 kilometres of home was the first, insignificant little slope, a 100 metre kick of about 6% grade that a fit cyclist would have hardly noticed and would perhaps have just got up out of the saddle and sprinted up for the heck of it. I today though was shooting down through the gears to try to find one that I could spin and running out of steam stupidly quickly. My right knee, which has given me trouble before, was painfully protesting at the amount of strain it was suddenly under and as I crested this rise I seriously gave thought to just turning back home again for a siesta on the sofa. My body just wasn’t ready for this, I wasn’t ready for this, I had rushed back to cycling too quickly and my body was obviously still suffering from the MS fatigue.
I talked sternly to myself, and as the road levelled off and the pressure on my knee was relieved, thought ‘Well Mrs B is at home, I can call her as the emergency last measure to pick me up from whatever hedgerow I finally collapse in, let’s just keep it going and if I need her because I properly break then the phone is in my saddlebag.’ Because that’s what ‘proper cyclists’ do, they feel hurt and pain, even just generally feel rubbish but still want to keep going. Mad people do that too. So I kept spinning the pedals and tried to recover my breathing, my rhythm and my resolve.
Not long after crossing the busy A road at Hallworthy is another rise in the route, this one felt easier. Good. Then followed by a plunge downwards. Not good. Only not good because I know that to get to Davidstow Moor height I will need to be going back upwards from where I was before the downwards started. So a drop added to the amount of climb immediately ahead. That came next. On the mapping software it had said this rise was at 6% maximum, on the review of my route afterwards it says that it’s up to 11% in places. All I know is I was going pretty slowly up it, second gear with a side order of knee twinge and at a single figure for speed on the computer. I could hear I was breathing though, as could anyone else within about ten metres.
Davidstow Moor is at around 300 metres above sea level and is a pretty flat, unprotected area, the trees that are here are in clumps of regulation Forestry Commission Spruce. High and flat, good place for an Airfield, which of course it was in World War Two; there are a few footprints and empty shells of the old airfield structures to see, as well as the wide and crumbling runways. As I turned on to it then, thinking That’s a relief, at last, some flat, I should not have been surprised that the wind up here, with nothing higher to stop it, was a little stronger than I had experienced so far and was direct in to my face. So it was that I found myself changing down gears to pedal ever so slightly downhill for 2 kilometres. After that though the left turn is almost a hairpin, meaning I could recover and speed alongside the Crowdy Reservoir effortlessly, like those people you see sometimes using electric bikes, it takes a minute to work out why they are going so fast with seemingly little effort.
I had planned a little loop from the crossroads at the end of this high plateau road and so confidently turned right and descended down towards Camelford, keeping an eye out for my next right hand turning. It was a thrilling, twisting and and steep downhill but a single narrow lane with treacherous gravel in the centre so I took care not to let my speed get away from me. Only closed road racers enjoy the descents without thinking about ending up flat on the front of a Tesco van or flying over the bonnet of an oncoming car. Then I came to a give way sign. The A39 main road. Ah. Missed the turn somewhere.
It turns out that there isn’t a road that goes off this one and joins back in with the airfield one, the turning that I had seen on my map was now signposted as a dead end. The way back, without taking on the A39 – which wouldn’t phase me but I don’t find A roads in general a pleasant place to be – is up the 10% hill I just came down. Bugger. There are routes on the other side of the A road of course, but most of these would be adding at least 15 kilometres or so to my route and I thought I had better stick to roads that Mrs B knew, just in case of any broken Bear moments.
So my return route was exactly the same, I wasn’t struggling quite so much with the climbing now, although I certainly wouldn’t put my times on something like Strava for showing off to anyone, and my knee had seemingly given up complaining too much. The spin past Crowdy was now into the wind but the Airfield return was assisted with that nice little push along.
A last steep climb through the lanes up to Hallworthy then signalled the fact that I had nearly made it home, unassisted by the need for emergency Mrs B assistance, or any other kind. My route today was only 31 kilometres, not a massively long ride by any standards. It felt good though, despite the slowness and difficulty in getting going at all, to be out amongst the elements, seeing and feeling it all again under my own power and schedule. I would like to think, fitness wise, it was a gentle start.