OK, got my route planned for today – sort of. It’s ‘follow the blue signposts’ – trunk bag on the bike packed, last loo break taken (there’s always another one just after you have put on your cycling shorts). Weather is still fine and forecast to be that way for the whole day, let’s go.
I remember of course when a cycle ride was just get on your bike in T Shirt and shorts and ride, no spare anything. Now it’s get ‘the cycling clothes’ on, pack necessities (slice of Mrs B’s fruitcake, banana, emergency Jelly Beans, make two water bottles up with my special sports mix recipe of water, sugar and salt…could sell it in bottles with a snazzy label saying ‘Hydrate Max’ or something but it’s been done already apparently…) two spare inner tubes, multi tool, tyre levers, pump, packaway rain jacket (rain is not in the forecast but it acts as a nice cushion for the camera to stop it rattling about in there), camera, binoculars, emergency tenner, phone.
There’s no Emergency Rescue option today as Mrs B is off working. Bus routes and train lines are not back up options around here either, there are none, so I’m effectively on my own but her words echo even though she’s not here to say them ‘Don’t go mad…’
Now then, this is North Cornwall. I don’t really know how these roads are going to go because I haven’t lived here long enough to know them – this is only my second ride here. The route follows the NCN3 Sustrans network in a loop to Bude along the coast then to the Nature Reserve and the canal there and back along the country lanes paralleling the main A39 ‘Atlantic Highway’, so it must be the best route they can find for some simple human power around here. That’s all the logic I have applied to the matter, it’ll be OK. Before anyone points it out, I am familiar with the likes of Google Maps, Strava and its alternatives but I looked at a leaflet that showed the NCN route that went past my house and thought ‘That’ll do..’ I am full of amusing naivety like that.
Just 43 kilometres later I am begging for the 43 kilometres that the route shows as according to the NCN to be correct because I am down to my last handful of Jelly Beans (the finest artificially flavoured, e number enhanced, easy to carry and much cheaper than a sports gel instant sugar delivery system devised by man so far) having ‘stopped for a break’. This involves straddling the bike with my head on the handlebars and breathing in a manner which may signal imminent hyperventilating collapse on the latest 10% rise. There appear to be no pedal revolutions left, in any gear, in my legs at all.
It’s still hot and bright, the factor 50 put on in preparation for the world to see my knees on this sunny day is probably at its limit of effectiveness now, given that I’ve been out in this for four hours or more. That’s not all cycling of course, there have been many stops for spectacular views on the way; there were all the splendid coastal clifftops – when I eventually got to the clifftops from the cliff bottoms – and I spent a good half an hour around the Nature Reserve spotting the various species of birdlife there. It was long enough now though.
I have negotiated, it turns out, over 700 metres of climbing, a few with some stupid grades. It has got to the stage where I’m afraid of descending, knowing that signals yet another upcoming climb. At one point, after the 30% rise out of Millook, I talked to some Highways workmen who had parked up in a works group for one of the best sandwich stops you could imagine in the car park at the top looking out over Widemouth Bay, Bude and Lundy Island out in the Severn. ‘Well done for cycling that,’ one of them said, ‘even my van struggles around that last bend..’ I didn’t tell him I walked that bit and stopped for a few minutes to take a photograph of the extreme bend he was talking about.
I had managed to regain control of my breathing now and gulp down my last swigs of fluid. There couldn’t be that much left now surely? One last effort. When I finally descended a last thrilling hill and passed the sign for my own village, the lane suddenly looking familiar as I passed the junction I normally negotiate in the car, I could finally let the wave of pleasure and feel good endorphins that had mysteriously dissipated with my energy level to take over my emotions again instead of the grim and miserably exhausted mood that had characterised the last 5 or 6 kilometres.
At my level of fitness at the moment it wasn’t all a pleasure but I’m damned sure that I still enjoyed riding it more than driving it, stopping whenever I felt like it (often), talking to a craftsman building a beautiful slate wall, some people working in their gardens and a girl riding a horse on the way, taking photographs, watching a Buzzard or two hunting over the hedgerows, Swallows swooping ahead of me feeding, enjoying the sun and the breeze and hearing and smelling the work of the farmers going on as I passed.
In the end it was 46 kilometres, probably a there and back on just the more inland route may be a slightly easier option next time until I’m fit enough to find the coastal profiles with its 150 metre 30% climbs at least ‘challenging’ instead of ‘WTF’. But I’d still rather ride it than drive it.