Day 5 – Hereford to Bude
This was it then, the crux of the entire trip. Ever since we’d started the planning, this day was always looking huge.
Over 4,000m of climbing.
Legs already absolutely trashed after 4 long, long days of riding.
I honestly had severe reservations about the route. The lads had planned it, and when it was shared to other people, many said that it was too hard and couldn’t be done. Hence why we were doing it, whatever happened. Stubborn b*stards.
I spoke to the boys after the trip, asking how they were feeling ahead of the day, to see if they were as apprehensive or as nervous as me. Here’s what I got back;
Rosco – ‘I knew this day was going to be tough, I knew this day would have it’s highs and lows and I probably thought they would be higher and lower than what had gone on the trip to date. That said it never crossed my mind that we wouldn’t make it, we had 3 lads who could pedal, favorable weather conditions and regular intervals of things to look forward to such as the Severn Bridge, Chew, Cheddar Gorge, Simon and the finishing straight.’
Jacko – ‘I was excited, worried we might finish towards 10pm especially if we hit any issues (which we did). But I was looking forward to seeing Bude and finally being in touching distance of the finish. I was most upset we probably wouldn’t have time for a lunch stop, or that there was a chance we’d miss fish and chips. And obviously we were never going to take the A-road route.’
I had another restless night, with Ross repeatedly trying to spoon me whilst mumbling ‘triathlon’ is his sleep. (Some parts of this blog may not be entirely accurate). We’d decided to get on the road as early as possible, so a 6AM start had been scheduled, with alarms beeping away at 5.
By this point, it was getting harder to shovel food in (this is coming for Britain’s greediest man), with the sheer amount of calories we were trying to consume weighing me down. For the first time on the trip I had that pre-race ‘buzz’ and it felt a bit more business-like as we loaded up our bikes and shut the front door.
We were moving at 6:09 (I won’t point any fingers..), but this seemed like a win and a really positive start to what was going to be a long day. We spent over a hour in the dark until dawn broke, which always seemed to lift the spirits and focus the mind to the task at hand.
We wound our way over the Welsh border and down into Monmouth, the first time I really remember struggling with the enormity of the day ahead of us. You try and block out the time and distance, but the little devil in my head kept popping up with ‘just another 12 hours to go’ or ‘you’ve bitten off a bit more than you can chew here’.
Thankfully the scenery was top notch as we followed the river Wye, passing Tintern Abbey (I think they forgot to finish it), before the rolling road took us into Chepstow and pointed us in the direction of the Severn Bridge. Two residing memories of crossing the bridge. One – it takes a lot longer on a bike. Two – praise the lord there wasn’t a headwind.
My mental state started to fray shortly after this and I knew I was in trouble. We headed past a ‘road ahead closed’ sign (experience had taught us that it was usually fine for cyclists), following the route for no more than a kilometre before finding our path blocked. We’d come down a huge hill and would now have to go straight back up it.
In the bigger picture it seemed so insignificant, but this broke me slightly, as I thought all these little bits of time added on were just pushing us further and further away from a positive result. It turned out that if we’d have stayed on the main road the route would’ve been shorter and more direct, instead of this pointless little diversion. Bloody strava route builder.
‘I’m not doing this stupid, long hard route. I’ll go the most direct way and just meet you in Bude. We’re just making it unnecessarily hard.’
(Jack): ‘Ok mate. Mind if we do it though, there won’t be hard feelings or anything if we split up right?’
‘No, course not – I’ll be fine’.
Obviously I’m then sitting there, thinking there’s absolutely no way these chancers are going to do a harder route than me. I’ll always be ‘the nearly man’ or ‘flat cap cop out’. So instead I sit there, sulking, along the most uninspiring, desolate stretch of the road of the entire trip – some industrial estate outside Avonmouth. I’m never going back to Avonmouth.
We pulled into a BP garage after 4 hours with 150 miles still to go. Just reading that makes me want to cry slightly. I needed something to perk me up. That came in the form of a massive steak and stilton pasty and a cheese and bacon twist. As well as a can of coke, two white chocolate twixes and an ice cream.
At the same time I quickly flicked onto instagram. As much as people knock social media, the messages of support I’d received from so many was a game changer. I felt like the combination of food and well wishes got me back on track and ready to fight it out.
We skirted around Bristol before dropping down and around the beautiful Chew Valley lake. Minutes later we saw another cyclist bombing along on the other side of the road. ‘CHRISSIEEEE’. It was Chrissie Wellington! It’s likely most people reading this blog will know who she is, but for the benefit of the non triathlon crowd – 4 x Ironman world champion, and all-around legend.
From here we had our first significant test of the day, the climb up out of West Harptree before descending back down through Cheddar Gorge. This was the steepest hill we’d ridden so far, and I hauled myself up it as gracefully as a cow on ice skates, swerving across the road, face dripping with sweat.
The rewards were more than worth it, with the section through Cheddar Gorge probably my favorite of the entire trip. I literally had no idea that places like that existed in the UK, and the vistas were incredible.
We now had the prospect of a lovely, and more importantly, flat stretch before lunch, where we’d meet the now legendary Simon (one of Ross’s coaches, who would be joining us to provide some much needed morale), and refuel before tackling the majority of the days climbing in the 2nd half.
A rather well spoken tree surgeon in Buncombe Wood was about to flip the good mood on it’s head. We approached another road closure, after just summiting another brute of a climb, water bottles now empty and provisions diminished. I’d run out of water a while ago, and was already beginning to feel the effects of the sun, which had finally made an apperance.
‘Can’t come through here guys, tree’s all over the road.’
‘Come on mate, we’ll just squeeze by at the side, push our bikes through.’
‘Nah mate, can’t let you do that.’
Never did the town of Bishops Lydeard seem so out of reach – the promised Co-op feeling about as far away as Lands End. Not only did Dr Tree not let us through, he pointed us in completely the wrong direction. After haring back down another hill, losing all the elevation we’d just gained, we were lost, and stopped to try and formulate a plan.
We plotted a course to get us back onto our original route, 14 miles down the road. We were going to pass through a few villages, hoping one of them would have a small shop to at least get some water to keep us going. No such luck, and there was worse to come.
Turning the corner, we were faced with an absolute wall. It’s later been rather cleverly named the ‘Col du Cattlegrid’, as halfway up the steep pitch, you have to go over one. But at that point it was my snapping point – it felt like just getting up it nearly killed me.
Near the top some loud-mouthed motorist decided he’d give us an angry horn, upset about being reduced to a crawl. I don’t think he was ready for the few choice words he received from me, along with a polite invitation for him to give this climb a go and see how he got on with it.
I felt like I was at rock bottom at the top, slumped over my handlebars, panting and parched. We dropped down into Crowcombe, the kilometres seemingly never ending, before we final rejoined our planned route in Elworthy, where we were hoping to finally get some food.
Elworthy was tiny – just a scattering of houses, most of which looked empty. I’m all for calling in the coastguard at this point. We’re dehydrated, pretty much out of food, with the mythical Simon nowhere to be seen. The Quantock hills had broken me. Thank god for Badger’s Bottom.
No, not the rear-end of that rather wedge-shaped mammal, but our oasis in the shape of a small, quaint cottage. Jack, in the least threateningly way possible, knocked, held out his cupped hands, and begged for some water. The elderly owner was an absolute legend (we’ve since sent him a nice gift hamper), topping up our water and sending us on our way.
Another 12 miles down the road was Wheddon Cross, with another horrible ramp to get over as we entered the Exmoor national park. But every meter climbed now felt like a meter closer to home. Reaching Wheddon Cross felt like winning the FA cup, with a glorious little petrol station taking all of our money in exchange for sandwiches, pastries, ice cream and tangfangtastics. Everyone loves a 4pm lunch break.
Just a ‘mere’ 60 miles to go now, or 100km in new money. Katie had already arrived in Bude, and SOS messages were being sent ahead to get the fish and chips in, just in case we rocked up after everything closed. We’d cracked the majority of the climbing, but still had a bit to go, including hitting the high point of the days ride.
This was at the top of the climb out of Simonsbath (lots of baths, but no Simon), at a shade over 500m above sea-level. From here it was mainly downhill towards the sea and Barnstaple, via a quick stop for Rosco to replace his break pads after he nearly came crashing into me at over 40mph.
By the time we got there it was pretty dark, and once more it was lights on for another long spell into the night. In any other situation dropping onto the traffic free Tarka trail would’ve been a dream – a flat, paved cycle path that lasted over 10 miles. Not so great when it’s completely unlit, with dog walkers and runners wandering around, unspotted until the final moment.
This subsequent drop in speed was more than worth it, as when we negotiated a gap between the trail and the road, Rosco slipped on a bit of mud and went over on his bottom. Not having footage of this moment is probably my biggest regret of the entire trip.
After leaving the trail, we could’ve been on any country lane in the UK, as there was nothing to see barring the beam of light 5 meters ahead of us. There was still over an hour to go, but I felt for the first time in a while I was positively contributing to the team, as heads seemed to drop but I tried to keep the energy up.
The thought of seeing Katie at the end of the day had been a real motivator, and the finish line was in sight now. We knew the only thing stopping us was a crash or mechanical, so we nursed it down the descents, not wanting to end up in a ditch.
The signs for Bude were now in single digits, and the mood was jubilant. It was all downhill to the sea, and we did a glory lap of the town, Rosco’s mate Mike popping out of nowhere in his suit, singing songs, having driven straight down after finishing work. I thought it was some drunk reveller, who had just been turfed out of a pub.
Katie was waiting for us outside our B&B, having been there for hours after cycling across from Exeter (obviously). I got a massive hug, trying to recall if there had ever been a more welcome sight. I felt like a bit of a shell – completely spent. I thought I’d be a bit more emotional, when in reality I was just exhausted. But we had made it.
The finish line was in sight now – but first, a massive portion of fish and chips. Katie had used the radiator to keep them warm. It was gone 9:30 at night, and everything had long since closed, but that, combined with a beer kept cold in the bathroom sink, sorted us right out.
We sat together in the room, telling tales of the days adventures, spirits through the roof, scarcely believing we’d actually made it, especially after all the set backs. The lads will tell you it was always a given, no problems at all mate, never in doubt. For me, it was an absolute rollercoaster, but now we were in our little room by the sea, Lands End in sight.
‘Just’ 100 miles to get through in the morning.
Day 5 stats:
4,178 meters of climbing
13 hours 28 ride time
15 hours 24 elapsed time