Sahara.

Devon coast to coast day 2: Tuesday 9th July.

Ilfracombe to Bridestowe.

Departed: 10:10

Arrived: 19:00

Total distance: 110.58km

Average speed: 17.0km/h

Maximum speed: 59.2km/h

Total cycling time: 06:28:23

I allowed myself a lie in on day 2, and woke up feeling party recovered from the huge ride the day before. I was still aching a lot, particularly my thighs and…er…gluteus maximus muscles, from the hours of standing up on the pedals climbing hills. It was nice not to have the pressure of knowing I had to complete over 170km to get to where I needed to be by the end of the day, and I’d be able to go at a more relaxed pace. However, this would still turn out to be a pretty challenging day, and at over 100km it was still roughly the average distance I’d cycled each day between London and Paris.

I took my time over a decent breakfast (well, a bowl of porridge actually. Decent in terms of fuel, pretty rubbish in all other aspects), and had got everything packed away by about 10:00. I pushed the bike down to the shower block, changed into yesterday’s Lycra, and applied masses of suncream. It was going to be another very hot day, and despite sweating huge amounts the previous day, the suncream had somehow done its job and stopped me from burning.

I set off at an easy pace, aching quite badly for the first few km into Ilfracombe before my muscles had a chance to warm up. It was a series of steep ascents and descents back into town, followed by a very tough, long, steep climb out of the town to join the traffic free path up into the hills. I knew what was coming, and started up the very long, steady climb at an easy pace in a very low gear, making sure I didn’t work myself too hard. This section of the ride actually turned out to be easier than I’d expected, and the descent along it at high speed the evening before must have made it seem steeper than it was. I stuck at the same pace all the way up, not really having to work too hard, and before long found myself at the top Willingcott, where I joined the small roads across the top of the hills.

Again, I knew what was ahead of me, and on (slightly) fresher legs than the day before, the series of short ascents and descents seemed easier, although they were still challenging. Because I’d started later in the morning, by this stage it was already hot, and I hadn’t benefited from a whole morning of cooler temperatures.

The descent into Braunton was fantastic, and it was nice to know I’d got the first part of the climbing out of the way fairly quickly, and could enjoy a relatively flat section along the Tarka trail.

I stopped twice in Braunton, first in the main town for a couple of sandwiches, and then again almost immediately at a supermarket right next to the trail, as I realised I was running low on water. Then I set off along the trail, following the estuary through to Barnstaple, crossing the bridge, and turning to follow the opposite bank heading towards Bideford.

This section, between Barnstaple and Bideford, was really easy going, and with the aid of a slight tailwind I made really good progress. After 15 minutes or so a guy on a racing bike caught me up and pulled alongside me. He said hello, and asked what it was like cycling with panniers, and how they affected the handling of the bike in crosswinds.

We got chatting, and cycled together all the way through to The Puffing Billy just north of Torrington. It was great to have someone to cycle with, and it made the kilometers go by far more quickly than they do when you’re on your own!

My temporary companion was Scott Butler, a firefighter who lives locally but fights fires in Berkshire, and he told me all about some crazy physical challenges he’s got planned. Next year, he’s embarking upon a solo adventure, cycling from the UK to the Black Sea, rowing across it (rowing for two hours, then resting for two hours, continuously for as long as it takes!), and finally climbing a mountain at the end. Apparently the trip has never been done before, so he’ll be setting a world record in completing it.

He’s also planning on entering the Marathon des Sables, which is considered to be one of the most physically challenging races on the planet. It involves running the equivalent of five and a half marathons in six days, across the Sahara desert, carrying your own food and water. Quite why anyone would be crazy enough to even consider taking part in this is beyond me, but it was pretty inspiring talking to Scott about it all, and made me see that I can definitely achieve the challenges I’ve been dreaming of doing.

Scott said he’ll be blogging about these adventures at the time, so I’m going to keep an eye out for it and track his progress. I’ll post a link to his blog when he sets off!

We’d made really good progress along the Tarka Trail, and arrived at The Puffing Billy, which is a small railway themed pub located at the old Torrington stationg. Scott turned back and headed off home, and I stopped for lunch. Despite the fact that it was now probably about 28 degrees, for some reason I chose the chilli con carne, but fortunately it wasn’t too hot. I sat outside, and after a few minutes a couple on a very impressive looking yellow Thorn tandem arrived, and I talked to them while I had my lunch.

I set off again after lunch, and began the gradual climb up to East Yarde, where I’d stopped and met the dutch woman the day before. It was hardly any time since I’d had lunch, so I carried on past the cafe without stopping, and before long found myself at Petrockstowe. This meant that I’d enjoyed the last of the nice flat riding for the day, and ahead of me lay a series of gruelling climbs all the way through to my target for the end of the day, Bridestowe.

For the next few hours, it was just a case of getting my head down, trying to get myself in the right frame of mind, and taking each set of hills as they came. The ascents were extremely tough in the heat, and my legs were still aching from my efforts the day before, and hadn’t stopped hurting once I’d warmed up.

I pushed on through to Okehampton, and enjoyed the steep descent into the town, then psyched myself up for the final series of tough climbs, and set off on the final 10km of the day through to Bridestowe. I arrived at the beautiful Glebe Park at around 19:00, and was greeted by a really friendly site owner, who instantly made me feel welcome. He showed me to the area reserved for tents (the site is primarily a caravan park, and is nicer than it sounds), and I wheeled my bike over to find one other camper, with a small tent and a bike… the Dutch woman I’d met at the Yarde Orchard Cafe the day before!

It was nice to see a familiar face, and we chatted while I put up my tent and sorted out my gear. She’d recently finished reading a book, and had been waiting to find someone to pass it on to, so very kindly gave it to me. It’s a novel set during the Iraq war, and looks really interesting, so I’m looking forward to reading it. I told her I’d pass it on to someone else once I’d finished with it, so I’ll have to make sure I take it on my next cycling adventure in case I meet someone!

Once I’d set up and had a shower, I cycled down into the village and had a big meal and a decent couple of pints at the local pub, before cycling back to the campsite and going straight to bed. I was pretty worn out, but nothing like as much as I had been the night before!

Splitting the return leg into two days was definitely the right choice, and although it had been another very tough day, with lots of challenging climbing, I’d enjoyed it a lot, and it had been nice to know I didn’t have the target of 170km looming over me the whole way.

My sea view on the morning of day 2…

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The Puffing Billy, just north of Torrington on the Tarka Trail…

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Perfect pitch at Glebe Park, Bridestowe…

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