The GB Escapade is a mini version of the GB Divide, just 481km! - based partly on the first sections of the Divide, but mainly in the opposite direction with an extra section added taking you along the Medway up to Dorking.
I had a plan, and it was to go as light as possible with no stops, so no sleeping bag - just an emergency bivvy bag, sleeping mat and pillow. I was feeling a bit sick before the start with an upset stomach but I didn't think much of it as I get it before most events from nerves and normally it goes away quickly as I get riding.
We set off at 17:00 Thursday evening. I wasn't under any illusion that I was going to be the quickest, but I did want to go with the quicker riders just to experience what I needed to do for future events. I was set off in the first group and made sure I was on the front. I didn't know what speed to expect, so thought if I was on the front I could control it or respond as riders came past. This worked and I lead the first road section before being overtaken just before going into the first off-road section. The first climb was quite tame but I realised something was wrong, I had no power, I just felt empty.
The rest of the evening was just misery; a battle to eat when I didn't feel like it, I was making silly navigational errors and it was clear I wasn't in any state to ride through the night. Realistically the sensible decision would have been to scratch but I had done the same in the Divide (albeit much further in and for a different reason), I needed to finish this one - so bedded down, set an alarm for 4 hours time and tried to sleep it off.
Thankfully the nights were warm and the bivvy bag with mattress was enough to keep me warm and I felt a bit better. I still couldn't eat much, but I was trying to nibble as I rode along. Check point 1 was 165km in and by my calculation I would be there about 09:00. The trails there were kind to me, no real hard climbs, I could just plod along without pushing myself too much. I arrived pretty much bang on the new pace I set myself. I was already 8 hours behind the leaders and it was nice to see a friendly face. Jon was manning the CP (who I had ridden quite a bit of Wales with in the Divide), he was full of support and asking me why I was so far behind! Cheeky git! I filled my bottles and as I left he said the next 60km are hard! He wasn't wrong, it was great riding, really nice trails and on any other day I would have loved it, but not today. Luckily a couple of kilometres in, I stumbled upon a posh food van, forced myself to eat a bacon roll and took some apple slices for later.
This 60km section was unrelenting, sandy, rolling and leg sapping. About 40km I bumped into another rider sitting outside a small store. I thought it would be best to refuel as shops seem to be very infrequent en-route. This was the last real food I could get down me for the remaining of the event. At this point it was a real mental battle to keep going, all I wanted to do was go to bed but the voice in my head to keep going was still shouting louder. I was almost at the South Downs way - I did it a couple of weeks ago the other way, it was going to be a doddle!
I rolled into Graffam feeling extremely sick. Luckily there was an amazing little village shop where I sat down and rested my head on a table, trying to stop myself being sick. I am not sure how long I was like this as I fell asleep. Once I woke, I walked around the shop to find something I could keep down. For some bizarre reason I went for raspberries and cheese and onion crisps! I knew the sickness was probably a result of the bug I had and the lack of food I was eating. I needed to reevaluate my plan again. What was the slowest speed I could do but still make the time cut? More sleep at night and just keep rolling was the plan. The climb out of Graffam was evil, steep with loose rocks and about 2km long. I walked from the bottom, it was not what I needed, but I made it and we were on the South Downs Way Baby!
The scale and the openness of everything up here is amazing, although you are only 45 minutes from London, you can ride for miles without seeing a house or person.
I only rode for about an hour after dark before finding a spot to sleep but I soon realised it was far too close to one of the many gates that are spread along the length of the SDW and every person that went through seemed to try and close it a bit harder than the last, waking me up! I slept for about 6 hours and woke feeling a bit more refreshed.
It was a perfect morning, no breeze and the sun was just below the horizon but you could feel the day was coming. The mist was thick in the valleys with just the odd light from a house shining through. I felt this was going to be a good day, I can easily push onto the finish from here...I am an idiot, got carried away and broke my no riding up climbs rule and pushed myself over the edge again. I found as long as I just cruised the flats and walked the hills I could keep the sickness in check, but oh no I got carried away and have to make it hard for myself again! So I just knocked it right back again, relaxed and enjoyed the view and the riding and rolled into the end of the SDW to complete section 2 of 3, we are now on the home straight - just 155km to go!
I don't want to babble on about the sickness that seemed to dominate my ride this time, although just a couple of days after finishing I can already recall it through rose tinted glasses. It was without doubt the hardest ride I have ever done, the last 155km took me 24 hours! I had to stop multiple times during the day to sleep, one of the highlights was waking up in a bus stop to the noise of the bus doors opening, then me retching over the edge of the bench in-front of a bus load of people...they soon drove off! I phoned my girlfriend, I had about 100km to go at this point and was quite emotional, I really didn't want to stop but maybe I was at the point, she said she would look ahead for any B&B's or hotels.
As soon as I was off the phone I was back on my bike, just a couple more kilometres, if I can just leave 70km for tomorrow, I could finish in the time limit! I stopped at about 22:00 Saturday night with about 70km to go, so I could sleep for 6-7 hours and still do it comfortably. I set my alarm for 2 hours, what was I thinking? I just wanted it finished! So at about midnight, I rolled out of my ditch and as soon as I set off my knee injury from the Divide was back. Basically anything from this point onward that wasn't on the road or downhill - I had to walk. I pedalled with just my left leg for parts, but as you could imagine this wasn't particularly comfy after 430km. My original calculations when I set off at midnight was I would roll in at about 04:00, but I was already way off that, with 30km to go my, body just shut down. I grabbed some drink, ate as much as I could, then climbed into my bivvy bag and went to sleep against a tree.
I woke and it was just starting to get light, 30km to go, I am just going to enjoy the ride/mainly walk, chat to a few horses.....
I rolled into the finish just before 09:00 on Sunday, not the ride I had planned, but an adventure I won't forget quickly. Not every ride goes perfectly, sometimes you just have to get your head down and get through it. On the plus side, most of the equipment tweaks I made worked, I will get my knee sorted and have another crack at the Divide in 2022!
Travers Bikes are sponsoring the Great British Divide which unfortunately has been cancelled in 2021. Along side the GBDivide they will be running the Great British Escapades will will feature a number of events (much shorter) around 475km based around the North and South Downs way.
Post a photo of your kLite or Travers RUSSTi bikepacking setup for a chance to win an entry to the Escapade.
The event will take place between 17th -20th September. There will be a separate website launched soon with more details. Entries close 31st July 2020
There will be just winner picked at random.
HAND BUILT TITANIUM FRAMES.