Today was the first day I woke with saddle sore. For the first 30 minutes each day it would be difficult to sit down but it always seemed to wear off to a dull bearable ache. I packed up and got moving quickly having slept in a bit (05:15). My legs felt sluggish and I just couldn't get into the flow of things, so after about 30 minutes rather than just pushing on I decided to take an early breakfast and I rolled to a stop and sat in the middle of a fire road pondering my life choices, eating a baked slice and banana.
As if by magic a Shetland pony boy band trotted up to me, perfectly manicured and looking for some company. The lead singer approached me, and started sniffing my bike and dirty, sweaty legs, then built up the courage to push forward until we were almost eyeball to eyeball before breathing some freshly chewed grass breath over me as if to recharge my enthusiasm. He didn't seem interested in the food, just wanted to check me out. I am sure he then winked at me before trotting on, then the two remaining members approached me in turn for a quick sniff. I offered my fist up to "spud" them (keeping Covid safe) but they both blanked me, heading off into the bracken, leaving me sitting crossed legged on the fire road now ready to take on the day.
The enthusiasm didn't last long! I had tested my kit in many different configurations and over different distances and conditions - but this was my first real world experience in an event so I was expecting some issues. My Garmin came up with a low battery warning - without it I would be lost (literally), so for the next 2 hours I spent quite a bit of time trying to diagnose the issue, pulling cables out, swapping them over etc…. It didn't help that I had expected some rain so sealed the USB unit with hot glue, cable-ties and electrical tape...perfect; It kept the weather out but also kept me out with just a multitool to remove everything whilst trying my best not to break the cables. Let’s just say, a lot of swearing would ensue! Long story short...it came down to my lack of experience riding these events, the cache battery had died and with the rolling terrain around Salisbury trying to charge both the phone and GPS, it was too much for the (any) dynamo. Going forward I kept the GPS plugged in all the time and just charged the phone when I had some flatter road sections, which seemed to work well.
It would turn out to be a transitional day heading towards Wales. The rain was on and off all day but became much heavier in the afternoon and evening. I had my first crash of the event so far, really silly but quite painful. Sometimes you are following the GPS route and the satellite information doesn't always tie up with what you see on the ground and I was following a nice gravel track, day dreaming, when I realised there was a water company van behind me going to the reservoir which was a further 3-400m up the track, so I made a snap decision to take the right fork in the track. I knew instantly it was wrong, it was just a gap in the hedge, but it was too late and I fell backwards into a bramble bush! Clearly a bit fatigued, I looked around for help from my Shetland pony rescue squad, but alas they were nowhere to be found. I pushed the bike off me and clambered out, ripping my jersey, arms and legs as I went.
Right - another snack is needed and a change of mood! From this point on the day kept getting better. I finished the GPS section in Bowerhill - 116km ridden so far today, loaded up the next bit and was pleasantly surprised by a really nice FLAT towpath section all the way to Bath. It was here we experienced the first true evil section of track. We crossed a small toll bridge where a man with a bucket was collecting the toll; I made a humorous comment and he just blanked me so I was tempted to turn round and do another flyby to repeat my quip but decided it probably wasn’t worth the effort and wasn’t actually that funny! I digress; quick stop in a shop to refuel and then up to this evil leg breaker Kevin had handpicked for us. It was probably only about 1km but it was around 20% all the way. The first half was cobbled, then it went off road, disappeared and became overgrown and steeper. The light was staring to fade, it continued to rain and I felt amazing! I knew this GPS section finished in Wales and I set it as my goal to make it there before I slept.
I didn't know I had 70km to go at this point...what an idiot! However, I was feeling great and I was going to make it. The rain was becoming more sporadic and I was just about dry again except for my feet. Suddenly in the distance the clouds broke. One shaft of rain reached down to the ground, then another and suddenly it all kicked off; thunder, lighting, sheet rain. I pulled over to the edge of the road to shelter under a tree, right outside a house with a woman looking back at me from a very inviting, warm living room. I had a vision of her coming out with a blanket, cup of tea and a slice of cake but instead she drew the curtains and turned the light out...I don’t blame her really - I would be spooked if some weird man was standing outside my window in soaking wet figure-hugging lycra!
I had one dry jacket left that I needed to sleep in. I was freezing, I just wanted to push on and suddenly I had a brainwave - I had packed a really cheap, lightweight poncho - the style you get at a theme park. The idea was to use it as a windbreak, to get changed in if it was really heavy rain or for emergencies to keep warm. I put it on. It came right down to my knees. I tucked it into the bottom of my shorts and the hood down the back of my jersey to stop it flapping and to keep everything dry....I looked like something out of "Last of the Summer Wine" but I did not care, this is cyclocross weather, this is what I know, I told myself everyone else's head will be down and this is my chance to make up some ground.
Wales baby! I made it! I bloody made it! The conditions over the last 30-40kms were diabolical, constant spray in my face, muddy trails, my body was clammy from the poncho, but I could see Wales in the distance. It was stunning, calling me - there was a thick black cloud in the sky blocking the stars, but it was framed by a bright red setting sun from over the water. Riding across the Severn Bridge into Wales was one of the best experiences I have ever had on 2 wheels. I knew my parents, Amanda and a number of you were following my dot. I sent everyone the above picture to make sure they were up! It was just gone midnight. I had ridden just shy of 210km and moved up from 12th to 7th place, it was a good day! Now just to find a place to sleep...there wasn’t anywhere - it was all just industrial units and a wide open road with no cover. I carried on to the end of the section and loaded the next part before eventually finding a nature reserve car park to settle down in. It was not the most comfortable, hardly any flat ground that wasn’t covered in gravel. I didn't care, I felt like I was actually getting the hang of it, Wales had been a bit of a target for me, I needed to make it at least to Wales! I made it to Wales, I went to sleep with a smile on my face.
HAND BUILT TITANIUM FRAMES.