After last weekend’s Tour of Pembrokeshire, it’s safe to say I was a little nervous about this Saturday’s Cycling Weekly Dartmoor Demon. I’ve been struggling this week as things get worse, and thanks to that, and extra work and the like, I hadn’t been able to get out on the bike either though, in my defence, I’ve managed a few home workouts. On the upside, thanks to advice from the chemists, and my magical drug cabinet, I’m taking additional pills so, whilst not entirely under control, the pain had been pushed back to manageable…and I was hoping it would remain there. But there was no guarantee…and I’m very good at worrying…
On an additional positive note, for a change, and a very pleasant one, I wasn’t going to be riding on my own. As it turns out Gary and I are actually doing the next few sportives together, including this one, coincidentally. And Robin, who was visiting his in-law down there this weekend, had also volunteered to come and join me for a bit. Various people seem quite concerned that I not end up crying by the side of the road on my own again, which is really nice of them. To be fair, I’m quite keen that that not happen again too!
Right then. Friday night. A relatively sedate affair, involving covering the front room floor with everything I might need/want, and then narrowing it down, and slowly loading up the car. The forecast was, as seems to be becoming typical, for sunny, cold, and a bit breezy. Which, in April, could mean almost anything. How cold is cold? How warm is warm when it is sunny? And this being the Dartmoor Demon, with up on’t moor to consider, and ups to climb and downs to do…well, the temperature possibilities were endless! So I loaded up the car with the bike and essentials, and left the decisions for the morning…
Which wasn’t as early as sometimes, as HQ was at Exeter Racecourse, only an hour away. The weather was as predicted…so I opted for the same kit as last week and threw extra options in the car in case things changed a lot on the way. I drank the all-essential coffee, ate porridge, popped various pills, and headed out at about 6:30am, to spend a very happy hour driving down a sunny, dry, fairly empty M5, listening to extremely loud music. What a difference a week makes!
On arrival once again the size of my car played in my favour as, unlike those entering the racecourse before me, I was pointed towards some empty spaces right at the front of the carpark – one of the Directors’ spaces in fact. Oooh, get me! Well, I am a VIP right? 😉 All parked up, I decided to go register before faffing. I wasn’t in any rush, and there was no sign of Gary yet, so I might as well take my time. See, there were two routes today – the Epic (95 miles) and the Standard (55 miles). As ever, I was down for the Epic, but all things considered I’d pretty much decided that I’d be better off doing the Standard route, so if I missed the Epic route starting slot, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world.
I followed the signs to registration, carrying my helmet with me as instructed, into the main stand building. Being such it had plenty of facilities which, seeing the queues, I decided to use first, before taking my place in line. A few more people on the desks might have come in handy… My turn came, and I was given my bike number, cable ties, and my timing chip was stuck on the LHS of my helmet. Amazing how many people hadn’t brought their helmets with them though…! I was also informed in a by now well practiced spiel that changes had had to be made to the route, so to just follow the signs, and by the way, here’s a map, updated this morning. Allegedly… Since this took the Epic route from 95 miles to 102…any lingering doubts about my route choice decision vanished pdq!
Back at the car, as I was mulling over kit options in the chilly sunshine, Gary appeared, on his way to registration, which meant I had one less thing to worry about. He headed off to get sorted and a little while later, we were both ready, and heading towards the start line, feeling nervous but fairly positive. Well I was, I can’t speak for Gary! 😉
I hadn’t really given this sportive much thought. I’d scanned the pre-event pdf, glanced at the map, and skipped over the route profile…so I didn’t have much of an idea what to expect. As it turns out, it was pretty much a large chunk of the Dartmoor Classic….done in reverse! So somewhat familiar, yet completely different too. A surprisingly good combination. The first few miles were through Haldon Forest, and flattish, that is when they weren’t going down in a very long and lovely way… Not a bad way to start things, until you realise that inevitably you’ll be going back up the same way at the end of the ride! Still, plenty of time to worry about that later, right?
About 5 miles or so in, Robin was, as planned, loitering with intent by the side of the road. And then there were three – one for all, and all for one, presumably 😉 Which set us up for a fair few miles bimbling along a sunny but shady valley, chatting away sociably, and stopping from time to time to take off the odd item, answer calls of nature, etc. Of course it being Dartmoor, it wasn’t going to stay flat for long, not if we were going to actually see the Moor. Time to climb out of the valley first then, up a climb that was remarkably similar to Porlock Toll Road. Long and slow and gradual and scenic and actually pretty lovely. Which did wonders for my PMA, already boosted by sunshine and company 🙂 This was followed by a long and steeper climb towards Moretonhampstead which, I hate to say it, I also enjoyed. Which pretty much sums up how today was. I loved the ups, however slowly I plodded up them, because I was still getting up them. Yes they were frequently hard work, but my crawler gear was well and truly engaged, and I didn’t even feel like I was suffering really. Well, apart from the usual pain, but I was coping with that. How cool is that? And the result of all that up? Well some of the downs were amazing, especially as they’ve always been ups when I’ve been here before and I figured I’d somehow karmically earned their fun factor 🙂
After that climb up, or another one, or whichever one it was that involved a Donkey Sanctuary that was actually a Miniature Pony Sanctuary, Robin left us up on the Moor, after a map reading session. Thanks for joining us Rob – I really appreciated it 🙂 While the boys deliberated over maps, I looked out on the world, and took a few photos. Man, the views were amazing today! Mind you it was still chilly – especially up there. My layers stayed on all day today, even if zips went up and down, and towards the end of the day I may even have rolled my sleeves up a little 🙂
After a beautiful descent down a climb I usually hate, it was time for the first food stop, 27 miles in, which would mark our halfway point. The little village hall being used here only seemed to have one toilet, which was leading to a lot of hedge watering…which wasn’t really an option for me. And which was also not that pleasant from a resident/spectator point of view… 😉 So I queued, emerged, took photos, and ate a few jelly beans. I know I’m rubbish at eating on rides, and I’m even worse on a “short” one as I don’t see the point somehow, and besides I wasn’t hungry…which is probably not clever. Feel free to tell me off, you won’t be the first 😉
Back to the Moor please. Shortly afterwards, somewhere near Princeton, came the route split, and I was actually a little tempted…but I was more tempted by the idea of spending a whole ride in company, and also not having to regret a rash decision later on. Plus I’d made a decision earlier, and I’m learning to stick to my decisions; I’m getting better at it ‘n everything 😉 So it was the left turn for us. More Moor please! More sun, more climbing. A lovely descent to a pretty bridge across a babbling brook and rocks, was followed by a long and kick-ass 20+% up which I wasn’t expecting, and which wouldn’t be the only one such, but I still liked it 🙂 The second of these however, wherever it was, after yet another cutesy village, was less cool. By now Dartmoor was getting busy – a sunny Bank Holiday Weekend Saturday was bringing the grockles out in force, and the little narrow lane we were now climbing up out of there on was cluttered with cars trying to get both up and down, and precious few passing places. Driver tempers were rising…and our presence was not helping. Luckily by the time I had to stop and watch a few of them play car chess to get around each other, the very steep bit was behind me. It was annoying though – I hate to lose momentum. It’s a little weird, but the hills were going so well, I almost wanted more of them just to keep proving that I wasn’t imagining it!
Back up on top, the Moor was getting even more familiar, and coming from this direction I could see all the way to the sea. Breathtaking. And I was practically at the beach! Life is always better at the beach *grin*. Not a bad place for a foodstop then…about 42 miles in…even if there were no toilets. Just for a change, having topped up my bottles again, I decided I’d try a Mango & Apple PowerBar Smoothie thingy. Which, amazingly, was very nice! In fact I put one in my pocket for later, should I need it. My not eating a great deal might not seem wise, but it worked just fine today, which just goes to show that we all work in different ways. Different folks, different strokes, etc 😉 Anyway it was a pretty fab place to hang out, on top of the world, while Gary adjusted his seat post, which had somehow managed to drop an inch en route. Apparently this was not helping with the whole getting up hills thing which, miraculously and just for once, I was doing marginally better than he was. Ooh, get me and my ego 😉
Right then, about 12 miles or so to go. We weren’t the only cyclists making the most of the weather, as plenty of non-event people were out too, and we were all doing a pretty good job of grinning at each other as we passed by. After some of that, the descent off the Moor was a blast…even if it did seem a shame to be leaving it behind. What is usually a long slow slog at the beginning of the day was a long fast flight down at the end of mine. Such fun 🙂 However, it was a good thing that came to an end, meaning it was time to spend a few miles being flat and fairly fast, and to look for the up that would take us back to HQ.
Which, thanks to the route change, and the map that wasn’t up to date after all, wasn’t where we’d expected it to be, and several of us became convinced we’d missed a turning as we were cycling the same way along the valley as we had much earlier during the day. Much though I was kind of enjoying myself, I didn’t want to do it all over again! Somewhat amusingly one of the guys who stopped to pour over maps with us had done the epic route, plus a detour, so in the time we’d done 52 miles, he’d done over 100… *sigh* I will never be that good. Way to put a girl in her place…ah well, my ego probably needed that! *grin*. We decided to carry on and hope…which just when we were about to give up hope and turn around, turned out to be the right decision, as a marshal at Lower Ashton showed us the right turn we should be taking.
So we weren’t going to be going back up the same way, but we were still going to be going up. The sight of a large tower – which turned out to be the Haldon Belvedere – beyond and up above kind of gave it away. How could an sportive route organiser resist sending us up to that? So up we went, through more bits of Haldon Forest, up and up and up… It was sort of a stepped climb. Steeper bits, longer gradual bits, all on a lousy road surface with holes marked out in orange spray paint. Let’s just say there was a lot of orange paint…
As we got nearer the tower, it got steeper, and the right turn below the tower wasn’t the end of it either, but it did flatten out a bit… It all seemed a bit gratuitous this close to the end, but at least the end was nigh. Finally up, we were rewarded with a flat couple of miles down which to fly back to HQ, and which were well earned fun 🙂 Time to cross the Finish Line, and be presented with my medal, a bar, and a copy of Cycling Active magazine.
The pen behind the Finish Line was full of women waiting for their men to home from the sea, who presumed I was one of them as I waited for Gary, until they spotted the medal around my neck, which made for some quite funny reactions. To be fair, and not blame them, there really didn’t seem to be many women riders out there today…which is a shame. Anyway, Gary wasn’t far behind me, but I was able to immortalise him when he arrived. Dartmoor Demon done. And the refreshment van sold fizzy orange…result! 🙂
Cycling time: 4:30
Actual time: 5:15 ish
Distance: 58.6 miles
Avs: 13.0 mph
It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a proper post-ride buzz going on. But I did today. I’d had a really good ride, and I was in such a good mood that I could have hugged everyone, and hugged Gary instead, who was probably a bit taken aback by that…sorry! But it had gone so well, I’d really enjoyed it, and while those around me were talking about how tough it had been, I really didn’t feel like it had? Also, I guess the whole good mood thing was due in a large part to it having turned out way better than I’d feared it would. It was just such a relief to have made it around without serious pain, mental or physical; I’d been so dreading ending up down there again. It was also great to have had company, to chat to, and share the sunshine and scenery with, which probably made all the difference. Many thanks guys, no hedge moments today 🙂 Here’s hoping the next few rides go just as well…*fingers crossed*.