Tag Archives: Exmoor

Exmoor Spring Audax

Yes that’s right.  Audax.  Not sportive.  Which I entered because Gary was doing it and back whenever he suggested it, I wasn’t doing anything else this weekend.  I entered it myself.  I paid the massive sum of £8 myself.  So I’m not even obligated to review it.  Even supposing the website was called CycloAudax not Cyclosport…  Apparently I’m still going to blog it though 🙂

It turned out that Guy was doing it too.  Not only was he doing it, he was actually going to ride it with us.  Blimey!  I had a “we’re not worthy” moment for sure.  He’s just so good at the whole cycling thing these days… 🙂  He also offered to give me a lift there and back, so things were looking better and better.   Including the weather forecast, which was for sunny and dry and maybe even warm…!

So, for the first time this year, when Guy picked me up on Sunday morning, I was wearing shorts!  I’d even applied sun screen.  Which is, like, unprecedented for 2016.  How cool is that?  Ok, so the top half of me was hidden under a variety of layers, but my legs were definitely out 🙂  Guy had somewhat overestimated how long it would take to get to HQ at a school in Minehead, thus allowing us plenty of extra time when we got there to fret about the weather and the murky clouds that were around us, and covering Exmoor behind us.  Would they stay?  Burn off?  Rain?  What layers to wear?  What to take with us?  I mean, it was nice and sunny and fairly warm now but…

pre audax bike audax riders

Yes, I’m British, and we’re talking about the weather again…  Shall we move on to registration, such as it was?  A short walk around the school took us, via the one and only accessible toilet, to the school canteen, where various other early birds were also lurking.  All we had to do was say who we were, be given our route instructions and route card, and be crossed off a list.  Easy.  Time to grab a cup of tea and head back out into the sunshine to get the bikes sorted then.  It didn’t really take that long before we were done and while cyclists milled around in the sunshine, on a pretty impressive range of bikes, Gary arrived – having the luxury of being able to ride to the start and keep all his faffing, if there was any, at home.  And when I say range of bikes, I mean everything from shire horse to thoroughbred 🙂

on our way just like that porlock toll sign

Without any ceremony at all, we decided we were ready to go, and so we went.  Easy peasy.  I’ve ridden around here quite a bit, so most of today was going to be familiar.  So the drag out of Minehead came as no surprise, though it still wasn’t much fun.  It was a fairly good way to warm up slowly though.  Slowly being the operative word for how I generally go up hill 😉  However the long flying stretch to Porlock was much faster and much more fun.  In fact since both Gary and Guy know how much I like this bit, I was told to go off and get on with it *grin*.  You don’t have to ask a girl twice…not least because that would have taken longer, and reduced the amount of time I’d be off having fun.  And it sho’ was fun 🙂  Still, I spend enough time riding the bike on my own, and that was not what today was about, so I waited up for the guys in Porlock.   Which was a good time to note the cost of going up there for various vehicles – which would be the answer to one of the questions on our audax card.  Well, in the absence of signs and timing mats, to make sure you’re doing the right route, there were two official checkpoints to go through and have that card marked, and a couple of questions to be answered with information gleaned en route.  It’s a whole new world…

tree lined porlock coastal views

I think it’s become obvious that I actually quite like hills at the moment.  I can get up them, and that knowledge is good for the PMA, and I like a challenge and at the moment they’re going well.  Probably because I keep going out and riding up them. “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades“?  However that’s all “at the moment”.  I like the climb that is Porlock Toll Road all the time though.  It’s long, slow, gradual, and very very scenic.  Today it was enhanced by sunshine, sheltered from the wind, and dry under wheel.  Perfick 🙂

a hairpin more tree climbing

I’m never entirely sure crawler gear is going to engage.  It’s always a relief when it does.  And it did.  Predictably Guy had gotten ahead of Gary and I, because he’s so good at such things, but could be seen in the distance from time to time as we wove our way through the tall trees, and admired the views occasionally glimpsed through them.  After a while I drew away from Gary, don’t know quite why or how, but I was really enjoying it, and felt like I could maybe actually do it well.  In fact, after my favourite hairpin bit, I actually caught up with Guy, who commented that I seemed to have flown up that…*grin*.  We rode the rest, through the toll, and up along the coast together, all the way to the top.  It felt like I’d done good…and I was really pleased with how it had gone 🙂

here's a toll booth higher up views

I think that was pretty much the highlight of the whole event for me, and it certainly put me in a positive frame of the mind for the rest of what was to come.  Having reached the top there were two options – a dirt track shortcut straight across, or a road zigzag to get to the same place.  Gaz took the dirt track, what with being a Mtber ‘n all, while Guy and I nipped round the other way.  Hey, extra miles, right? 😉 Besides I love swooping around on top of Exmoor – the views are lovely, and it’s fun.  Especially when it’s pretty much sunny…as, as hoped, the murk had cleared away.  Probably partially due to the getting brisker wind…but that was currently not too strong, and not too much of a problem – it being either in our favour or there being places to hide from it.  Hedges and trees are great things 🙂

toll road finish sign toll road done

It has to be said that I was relying on Guy and Gary to get me around.  I don’t really have an audax mindset – and was completely not using the route sheet.  Guy has done it before, and it’s Gary’s home turf, so I just figured they knew what they were doing and tagged along for the ride  😉  The long cut we two took involved some up, so Guy met up with Gary way before I caught up with them both.  We headed South together across the moor, in mostly rolling fashion, apart from one annoying fly down and then go straight and steeply back up bit.  I knew it was there, and as I climbed back up the other side I was in the right gear and everything…at least I thought  I was, but things were just spinning and not going anywhere, and I thought maybe the chain had come off.  It hadn’t…so I don’t know what had happened, but having had to stop, I wasn’t going to be able to get back on there.  So I rolled back down to the bottom and started over.  Annoying…but better than walking up it 🙂

exford control stop it's a very busy sign

However the lovely long descent to Exford more than made up for that.  I flew down in my usual fashion, and the chatty classically attired gentleman who finally caught me near the bottom, where it got narrower and wiggly and into towny commented that I’d clearly been having a blast.  Who me? 😉

Exford was where the first Control was, at the White Horse Inn by the River Exe, and about 18 miles in.  Not a food station per se, though the pub was cheerfully serving anyone who wanted to purchase such and take a comfortable break.  Oh, and they were letting folk use their toilets to take a comfort break, which was nice of them.  So I did.  So not a food station, more a very pretty place to mill around in the sun, and get your card stamped as proof you’d been there, and be noted down, which I guess helps organisers keeps track of who’s where when in case Little Bo Beep loses one of her sheep on the moor 😉

i know where i am the cairn

I’d been feeling mostly good up until now, but once stopped, my body ceased to be distracted from the pain factor, which was a shame.  I had to take five, as it were, but luckily my two chaperones were happy to hang around and take it easy for a bit while I did.  Guy decided that he’d also avail himself of the facilities in the meantime.  Time was passing…and once he’d emerged, it was time to go again.  Was I ok, he enquired?  Well no, but yes, because bikes don’t ride themselves and it was sunny and I actually wanted to be riding it myself.  My body was not ok, but my head was, so I was ok enough to be getting going again 🙂

flat out into the wind wide open views

Having gone down into Exford, we then had to climb out of it.  We were taking it a bit easier for a while (like there’s any other way up hill really) as they let me get back into the swing of things.  We were heading for Simonsbath – I gather there a variety of ways to pronounce that depending on how gentrified you are… 😉  Gary told me I knew where I was and as we climbed up something long and slow I realised he was right.  Wasn’t there going to be a cairn on the right shortly?  Oooh yes, there it was.  And I remembered I like this bit.  Getting higher, looking down at the babbling brook/river winding through the valley…all just as lovely as I remember it.

Guy ahead livestock

And then, up at the top, in the wide open, we turned left.  And straight into a by now substantial wind….!  Oh man…this was going to be fun.  Not.  I’m glad there were three of us.  And occasionally 4, as we played leapfrog with one other rider in red who kept thinking he was lost until we went past him and proved he wasn’t, and then overtook us again, until we caught him again…etc…  Nothing like wheels to suck in a headwind!  We did take it in turns though, even I sat on the front sometimes.  We had to regroup from time to time, as if you fell off the back for whatever reason – to admire the view, take photos, or whatever – you couldn’t get back on.  And when my head was down I tended to just push on while forgetting to look behind, so sometimes it was my fault too.  It didn’t stop it being glorious up there, but it did slightly take the edge off that a bit…being able to see all around for miles just demonstrated how much nothing there was to use to hide from the wind!  Even as the general trend became downwards as the miles passed it was hard work and it seemed go on for ages.  Probably because it actually went on for ages!

Guy grinning selfie

Finally we got to drop down off the Moor to Dulverton, where the second Control was, also at a pub, this time the Bridge Inn.  We decided to actually stop this time, as that had been hard, hot, and thirsty work.  Cards stamped we, as many others had, grabbed a table outside, and drinks from inside.  No fizzy orange, though a pint of OJ and lemonade was a reasonable if marginally too healthy alternative.  They also filled up my water bottle for me, which was nice.  Not ordering a pint of Korev, which I love and would have gone down a storm just then, was practically torture.  But probably very good for the soul to resist temptation.  Maybe 😉  Mind you I think it would probably have been a very bad idea…and there’s no broom wagon on an audax to sweep you up so…I’d have to settle for dreaming of the lager I could have later.  I’m glad we stopped though.  Pushing up hills and into the wind had taken it out of me a bit, and I was suffering again, though mostly quietly I think.  Gary picked up on it as we to-ed and fro-ed preparing to leave and gave me a quick hug though, which was perfectly timed and really helped.  Sod gels and food, I swear hugs are soul food.  And medicinal.  And sadly not available free on prescription, unlike the shiny pills I was keeping topped up 😉

tree tunnel second food stop

We set off once again, taking it easy for a bit…and once again I got it together after a while.  We spent a long stretch on a longer flatter road along a valley with the River Barle to the left, and trees with carpets of beautiful bluebells growing beneath them on the slopes to the right….and a far from idyllic road surface.  That grainy, lumpy, speed and spirit sucking sort…  Ick!  We had a break at some point for food, whilst admiring someone’s country pad, and the immaculate cricket pitch.  The PowerBar Smoothie I had leftover from the Dartmoor Demon went down as well as it did then too, so I added them to my list of things to buy from wherever next time I was bike stuff shopping.  Of course being down in a valley led to having to climb out of a valley, at which point Guy hurtled off like a startled rabbit.  Something we said?  Nope, as it turns out, just a burst of unexpected form, and everyone knows those are use ’em or lose ’em things…so use it he had.  And then duly waited for us to catch up with him afterwards.  G is for Guy, Gary, and Group 😉

black white moody

Which I think brings us to Exebridge, with about 20 miles to go. Gradually but not too noticeably up all the way along the A396, with a final sort of climb to Wheddon Cross.  Which accounted for about 11 miles, though my memory is a little blurry on the details because I was in “count down, get back” mode.  Not in a bad way – but it was just that last section of a ride where you’re mentally, if maybe not physically, sprinting for home!  I remember the last 9 miles or so being basically downhill though 😉  Before long we were negotiating the back streets of Dunster, the main road to Mainhead, and we were back.  My first ever audax – Exmoor Spring done! 🙂

Cycling time: 4:29
Distance: 62.5 miles
Avs: 14.0 mph

cream tea

After a brief, “oops we locked this gate by accident” detour, we were parked up at the school again.  Inside, back at the canteen, we handed our cards in, which were checked, and officially stamped.  I gather audax riders can earn cumulative points over a year, and of course, points mean prizes, right? 😉  Formalities done, we took a seat, and enjoyed our complimentary cream tea.  Which, miraculously, even came in “gluten free” for those of us for whom that matters.  How cool is that?  I was pleased to be able to indulge, especially since I felt like I’d earned it 🙂

So.  How was my first audax?  Good, since you ask.  It was a nice route, in a beautiful part of the world, on a lovely day.  According to Strava, contrary to what you might think after reading this, I actually did really well out there, including a PB up Porlock Hill.  Told you I though it went well!  ‘Rah!  The best thing about it?  Probably how friendly everyone was.  There were no egos around at all which, being used to sportives, came as a very nice change.  But actually I think the best thing about it was actually riding my bike with, and supported by, friends.  In the sun, with the burgeoning stupid tan lines to prove it.  Thanks guys!  Or garys! 😉

‘S Wonderful

I appear to be behind.  Shock, horror, etcetera, etcetera.  Mind you, isn’t behind where I usually am? 😉

In fact I’m three rides behind again.  It does seem to go in threes like that.  Don’t they say good things come in threes though?  And also to those who wait?  Patience, grasshopper, I’m getting there 😉  So…with no further ado about nothing…here goes.

First off, a recovery coffee run with no coffee, as Alan and I both forgot that Sweets is closed on a Tuesday.  And a Monday, as it happens.  Oops…  Consider yourself forewarned and forearmed, so as not to make the same mistake in your turn 😉

Porlock Weir more gluten free cake

This was followed by a trip to Exmoor to see Gary which miraculously involved very few hills, actual sunshine, compensatory coffee AND cake.  Very nice gluten-free lemon curd cake, in case you’re interested, and ever happen to be passing by Kitnors Tea Room in Bossington, which you shouldn’t, because you should go in – it’s really nice there 🙂

Both rides were very lovely on the company and weather front, but not so on the PMA or form front.  In fact, here’s me 😉  Actually, given the escapee escapades of Gary’s tortoise that day, he was probably faster than me!  Post Dartmoor Classic and a lot of riding of late and…well…who knows whatever else…I guess I was just tired and somewhat under-motivated…?  For whatever reasons, it just wasn’t quite working last week.  The sun was shining, and there wasn’t much wind, so the spirit was more willing than it might have been, but the flesh just seemed to be running on empty 🙁

not a slow tortoise

A while back I reached the conclusion that I really needed a break.  So this weekend I went away.  For a weekend away which did not involve a sportive.  Or in fact the bike in any way.  I had a mini-holiday in Bude, Cornwall, with myself.  My bike and I were on a break 😉  And it was totally awesome 😀  Life’s always better at the beach, right?  In addition to whole heaps of wave watching, sunbathing, paddling, reading, relaxing and whatever, it did however involve a fair bit of coastal walking, which my legs are now protesting vigourously.  Well just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean no exercise – that way madness lies!  Besides, I really enjoyed it 🙂  However, though I may not be able to walk properly right now, it would appear that I can still pedal.  Different muscles I guess.  Which brings us to today’s ride, a Fairyland coffee run with Alan to watch the festival stragglers drifting home, all of whom were looking remarkably clean as it happens.

And I was feeling better out there.  Again with the sunshine, and no wind helping 😉  Maybe the break helped too?  If so, maybe I’ll have to take more of them *grin*.  Sure, I may not have been breaking any records, but it did go better than I’d expected and I actually enjoyed riding the bike, which has to be good for the PMA, right?  Let’s see how the next few rides go…who knows?

Cycling time: 5:18
Distance: 79.1 miles
ODO: 10031.3 miles

(Blimey – the “new” bike has now done over 10,000 miles!!)





Exmoor Beauty 2015

Hello Sunday.  Hello sportive.  Hello Exmoor Beauty.  Which I was actually quite looking forward to.  It’s not that far away, the forecast was pretty good, and the route had been made more beautiful and less beastly.  Besides, what else would I do on a Sunday? 😉

All of which made for a 5:15am alarm call, aiming for registration at 7:00am, and the start at 8:00am.  Which all went to plan, mostly.  I even slept pretty well the night before, which is unusual.  Surprisingly I was one of the first there, as very few seemed to have felt the need to get there for 6:30am when registration actually opened.  I parked up, and walked over to the school sports hall, noting as I went that it was bl**dy freezing out there!  My registration had gone astray, which does occasionally happen when you get places my way, but the timing guy just set me up all there and then, with a nod from the boss Marcus, and handed me my 1433 envelope, which contained my bike number, two cable ties, and a helmet timing tag.  Then it was back to the car with an hour or so to kill.  I alternated faffing outside with sitting in the warmer car and drinking my coffee.  It really was cold out there, even in the sunshine, a lot of which was due to a fairly brisk and very chilly wind.  Marvellous…

Registration start line

Someone once said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.  Well that pretty much summed up today.  With knobs on.  Given a bright but breezy forecast and the patch of good weather we are currently enjoying, pretty much everyone had presumed it would continue to be pretty much the same, and dressed accordingly.  Including myself.  Yes I could have put on some of the other options I’d bought, but since it was supposed to turn into a sunny nice day, I was worried I’d just be setting myself up for over-heating trouble later.  So I stuck with the plan.  My only concession was to add the winter collar and my overgloves that I’d bought with me to the mix.  This was not one of my better calls….but of course I didn’t know that then did I?

Eventually I stopped hiding in the car and took my bike off to the start pen, half hoping they might let people away early to save us freezing to death.  Sadly not.  The pen slowly filled up, and then bunched up, possibly huddling together for warmth?  As the time passed I got colder and colder and actually shivering.  Lovely.  Eventually Marcus gave us a briefing ably assisted by a man with signs to show us, and we were let go as planned at 8:00am.  I was unusually keen to get going, and to hopefully warm up!

Marcus signs explained

If we’re going with quotes, which it would appear we are, today’s sportive was a game of two halves.  The first half was pretty horrible.  It might not have been if the weather hadn’t deteriorated further, and it had nothing to do with the route or the organisers.  But 3 hours of slogging up hills whilst freezing?  Not good.  I’m sure it wasn’t all up, but it kinda felt like it.  Mind you, I was actually making it up the hills ok, and some of those ups were real stinkers, but still…  And with all that climbing, my average speed was busy being atrocious and making it look like I was going to be out there for considerably longer than the less than 5 hours I’d been hoping for.  On the upside all the quiet country lanes we were using were mostly surrounded by banks and hedges, so that wind wasn’t as much of a problem as it could have been.  On the downside, that meant that all you ever seemed to be looking at was road and hedge, and it all turned into a fairly featureless miserable blur.

It all got a bit head down and zoned out, and I had to remember to look up and look out for signs which, luckily, were large, obvious, and where they needed to be, so I didn’t get lost.  That would definitely not have helped!  Oh, and note to self, if you’re riding alongside a river and it’s flowing the other way to you, you are going uphill, however gradually, and that’s why it feels like hard work!  At least having ridden a bit around here some of it was familiar, including a few of the climbs, but I think it’s fair to say I was not enjoying myself.  I was also feeling a bit guilty that I wasn’t doing my job.  I needed to be taking photos, it’s what I do and it helps me to write about it afterwards.  But I couldn’t feel my fingers, so photos en route were out, and I certainly wasn’t stopping to get colder just to take pictures!  Yep, I was not a very happy bunny.  Really just because I was so cold though which was, sadly, colouring my feelings about everything.  The rest of me was doing the best it could given the circumstances!

first food stop food accelerade

Which brings us to the food stop at Exford, which was advertised as being at 29 miles in, and was actually 34 miles in.  This might not sound like a problem, but when you’re trying to plan eating, and stops, and feel like a break might be a good idea…?  A bit irritating.  Still, a break was indeed good when I finally got there.  And it was made even better by three things.  One – there were no queues for the portable toilets.  Two – they had warm soup.  Warm is good.  So was the soup.  And the nice lady in the food tent asked me if I was her gluten free lady.  To which I replied I wasn’t her gluten free lady but I was a gluten free lady.  So three – she made me a gluten-free ham loaf.  Real edible savoury food.  Practically unheard of and just what I needed 🙂  Thus a little restored, and knowing I was over half way around now, it was time to get going before I got any colder.

climing to JWF marker scenery ahead

Which brings us to the second half.  Not much later on, as we up headed towards Exmoor proper, the sun finally came out, we went up, and the views came out too.  And the rest of the ride was completely different.  There was more climbing, but it was seemed to be more of the longer, wigglier, shallower, more me variety.  With scenery to look at, including a cairn and everything.  My overgloves and collar went away, the camera came out, and so did my PMA.  Mind you, there wasn’t much hiding from the wind up on’t moor!  Luckily at some point it became mostly behind me.  And here’s where I finally started to have fun.  Faster, flatter, sunnier fun.  In fact the basic trend for a lot of the last half was essentially downhill.  So I hopped from wheel to wheel and I pushed it.   Over the moor, and down into the valley to follow the River Exe, flowing downhill this time!  At some point we joined the return route to Tiverton that the Exmoor Beast takes and I knew I was properly on the home straight.  Fun fun fun – and I was practically warm by now! 🙂

all yellow tall trees

The route turned out, unsurprisingly I guess, to be 68 miles not 64, but since this was familiar territory, it wasn’t as annoying.  I just kept going to get to where I knew I was going.  And then we were back in town and at the school, just like that.  It always seems to come out of nowhere somehow, I guess it’s because it’s on the outskirts of the town?  I rolled under the Finish arch, where Marcus was on the tannoy welcoming everyone in by name, and collected my souvenir tankard.  The Exmoor Beauty was done 🙂

finish line glasses

Cycling time: 4:49
Distance: 68 miles
Avg: 14.1 mph
ODO: 8974.6 miles

Just the other side of the finish line a familiar face was lurking, Geoff Saxon, and it was nice to have someone to chat to for a change.  He’d also been riding, though much faster than me!   However I was getting chilly again standing still, so I headed off, leant the bike against a wall and went inside to get my time printed out, and grab a fizzy orange as ever before going home.  I had, as hoped, made it round in under 5 hours – both ride time and elapsed –  just!  Officially my time was 4:58 🙂  And when the official results went up a day later, out of 380 riders, I was 167th and 8th woman.  I’m really really pleased with that.  OK, so my average speed may not seem that impressive, but if you consider where I drug it up from…it ain’t bad!

Today was a BIG ride.  Not because it was long – it wasn’t really.  Or because of the climbing – I’ve done hillier rides.  So not a big ride for the obvious reasons.  But….  Today was, by my reckoning, my 100th cycling event.  I know these things are arbitrary, but I’m the one counting,  I am the arbiter, so I make it 100.  So there.  And I’m pretty proud of that.  Besides, any excuse for fizz, right? 😀