“Sorry Sir, you can’t bring your bike on the train”
I didn’t have the energy to tell James of Great Western trains that I had just covered in the region of 340 miles, climbing 16,000ft over 2 days on the bike in question. Instead, I simply said “how much will it cost to get that bike on that train?”
48 hours before, it was Friday morning and I was in at my second home – Henley Practice; this time being pieced and electrocuted on my Achilles. During the torture session, Laurence and I chatted generally about the best ride over a weekend; Henley to Paris or Henley to Lands End. We concluded that with no ferries involved it would be Henley on Thames to Lands End. The conversation was general, for hypothetical reasons – just chewing the fat! Fast forward to 14.30 later that day, sat in Pret on Reading High Street and BBC weather prompted me to think ‘no time like the present – let’s give it a go”. A quick dash to Primark next door, shorts, t shirts and flip flops – all for six quid!
Then booking.com to secure two hotels; one at the halfway point and one at Penzance (next to the train station). 14.52 on to the post office, posting my new items of clothing and one other to each of the recently booked hotels. 15.07 – 37minutes later, all my prep had been done for my 320mile cycling adventure!
Leaving Reading with not a great deal of research into the route, I was reminded why my Garmin 800 edge had remained in my kitchen draw unused for several years – it doesn’t work. Oh well, the defective Garmin justifies the purchase of my new airpods, which I slotted in, turning on my google maps, set to bike cycle directions and bang, we are in business. Two gravel paths and a tow path later, it was back to the Garmin!
Once I gathered my thoughts and left Reading we were in business, on route to my hotel in Sidmouth Devon, in the region of 165 miles away. Things improved when I got off the A4 just past Newbury onto car free, tree lined roads. I’d decided to keep an eye on ride time rather than distance, as 165 miles is a big number to count down. A stop for a lettuce wrap, carrot and shot of espresso at Marlborough, before hunkering down to several hours in the saddle, which took me through Salisbury, and onto the most delightful coffee stop at a farm shop at Ansty, Salisbury. Although I’m one of those strange ‘plant only eaters’, I do turn a blind eye (and ask that you do too 😊) when I am out on the bike. Therefore, with 5 hours in the saddle I treated myself to two magnums, two slabs of cake, a can of coke and of course two double espresso’s! Flicking on the google maps, I was enthused to see slightly under 70miles remaining.
I recall feeling in high spirits between Sherborne and Axminster, however when I hit Axminster, around 140 miles into the journey I was dreaming of a double portion of ‘chip shop chips’, can of coke, espresso (at least four!) and Perrier!
As the light drew in, rolling down to the sea front at Sidmouth, Devon looking for my hotel, filled me with a decent sense of achievement, and most importantly, marked the end of my first day in the saddle. Somewhere in the region of 160 – 165 miles ticked off. As I rolled my bike into the hotel reception, I was greeted by a suited chap who simply starred at me with a look of horror that I had dared to bring my bike in. He turned out to be a great chap, putting me in a room that was large enough to house my beloved bike. When I walked into the room, I was relieved to see that the bathroom was perfectly equipped with a posh heated towel rail, which meant that I could hang wash my kit, ready to wear again tomorrow. I turned on the heated rail, washed my kit in the sink and hung it up to dry by the morning, which it did.
I opened my parcel that I had posted from Reading a few hours before, changed into my new Primark clothes, paired up with my arm warmers and high viz cycling jacket and set off into Sidmouth. A delightful place, with an average age of 127, however I did find a lovely place that met my needs of salad, chips, cola and coffee.
A late breakfast and I was back in the saddle for 9am. Google was boasting just 160miles from where I sat in Sidmouth to Lands End, and I was feeling confident, if not smug with my last-minute mammoth cycling adventure. No need for an early start and miss a paid for breakfast, I stupidly thought!
BBC weather had been spot-on and the sun shone bright, with the arm warmers rolled down. The second day of the adventure was far harder than the first. Flicking between a problematic Garmin and my google maps, didn’t bother me overly, as I wasn’t in a rush and the journey would take me as long as it would take me…With my full trust now totally in in my defective digital device, I made a U-turn halfway down ‘Ferry Lane’, battling with my head that surely I’m not required to get on a ferry. Stopping to ask a couple of walkers, I continued down the lane and joined the queue for the ferry. It was a small ‘roll on ferry’ and I turned out to be in Dart, Dartmouth. This was the first of my two ferries, the second being at Tor-Point; it was when I rolled onto the Tor Point ferry, I asked the chap – “where are we going”. With a Quizzical look he replied “Cornwall!”. This was supposed to be the ride option with ‘no ferries’!
Now Devon is hilly, but Cornwall is another level, literally! I’d had Lands End postcode programmed into my Garmin and at one point my distance had measure 100 miles covered that day, but ‘distance destination’ still read 81miles. How could this be as the total distance from Sidmouth to Land End was only due to be 160 miles! Looking back on my iPhone I can see I was in Tor Point at 16.29, which was still a whopping 90 miles from Lands End…how could this be? Doing the math on the mileage, it started to hit home how much I had bitten off and how little respect I’d given the size of the challenge, not to mention the 16,000 ft of climbing. The saving grace was, although I was unprepared on the navigation front I never mess around on safety and was well equipped with the mother of all Lezyne lights with additional charging powerpack…good job I had the arm warmers and high viz in the pocket too.
The official BBC ‘sun down’ for Sunday evening was 19.28 and although I’d had my rear light on for 30 minutes, this is when I’d pulled over to turn my front light on. Checking my iPhone since it is listing that I pulled in at Saint Blaise Gate, which is still 50 miles from Penzance with 2,700 feet of climbing. Lands End is out of the question now and I’m heading for Penzance (my hotel) and hoping to be in the chippie for 22.30 – no chance! Cornwall gets dark, very dark…then it gets misty and dark, then it rains! This was a tough leg and exactly what I love about setting your own limits, against the elements. The petrol stations and shops close early in isolated parts of Cornwall – I say early but it was well past 9pm, so I guess not that early. I did find one small shop open, that I wheeled my bike into, stocked up on mars bars, Haribo and a couple of cans of cokes.
The final leg was tough, really tough! I’d given up on the ‘bike route’ and had my head down on the A390 & A30 signposted Truro, Redruth and then Penzance! My light was out of juice and it turned out that it would only charge when not in use, therefore I had to keep stopping to give it a little charge. As I stood safely off the road, every noise, sound or movement scared me in the pitch black dark Cornish coastline! The Garmin was dead, the phone was running out of battery and I didn’t want to use any of the charging pack on anything other than my light. However, my trusty £3 decathlon watch still worked and it was reading 11pm! The A30 seemed to go on forever and when I started to gather a bit of pace, boom another hill. As I was having to stop continuously to charge my front light, I didn’t roll into Penzance until 23.50. In my room for midnight, where I boiled the kettle, made a tea, coffee and hot chocolate, demolishing the free biscuits and sat in a lukewarm bath.
I contemplated finishing the journey; 10miles to Lands End (20 mile round trip back to Penzance station) before my 8am train back to Reading the next day, but that thought fleeted all of a second later!
James was great and he booked my bike on the train after stopping me at Penzance station. A direct train back to Reading on the Monday morning had me at my desk before 12, reflecting on my herculean last minute adventure!
I’d covered somewhere in the region of 340 miles and google details 16,000 ft of climbing. I’ll be revisiting the challenge in summer next year to finish off the leg that remains uncovered!
Author. Barry Keane Team Meglio member, Meglio CEO 😊