I spent 3 days, starting on Thursday last week, cycling just over 310 miles from London to Penzance. Planning to spend two nights in random hostels or B&Bs on the way; I planned to grab the last train back from Penzance into London Paddington leaving at 1740 on Saturday.
Originally I wanted to visit Stonehenge for the first time and it is a convenient 100 miles from home. Then I thought why not push it down to Penzance for a bit more of an adventure.
The weather forecast showed Thursday as being brilliant in the 20s but Friday and Saturday being complete downpours. With the anticipation of doing another long distance ride (like London to Barcelona a few years ago) I wanted to push through the wet and even carry my laptop to see how reasonable it would be to have that on the road. Turns out having a big heavy laptop is the opposite of ideal and I re-learnt the same lessons from the Barcelona ride – the less you can take the better.
Therefore for my next long ride I will take a spare change of clothes for the evenings, toiletries and some cables to charge phone/camera. That is all. Anything else you just don’t need but the weight seriously hinders you on big hills.
Having reached the 100 mile goal to Stone Henge (where you have to pay £8 entry) on some fairly flat roads by about 3PM, I pushed on for another 22 miles with a commuting cyclist I bumped into (Paul) – the only cyclist of the day I met! Finding a rather cosy pub (The Somerset Arms – run by new owners Tim and Dee) I settled in for a nice hot meal and a warm evening sitting in their garden.
Starting on a cold and misty Friday morning at 6am I got on with my target of 100 miles for day 2 to make the last day just 80 at most. Having got lost several times, trying to avoid the A303’s scary dual carriageway, I found myself climbing a lot of short hills, only to come straight down the other side and immediately climb another. This continued for the whole morning giving me an astonishingly slow pace which made me question whether reaching Penzance, especially with these heavy bags, would be reasonable in my target of 3 days.
Fortunately there wasn’t the torrential downpours that the MET office predicted, which made me feel a nice sense of satisfaction as I passed their headquarters in Exeter in the early afternoon. My friend Daniel (who I cycled to Paris with recently) did a summer placement in Exeter last year and warned me of the ridiculous hills to come in Dartmoor. This time I was prepared for the hills, knowing I just needed to keep the legs turning and eventually (maybe) I would get to the top and could relax. After 6 miles of climbing and some nice descent I came to the final short 20% gradient climb into Moretonhampstead; with 2 hours of sunlight left and about 15 miles short of my 100 mile target I decided to push on – despite immense fatigue. Shoveling down chocolate, haribo and Mountain Dew; I just didn’t want to have to do these climbs the following morning when I had a train to catch!
I finally came to Princetown, which I later found to be one of the highest villages in England meaning lots of downhill the following day! They also had a large prison close to the hostel I was staying in which was a surprise to see getting over the last hill.
After a ridiculous amount of ribs I called it a night ready for my final day. Approximately 85 miles to go by 5pm.
I had a terrible night sleep in the bunk beds but had to get on with my final day if I wanted to make my train. By 630AM I was on the road again hitting even steeper longer hills than I had experienced the day before. Again my speed in the morning was slow and I seriously doubted making it. Morale was at an all time low when the rain began to pour down. This was all ahead of the serious thunderstorm warnings that afternoon. I couldn’t do much so chuckled to myself in the traditional British sense. I knew I had to press on through it. Thankfully it let up after half an hour and the sun same out to dry me off and warm me up.
The final push through Cornwall was nice and easy compared to the Moors. However a couple of local cyclists warned me of some serious hills on my way to Penzance (which never showed up). They obviously hadn’t been to the Moors! So much so that I got the second last train of the day to get into London for a reasonable time for a nice big dinner! Very excited to see St. Michael’s Mount and a great sense of achievement given so much doubt over the previous few days.
On the train home I met a man called Sammy who just completed John O’Groats to Lands end in just over 8 days. Having completed several challenges (e.g. walking across the whole of Spain and I believe a sail across the Atlantic) he was inspiring with his “why not?” attitude to adventures. We both agreed that carrying the least amount of weight is paramount to enjoying any sort of long distance trip.
Sunday was a big recovery day – despite naturally waking up at 630 and not being able to get back to sleep. But the endorphin kick was nice at energising despite most of my body aching.
I took a fair bit of footage on my GoPro and hope to get the time to turn it into a small montage soon.
Until the next adventure!