After purchasing a few final additions for my cycle ride on Friday, I made my way to the Condor ferry terminal at St Peter Port terminal. Unfortunately, as the ferry was due to arrive at 18:20 in Weymouth, I knew I would have a fairly full on ride to make it by the time it got dark.
Things did not start well; the ferry was over an hour later departing. It had been due to rain all day Friday and to my great fortune, the weather had abated. Indeed, on the journey over to the mainland, the skies cleared and large swathes of blue were visible. This perked my spirits up as I realised that I would have about 2 hours of sunshine to cycle 50 miles. No problem on my road bike but how would the Thorn perform?
Matters became instantly more complicated when us cyclists were hemmed in by a ferry load of cars waiting to disembark. We had to wait almost 30 minutes until we were able to leave the boat. Precious time was slipping away and the evening light was already beginning to filter through the progressively more patchy sky.
I had prepared my route at Pete’s place and listed out a series of directions. Alas, I was not able to find the first marker and ended up having to follow the queuing line of traffic to exit Weymouth. Here, the cycle was in its element as I was able to jump most of the tailbacks.
It was at this juncture that the sneaking suspicion that the evening’s ride was not going to be as straightforward as I had hoped began to creep in. The landscape around Weymouth is quite spectacular and decidedly hilly. With the additional weight of the steel framed bike and the three panniers, the cruising speed was down from 25mph to a far more modest 12mph. I did some quick maths in my head and realised that I would not make it to Ottery St Mary until after dark. My original expectations were that I would arrive in Weymouth and be off the ferry by 6.30pm followed by a leisurely saunter to Ottery, arriving at around 9.30pm riding the coattails of sunshine for the day.
With the much reduced pace, my delayed arrival in Weymouth and the fact that I managed to get completely lost so early on, I estimated my time of arrival at closer to midnight. Thankfully I had some lights with me but they were small, city lights, to ensure that motorists could see me on well lit urban streets. They were really not up to the task of illuminating a jet black road as I ploughed through the night on the A35.
Another problem was that after just two hours, I had exhausted almost all of my 2litre water supply. Having originally believed that I would be cycling earlier in the day, I had concluded that I would be able to refill my water bottles at service stations en route. Regrettably, it became abundantly apparent that this would not be the case as each and every petrol station I cycled past was closed.
I had also not counted on the road being so perilous. Cars hurtled past me at 60mph, inches from my rear panniers, buffeting me with strong gusts of displaced wind in the process. With the ever dimming sky, I prayed that my pathetic lights were up to the task of forewarning these motorists of my presence.
The route I followed took in some very long hill climbs, which many cyclists are not fans of. With the additional weight and my inexperience of handing the bike, I wobbled precariously as I steadily scaled each hurdle.With all the weight hanging over the rear wheel, the front end tended to weaver frantically as I spun the pedals in 4th gear, averaging a speed of around 5-6mph.
Finally, after more than three hours of exertion, cycling through the undulating Devonshire landscape, with no light save for the modest pool afforded by my front LED, I stopped in mid ascent, exhausted. It felt like I was climbing Mount Olympus to speak with the gods. I lay down next to the road and drained what little water I had left. It was dark. The stillness of the evening was broken only momentarily by the infrequent, speeding cars that whirled past me. I was running on empty. I had no chocolate bars or water to consume or a mobile phone to contact Bryony with, to inform her where I was. Indeed, I had no real idea at that point where I lay. Determined to make the remaining journey as fast as possible, driven by the need to quench my insatiable thirst, I pressed on after a 15 minute rest.
Finally, with an exultant whoop, I pulled in to Honiton and located a phone booth to call Bryony. After an emotional conversation (it was 12.30am I and was in fact 3 hours late), she said she would drive over to collect me. I asked a local policeman where I could acquire some water and he took me back to the Honiton police station where I drank to my heart’s desire.
It was quite an adventure; exhilarating, exhausting, educational. I realise that I am capable on my road bike, unencumbered by the weight of the panniers. However, my cycle ride across the UK was going to take more effort than I had first thought. Bizarre as it sounds, one of the reasons I was keen to undertake such a physical test was to push me well out of my comfort zone. This cycle ride informed me that I would indeed be pushed hard but that the reward afterwards would be far more than I had first thought.
Only through a great challenge can one achieve a great victory.