Thursday, 6 July 2017

CH2CH2CH Day One - Clevedon to Dorchester

Another year and Team Pannier’s eighth official expedition in nine years. It was again to be a trip across the country as we aimed to complete another coast to coast. In fact this time we were to attempt the Ch2Ch2Ch. That is the Bristol Channel at Clevedon to the English Channel at Bournemouth and then back to the Bristol Channel at Clevedon again.

The route, concocted by Spanners (Rich), had a real tour feel to it. Taking in the wonderful sites of Somerset and Dorset. Starting at the wonderful Clevedon Pier and heading down the scenic Strawberry line to the foot of Cheddar Gorge. From the top of the Gorge we would head down past Wookey Hole, through the city of Wells and on to see Glastonbury Tor. From there it is on to Dorchester and then a ferry to Bournemouth!!! From there we turn around and head back through beautiful countryside, taking in Frome, Chew Valley Lake and the not so picturesque town of Wincanton.

Tour Director Spanners said: “The ‘end to end’ rides always feel more satisfying and more of an achievement than just doing a loop. I guess this was a bit of both, a loop with something interesting at either end. I liked how the route could take in a few famous places that I’d never been to like Wookey Hole and Glastonbury.”
“It was over a descent distance, not too hilly and took in one of the 100 Greatest Climbs (No.1 in fact), it was a mix of cycle paths and roads. I was really pleased with how the route turned out. I thought it was ace!”

Setting off from Little Horn’s house in good time, we wiggled our way down country roads from Yatton to Clevedon. Adding extra miles at this point of the ride seemed easy but Little Horn and Mule (John S, more about the nickname later) discussed whether we’d regret the 7ish extra miles at the end of the day.

Who would regret those miles later was up for discussion. There was the usual mix of preparation before the ride. Andy and Jukebox had a lot of running in their legs, in fact Andy had run 10K the day before and Jukebox has raced (RACED) the day before that. That either meant they were confident of what lay ahead or they didn’t quite realise how far we had to go. We’d soon find out.
Jon and John had come in with minimal training from what Strava could tell us but they both pulled it out of the bag when needed in the past, so this year would be no different. Spanners and Littlehorn (me) were on the other scale. We’d been racing each other via Strava to see who would be the first to ride 2000 miles and climb the equivalent of five times up Everest. Spanners had been distracting the gaze away from himself despite having climbed a lot more feet in the year.

So we got to Clevedon and dipped our back wheels in the Bristol channel, hoping to dip our front wheels in the English channel down in Bournemouth. That wouldn’t be until the next day as first we had a long day ahead of us and a little hill in the form of Cheddar Gorge.

With so many miles ahead of us we’d agreed to take the flattest, most scenic route to Cheddar, following the Strawberry Line all the way to Cheddar – named after the trains that used to bring the strawberries up from Cheddar when it was a functioning train line.

The miles whizzed by as the guys all caught up with each other after a good while not seeing each other. Various snacks were digested and everyone was in a positive mood as we cycled our hybrids and mountain bikes along the traffic free route.

Chatting to Jukebox he’d been worrying about whether to come on the ride at all. Now a very keen runner, he was worried about injury and his lack of training on a bike. With a marathon later in the year he’d offered to be the chauffeur / director sportif for the ride. While it would have been a bonus not to carry our panniers it also would have been a shame not to get the time to chat and share the ride with someone we don’t see much of the rest of the year.

So far so good, even if we were only just in to double figures for the day but his knee was holding up well and so far not giving him much pain. He’d even started to look forward to cycling up Cheddar Gorge, hoping he might summit the climb third out of the six riders. This was to be a tough task as Spanners, Littlehorn and Mule had been ahead on a lot of the climbs last time it was six of us back in 2015. However he did have some form on his side. When the hills had got steep AND long, he’d performed better than Mule, particularly on Holme Moss, a beast of a climb.

Arriving at the end of the Strawberry Line we already had a few creeks and most of them were coming from Spanners bike. Handily there was a bike shop in the industrial estate and a quick tightening of some phalange or other and we were ready to hit the Gorge.

Crossing over the mini roundabout and cresting the bridge was the signal for the start of the climb. Littlehorn shouted this out but either Spanners didn’t hear or wanted to acknowledge passing but he asked the start of the climb as he whizzed by. Passing the lower shops we spread out across the lower section of the climb. Soon it was Littlehorn and Spanners battling it out. As on Holme Moss a few years before, home advantage probably came in to play as Littlehorn pulled away and knew the importance of being out of sight on the winding road. Having nothing to chase and the incentive disappears. With the climb getting gradually easier it’s great to take in the surroundings of the beautiful Gorge. No wonder it’s one of the 100 Greatest Climbs.

Jukebox had suggested that those finishing first on the climb should turn around and come back down to make their way up with the riders further down. This meant extra miles and feet climbed for Spanners and Littlehorn in their battle and so as Littlehorn hit the end of the climb he turned around to find Spanners just coming around the corner. As they set off back down together they would soon find out who would be third.

They didn’t have to wait long to find out, soon poking their panting head around the corner was Jukebox, he’d achieved third and was looking in fine form. With about the same gap came Andy, looking comfortable and in control and then Chef. Chef, we later found out, had been in last place at one point but had reeled Mule in near the top and not only passed him but left him behind.

Now Spanners and Littlehorn were spinning around to ride back up with Mule. Although at the back he didn’t seem too deep in his “pain cave” and was happily tapping away at his pedals at his own rate. Chatting amongst ourselves something seemed to distract the riders from their conversation. Was that a mobile phone ringing? Some sort of ringtone? No. It turned out John was happily listening to a spinning playlist that he’d been training to back in his garage on his turbo trainer. “Yeah, it was helping me, although Chef must have thought something was odd as Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough was blaring out as he went by.” He said with Jess Glynne in the background singing “put your arms around me, tell me everything’s OK”.

After a regroup, we were across the top of the Mendips (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and heading down Ebbor Gorge. Passing the wonderfully named Titlands Lane just before entering Wookey Hole. It wasn’t far from there until we were to hit Wells.

Wells was of course the backdrop used for the film Hot Fuzz, set in Sandford, a place we’d passed on the Strawberry Line only hours before. Of course that wasn’t the first filming location we’d passed as Clevedon had been used in Broadchurch as well as a One Direction music video.

We’d now ticked off 36 miles and we were glad of the sight of lunch. Especially Little Horn who always wants to know where his next meal is coming from. We were made to feel very welcome in The City Inn and if memory serves, only Andy and Jukebox had a pint. A sign of the riding done and the riding still to go. It would have been pints all round and whiskey chasers in the olden days.

As we waited for our food, Mule searched for a Wi-Fi signal to find out if he’d got FA Cup final tickets and Neil searched for his wallet. A look of dread spread over his face, it wasn’t there. Where had he left it. Was it back in Yatton? Panic set in, swear words were probably said and he grabbed his phone. Calling Littlehorn’s wife who happened to be working at home that day. She could check. No answer. He tried again. He messaged for her to call him. Not looking at this from the other point of view, he hadn’t thought how missed calls from someone cycling with Littlehorn would look. Especially more than one. Would we have two people in a panic, one losing a wallet, the other losing a husband.

Meanwhile Spanners checked the same bag Neil had been looking in. Sure enough, there was the wallet and thankfully it hadn’t occurred to Megan that missed calls from him would mean an issue with Littlehorn. Panic(s) over.

The route from here would take us around Glastonbury Tor, circling it on the cycle route mean we would see it from all sides. As we did three sides of a square, we then took a sharp turn and headed up a concrete road with grass down the middle. This soon rose steeply and suddenly everyone could feel their lunch sitting heavy as well as their supplies for the next three days. This kind of hill was much more Mule’s type, short and sharp uphill. Perfect for his lithe frame. So as he came up at the back of the group it was clear he wasn’t on a good day. We took a few photos with the Tor in the background and then we were off. A brief diversion down the wrong road but we were soon back on route.

A stop near Butleigh to refuel and Jukebox realised he hadn’t climbed that last hill or at least he couldn’t lay claim to it as his Strava had been switched off. Amazingly calm, he just started it again and away we went. Climbing a non-descript hill we arrived at one of the few main roads we would ride on. It hadn’t been long since lunch, just an hour and a half but there were now tired legs in the peloton and the pace was slowing.  We’d ticked off 50 miles but still had maybe as many as thirty to go.

We were now looking forward to another stop, seven hours since setting off and Mule in particular was struggling. No matter how much Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut he shovelled down his neck, his legs just didn’t want to keep going. Stopping at one pub before a turning we googled what refreshments lay ahead. We saw there was another pub not too far ahead and decided if it was open we’d pull in there.

As Chef and Spanners set the pace ahead we pulled level with the pub. Surely they spot us and turn around? As that appeared less likely could we keep going to the next one. One look at Mule and that was a no. He was dismounted and heading inside. Littlehorn offered to catch them up, gallant – no, wanting to make sure he didn’t lose miles to Spanners – yes. Luckily they weren’t too far ahead, although it was undulating and they weren’t too keen to do that hill again. However with the option of a refreshment break they’d soon turned around.

Relaxing with a mix of hot drinks and Cokes (not together), the team sat and watched in wonder at the news of the NHS being hacked. It all seemed surreal and far from important when we still had many miles still to go.

Back on our bikes we hit some busy roads around Yeovil but soon enough, out the other side were tranquil Somerset and soon Dorset roads. Still there was something keeping us going and in good chipper. We’d all studied the map and the terrain after Yeovil was “all down hill” as it “followed the river”. It seems we had all looked at it separately and thought we would be fine on the final stretch. 20ish miles of easy going, all downhill.

At this stage, Mule (John S) had really had to start digging in and motivating himself to keep going. Offering at one stage to catch us all up at the hotel if we wanted to push on. He’d clearly not been with Team Pannier through bad times before. The rest of us had all been there. We’d all been the last man at some point. We had all felt like we were holding the others back. That’s also why we wouldn’t leave him. Tomorrow that could be one of us.

Chatting at the back Mule and Littlehorn were a fair way back from the other four, with one of them dropping back every now and then to offer Mule encouragement and checking we were still all on the same route. Coming down a hill and around a corner the other four were waiting by a ford. "Try going through it, we've just been through it." We edged up close but it appeared to deep. "I did get soaked doing it!" said Spanners. Sure enough it was deeper than he thought and he'd soaked his feet in the process. He would be drying his sock using a hairdryer that night...

Anyone taking a closer look at that profile, zooming in would have seen a jagged descent rather than a smooth downward slope. Each downhill was matched with a slightly less steep hill. We were essential going over a course that looked like a load of sharp teeth. Each tooth getting slightly smaller. Yes it ran alongside the river but it certainly wasn’t the easy coast in to Dorchester we were hoping for.

As the power drained out of our legs, what had started the day as 15mph was no struggling to keep 10. We rolled in to Dorchester just over 11 hours since we’d started. Luckily we’d learned from previous years, set off in good time and kept our breaks to a minimum.

We may have ridden our longest one day ride ever (87 miles) but it was now time for a quick shower in the Purple Palace as we had to be out the door quick to fill our rumbling tummies and to satisfy Chef’s need for a beer.

With only two people drinking we were clearly not on for a big night, we just needed to refuel and collapse. John S had started talking crazy, about leaving the ride tomorrow and heading home. Jumping on a train in Dorchester. We suggested he slept on it, were we about to have the first abandon in Team Pannier history?

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