A few weeks ago I proposed a trip down to Dartmoor National Park to take on a route including Haytor. In our little village cycle club, some of the keener cyclists get a bit bored of riding the same old routes over and over and over….. For instance, there’s a 1 mile long Strava segment near my home that I’ve ridden 238 times in two and a half years!! I know every piece of gravel personally!!
So occasionally, we have an ‘away day’, where we pack the bikes on/in cars, drive off, park up and ride different routes. I say occasionally, because we’ve only actually done this once – a trip to Cheddar Gorge, (see report elsewhere). Now, Cheddar is seen as an iconic cycling climb – a must-do, if you will. Haytor is very much in the same vein. It has featured as the finish of a Tour of Britain stage a couple of times. So a good one to tick off the list, no?
Volunteers Please….A number of our members expressed an interest so it looked as though we may eclipse the seven who ventured up the home of English cheese. Cometh the day, and a couple of reminder Facebook posts, there were….. two of us!! Me and Steve the Postie. Anyone who has read my previous submissions will know that Steve is a very accomplished cyclist, weighing about 8 stone, and riding a bike that feels as though it’s made of balsa wood!! So me, with my winter steed clean and ready to go, weighing in at a miserly half a tonne once laden with saddlepack, drinks, food etc, was thinking it could be a tough old day.The weather was lovely, I picked Steve up in glorious early morning sunshine, and prospects were good. He shambled out of his house like a 92 year old, complaining that his back/neck/shoulder/arms were aching, and his lovely wife had been forced to get up early and give him a rub-down.
On Our Way!!Bikes safely stowed and Dr Dre booming out some motivational F-words on the stereo, we set off for Bovey Tracey, for the start of our adventure. On arrival, guess what? Rain. That’s what. Typical Dartmoor changeability!! Luckily it was fairly light, and the forecast was ok. Kitted up and ready to go, we bumped into a couple of old boys on touring bikes, wearing Hi-vis jackets. Turns out there was an Audax that day called the Dartmoor Devil or something. We waited whilst 200 or so smiling Audaxers trundled slowly past, before we set off in the opposite direction.We had a pleasant mile or so ride out through the village of Brimley, before the road started to incline a little. Unbeknownst to me this was the start of the climb up to Haytor. Steve meandered off, probably reading a book or doing a sudoku while he sped away, and I got my head down, my granny gear locked in, and concentrated on not looking up. After about 500 metres I was blowing out my arse, my heart rate was off the scale and I was sweating profusely under my base layer, long-sleeve jersey, rain jacket combo!! In the back of my mind I had this nagging thought that Haytor was about 5 miles from Bovey Tracey…… I’d only done a mile and a half!!! Three and a half more miles of up to go!!!
Here I Come!!Gradually I dragged my svelte 15 stone body and my half tonne bike up to the summit. Most of the way up I practised using some of the words I’d heard Dr Dre rapping on the trip down!! Steve had the temerity to ask if I enjoyed it??!!! “No I f*ck%ng did not!!” was my rather terse reply. He’d reached the summit about four hours ago and had done an oil painting of himself with the moors in the background…. Probably. I’ve seen how they pose bikes in magazines and stuff, so we decided we’d take a couple of photos. Steve’s bike promptly fell over and chipped his top tube, mine clanged to the floor and almost set off a rockfall!!So, 5 and a bit miles in, 1200 feet of climbing done, an average speed so far of 8.3mph. It was going well!!!!
Down, Down, Deeper & Down….Off we set again, more ups and downs across the Moors, until we came to a road junction. I thought it was straight on and I conveyed as much to Steve who was about 30 yards ahead of me. Well…. I shouted at him very loudly, “Steve you tw*t it’s straight on!!!” As I crested the brow of the hill, I could see a church in the valley – Widecombe in the Moor. “Hmmm”, I thought, “our planned route doesn’t go through Widecombe.” So I stopped. Just in time to see the Orange Flash, (Steve the Postie), flying down a massive long descent.I knew if I went down this Dartmoor mountainside I’d have to come back up it to get on the right route. Not keen on that idea I have to say…. I tried ringing The Flying Satsuma, but one of the quirks of riding on Dartmoor is that there’s no mobile phone signal. I sat there for about 5 minutes having an argument with myself about what to do.In the end I let myself whizz down the hill, (which, I might add was very scary due to heavy crosswinds), and met Steve at the bottom. He thought I’d fallen off and was coming to find me. Wish I’d waited at the top!!!
Flippin’ Dartmoor Ramblers!!We managed to plot a route from Widecombe which would take us back to our correct route. Bonehill Road it was called. I would like to suggest that it was named because so many cyclists and walkers have perished trying to get up it!! Jesus it was steep. And wet. And leafy. Satsuma man gleefully attacked the first incline, and shouted back, “it’s all right Al, it’s just this little bit.” Heartened I put my all into rotating the pedals, and breasted the hill with a triumphant grin across my face. That lasted all of 15 seconds as I saw the next bit of uphill. Suffice to say, back wheel slipping, lungs and legs bursting, I got off and walked. That wasn’t any bloody easier mind!! There were sections of the climb that touched 25%.In the history of Strava only 314 brave, (foolish), souls have attempted it. I sit at number 240 in that list and I don’t mind telling you I’m pretty pleased with that. A group of ramblers had a little laugh at my expense as I stumbled through them, muttering about CPR. Steve the postie was at the top, grinning from ear to ear. “Loved that”, he declared, without a hint of irony. What is wrong with him??!!?? He sits 51st in the list of all-time fastest up that dreadful hill.
Not Far To Go…..Surely!!By this time I was wishing I’d stayed home. Hey ho, only 27 miles to go!! We rode on into Moretonhampstead without too much excitement, just more ups and downs. Once there we decided to cut the ride short, as we’d only completed 17 of our intended 40 miles, and time was marching on. Largely because of yours truly, and a 25 minute, unscheduled excursion to the home village of Uncle Tom Cobley! So we set off on a glorious stretch of road from Moretonhampstead to Bovey Tracey. Lovely Dartmoor tarmac, nice undulations, and not too lumpy. I recommend it highly – just skip all the uphill stuff beforehand!Back at the car, I realised that I’d worn my pedal cleats out with all the uphill walking I’d done. That’s two sets in two weeks!! I’m going to get Blakeys on the bottom of my cycling shoes from now on!! (Ask your parents kids).We sat in the Highwayman’s Haunt enjoying a welcome restorative pint of Mr Thatcher’s finest fizzy apple juice, and reflected on what a horrible day it had been. Steve tried to make me feel better by saying, “you weren’t really feeling it mate”, No I was not!! Feeling achey, old and miserable – definitely!! Still, I now have absolutely no compunction to do the Moor2Sea sportive, The Dartmoor classic, or even the Dartmoor Devil Audax. I’ve cycled up to Haytor in the tyre prints of Bradley Wiggins, Alex Dowsett, Mark Cavendish et al. That’ll do me thanks.I did at least pick up a KOM….King of the MOANERS!!!!.