the full serendipity of cyle-touring made its presence felt on a long, savage day through the mid-devon and cornwall hills. getting down from Dartmoor was a ghostly, crepuscular ride; the eerie moorland was swathed in dense fog and mist with visibility restricted to around 30 metres. the air was laden with moisture and it was very hard to get rolling, the legs were also very heavy from the previous day’s exertions.
as we descended towards tavistock the cloud layer abruptly stopped, the higher land was swaddled in a white bandage of fog and mist, but the lowlands were much clearer. we headed towards brentor where the road continued to pitch up and down, giving no respite at all. brentor was the scene of one of steve’s road racing successes a week or so before, when he picked up 4th place. another road race was in full flow; we waited for the pack to weave past and were then waved onto the parcours. halfway along a rider came past wearing the red and gold of Bristol South – it was one of our clubmates who had been dropped and was sort of trying to get back on, but clearly not too committed. he looked more than a bit freaked out when we rode up to him, the three of us with saddlebags on our touring steeds. we had a bit of a chat, then left him in nomansland as we turned off northwards.
(Paul Kimmage is a former pro who wrote a book where he ‘pissed in the soup’, he recounts an incident where he completely blew on the Galibier in the 1987 Tour: “my legs are just empty. a rider passes me on the right at twice my speed. i look across to see who it is. It’s a bearded tourist, riding up the mountain with pannier bags on his bike.”)
in short, the second day was incredibly hardgoing. we stopped briefly somewhere in the middle of cornwall, the intention was to grab some lunch at an amenable pub. however we stumbled into proper straw dogs territory; the pub was called ‘the winds of change’, possibly without intentional irony. me and graham went in to grab a coke and check out the menu, steve mistimed it, and was stuck behind a woman who was so large and so infirm it took her fully half an hour to navigate the short walkway and steps into the hostelry. the landlord made some strange references to our bicycles; i suspect he had never seen an iron horse like it. we drank up rapidly and cycled the fuck out of there before the albino child whipped out his banjo and they flooded the valley.
one of the odder things about the day was that no matter where we went, how fast we rode or even how far, the signposts always said we were between 4 and 6 miles from Launceston, as though we were caught in some kind of spatial and temporal vortex. this may or may not have been due to graham’s navigation, which was a little bit shonky. personally, i don’t appreciate the use of modal verbs when discussing navigation, as in, ‘well, this should be ok if we follow this lane’. i like a degree of certainty. on one of our perambulations near Poundstock we came across some odd high-tech debris and lots of greenery and bits of tree in the middle of the lane; Steve said it looked like a wind turbine, i thought it was a hedge strimmer. Around the next corner almost all the village folk were out, rubbernecking like crazy, telling us to take care. as we rode away almost the entirety of cornwall’s emergency services appeared, which included the oldest fire engine i have ever seen. graham said he thought there must have been a ‘hardcore fucking murder or something’. we later found out we had just missed a fatal helicopter crash by about 3 minutes. up the next hill we were chased and attacked by dogs. finally we made it to the border, crossing the tamar with audible sighs of relief.
after the constant ups and downs we eventually sighted the coast, riding into Widemouth Bay for a welcome change of scene from the high-sided bocage. the end was in sight; we rode to Bude and picked up some provisions for supper, confident that the worst was behind us and we were pretty much home and dry. hubris is a wonderful thing. several savage climbs ensued as we schlepped up towards the Hartland peninsula; one of which is now known as the ‘1 in 3 one-cleat climb’, after i came unclipped and couldn’t get back in, or stop. it was not an experience i’d like to repeat. Graham got the knock and then ate a whole cereal bar in one mouthfull. the hypoglaecemic effect meant he took his eyes off the Garmin and we went the wrong way. Steve waited halfway up a savage climb for confirmation, refusing to come down and cede any height-gain until he knew for sure.
the nearer we got to Elsmcot, the darker and damper it became, before finally the heavens opened and we rode the last 6 miles in heavy rainfall. as we rode into the YHA Steve exclaimed, ‘Well, it looks like we ain’t gonna die on the moors tonight boys’, in his thickest westcountry burr. it was a moment of levity at the end of a dark and slightly scary day.
again, the figures speak for themselves, a staggeringly inept 12.9 mph average, 86 miles, 8000 feet of climbing. it was beginning to add up: over 200 miles and 17000 feet in two days.