Land's End to John O'Groats 2012
Okehampton to Bristol - Sunday, 29th July
The breakfast confusion was further complicated by it being served in two dining rooms, a few swopped dishes sorted things out. Rob's friend Alan arrived and joined us for coffee, he'd kindly volunteered to help and would be our extra support for the day.
We packed up and loaded the vehicles and made the bikes ready for another day's cycling in the rain. We were joined by more guest riders so were quite a large group of cyclists and supporters as we gathered in the car park. The now usual 'faffing about' delayed departure for a short while so I had a quick chat with the owners of Upcott House inside. As a B&B it's quite impressive and they're trying to build something unique with eco friendly credentials including home grown food, electric vehicle charging point, food recycling (pigs) and energy generation. All in all a pleasant country house set in lovely gardens.
We left to rapturous applause and sped down the hill into Okehampton. Navigation would be slightly more complex without the A30 to guide us, the route was the A3072 to Copplestone and then on to Crediton. This brought us to the first major climb of the day up to 730 feet with a fast descent into Tiverton. Gav and I were supported by Alan who was an absolute star providing us with bananas and glucose tablets that kept us going over a second climb which saw us into Taunton. The weather started to improve.
We regrouped at a petrol station and then followed Alex through the town centre to Somerset County Cricket Ground and our media stop. We were met by Somerset cricketers Steve Kirby and Lewis Gregory who kindly provided drinks and posed with us for photographs.
Hunger set in so it was decided to head for McDonalds in Bridgwater, some eleven miles away up the A38. Our little group had lost sight of the van by the time we approached the outskirts of town and we arrived at McDonalds after a mistaken visit to a Burger King and an unplanned tour of the town centre. The torch donations were rolling in by the time we arrived as people queued for photos in the sunshine. I had the same large deli meal, this time adding my free glass to Gav's collection.
David and Anne returned from their impromptu visit to Land's End with Rob's spare bike. Gav's difficulty with his brakes and wheel alignment had continued so he decided to give Rob's bike a try. To my, and probably everyone's amazement, this single act transformed Gav's performance and he decided to use (possibly keep) the bike for the rest of the ride. On reflection, seeing this with my own eyes has made me think about my own bike and kindled a desire to buy a proper lightweight road bike for non-heavyweight-touring.
photograph by Alex Randall - on the road
We followed the A38 north east to Axbridge and the A371 turn towards Cheddar. The group pace along this stretch was impressive however a few miles before the turn I decided it was beyond me to keep up and I settled back into my own rhythm. I saw John stopped by the roadside answering the call of nature. A little while later I felt a strong hand on my back as John propelled me forward at considerable speed - he was actually pedalling for both of us! Picking up the pace I tried to match his speed as he encouraged me to follow his wheel. All this was very kind of him and with his support we rolled into Cheddar to catch up with the rest of the group lolling in the bright sunshine.
I'd imagined Cheddar Gorge to be in the middle of nowhere a bit like say Malham Cove, so I was completely unprepared for the crowded scene at this tourist trap. We rolled round to Costa Coffee at the bottom of the gorge and fetched the torches for more photo donations. I followed David's recommendation and ordered a hazelnut latte which I have to say was very nice. We stayed for a while, eventually gathering for the long pull up the gorge.
This was my first serious test and on the steepest hairpin the gradient pushed back my centre of gravity so much that the front wheel lifted off the ground. This was slightly startling and I lost balance, unclipping just in time to prevent a fall. I recovered my composure and set off again, just catching the second pedal in time to maintain forward motion upright. The rest of the climb was not as bad and eventually I caught up the group waiting near the top.
We turned left towards the steep descent into Burrington and did a loop via Blagdon and Ubley, not sure why as we could have saved a few miles (and hills) by going straight on to Compton Martin. Anyway, by Ubley I was once again cycling alone with the excellent Dale and Alan for company. At Chew Stoke, the other Alan caught us up and kindly rang Rob for directions. The road through Chew Magna up to the A37 was another steady climb and by the time we reached the group waiting at the top, I'd really had enough of hills for the day. Rob warned us of one more hill however, but then it was down into Bristol on the A37. We followed Alex through the city centre and out again on the A38 Gloucester Road with a steady ascent up to Aztec West just shy of the M5.
We were cheered in by supporters, friends and families and welcomed into the offices of David Wilson Homes, Rob's work. We had coffee in the boardroom whilst waiting for physiotherapy at the hands of Jen. She kindly worked on my shoulder whilst I apologised for my hygiene state and poor aroma. Gav's in-laws Malcolm and Carol had driven down in Gav's car to join us as our new bus support crew, we said good-bye to Alan and Dale who were taking the car back to Leeds. Rob counted out £400 in donations received so far, which he intended to leave at work for safe keeping.
Rob and the Bristol contingent had kindly arranged for us to stay at friends' houses whilst leaving the bikes and surplus kit in the boardroom overnight. I'd been allocated to Ken and Julie so we departed for the short car journey to their house. I had a shower and was then fed with the nicest wholesome food, Julie and Ken were great company. Julie showed me some of her excellent paintings, I must find and add a link to her website. I retired to bed and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. I'd just like to thank Ken and Julie for their kindness, hospitality and company during my stay in Bristol.