Overnight bike rides seem to be a bit of a “thing”. The most popular is the Dunwich Dynamo, in June, which I missed as I was in China (gloating much, me?). To make up for this I decided I’d do the Exmouth Exodus. On paper it sounded quite fun, 103 miles overnight from Bristol to Exmouth. I cheerfully ignored a) the fact that the west country is substantially hillier than the fens, b) I’d never ridden 103 miles before, and c) the last time I did an overnight ride I ended up with a very dodgy stomach. I focused on the idea of riding down Cheddar Gorge, and visiting some of my favourite places in Devon from my childhood.
The ride took place on Saturday. Instead of eating properly during the day and getting some extra sleep, I dressed up as a clown and rode around all the circuses in London with some friends. This resulted in a mad dash to Paddington station in the evening and I nearly missed my train. I was in such a rush that I forgot my helmet and didn’t have time to pump up my tires or get a sandwich at the station. I was catching the train with ChainBreaker and Cupcakes, both of whom also nearly missed the train – but amazingly we all got onto the train, with bikes and most of the things we’d wanted to take with us, and promptly disgusted everyone with our fondness for lycra, particularly CB who introduced more people to his bib shorts than was really necessary. 2 other riders were on the same train, sitting a civilised distance away from us.
The train to Bristol always takes less time than I think it will, and there was a lovely sunset across the hills as we hurtled west. What a lovely night, I thought to myself. Cupcakes tried to offload some quiche on our fellow passengers, to no avail. Soon we arrived.
We realised that we had no idea where we were going on arrival in Bristol. This was something I was meant to look up, but had forgotten. We had 2 garmins between the five of us, so we assumed we’d be fine. After a bit of faffing getting the garmins to work, we set off, to loud cheers from a couple of old brizzle geezers, who asked why none of us were wearing the yellow jerseys, and then shouted “pendletoooooooooon” at me.
And then, just less than 2 minutes after leaving Bristol Temple Meads station, it started raining. Massive, heavy rain. I dived under a tree with Rod Munch, one of the other riders, while the others disappeared ahead into the watery abyss. The tree didn’t really provide adequate protection and we ended up standing in a phone box, staring at the road, which by now was doing a passable impression of a river. This did not bode well. After about 20 minutes, the rain had died down a little and I figured we should set out. We rode off – and it turns out, rode straight past the others – and promptly got very lost riding around Bristol. The rain, predictably, started up again. At one point we rode up a waterfall. Damn garmin, damn rain.
After what seemed like forever and Rod and I felt like old friends, we arrived at a pub in Clifton, where the ride was due to begin. I called CB and he told me that they were STILL underneath a tree by the station and were thinking of going home. Cross words were exchanged. I stood around feeling wet, miserable, and worst of all, hungry. You don’t want to start a 100 mile ride already hungry. The others turned up and we witnessed a very angry, very stoned man call the organisers racist for not selling him a map. We tried to keep quiet and away from him. I felt a bit anxious, and also very cold. Cupcakes lent me his woolly hat.
We reached a pivotal moment: it was time to leave. We had quite a nice group by now: ChainBreaker, Cupcakes, Rod Munch, Hairnetnic, Dropout, Liz, Dumps and me. I made CB promise not to leave me behind, and with a final buckling up of my overly massive saddlebag, we set off. We swooshed through wet Bristolian streets and out towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I think in my head I had mixed up the Clifton Suspension Bridge with the Severn Bridge, as it was TINY!! Like a toy bridge! But with great views back towards Bristol. We were on our way.
Heading west from Bristol, the first 10 miles took us towards Clevedon. I was really hungry and CB fed me a lot of malt loaf. Mmm, malt loaf. The route was gently rolling, though I was enjoying the downs slightly more than the ups. One of the garmins stopped working. The next 10 miles were flatter, and headed southeast towards Blagdon. The tunes came out somewhere along the way – trance music in the Somerset countryside, get in.
We turned onto a side road (Cupcakes needed his 4th toilet stop of the ride) and someone pointed out the hill rising up in front of us. Uh oh. I’d looked at the elevation profile for the ride in advance and noted 3 hills, 2 of them what I would classify as “monster”. Burrington Combe was the first. I trundled up. Really, really slowly. I began to wish that I’d taken my bike for a service to get the front mech looked at, as the poor bike didn’t want to shift into the small ring. And this was not a big ring hill. I stopped and threw a tantrum. Yes. It was not cool. CB sorted my bike out and encouraged me up the whole way, despite me being incredibly stroppy and repeatedly insisting that I couldn’t do it. If he hadn’t been there, I would have crawled under a rock at the side of the road – but thanks to the most amazing saffer in the world, I made it to the top! Phew. Cupcakes wanted his hat back and all I could do was apologise for sweating all over it. He put it on over his cap, ghetto style.
From here, we began one of the more awesome parts of the trip – down into Cheddar Gorge. It’s about a 10% descent into one of the country’s finest natural wonders. We were all a bit speechless at the sight of the moonlit rock rising up on either side of us, and stopped at the bottom to gawk at it a little. Truly magical. From here it was a short spin to the first tea stop. Again, a truly magical experience as we had hot tea, biscuits and toilets! I put more socks on and CB put lots of ibuprofen gel on. We picked up another member for our group. We were about a third of the way in.
The next twenty miles were essentially flat, and we all got to chat quite a lot. I felt infinitely better for the cup of tea, and we rolled along at around 15mph. We passed near Glastonbury and stopped at a village called North Curry, where the 2nd stop was. Here we were served soup, although some of the gang assumed it was curry, due to the village name. There were some appalling puns at this stop, very amusing but not worth repeating. Cupcakes really is pretty good at puns. Or bad, depending on how you see these things.
We set off and this time I remembered to remove my cleat covers before clipping in (as at the first stop…). I set off at the front of the peleton of fun, which was actually surprisingly lonely. There were a few cars around, and I nearly got taken out by one trying to overtake us despite there being a car coming in the opposite direction. I didn’t realise quite how close it was until Cupcakes dashed past me to try to chase down the driver, and then came back to see if I was okay. He said that it had looked like either I, or the other car, would get hit and that it had all seemed a bit slow motion and scary. We rode along together and chatted at the route wound its way southwest and towards the outskirts of Taunton.
And then up. This bit of the route was labelled “the only way is up”, and it wasn’t a lie. I knew that a big hill lurked in wait for us, and in a way I was quite relieved when I realised we were on the hill as it meant that at some point this infernal torture might be over. I stopped twice, once because I was lazy and once because hairpin bends covered in leaves are not for me. CB was slightly less patient with me, but this is entirely unsurprising as it was about 6am and A MASSIVE HILL.
But we survived, and the next tea stop was only another 8 miles. At one point the group got split up, but Cupcakes rode at a million miles an hour to bring us all back together, only to realise his lights weren’t working so had to spend ages standing around adjusting his lights, waving at all the people he’d passed. The tea stop was very welcome. There’s a video of it where you can see the excitement I felt at finding a snail sleeping on my wheel. Luckily there is no footage of me eating loads of Doritos and jaffa cakes, but I can assure you that I did.
Only 26 miles to go… We set off again and almost immediately Dropout’s cardboard framebag disintegrated, spewing belongings all over the road. It started raining. While I was glad it hadn’t rained for the rest of the trip, that didn’t make it better as I knew we still had approx 2 hours – now in the rain – to go. Gah. We headed towards Ottery St Mary and Newton Poppleford. I was cheered by recognising the names of places but worried that we still faced Woodbury Common. We rode down a lot of small lanes, slippery due to the rain. My wheel slipped on some mud and I had to pull the most ALMIGHTY skid to stay upright. Thankfully CB was behind me to see and be impressed, but not so thankfully, I pulled a muscle across the top of my back.
We ended up approaching the Common from the east and cutting across the south of it, so I wasn’t able to point out the place where I fell in a moat as a child, leaving me with a ghetto eyebrow scar. Woodbury Common was almost comically horrible. When you’re used to going to the common in a car, even a car as rubbish as my parents’ car, pedalling tired legs up to the top just seems wrong. But I kept seeing cheering signs, like “Exmouth, 4 miles” which propelled me along.
And suddenly – a sign: “Welcome to Exmouth”. We stopped to pose for pictures, me and CB, me and Hairnetnic, Hairnet and CB. Happy, happy days. From there it was simples, straight down to the seafront, past the swimming pool we went to as kids, along the seafront and to the cafe! CB disappeared to the loo for a scarily long amount of time, I ate a huge veggie fry up, and I felt completely overwhelmed with the magnificent team of 8 and our valiant efforts. It was still raining.
Afterwards, we spent some time hanging about in Exmouth station (I slept), took the train to Exeter (I slept) and then I rode to my grandparents house, just outside Exeter. It was raining worse than ever and they didn’t initially believe that I had ridden from Bristol. When they did eventually believe me, they asked if I’d come down the M5. I showered, raided my massive carradice for clean, dry clothes (amazing!) and drank tea, watching the Olympics. And then… sleep.
103.5 miles, 12.8 mph average speed.
8 great riding mates.
3 big hills (from a girl who HATES hills).
1 night of memories.