Cycling for 100 miles isn’t exactly a conventional way to celebrate a birthday. On my 20th however, it seemed like a good idea at the time (those last three words turned out to be key). It’s rare that I would dedicate an entire post to one ride but this one just stood out – sometimes even the best laid plans can go very badly wrong.

As always at this time of year, simply deciding what kit to wear took up the best part of an afternoon. Four base layers topped with a Castelli Gabba. Legs adorned with knee warmers and my thickest pair of shorts. Going with an aero road helmet (not for the purpose of speed of course, more for keeping my head dry and warm oweing to the merciful lack of vents). Finally, the all important thermal socks. Next it was time to sort out the navigation. My Father and I have four GPS units between us, all of which were fully charged and taken on the ride. Any regular readers will know that neither of us has anything resembling a functional sense of direction – for me, Garmin failure probably means a night under the stars.

The route was something of a gamble, anyone who has used the route planning feature on Strava knows that it’s far from foolproof. On many occasions I have stared at my Garmin in a state of exasperation as it tries to send me down a footpath or bridleway. Annoyingly it only came to 97 miles – necessitating some extra ones at the end, more on that later. The objective was Crowcombe Combe, a famous local climb – perhaps infamous is a better word given the 25% gradient.

In hindsight, with my years of experience I should have known it would be trouble when the heavens decided to open the day before the ride. The lanes of South West England are terrible enough at the best of times but following such a deluge they would be rendered more akin to MTB trails. Spurred on by my (foolhardy) sense of adventure and desire to burn off a few slices of birthday cake – it simply didn’t occur to me to abort the ride or to use a less challenging route. My age has yet to make me wise.

It was a pleasant surprise to wake up on the big day and see the streams of sunlight coming through the window –  “what could possibly go wrong?”, I asked myself. In fairness the first five miles passed by uneventfully, it was only after descending onto the Somerset levels that the problems started. Never have I seen such a vast quantity of mud on the roads, my Summer Bike was soon plastered from head to toe. Neither of us had bothered with mudguards which made drafting a dangerous business, this being my excuse for the abysmal average speed.

Fifteen miles in, the first major obstacle presented itself. I’d estimate the flood was at least 1.5 feet deep, to make matters worse it happened to occur on a sharp bend – making it impossible to tell where it ended. A big detour had to be made, not doing a great deal for our moral. Once back on course, the next ten miles involved more of the same; massive puddles, potholes, mud, loose branches and just about everything else that could be thrown at a pair of unfortunate Cyclists.

Now it was time to head up into the Quantock hills, I hoped that the higher ground would yield better roads and allow us to make faster and smoother progress. Sadly this was not to be, the only way to avoid riding on a major A road was to take a series of ever narrower and rougher lanes. I almost lost count of the number of wrong turnings that were made, by the end of the ride it came to a grand total of 22. The next challenge was struggling up Crowcombe Combe on heavily laden bikes – having lived in Devon for the best part of four months it’s rare that a climb takes me by surprise. This one was something else, especially as I had stupidly chosen the bike sporting a 53-39 chainset. By the end I had resorted to zig zagging from side to side, reminiscent of the early days of my Cycling career.

Half way round now, I dared to hope that we might make it home before dark. For a few miles things seemed to get easier, a pleasant tailwind helping us along the top of the Quantocks. Sadly this didn’t last long, after a twisty descent it was back to the dreaded lanes and associated wrong turnings. My worst fear was realised when my Garmin lead us to a bridleway. In the summer it may have been possible to carry the bikes along it, however on this occasion there was no option but to turn round. This time it took half an hour to find the course again. I suspect it will be a while before my Father next agrees to ride a route that I have planned – I really don’t blame him.

Suffice to say that miles 50-60 were truly torrid, at progress was so slow that it took 35 minutes to cover the last four. Just as the roads began to improve, my Garmin announced that it was running out of battery. No problem (so I thought)  – I had bought a spare. What I failed to take into account  was that the device failed to realise that we were already some way into the ride, assuming that we were in fact travelling in the wrong direction. This made navigation even more challenging, in order to avoid going back the way we had come I needed to do the exact opposite of everything the Garmin suggested. I’m sure that the combination of the wretched thing beeping and me subsequently swearing under my breath could be heard for miles around.

Quite how we made it home I’ll never know. The remainder of the ride proceeded in much the same way as above, only with the added challenge of trying to get back before the darkness set in. One final sting was to be found in the tail, despite many unintended detours the ride still fell just short of 100 miles. It was with heavy hearts that the pair of us rode past our front door so as to get in an extra four of them. Truth be told, I found myself questioning why on earth I had ever thought riding 100 miles in the Winter would be a pleasant means of celebration. 24 Hours later I still haven’t come up with an answer. Next year, I think a simple meal out will do the job very nicely.

I have spent much time trying to come up with the perfect word with which to describe the ill-fated ride. One springs to mind above all others – Epic. We battled against dodgy lanes, malfunctioning GPS, fading light, floods and 25% inclines – aboard bikes that really weren’t suited to the job. Did I enjoy it? God no. However, I do find myself immensely satisfied for having seen it through to the bitter end. Others (i.e. those with common sense and half an ounce of sanity) may have given up, yet we did not. I’m sure that both of us will speak of this ride for many years to come. I’ll certainly never forget the events of my 20th.

On that – I’ll leave it. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “A Century of Disaster

  1. “Truth be told, I found myself questioning why on earth I had ever thought riding 100 miles in the Winter would be a pleasant means of celebration.”

    We always cut down the winter birthday rides down to 25-50 miles weather permitting (we always have to deal with snow which often renders winter birthday rides in the northern US without studded tires impossible). Pulling a full century in the winter is quite ballsy, so nicely done.

    1. Thanks, winter miles = summer smiles & all that. Certainly wouldn’t have done it if there had been snow to contend with mind!

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