Sunday 23rd Aug – 4:45 am
The alarm went off way too early, considering this was going to be a long day. We had decided that we would travel to Cornwall on Saturday, then stay at my son’s house in Bodmin. It would be hassle free since he wasn’t going to be there, and it was close enough to Land’s End to be convenient…or so I thought. Unfortunately, whilst on a map it looked close, it was actually 50 miles away, and Google Maps estimated an hour & and quarter to reach Lands End. So for me that meant a grab and go breakfast to eat while we were moving.
On the drive to Cornwall the day before, I had paid attention to the rise and fall of the A30 that I would be riding the next day. It was the one part of the journey that filled me with some trepidation, so I wanted to get it in my mind. Everyone always says that Devon & Cornwall are the hardest bits, but I had been practicing these kinds of climbs, so my mind was fairly comfortable with the route for the first 100 miles. Besides, I was assured that I would be joined by a motorbike outrider on this section, and that made me feel better and safer – despite having never met the man before.
We left the house in darkness and arrived at Land’s End just after sunrise. We had passed another rider, and I couldn’t help wondering whether he was another LeJoger. With Scotland having only opened up for business at the beginning of the month, everyone seemed to be taking their opportunity now.
I was happy to see my friend from Portsmouth at the start ready to see me off. Mark Hummerstone was responsible many years ago for encouraging me into the world of Audax, and it’s Audax that got me inspired to do this. To be fair, Mark is also responsible for many other things too, but those tales need a whole blog site of their own. I was also greeted by a local rider, Kevin from Penzance. He was the first of many strangers that I came to meet and ride with. I told him the Guinness ‘rules’, (I had to be in front, and other riders needed to be a good distance away from me), and so we snatched shouted conversation for a while until he peeled off at Penzance.
Then I was on my own. But the road was peaceful. It was 7:30am on a Sunday morning. The bottom of the A30 is single carriage way, and felt very safe at that time. The sun was shining, I could hear the world starting to wake up, there was a great tail wind, what was there not to like? Until I reach Hayle!
For some reason, a black cloud caught up with me, and dumped it’s load of heavy rain on me. Looking forwards I could see blue sky, so I carried on riding. Then I looked behind me…..it was way too early in the day to take the long soaking that appeared to be following me, so it was time already to break out the waterproofs. I was about 20 miles from the start. The heavy rain stopped after 15 minutes, and the sun returned, bringing with it warmth. I stopped by the side of the road and took off my waterproof layer. This routine continued a few more times until eventually the rain passed and I dried out.
When I got close to Truro I saw the welcome sight of The Hubster and Dora, proudly displaying her new flashing orange light she was wearing for the trip. Her orange light became a beacon of hope over the next few days….how I longed to see that flashing light in the darkness. But they had a new friend with them. A motorbike and rider called Steve had found Dora’s dot, and made a rendezvous, so that Steve could escort me safely along the upcoming dual carriageway. This was the kindness of a stranger #2, and it wasn’t even 8:30am on the first day.
Other than the on-off rain, it had already been a great morning, but with the presence of Steve it was going to improve immeasurably. I was going to experience something that I can only imagine that the likes of Davina McCall or John Bishop get when they are off doing their mega sport relief challenges.
The A30 seemed quieter than I was expecting, but I hadn’t really appreciated just what a great job Steve was doing keeping the traffic away from me. There were still a few sections of single carriageway, and so when I slowed going up some of the bigger hills, I was consciously stopping in lay-bys near the top to both catch my breath, but also to let the traffic past. It was only then that I realised how much we were slowing the traffic down. Thankfully we were shortly on dual carriageway, where I felt no guilt at all. With the tailwind giving me a helpful push, and a beautifully surfaced road, I was flying along. On the biggest climb towards Okehampton it had actually felt like I had a hand on my back pushing me up the hill. I call it my hand of God moment, as everything had started so well.
After a second breakfast at Cornwall services I was itching to get going. Holiday makers were now starting on their way home, and the motorists were mainly in good spirits. Cars were (friendly) tooting me as they passed, some passengers were taking photo’s or videos, and others clapped or cheered as they drove on by. I had never felt so much like a celebrity. I couldn’t quite work out why I was getting this much attention, after all, the only news articles and broadcasts had been in Hampshire. A little later I discovered that not only did Steve have a ‘caution cyclists’ sign on his rear pannier, but he also had ‘LEJOGLE World Record Attempt’. on the back too.
Word was getting out, and in my breaks I could see that the Facebook Group was also going mad. Dotwatcher mania had started, and it was impossible to read all the messages of support that were coming in during the brief periods not riding. Donations were also coming in, and I was sensing that riders in Devon and Somerset would be out to cheer me as I went through their towns. I was not disappointed on any counts.
I left the A30 and after a quick van lunch in Okehampton, I was soon travelling cross country, on quiet roads through Crediton, Tiverton and Wellington. The local CTC/Cycling UK carrier pigeon had been passing the word around, and there were cyclists in lay-bys, on roundabouts, and generally popping up all over the place to cheer me on. Their photo’s and videos made it onto the Facebook group, all useful evidence for Guinness that I was progressing under my own steam along the route.
For a few miles near Crediton I was joined by a friend of mine, Graham from Devon. He chatted away, took photo’s, and then went on his way. My jersey was carrying a message for his wife, who had started chemotherapy treatment around the time that I started my ride. When times got tough for either of us, we would go back and remind ourselves that we both needed to be strong in our own way.
The hours rolled by, but eventually I arrived in Taunton at my 3rd stop of the day. I had lived in Somerset during my early adult years, working in Taunton for quite a few of them. It’s a town that I love and it always brings back memories as I ride through. Although this was just a flying visit this time, it hadn’t really change all that much.
It was dusk by the time I cleared Bridgwater, another place with very dear memories as it was here that I lived. But I couldn’t hang around to reminisce, darkness was falling and it was going to be a long flat haul to Portishead where I was to spend the night.
The ride to the far edge of Western Super Mare was uneventful. It was flat, fast and featureless in the dark. For such a normally busy A road, it was very peaceful. Being straight I was able to get down on my aero bars and just zone out for a while.
On the other side of Western I picked up the A370, and it seems I navigated amy first of many short cuts. Before I knew it I was on a cinder trail, and quickly realised what I had done. This short cut was a popular disused railway trail called the Strawberry Line. Better by day though than by night. It slowed me down, but I popped out the other side without incident, and made it with perfect timing to my first overnight stop at the Premier Inn in Portishead. The Hubster had already checked in for me, and put my overnight bag in the room, complete with food for the night, and my breakfast for the morning. What a star! He was going to be sleeping in the van with the dog. I felt mildly guilty, but it’s what we agreed, and he did get use of the room before and after me.
Just before 11pm I arrived, ate, did a Facebook live, showered, and slept.
Day 1 completed, and things felt great. I hoped that I would be able to keep to my timings going forwards, although tomorrow was going to be a long day – the longest daily distance of the whole trip, so I needed to sleep well.