GBBR Day One: Lands End to Tavistock

Do you know what the Reveille sounds like? Everyone on the Lexus Great British Bike Ride knows it very well indeed. We were to hear it every morning at 5am, pumped in by the army via a PA system that would have woken the dead. I have the sound ringing in my ears still as I type up my notes now almost a week later. Google it, please, I want to share it with you:)

So this was the start of our every day. In a cold (very) and dark, dampish army tent, we would get blasted with this lovely sound. The first morning it came as a big shock, but at least it got us all out of bed. In fact it probably got the whole of Lands End out of bed too.

So after a big queue for a breakfast of porridge, eggs, beans, toast, bacon and lots of tea, it was into the cycling kit for the start of the ride. We started at precisely 7am, and rode down to the famous signpost showing the way to various far flung places. I think there were 141 of us the first morning, and we were set off in ceremonious style by Mr England in groups of 25 or so. Here are some of the folks getting ready for the off:

The famous signpost is there in the background.

The route we knew was going to be around 97 miles. What I don’t think anyone knew really was just how hard this would be, certainly not me. Not helped by the easterly wind (I will try not to keep mentioning this, honest, but we did end up cycling into it for all 344 miles), the hills were just horrible, in fact some of them were bad going down too.

The reason for the bad ones going down were that many were on very narrow country roads with grass growing down the middle, a 25% slope, and high hedges each side. This meant that the best you could do was to cling onto the brakes all the way down and hope that you didn’t fall off. This hurt your arms and hands a lot, and I just wasn’t used to it. The hills I am used to cycling down are wide open, and you can freewheel, let yourself go and feel the wind in your hair. Very few of these allowed that freedom at all.

Some of the hills going up were so steep that my lack of triple chainring was apparent immediately. I reckon that 90% of people on the ride had a triple, and all of the experienced guys certainly had them. I was stupid, just didn’t know, and paid for it. You cannot do 25% slopes on a double, or I can’t anyway. In fact if I hadn’t had the 11-28 cassette fitted to my bike the week before I went I would have been walking half of the hills in Cornwall, and would probably still be there. I am glad to say that this was my only regret of the whole trip, but it was a significant one certainly. By the first pit stop however at 25 miles or so, I was flying along, and loving it. I think I knew that I was ready for the whole thing, as I was psyched up and determined. The other thing is that you are certainly carried along by the momentum, of riding with 150 people or so – there was always someone behind you or in front of you to keep you spurred on. Here I was at the first pit stop – still smiling!

Time for a banana and a flapjack methinks

So the route took us through or past Penzance, Redruth, St Austell, Liskeard, Callington and then eventually to Tavistock in Devon. The majority of the route was via the side roads to keep us out of the way of traffic. I think I posted the route profile in another post, but here just as a taster is the section that we finished with:

Nasty, vicious finish to say the least

So that is the last 45 miles post lunch. Following a nice descent around Callington and towards Tavistock itself, the climbs following both were absolutely horrible. Just what you want when you are nearing the end of the first 100 mile cycle of your life, and after about 9 hours in the saddle. I think I reached Tavistock at about 4.30pm. The climb up to the club itself was horrible even. It was nice as we arrived though that all the army guys were there and plenty of people from the rugby club to clap us in. There was also a film crew there from BBC Cornwall, and I think I got filmed – it would be nice to see that someday and I must find out if it exists somewhere.

Having parked the bike up I found out that I had finished in about the first 30 riders. Whilst this is by no means a race or anything it was a huge boost to find that out for me. I went and got myself booked in for a massage, which hurt about as much as climbing the 1 in 4 hills did! It was a thorough sports ‘deep tissue’ massage, of the ‘no pain no gain’ variety. I think I probably felt the benefit the next day but at the time it was nothing short of agony!

Dinner in the clubhouse was a feast of pasta, chilli con carne and curry all piled high on the same plate, followed by a dessert of meringue and fruit. I was ravenous. I managed to avoid a beer, being the good, strong willed soul that I am:), and was tucked in bed by about 9.15. This was after the ubiquitous briefing telling us what lay ahead the next day (90 miles of Devon basically, and another 2,390 metres of climbing).

Sleep itself came very very easily (always does for me, I am lucky like that), although the night was to prove very cold indeed. We were camped at about 700 feet, looking at the edge of Dartmoor, and the wind was blowing a misty coldness through the camp. I hunkered down into my sleeping bag, not wanting to get up to pee in the middle of the night because of the cold, and awaited the sound of the bugle at 5am. The start of the next day we knew was going to be a total pig of a climb – the locals referred to the start of the route over Dartmoor as “Eight Mile Hill”, and we were about to find out that they were definitely not kidding.

Lands End At Last!

So I arrived today in Lands End. I thought the journey was going to be a very bad one when I got to Didcot railway station and found my train had been cancelled! This would have been fairly bad, as my connecting train from Swindon to Penzance was leaving only some 30 minutes later and I would have missed it. Thankfully all was not lost, as the Penzance train was actually rerouted to Didcot, and came along some 25 minutes later. Here I am about to leave good old Didcot railway station:

Do I look nervous? I was!

The journey took about 6 hours, and was ‘marred’ slightly by a delay at Exeter. We were held up for 30 minutes there, to be told that there had been a ‘fatality on the track’. That put many things into perspective for me, and I vowed at that point not to moan about things as trivial as cycling into Easterly winds, although I do reserve the right to moan about them tomorrow when I am actually having to deal with them!

Trusting your bike to British Rail is also a bit of a leap of faith, as you cannot lock it! Having not had my bike out of my sight (almost:)) since I had it, I had a good lock with me to ensure that the only person who would be taking it out of the Guard’s van would be me, but to no avail. When I got on I was told that I was not allowed to lock it ‘in case train staff needed access to the equipment in there’. Great.

I left my bike in a rack alongside several others, and spent the whole journey peering out of the window at the 18 (yes 18) stops we made along the way, half expecting to see some youth pedalling away with my pride and joy. Thankfully it didn’t happen, and neither did it happen to the Cervelo or the Trek that were parked there too.

So after leaving the train, and sadly leaving my iPhone charger on there, I left the station to find about four other people get off the train with bikes too, headed for the same place as me. We duly found a big van (marked with GBBR stickers, but looking back it could have been anybody!) to load our bikes onto. Our bags came with us and we duly set off the remaining 10 miles or so to the Seaview Holiday Park – pictured below:

Our home for the first night

So we found our accommodation was a series of massive army tents at the back of the campsite, set up and guarded by probably 40 or so army guys. I was in tent 3, where I would stay all week, the tents being moved each day in a huge operation by the army guys:

Easy to go wrong in the dark....

The whole set up was incredible. With a mechanics tent, a massage tent, a check in area manned by the army, a water station complete with electrolyte drinks, etc. The only downside was that we had to (under strict instruction:)) use the campsite toilets, and with the exception of the bar area, which was some ways away, we had two male toilets for about 250 people. Lets just say that the queues were ‘ridiculous’ and I shall leave it at that.

The site was probably about 3/4 of a mile or so from the Lands End ‘signpost’, marking the most extreme south westerly point of Great Britain, where we would cycle down to the next morning for the start of the ride itself. In the tents themselves we slept 10 to a tent, which was cosy, but fine, and the bikes stayed with us in the tent too:)

"You're in the army now..."

And so the rest of the day was fairly uneventful. We were served a huge feast of pasta, pasta and pasta in the evening, and I generally tried to busy myself by keeping away from the campsite bar. Not everyone was as successful as me, but being the strong minded, impossible to influence figure that I am, I gnawed at my knuckles and shut my eyes and hoped it was all a mirage. There was also a very comprehensive briefing by the organising team, where we were told where the pit stops would be, what obstacles to look out for, and also that we would be doing just shy of 100 miles the next day, including 2,890 metres of ascent (9,537 feet for those of you who still work in the old money). This sounded very daunting, and accompanied by what would be a week-long easterly wind (we would travel easterly all the way), there were some pretty worried faces that evening, mine included.

After a bike check up by the mechanics, I retired at about 9.30 to bed, having been told that we would be woken at 5am by a bugle call from the army. It was here, finally. The final few days before things like this drag, and yet go so quickly looking back at them. I think it is the anticipation – you cannot wait for it to begin.

Tomorrow would be it, the start of a complete unknown for me. It was a fitful and cold night that lay ahead……..