GBBR Day Two – Tavistock to Yeovil

So day two was a bugger too. It began with the now customary Reveille, which consists of a piped bugle call at about 200 decibels at about 5am, perhaps earlier. The morning was very cold, if fairly still, and Dartmoor in the distance looked a stark and foreboding place. It was to prove that and and so much more, as we go straight through the middle of it.

Our camp at Tavistock RFC - the start of Dartmoor in the distance.

We set off just after daybreak, having first packed our bags and brought them to the truck that would take them around all week:

Our luggage gets ready to leave Tavistock

We then had to go back down the awful hill that we came up last night, and into Tavistock. From there we took a road which apparently the locals call ‘eight mile hill’. The reason for this somewhat eludes me, as the hill is actually about 12 miles long. No breaks, just an unrelenting tough slog from about 100ft above sea level to about 1700ft. It passes Princetown Jail at the top of Dartmoor, which today in the swaling mist made it appear an even more forbidding place than it no doubt normally is. Here is the profile of the morning’s route:

This was not a fun morning at all....

As you can see we went to over 1,500 feet, and the ‘hill” basically sorted the men from the boys. There were people lieing at the side of the road at almost every turn it seemed. On top of the fact that legs were stiff from doing 100 miles the day before, this was a beast. In fact it would be a beast in any circumstances. I think the longest hill I have tried climbing previously is probably half a mile long, so this was unchartered territory on every level for me. Dartmoor was also cold and misty to boot, with low visibility.

Once over the top of ‘High Moor’ there was a huge 14 mile descent, which was more of an undulating set of rollers than a true descent. It wasn’t helped also by the fact that it was into what was now a strong headwind. I would imagine that with a nice westerly wind and the benefit of knowing the run, you could have some fun down there. Apparently it is part of the course for the Tour of Britain in two weeks time. I would love to see the pros on it, it would be rather humbling for me I am sure.

There followed some real ups and downs through some very pretty Devon villages. There are no flat roads down here at all! After a couple of pit stops which took us through about 55 miles in total the route passed Exeter and then out of Honiton. Lunch was at a pub called the Lamb and Flag – would love to go back when I can actually have a drink! I walked into the bar on my way for a pee break and apologised to the landlady. I told her that I hoped sincerely that I would be back there someday in “happier” circumstances.

The roads out of Honiton had three brutal climbs, one about four miles long. I didn’t see one rider who didn’t stop at least once, myself included. One of the climbs had been newly gravelled, and was just about impossible to stay upright. Once we had got to about 70 miles for the day I was exhausted, totally. Thankfully it is amazing what bananas, tea, flapjacks, energy gels, electrolyte drinks, Clif shots, Mars Bars and jelly babies can do. I ate all of the these daily in abundance, and still ended up losing weight.

The final run came after pit stop three. Apart from the fact that they got the mileage wrong it was actually great. The run was about 24 miles, making about 90 for the day, taking us from somewhere near Chard (we had now reached Somerset) to Yeovil. There were a couple of nasty climbs again towards the end, but that is becoming expected now.

Pulling into Yeovil (Ivel Barbarians RFC) at about 3pm, I was greeted by the familiar army camp set up – those guys must have moved heaven and earth each day to get everything up and about – they were brilliant.


In the evening after a sports massage there was a rugby game between the army guys and the Ivel Barbarians Vets team. I allowed myself a celebratory pint of Guinness too – I figured that one wouldn’t hurt me, and I am glad to say that it didn’t! I was soon in bed by 9.20 however, absolutely wiped out.

The stats for the day were:

Total mileage 90.

Total ascent 2,390 metres.

This meant we had done 186 miles and 5,200 metres (17,000 feet approx) of ascent since yesterday morning. No wonder I was tired. I slept very soundly, hoping that the rest of Somerset and then Hampshire would offer some easier riding than today. They would in fact do just that – the delights of the New Forest lay ahead……

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.