So, are we ready?
Well, in many respects, I think I’m on the right track, however after a small tester of a trip I’ve realised that there is still much work to be done! It’s quite handy then that there is still 4 months left to prepare…
So far, I’ve spent many hours and days planning my route for the TCR, researching equipment and pulling together my bikepacking kit, bike, and methods for getting from A to B.
So what was this training ride about? The plan: cycle from my home in Thames Ditton to my mums in my home city, St. David’s in Pembrokeshire in Wales. 436km. In one go. Easy.
The point of this? She makes the BEST Mac n Cheese. Also, to test myself physically, to test the gear, route planning, and ultimately learn stuff about myself, and riding long distances alone.
I built my bike. This has been several months in the making, and quite expensive. Building up some custom wheels, finding an ideal frame and adding all the components and kit to go with it. The result is this beauty from Bowman Cycles, a 54″ Pilgrims loaded with Apidura bags (there’s a lot more to it than that, but I will cover that in the near future… watch this space!), booted with some custom wheels from Noble Wheels:
Training has been constant, but relatively unstructured. My main focus has been on riding my bike and enjoying it – that has always been key for me. Commuting, with some occasional intensity through the week, adding some bigger rides rides with mates on the weekend. Winter riding has been tough with some hard weather at times, but not many points have I thought I’m really not enjoying it. This is good!
So how did I get this point?
This particular training ride has come about through a couple of reasons. The TCR is such a deviation from what I would normally consider doing, I really wanted to get some test in place to know what I can do physically, mentally and logistically. I’ve also always wanted to cycle all the way to my mums in West Wales.
Ok, lets do this!
All through the day I had been preparing the last few bits of the bike, and managed to get everything ready a few hours before the planned start. I tried snoozing for an hour or so, but just managed to lie there thinking about the day’s ride ahead.
I lined up my sister to be a ‘dot watcher’ using the find my friends app on the iPhone. Having the knowledge that someone was watching over me on the ride, and sharing my progress on facebook where so many friends and family were cheering me on was such a boost through the day. She was also on hand to keep my mum informed of my progress, so I wouldn’t have to worry about stopping and sending updates.
Setting out into the night was weird. It’s just not normal. You’re nervous, but calm; it’s dark, knowing I’m going to be pedaling for about 18 hours and you’ve not been to bed – it’s not easy to grasp what lies ahead.
In true TCR style, I decided to start my ride at midnight. Why I chose a cold and windy day in March I’m not quite sure, but it’s all good experience, right?!
I started off with a good speed heading into the night, and made really good time. Getting to Reading was fairly quick. I may have been over cooking it a bit, but this was where I came to my first climb. Its also where I realised that I was getting a bit cold. The chill was a result of sweating from the effort, and it being around 3 or 4 degrees C. I had plenty of layers on, but as I was calming down and the night was settling in, it was getting colder. I had a bit of a break 100km in Wantage, and managed to get this selfie next to a statue of Alfred the Great while taking on a bit of food. Coming through Oxfordshire it got really dark. One of the next things I learned around this time was that the whole of the UK does their muck spreading at this time of year. This was a constant smell, and bain throughout the ride.
I had some light drizzle came through a few times through the night, but on the whole the cross tail wind was kind to me. Just as I was starting to feel tired, around 100 miles in, dawn started breaking over the Cotswolds. It’s quite nice what a bit of daylight can do to your spirits and alertness. Shortly after ‘waking up’, I rolled into Gloucester at around 7am and back into civilization.
Gloucester was annoying, as had many of the towns I’d passed through in the night, have a number of traffic lights that just don’t recognise cyclists. With no cars around I had to run a few red lights otherwise I’d probably still be waiting for them to change.
My first proper stop of the day was on 200 km in Ross-on-Wye and a Greggs bakery – the only place open. I was quite cold and some food, coke, crisps, coffee and a break off the bike felt good. Till now, I’d only managed to drink one bottle. This was not good, and would be a pattern that I would pay for later in the day, but was a chance to get some refills.
After Ross-on-Wye, I headed across the Welsh border towards Abergavenny, lots of grippy roads and drizzle. The countryside was beautiful, but hard and slow going. Got a bit worried at one point as I couldn’t recall if I had plotted a route over The Tumble mountain near Abergavenny. Fortunately this was not the case, and once some of the lumpier welsh borderlands had been navigated, I started getting a good pace going. I really enjoyed this part of the ride. The roads were great, and the views spectacular.
I had another stop in Brecon. I was quite hungry by this point, and had planned to eat lots, so I did just that. I hadn’t travelled particularly far from Ross-on-Wye, however Wales was lumpy and I’d earned the feed.It was a good place to stop and re-fuel.
I set off again on the A40, conscious that I had added a few detours over some mountains to my Garmin route. I figured that it probably wasn’t such a good idea to follow them, so skipped the first one. The second one however, I failed to have the foresight to avoid. Probably as I was really enjoying riding my bike, I felt quite good about it. So I took a left turn up a mountain in Trecastle. Straight away, I was almost regretting it as the road ramped up quite steeply and stayed that way.
I carried on regardless, and found some amazing views. However, soon after I ran out of tarmac. A cattle grid separated an off road track lay ahead. In hindsight, I really should have turned back at this point. I figured however, that this would just be a short track and all part of the adventure – I’d made loads of time and was just enjoying the moment.
THis lasted about 10 minutes, before it got really bad. I had to get off and carry the bike over some of the larger boulder sections, and those puddles that looked a little too deep…
In all honesty, the Bowman Pilgrims handled the task superbly, but some of my poor workshop skills were showing through as parts of the bike started to rattle. It was mostly holding together, so I pressed on.
Coming off the mountain was tough, and involved walking the bike down what was effectively a cliff face. Through a gate and back onto tarmac, before long all the worry of being lost on top of a mountain was behind me. A new one lay ahead – I had lost nearly 1.5 hours messing around on the hill. So I pushed on.
I started spending too much time worrying about how much further was left to go, and if there was a hill going up or down ahead. This got to me a bit, and is something I’ll have to change in the future. No distance countdown! Neat features, but they mess with my head.
On top of this I was so much further behind than I thought I was. Wales is big, and lumpy too! I managed to plot a route through all of the big bits, with the final climb of the ride being the largest, Preseli Mountain in Pembrokeshire.
The best part of mountains and hills is the view. And the descent! Together, they make for a fun picture!
So good a view, I had to capture a selfie to show I was there!
The last part of the journey was a dark one. Internally and externally. I was still able to keep pedaling, but was feeling the tiredness of it all.
All through the ride I had been receiving messages of support which really helped me push on through right to the end. My sister was posting updates to facebook while dot watching, which meant she knew exactly when I was going to arrive at my mums, who was waiting at the door for me when I arrived as a result. This was a really nice touch, I just wish I could have been coherent enough.
So the ride – 432 km, 5644 m elevation, 17 hr 36 min riding (19 hr 25 min total). Check it out here: TCR Test Ride
The best part of it all though was my mum’s Macaroni Cheese, beer, ice cream after a bath while sat in front of a roaring fire. I’m not sure where I’m going to find all of these things every day on the Transcontinental Race however…
What did I learn?
I learned a lot. I made a list, but not all of it will make sense to anyone but me.
- Check route before – make sure its an actual road!
- Drink more often – need to stay hydrated
- Turn back its ok. Its not a road!
- Check bike properly before trip!
- Take less food – too much weighed me down!
- The UK smells in March – muc spreaders…
- Zero tabs turn to dust in plastic tubes.
- M&Ms rattle. A lot. This can get very irratating.
- Food bag rubs knee when out of saddle. Use only when needed, or remove when climbing.
- Food bag also handy for phone/GoPro. Need it lots!
- Make right side clear for right knee – it bends in and rubs the frame bag
- Wear less, sweat less, stay warm
- Torch lasts 5.5 hours – Cateye volt 700. A great light!
- Wales is stunning. Glad I took a camera!
- Cotswolds are very nice, but need to go back when its not dark!
- Wales is mega grippy. For Grimpeurs.
- Don’t use a mile countdown!
- Consider hills in a time schedule. It takes longer to go up hill apparently.
- Front Gear issues? Check cranks! These came undone with 56km to go. Good catch!
- Back shoulder pain caused by position and hydration – yeah, drink more!
- Feeling sick? Eat and drink something. This was not nice in the last 60km.
- Can’t eat? Small bites, single m&m s. You have to eat!
- Take gloves off to eat! Hoping the TCR does not require full finger gloves.
- 432 km is great for weight loss. 5kg! Maybe dehydration is part of that though…
- Saddle sores are inevitable. Management is required.
- Keep going!
- Plan flatter routes!
- Must try a 32 cassette. Hills get harder.
- New shoes for distance. My Fiziik R3B’s are not comfortable.
- Check headset before the ride. Probably should have fitted it properly.. Oops!
- Check Dynamo light fitting – make sure it’s tight.
- Check Cranks. Did I say that?
I’ve a number of things coming up in April to continue the training. The Heart of England Audax is one I’m looking forward to, as well as a London-Paris-London adventure. Watch this space for updates!