*most pictures taken and supplied by Barry
Not had much to write about lately but did a BIG ride yesterday which is worthy of a few words.
After I finished my tour in May I needed something else to focus on. I’ve been enjoying my cycling a lot lately. Simple commutes with a few extended rides home from work with my workmates occasionally plus the current spell of sunny, hot weather has made riding too good an opportunity to miss. Been able to ride the best bike to work too which is a bonus.
Sat 30 June was a unique day for me. They are rare. No kid, no girlfriend. Whole day to myself so I pencilled that day in as a potential ‘day’ out on the bike weeks ago. I think I’ve mentioned in previous posts about wanting to do a century ride this year. This was a chance to do one. I didn’t want to spend a fortune on entering events and I really enjoy the planning so I was scratching around for ideas. I didn’t want to particularly drive anywhere either. I love looking at maps and then I remembered a mate, Brad, had done a ride which orbited Brum, but essentially the West Midlands. It looked cool on Strava and I’d always had it in the back of my mind to give it a go or at least plan a similar route for myself. So here was my chance!
If you want to plan a cycle route. Try cycle.travel. Great tool.
I plotted a rough draft and it came out over 120 miles. Hmmmmmm….bit much. Then in the evenings (this is the bit I love) I began to refine it. Looking for shortcuts, lanes, streetviewing them etc, trying to slice the miles off down to a more manageable distance. After fettling for a few weeks I’d got it down to 112 miles and then on my breaks at work I’d rounded it down to a nice round 110 miles. Great. Done.
Here is the route https://cycle.travel/map/journey/68631
It was important a good cafe stop for lunch was sorted too. This is where the cycle.travel site is great. I wanted it around 60 miles or 100km so I easily found the part of the course at that distance, zoom in, find some places on the map and then you can go off and Google them to see what they are like. I’d found, what looked like, a great little cafe right on the canal at Fradley junction which was about a km off course. Good reviews. Perfect.
The last part of the puzzle was riding solo. I do a lot of rides on my own commuting but the prospect of 6-7hrs on my own felt a bit too much. Its better in numbers in case of problems and sharing the work. I mulled it over and decided to ask if anyone wanted to have a go with me. Nothing formal, just a day out, a nice average of 17-18’s, stop when we want blah, blah, blah.
Seven maybe eight ‘signed up’ including the inspiration for the ride Brad. Five work colleagues (Barry, Chris, Sophie, Carl & me), Brad and Gerard plus Sophies boyfriend, Johnny. Unfortunately Brad had to be back early and couldn’t make it and Johnny had to work so the final roster was six of us for the day which is a nice little number.
The forecast in the days leading up to the ride was basically hot & sunny as it had been all week but when I got up about 7.30am in the morning and looked out, all I could see were grey clouds. The wind was coming from the East so they were on their way out. The temp was 11 degs. Warming up nicely. Game on.
I woofed my bowl of 2 weetabix, granola and chopped banana down. I couldn’t face a coffee so stuck to water. I got the route onto my Garmin, got changed, filled my pockets full of bananas and homemade granola bars, filled my bottles and I was ready. I opted for a 750ml and 500ml, the smaller just water, the other had a Hi5 Zero tab in it. I can’t do carb drinks very well. I’d cleaned my bike the night before so it was looking good and the transmission and gears were sparkling.
The guys arrived on time (well done). No Chris though, we were meeting him in Clent about 20 mins in. Gerard had cycled from home and was up for a 200km day. Fair play.
Right on time, 8.30am we set off. A downhill start through Catshill which is always nice. The first climb was over the motorway upto Fairfield and then a left for the back lane to Belbroughton. The road was littered with fine, loose grit though which made riding two abreast a bit difficult. It wasn’t obvious why it was down as there was no sign of resurfacing the road. We thought maybe the road had melted and it was thrown down to mitigate that. It stopped by Dordale hill and then the gentle drag up Broom Hill where we met a couple of horseriders. We went single file and slow and Sophie got past but the horse got spooked so I shouted for them to carry on and pull in. It was very narrow and I didn’t fancy getting a kick or risking the rider. They were grateful and we sped down the descent into Belbroughton. It was already warming up.
You see! Horseriders and cyclists can co-exist on our roads with a bit of patience!
We met Chris in Clent and cut round the back lanes and saw the first cyclists of the day. We hopped across a quiet A456 and meandered across to Caunsall where the first route mistake of the day happened. I had turned off the beeps on my Garmin at work while I was charging it as it kept losing and finding satellites on my desk which was annoying me. Result been, turn beeps weren’t happening so I had to keep an eye on the map. I missed the turn so we had to carry on a bit and go the slightly longer way round to Kinver. Nothing major for now.
Into Kinver heading North(ish) and the wind was strong but pleasant in the heat that was building. The group had settled in to a nice pace despite the constant short, sharp rises we were facing. Grippy I think the word is which saps you if you keep attacking them so you have to ease back and save some energy. It kept the group together though. I was on unknown roads now until Pattingham which was where my first ever road race happened. I hadn’t beeon the road to the finish line since 1989! Here we had the first dick of the day. As we approached the village there were parked cars on the right but a twat in his big, black Mercedes had decided the road was his so when we were parallel with the cars he just pulled out, didn’t slow and literally drove at us shaking his head on our side of the road. Now when these types of driver approach like this they have usually slowed down so I pull out further to stop them squeezing me as they pass. They have to stop. Can be a game of chicken sometimes but this guy would have just smashed me out of his way and caried on I think so I just took the close pass. If only he had stopped…..
Through Pattingham and into some really nice, quiet lanes skirting Codsall and Albrighton before we popped out onto a fantastic, long straight piece of roller coaster of a road and crossed the M54. The views to left looking over Shropshire were stunning.
Another little detour was required in Wheaton Aston. A very slow tractor blocked the single track lane we were supposed to take so we carried on and picked the route back up after about a mile.
We stopped for a comfort break not long after and decided Penkridge was going to be the first refreshment stop of the day as we’d all depleted our bottles in the heat. As we entered the busy town there was a Sainsburys local on the junction so we stopped there and refilled. Water and a cold, sharp can of coke for me. Just what I needed. It was really hot now in the sun.
We didn’t stop for long. We set off and I made the big route error of the day. I was sure my Garmin said straight over but a few hundred yards in and I was being told I was off course. Barry knew where we were though. I can only think when we turned left into Sainsburys the right hand turn became straight on when I glimpsed at my Garmin because the map had turned 90 degs. Barry explained we could do a right later and get back on course. To be honest we all agreed how good this road was though. The surface was tip-top. Really smooth tarmac. When we reached the end we face a coupled of miles on the A34 but it was very wide and really surprisingly quiet so not too bad after all.
Now back on course and we were at the foot of the climb of the day over Cannock Chase. Nothing too bad just a drag that kicks up over the top. The chase has a reputation for being quite busy with cars and I thought we’d be singled out but we climbed nice and steady in a group and found the roads quiet. The views over the top were stunning again. Seeing the treetops just looked like an American National Park. We dropped down past the trail centre which looked busy and rode onto Rugeley. Negotiating the roads through here were the busiest so far. We briefly got split on the islands but we regrouped and headed out of town now all looking forward to the cafe stop. We were over 3hrs in. Hot, sweaty and a bit tired. Food for me couldn’t come quick enough. We’d turned out of the wind now and enjoyed a bits of a tailwind. The cafe was about a km off course and when I saw the big warehouses of Fradley I knew we weren’t far away although when we turned back on ourselves to get to it, the wind just hit us hard. Good job we were stopping.
The cafe was stunning. Right by the canal, not too busy, we had shade and the food and drink were on point! We all agreed it was great find. The Laughing Duck Cafe, look it up.
I destroyed beans on toast and a strawberry milkshake. I think we all scoffed our food down.
We could have just lounged around and spent hours there but we had to crack on knowing we were going to enjoy a tailwind now and we ‘only’ had about 50 miles to go. A quick photo of us all and back on it.
Straight back into the lanes, over the A38 and then the heat just hit us. This little lane was like a furnace with sun beating down on us, reflecting off the road and the wind was hot too like a hair dryer. Wow. Our Garmins were saying 29 degs. Woof!
We hit the old A5 and took a left towards Tamworth. Now the actual A5 is a dual carriageway that runs parallel, the old road is wide and quiet but had a couple of nasty kickers on it before we dropped into Fazeley and skirted Drayton Manor Park and turned south to Kingsbury where we made a random stop so Chris could see the house where he was born. I was on the back and then suddenly we all turned left into a housing estate. He took a quick selfie of it and we were off again chuckling towards Nether Whitacre and Fillongley. Another grippy road this with plenty of drags, climbs and dips to eat into your reserves. Boy it was hot though with no shade. Legs were fine but my stomach was beginning to feel a bit sick like my core temp was getting a bit high. We eased for Carl on the climbs, the day was taking its toll on all of us I think. I was glad for the rest anyway. We had another stop planned in Knowle and a big downhill through Meriden too which was welcome because of the breeze it gave us.
These were familar roads again now from the Cult shop rides of old. Not quite as quick today though. Hampton-in-Arden is always a drag. We split again briefly and regrouped on the Knowle road and split again just before the town. Time for another stop. A colleague works at one of the pubs and she had taken home some nutrition samples for us if we needed them. We decided to have a drink. I contemplated a cold beer but opted to keep that as a treat for after completing the ride. Barry graciously bought us a round of cold drinks. Some of us took our shoes off it was so hot. Again we could have just stopped there but time was ticking. We dished out the energy drink and refilled our bottles and began the last part of the ride. We briefly lost Carl. He stuck to my Garmin route right then left when I had taken everybody left then right which was quicker since we had gone to the pub. We caught him in Dorridge and then then headed back into the lanes only to find the road I wanted was closed. We detoured through Hockley Heath and picked up the lanes again in Earlswood.
Up the drag of Watery Lane, I said we’d wait at the top. Gerard opted to leave us here. Off to complete his 200km ride. Good lad. Sophie asked how far left and the 7-8 miles I said put the ride at potentially 116 miles. So we’d done a far few miles more than planned. Whoops! We descended down Weatheroak hill and I forgot I’d trimmed the route with a right at the bottom but it was too late when I realised so I just said lets carry on to Alvechurch and Barnt Green before the last climb of the day over the Lickeys. Chris attacked it, Barry chased and just went off ahead. Me and Sophie caught Chris and we all rolled in not long after Barry. 116 miles or 187km done. Carl wasn’t far behind us.
Were were all tired, baked, cooked but chuffed. Bit of an epic distance in that heat. I dished out some cold mineral water, had a quick chat about the day and the guys split as they had to get back etc.
Thank you everyone. It was a fantastic, memorable day out on the bike!
Then this happened…..
I’d promised myself a cold beer. I really, really wanted a cold beer. I was 187km in, 13 km off 200km. I ummed and arrrred and then decided to ride to the pub for a pint. The Cross at Finstall. A really nice real ale pub with a great beer garden. It was 6km there so I needed 7km back to get my 200km in so after supping my pint of Black Country Ales BFG I rode home around town and despite a couple of dicks close-passing me and a nasty headwind up through Catshill I bagged 15km and rounded out a 200km, 7hr day. And WHAT A DAY!