It was going to be my longest ever ride distance and time opn a bike by some way. What a day it was.
Road captain Paul Astin had told me he was rolling at 4am from his house so I predicted I needed to be roadside at the Washford Mill in Redditch at 4.15pm latest. I was meeting them further down the A435. I set my alarm for 2.50am and actually did get a solid 5hrs sleep. I woke up fine. I’d allowed myself enough time to faff as I’d cut it a bit fine at the Velo Brum a couple of weeks ago.
Breakfast was the usual coffee and three weetabix with a chopped banana and some homemade granola bar. For some reason I thought it was going to get light at 4am negating the need for lights. I was wrong. My trusty weather app confirmed sunrise was 4.58am so on with the lights hoping they were charged. They were. Changed, I loaded up. Spoke to Sally (on nights) via the posh CCTV door bell we have and set off.
Its a great time of day. Literally nothing and no-one about. I parked up near the Washford Mill and rolled to the junction and set about waiting. Luckily it wasn’t too cold. I’d looked at my weather app and it was 12 degs @ 4am. Rain was 50/50 and the top temp was 19 degs so I gambled on just a lightweight gillet and arm warmers for the day. I’d slapped a bit of embro on the legs too to help. Astin texted me and confirmed they were running a bit later than planned so I decided to roll up to Studley to find a cash machine. Wonga withdrawn I rolled back and at about 4.50am, with it getting light, my grupetto for the day came sweeping round the corner in a blaze of lights. A quick meet n greet with some new faces while Paul packed his jacket away and we were off. Seven of us in all.
It was great to ride on normally busy roads completely empty. We’d occasionally see a taxi but it allowed us to take a direct route down the A435 and A46 to Evesham. The town was eerily quiet as we rolled down the high street at 5.50am and then back onto the A46 south towards Cheltenham. Occasionally a lorry would pass but other than that quiet. The wind was evident though. We took it in turns to tow the group on the front for a bit and as we got further south it was clear the wind was whipping up. Paul had explained we’ll stop for a piss whenever but the first planned stop was in Gloucester for a stretch.
Deks 120rpm spinning and George’s 70rpm grind were polar opposite to each other
Despite being an A road the A38 isn’t actually too bad to ride as its so wide and as you roll south from Tewkesbury, for a few miles there are some decent cycle lanes. No hills of note yet but the wind was getting up. I think we were all a bit reticent to go on the front if we could help it. We didn’t want to burn our matches too early with so far to go.
At the north end of Gloucester we turned on to the A40. A horrible trunk road with little or no protection for cyclists. We had to navigate BIG roundabouts before we got to the A48 and stopped for a stretch, a pee and to take on some food and water. We’d crossed the River Severn at an aptly named place called Over. Brad confirmed the ‘hills’ start in about 5 miles but I guess we’d been pretty lucky so far as it had been pan flat. As we set off again, a sign proclaiming Chepstow was 27 miles away meant Breakfast was about 90 mins way too.
The A48 was both a beautiful road but brutal in equal measure. On your left is the Severn Estuary as it widens. Its a great view. The A48 is clearly a busy road as there is no real alternative to get to Chepstow but we were lucky that the time of day meant it was quiet. As the first of regular, short sharp 10% kickers unrolled in front of us. We caught a small group of cyclists that had passed us while we had stopped earlier. All I could hear were exclamations of disbelief when some guys at the back had exchanged the ‘Where you from? Where are you going questions?’. They were from Gloucester, riding over the Severn Bridge and back up the A38 home. A decent 100km ride. Our 200 mile adventure kind of poured water on theirs lol.
More and more hills with a headwind made it tough going. I did some decent turns and tried to temper my enthusiasm for breakfast by not going too deep for too long and with a couple of miles to Chepstow to go, we arrived at the National Diving & Activity Centre for breakfast. We were 4 hrs in and I was ready for food.
Their onsite cafe served up a classy 6 item, full english and a coffee. A great place to stop with great view down into the former quarry now used for diving and a host of other activities too
Its important to point out that Mr Astin had his breakfast first and then went back up for another #hardcore
Bottles refilled, we rolled out after about 45 mins and the inevitable beans and eggs were repeating on me. Its a horrible first couple of miles. Bloated. Burping. Legs aching. Feel a bit sick but it soon passes.
Next up was the Severn Bridge. A secret bucket- list must do I was about to tick off. The bridge has a separate cycle lane to the main road which is cool and then you ride through a gate and you are on it. Awesome views and the wind was behind us for the first time too. We stopped at the apex for pics and then continued on down the other side.
Back on normal roads, we now had to get across the River Avon via the M5 bridge at Gordano. This road was the most ugly we rode on all day with a killer headwind to top it off. Just one huge industrial estate. Pretty grim to be honest and I was glad when we got to Avonmouth, an actual town to get out of it. We lost the route temporarily as we tried to find the access to the M5 bridge to get over the river. A quick scoot down a residential street and we found it. Its almost like a secret entrance. Up n over and I was ticking off another bridge on the bucket list. When we got off it, we stopped to decide where to go and decided the NCN was it.
As we navigated an apparent maze of NCN routes we were on gravel paths doing a bit of cross around the perimeter of car storage facilities that hold most of the new cars in the UK. You can see them off the M5 as you cross the bridge over the Avon. Great fun and a welcome change after the unimpressive but functional few miles we’d just done.
We popped out in Portishead (cue that tune in my head) and we were on a nice B road now heading for Clevedon. The clouds were heavy now and drizzle began. Cyclists were flying past us the other way benefiting from the tailwind we were ploughing into. We reached Clevedon and now the rain got a heavier. On the road to Yatton the group split. I’d began driving on the front, keen to just get to Weston. We regrouped and finally got to the A370 for the final leg into Weston. The rain was coming down hard now when Paul got a puncture. a big one that has sliced his tyre. We were all freezing by the side of the road while Paul changed his tube quickly. No faff. We got going again to face the truly awful dual carriage way into Weston. Grim but necessary. Were were all soaked an cold and when we did make the beach front. Despite a couple of pics just to say we’d got there I couldn’t wait to get inside somewhere warm. I was so glad the headwind was done.
We found a chippy and ordered up a round of Fish n Chips each. Not the best I’d ever had but the calories were needed to be honest. I was cold and tired. 167km done. Brad sought to ease the pain with some painkillers. Not quite Tramadol but codeine was enough to wake him up it seems as he was going to be beast later.
Chips and soggy fish done, we left Weston retracing the horrid A370 getting plenty of abuse from drivers upset because we didn’t wanted to ride on the M5. The rain had stopped and the tailwind was a real morale booster. It wasn’t long before I was warmed up.
The group split again riding back to Clevedon. A quick stop just outside town for more chain lube on brad’s bike as the squeak was doing his head in. Who carries chain lube? Brad does apparently
Brad recounted a GCN hack that showed you how to use a sushi sauce container for chain lube. Worked a treat for him but what a waste of sushi as he never ate it
Back into Portishead we bombed along the gravel paths again round the car storage yards. As we exited one of the last turns right, Phil’s wheel washed out and he went down quite hard. It looked quite bad to start with, he was curled up but slowly as the pain eased he was ok. No broken bones, just a cut thumb and a bit of gravel rash on the hands. He had landed on his bars which had hurt his ribs. Composed, we set off again.
Phil was the typical cyclist. ‘How’s my bike?’ while still sat on the floor scraping himself up
Back up and over the Avon via the M5 bridge, we had to endure the not-so-pretty industrial roads back to the Severn Bridge again. The big tailwind forced a split again so we regrouped at Aust direction Thornbury. We had decided to stop off at a shop just outside Thornbury on the A38 so we headed there. After the long, long drag upto Thornbury we eventually got a big, long downhill ski slope at Milbury Heath. Brad slapped it in the big gear and bossed the front while we reached 30-40mph on the descent and not much less as we blasted along the flat. After a couple of miles we stopped at the shop in Falfield and filled our boots while we waited for the others.
At this point I’d clocked up my longest ever ride and I still had 70 miles to go. Its a sobering thought but despite being tired, the legs and body were holding up. Its better riding in a group too as there are always those that look a bit worse off and those that look fresher too. You just keep rolling.
A long section of A38 now upto Gloucester beckoned. I’d raced this rode on the old U18R TT course about 25 years ago. Its a roller. Juiced up Brad opened the taps and put in a shift on the front again. The group split and it was clear we weren’t stopping now. I took over just before Whitminster and put in a shift on the front myself. I felt good but wondered if I’d burnt too many matches for later. Crusing along at 25mph+ took our average speed up to something quite impressive at 150 miles in.
The A38 through Gloucester is just like a 3 lane motorway. Quite intimidating in busy traffic. I was keen to just get off it. We got back to Over where we’d crossed the River Severn for the first time in the morning so we had a short stretch of A40 again before a left and more great tailwind up the A38 back to Tewkesbury. The signs said 13 miles but we ate that section of road up so quickly. The 4 of us took turns, Me, Brad, Tom and Phil. The wind was turning from a tail to westerly cross though which was quite blustery and blowing us about from the side at times.The turn from Tewkesbury back to the A46 was a nice change. We lost Phil for moment doing something with his bike but a quick regroup we began the A46 back to Evesham. A Pee stop (the 77th for Tom I think) we decided to stop at a garage in town. The other three had clocked up 200 miles as they’d started in Kings Heath. I had some to go yet. As Brad ran into the garage to get a drink, I did some maths and worked out I had a bout 12 miles to go from Evesham to dial in my 200. We rolled on. Still strong. Its quite surreal to have been so far and on a bike so long. I’d felt worse at the Velo Brum.
We decided not to ride down the A46 to Alcester, we took the quieter back road that runs parallel through Harvington, Dunnington and past Ragley Hall.
As we turned back onto the A46, the adrenalin kicked in as I knew I neared the end. My Garmin was on battery save mode all day which meant the screen is off but still recording. I decided to wait until Studley before I turned it on. I wanted to rack up 100 miles back from Weston and the screen showed it was going to be on the dot. I reached the Washford Mill turn at exactly 160km on the dot. Job done.
I’d shook the guys hands and thanked them for a great day out. I rolled back to the car and felt a bit overwhelmed with what I’d just done. It didn’t really compute. I’d emptied the tank back from Alcester but the legs were still good. Mental. My final tally was 204 miles.
Bike on the rack, I drove home. I couldn’t eat and didnt. My appetite was gone. I just uploaded my rides on Strava, showered, texted with a bit of social, opened a couple of beers and went to bed.
Thanks to the boys for a very long, hard but awesome day out on the bike. #memorable
Paul ‘Double full-english breakfast’ Astin – Road Captain
Brad ‘Codeine CC’ Phelps
Tom ‘Taking the piss’ Coley
Dek ‘ King Cadence’ Childs
George the Anglo-Canadian Grinder
Phil the Spill