It’s been a while since I didn’t achieve one of my cycling goals. This weekend things didn’t go to plan. The aim was to ride a route that approximated the largest circle I could draw within the UK. It’d have been just under 1,000km and just over 10,000m of climbing. The aim was to do it in three days which would have been testing but felt doable based on previous rides I’ve done. I also knew that in Tim, Samm and Ben I had three strong riding companions to share the work.
I’ll make excuses about being tired coming in and a stomach upset but mostly I’ll blame the weather. Things started OK and we left Slough Travelodge on time making good progress on roads that would have been miserable if it wasn’t goddamn early. Somewhere near Hatfield the first rain hit and it was bearable though heavier than expected. Rain jackets on though and all was good and we ploughed on for a stop at Cambridge. By now the rain had eased and the sun even peaked out but the wind was getting up. Just short of Wisbech the heavens opened again if anything harder than before with deep puddles forming as the rain overwhelmed the drain system. We dove into a Costa, inhaled food and made a mess (sorry).
From there things got worse: wetter, windier and even more exposed in the flatlands of Lincolnshire where the fields of brassicas and potatoes provide no shelter. The wind was directly in our faces too meaning our speed plummeted. Staying warm had sapped my energy as had the effort of ploughing into the northerly. A puncture just before Billinghay scared the bejesus out of me. We were wet, the wind was blowing and there was no shelter I genuinely feared hypothermia but fortunately Ben fixed the flat pretty speedily. We regrouped at the Coop in Billinghay and decided our original goal of Sheffield was silly and Lincoln was doable. Tim and I booked a Travelodge and planned to carry on the full ride even if it meant we had to use some of Monday; Ben and Samm decided to get a train to Sheffield and try to stay on schedule.
The ride to Lincoln was tough but dispatched with hopes high the next day would be better. A shower, pizza and a warm bed felt good but the early alarm was unwelcome. We saddled up and things felt OK but it soon became apparent the headwind was still there and more importantly my legs weren’t as I came to a crawl on the slightest incline.
On long rides you need to manage your resources carefully. You can push on for a while but if you start getting behind on food and rest things go downhill. Some more sleep in Lincoln, a proper breakfast and – if I’m honest being in slightly better shape – would have got things back on track. Plus waiting for the wind to abate. The schedule for the ride didn’t allow for that though. I’d got it in my head I wanted to do the full route and now that wasn’t possible it made more sense to head home so I took the train from Sheffield.
With 24 hours hindsight, I’m convinced it was the right thing to do. It’s also good to come up short sometimes – it makes you think more about everything that has to go right to make a ride like this come off, and where the gaps were in your planning. In this case we underestimated the weather and also under-packed with warm, dry layers. So with lessons learned, I’ll plot another attempt, but for next summer when the days are longer and with an eagle-eye on the weather forecast. Otherwise I wouldn’t be living up to the family motto.