I don’t really know where to start with this weekend, but I do know that a couple of things held true: Use your clips! That’s what they’re there for. Every time I remembered this stalwart piece of advice, I performed better. It really does help. Secondly, nothing feels as good as sealed tarmac after a few miles of off-road activity. I would also like to take this moment to post a full retraction to my earlier pants verdict. They’re out. It’s a commando life for me. Hey! I might even buy some chamois cream soon!
This weekend saw me take to the roads (and bridleways) of Dorset for a spot of cycle camping. The rides were short in comparison to my recent training rides but I didn’t want to overdo it with all of my luggage. It has been one of the most incredible weekends and has helped me remember to enjoy every second of my training.
My pannier bags were far lighter this time and I had only packed the essentials. In fact, I only had enough items to warrant the two rear Ortliebs this time. I’m sure that, by the time I get to NZ, I will have the packing list down to a tee. However, on this occasion, it was rather much later when I headed out of the door, making it only so far as the post office to pick up some bits and pieces for lunch.
From here, I made the decision to ride the coast road east. Having suffered from car sickness along the same route earlier in the week from the twists and summits, this was not an easy decision but I love the water and couldn’t resist the opportunity to take in the views at my own, Captain Slow, pace. I was not let down.
Yes, after the first major hill, I needed my inhaler for a couple of quick, pain relieving sprays but from then on in, I worked better at controlling my pace and enjoying the views. I even got to speak a little German again – noticing that a family pulled into a vista had a hug ‘D’ plastered to their bumper, I jumped at the chance to ask them to take a photo of me ‘auf Deutsch’. Personally, I like the view better without that grinning idiot in the way.
The hills were frequent and tiring in that first section and the traffic was quite heavy but I was surprised by how well I was able to conquer them just by sticking to my pace and digging in. I was impressed with my stamina most of all when presented with an ice-cream van just before the descent into Portesham. I settled instead for another glorious photo of the coastline.
This was the biggest surprise of the day – a downhill which terrified me! Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely loved it but I was petrified that my brakes were going to give way, or I was going to lose control and spin out into the traffic hurtling past. Even bottling it quite considerably, I hit well over 30mph according to Strava. Nothing in comparison to the TDF peloton, I know, but they’re the pros! At the end, I thought that I was just going to have a quick pause to check the directions but I suddenly realised how hungry and thirsty I was and pootled to the next pub.
Feeling bad for using their facilities and asking them to re-fill my water bottle, I purchased a glass of lemonade and sat in the garden soaking up the sunshine and devouring the delicious sausage rolls which I had picked up from the Post Office Farm Shop. The sandwich was awful but a necessary evil. Here, I chatted with some motorcyclists who had passed me on their way from West Bay. We joked about how I wished I had a motor about now and they kindly reassured me that there was only really one big climb left on my route. It felt crazy that, one third of the way in had seen me tackle about eighty percent of the climbing. A sinking feeling told me that that wouldn’t be the case in NZ but I pushed it easily aside – I’ll worry about that when I get there.
Moving on, I realised how lucky it was that I had stopped. Had I not, I would have made a massive detour and missed out on cycling along Winter Lane, which happened to be one of my favourite parts of the route! I definitely felt less guilty for stopping so early in the trip when I spotted a house that we had chatted about in the car a few days earlier, on the way home from fruit picking. We had discussed whether you could see the sea from its position, nestled high up in the hillside. I was so chuffed to be able to provide the answer – yes you can and it’s stunning.
Winding along this path, I was overtaken by a couple of gentlemen in their club gear and on their spotless road bikes. Catching them up at the next junction, we chatted about our routes and future adventures. Like most conversations of late, I was impressed with their speed and stamina whilst they were mostly impressed by my luggage. One man was off to cycle through the Alps but was categorically not doing the challenge unsupported.
From here I did get a little confused but eventually managed to join the impressive cycling infrastructure which allowed me to bypass the A35. It was the final steep hill of the day and I actually really enjoyed it. It really is incredible the difference that traffic makes. When I am free to focus on the climb, without the added pressure of traffic, ascents are much easier to endure!
Once the hills were out of the way, I couldn’t believe how quickly I reached my final destination. Speeding through the open countryside, I managed to overtake a tractor in his field and ended up being held up by an over-cautious motorist. I was becoming nervous about my route as the owner of Snelling Farm Campsite has specifically said that, from Moreton, the farm was inaccessible and this was the exact way I was headed.
Taking to a challenging country lane, which was basically off-road, I tightened my grip and slipped my way into completely rural Dorset. Spinning the final few miles, following the brilliantly marked Sustrans signs, I reached Moreton and a group of around thirty cyclists was trundling past in the opposite direction. I almost asked where they were headed – perhaps I should have. Their progress from the opposite direction gave me hope and fortunately, I was to cross the uncrossable river, which had a pedestrian bridge. And there I was! I had made it! What hills? I felt really good and ready to take on more miles but it was time to pitch up.
Choosing a quiet spot where I could lock my bike to the perimeter fence, I pitched my humble abode and disaster struck! It was broken! I’m sure it was perfect when I packed it away, so I was quite concerned. With a little patience, I was able to construct a fix so it was no huge loss but it is unsettling to have a broken tent so early on, when I was expecting it to last through the entire New Zealand journey. It has had great reviews, so I am hoping that the company will be able to solve the problem.
I was beginning to get a little hungry but had no charge left in my phone to search for a local pub. Here is where my new purchase really came into its own! Without losing much of its colossal battery power, my miniature laptop was able to give my phone enough power to conduct the search in the small amount of time that I spent in the showers!
It was another job for old Peg as there was only a tea room in the nearest village. As I arrived, I wished to myself that I had set the Strava going again as it turned out to be a five mile round trip. It was great to relax and, though it wasn’t the most delicious of food at the Frampton Arms, cycling hunger has the miracle power of making even the inedible taste like haute cuisine! Tucking into a dirty great burger and chips was incredible after days as an unwitting but content vegetarian – I hadn’t even noticed to be honest – and a scrumptious gooseberry tart to top off the evening. I couldn’t actually finish either and felt slightly disgusted with myself but delighted in equal measure!
Just as I was leaving, the huge group of cyclists reappeared so I had a brief chat with them but it was clear that they were out for a big night and I made my goodbyes and headed back to camp. After admiring the colours of the sunset illuminating the oaks, I sank into my tent where, I have to admit, I had a fantastic night’s sleep, managing only a few pages of my book. I had imagined being so lonely that I would have devoured the entire thing or at least made it to the point where the cyclist/author, Anna Hughes was pedalling the same ground but it turns out that just as always, time slips away quite miraculously.
Throughout the night it absolutely poured and I awoke dry and comforted by the knowledge. Leaving the tent was another matter entirely and, after lazing around in my cave for as long as I dared, I unzipped and headed out. This was my error – I’m far too uncoordinated for a sleek exit and ended up absolutely soaking. I also realised how important location was going to be in New Zealand – pick a spot with too much morning shade and your tent will never dry out before leaving, pick to open a spot and the mornings will be met in a sticky, boiling mess.
Presently, I was confronted with the issue of a soaking wet tent and one dry bag to carry tent and sleeping bag. I had not thought this through adequately. Additional dry bag will be getting added to the equipment required list. Fortunately, I am a fairly fast thinker and decided to shove all clothing into the dry sack along with my sleeping bag. This created enough space in the side panniers to have one wet bag and a precious must not get wet bag. Perfect.
Slipping out, I left my £6.50 tucked under some dry grass by the welcome sign (no-one had been around to collect fees whilst I was in my tent), messaged the owners its location and set off on the way home. I got all the way to the Moreton Tea Rooms, a grand old distance of 0.7 miles away and promptly disembarked for far too lengthy a stay.
The Tea Rooms were a sheer joy. A camping cyclist’s dream with a cosy little table set up with two plug sockets and free WiFi. I had my first tea of the week and a mammoth helping of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. I in fact stayed so long, looking at route options, managing some life admin and generally enjoying the buzz of the place that breakfast turned into lunch time and I managed to force down a substantial (read monstrously large) portion of cream tea – a sensational ginger and treacle scone with cream, jam and chamomile tea! I know that breakfast shouldn’t really come with dessert but in the end, I didn’t eat any more that day, so it was totally worth it!
By this time, the sun was absolutely blazing, I didn’t have to be back until much later and I felt like basking somewhere. I managed to cajole some company and, after a short five mile stint, pulled in to the Wise Man Inn and whiled away several easy hours chatting and rehydrating. The company was a real bonus. Despite enjoying the open road and my own thoughts, it was refreshing to have someone to share the afternoon with. It was here that Strava decided I had been inactive for far too long and unceremoniously ended my recording.
As the afternoon drew to a close and the evening loomed, I one again took to my saddle and my route. Dorchester came within moments and I realised how short my route really was in comparison to previous rides. The sun was now providing a welcome warmth to balance the wind and it was sheer perfection to see the views I had missed the previous Sunday travelling the same way. Everything seemed that little bit easier and by the time I reached the final incline to Hardy’s monument, I actually laughed out loud at how visible the beast actually is.
Its stone obelisk taunted me from the offing, letting me know just how far I had to climb. Though nowhere near as challenging as our first meeting, the solid two mile ascent had me breathless and in need of a few lung breaks on the way up. The oncoming traffic and tight bends provided me with all the excuses I needed. I am happy to say that, however abysmal my time was (I am number 1,091 on the all-time Strava leader board), I shaved a massive 10 minutes and 22 seconds off my time – an improvement of over 40% of which I am incredibly proud. And the views… the views! If I hadn’t already been breathless, they would have stolen it entirely.
Then for the much anticipated descent. Hooray! There is an indescribable feeling of joy when you realise that you can sail home from your current location… this was rudely interrupted by the brief incline that had caught me out the previous week. Stopping to make a left turn in completely the wrong gear, I tried to pedal on up a steep crest, failed, almost snapped my chain, slipped it instead and cursed inwardly. I made the brave decision to pedal downhill to resolve my self-inflicted woes and then powered onwards.
If ever you are in Dorset and find yourself on a bicycle, the plummeting downhills through Little and Long Bredy are not to be missed; I found myself wishing that the road would continue and then remembered that it did! This was practically the only road I would travel all the way back to my home for the week. Contented and relatively pain free, I ploughed on with only a minor incident as I faked right, turned left and almost cut up a fellow cyclist (luggage free) which broke my reverie slightly.
Now I am home, my tent is drying and I feel incredible. Today has been a rest day due to an unexpected lie in but I think I will try and get the legs moving on a short run again in the morning. Whilst my computer has been updating itself, I managed to catch up on cycle buddy #1, Emily’s, blog and was sincerely impressed. She is a real inspiration and natural hill climber. I’m totally awed by her epic journey, which has, on reflection, so few parallels with my own. Will I envy her team ethos, light bicycle and army of support? Only time will tell. For now, I’ll just say WOW!
Apologies for length and potential discord within this post – I should have split it down… hindsight, huh!