Josh Ibbett - Cycling to Lands End (and back): a weekend away

My name is Josh and I like bike riding. That’s pretty much what I said in my job interview for Hunt Bike wheels. I did already know Tom (he used to be my manager at a previous job) and his brother Pete, who own Hunt Bike wheels, so I guess that may have helped me get the job but whatever reason it was here I am! My job is to represent the Hunt Bike wheels brand, develop new and exciting products and most importantly make sure that our customers receive great service and are happy.
I am quite fortunate that my first big task in my role as Hunt Bike Wheels brand wheels does in actual fact involve bike riding. Last year I took part in the Trans Continental race, a 2300mile self-supported race across Europe from London to Istanbul. I had a few issues along the way, both mechanical and physical, but made it to Istanbul and even managed to finish in second place, albeit quite a long way of first.
This year the race starts in Belgium, and is a further 200 miles longer taking the total distance to 2500 miles. I am once again taking part in the race which starts next Friday (July 24th) at midnight and I will be representing Hunt Bike Wheels and Mason Cycles. With that in mind I was determined to be more prepared than my interview so decided to go on a long weekend training ride to test all my equipment and prepare myself for days in the saddle.
The ride began after work on Thursday evening. Around 6pm I headed west in the shadow of the South Downs along with ‘the boss’, Tom, co-founder of Hunt Bike Wheels. After around 20 miles Tom peeled off and headed back home and I continued on my way, happy at last that I could relax and not have to try and look like I wasn’t trying or breathing hard whilst riding hard!
I rode on into the fantastic South Downs sunset and eventually, after a sandwich stop at a petrol station, reached the New Forest around midnight. One aspect of long distance riding that I particularly enjoy is finding an interesting spot to sleep. Traveling light is key to riding fast on a long distance race so the easiest way to cut down on weight to limit sleeping equipment carried. Tonight was the first big test of all the kit I planned to take, or more importantly the kit I decided not to take. Thankfully the new Forest is a suitably soft sleeping location so I slipped off the road and bedded down for the night behind a hedge, a handily placed tree root providing a suitable pillow.
As this is more of a training ride the aim was to test everything, cover some distance and not totally destroy myself so I granted myself a whooping 5 hours sleep per night, that’s almost as much sleep in 3 days as I will have in the entire Transcontinental race, luxury!
I set my alarm for 5:30am and was rolling by 6am after a chicken sandwich for breakfast. The New Forrest was peaceful in the speckled morning light and I was soon warmed up and feeling good. The Transcontinental race contains a section of untarmacked road this year so with this in mind I took in a few sections of gravel track through the Forrest to test out the tyres and made sure nothing rattled loose. I made it through with no punctures and was soon heading towards Bournemouth on the increasing heat of the morning. My route took me along Bournemouth seafront towards the Swanage chain ferry, which was loading as I arrived, perfect!
After the ferry crossing I headed west past Corfe Castle and further on into Dorset following the coast road. The heat of the day had really ramped up now so keeping hydrated was key. Dorset rolled by without issue and I made it into Devon just after lunchtime. It turns out there aren’t actually any flat roads in Devon so progress was somewhat hindered. After escaping the delights of Exeter it was nice to climb up and over Dartmoor although the exposed windswept moorland did see a significant drop in temperature. I was happy to reach the far side of Dartmoor, as energy levels were dropping and my head was beginning to spin.
I staggered into a local Co-op in search of sugar and emerged clutching a box of cereal bars (there was a £1 special offer on!), a can of coke and an ice cream, much to the bemusement of the locals who were obviously on their way home from work and had stopped to buy beer on wine to numb themselves on a Friday night. I find that riding all day has a very similar affect and they probably thought I was drunk as I staggered about in my sweaty lycra.
Post sugar top up things began to look up, then down again, then up again quite steeply. I’m talking about the road rather than my mental state here as I lost count of the number of 10%, 15%, 20% and even 25% gradient warning signs on the roads. The climbs killed any speed instantly and the descents were twisty and had to be ridden with care which made for a tough few hours. Eventually I decided that dinner was in order so stopped in the small town of Lostwitheil to order a delicious homemade Pizza.
It’s incredible how the body responds to a bit of food and I set off again just before 9pm feeling strong and full of energy. The aim was to get as close to Lands End as possible so that I could do a dawn raid in the morning. Eventually I made it to around 5miles outside Penzance, 230miles for the day, before deciding that it was time for bed. There had been a couple of showers floating around so I was keen to find a covered bivvi spot if possible and fortunately I happened to pass a Primary School complete with activity playground and a covered wooded gazebo. Before I bedded down for the night I did run through the ethical issues involved with sleeping in a primary school playground but decided that as it was a Friday the school would be closed in the morning eliminating the potential to scare pupils or parents if I overslept!
 
The decision to sleep under cover was justified by a massive downpour during the night so I was happy to wake up dry and rested. Once again I was rolling by 6 and was keen to reach Lands End before the tourists arrived.
I passed through Penzance, stopping for the opportunity to take a couple of photos of the harbour in the wonderful morning light, before heading on towards Lands End. The wind was blowing in from the Atlantic which made the last couple of mile to Lands End pretty tough but I made it by around 7:30am and had the place to myself. After the obligatory photos by the Lands End sign post I stripped off, sun screened up set my sail and course North East and enjoyed the tailwind to a nice fried breakfast in St Ives. By this point the tourists were well and truly awake and were enjoying a beautiful sunny morning sitting in traffic jams.
The next few hours were on nice enough rolling roads however the traffic was fairly heavy and inconsiderate at times, but unfortunately there are not many roads in that part of the world so it is to be expected. The afternoon passed relatively easily, although I did begin to feel the sections of my body that I missed with the sunscreen and began to feel a bit crispy by the time I hit Exmoor in the evening.
By this time my body had well and truly adapted to spending all day in the saddle and was enjoying the climbs in Exmoor. I stopped for a quick Pub Lasagne before continuing north towards the Quantock hills. I hit the Quantocks as dusk fell and was immediately riding through tiny lanes with high hedges that cut across steep valleys. Night fell as I hit the climb up to Quantock Common, a half mile 25% average climb. That one certainly stung the legs after more than 200 miles but I was keen to continue riding until midnight.
Midnight passed on the approach to Cheddar, home of the cheese, in the Mendip hills. Once again there were showers around so a covered bivvi spot was my main priority and I found a good spot relatively quickly. A derelict barn at the side of the road was home for the night and once I’d established that it wasn’t going to fall on me in the night I settled in for a cold night on the concrete floor after another 230mile day. Although it was not the most comfortable night’s sleep ever I did make a very important discovery, my cycling shoes make and extremely comfortable pillow!
The alarm sounded at 5:30 for the last time and by now I was well into routine. I was awake, fed and ready to go in 15minutes and the first task of the day was to ride up Cheddar Gorge. I was feeling particularly sunburnt after the past few days so was almost glad that the cloud had rolled in for the day. It then started to rain so I changed my mind and wished for sunburn but the plus side was that there was a healthy South Westerly giving me a helping hand home.
When the end is in sight all you want to do is finish and as there was 140miles to cover I was keen to crack on. I didn’t really stop for breakfast or lunch today, only quick pit stops to top up on cereal bars. The rain was miserable and moving kept me warm and helped me cover ground so I just pushed on. I crossed Wiltshire and on into Hampshire where I had a brilliant half hour as I picked up the route of a sportive. I found it very amusing big ringing past everyone on the climbs with 600 miles in my legs, until I was forced into an emergency petrol station pit stop soon after when the world began to spin and my legs stopped working. Two rather large cherry bakewells and a cappuccino later I was off on the final 50 mile stretch along the South Downs home to Brighton buzzing on my caffeine and sugar hit. I made it home around 4pm, a handy 695 miles in the legs. All my bike and equipment was faultless and my body seemed to cope without issue. Now all there is to do is rest and recover ready for the start of the Transcontinental race for real. I can’t wait!


Comments on this post (1 comment)

  • Ross Chapman says...

    Mad, inspiring and proof that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything!

    And now having finished the TCR Josh, I bet you’re glad for the practice! Just following your achievements feels punishing!

    Question – with quite a speedy racer, were you wary of getting mugged in the night? I’d padlock myself and my bike to a tree in fear of getting lifted!

    Looking forward to a post-race blog!

    On August 04, 2015

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