"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Mendip "All the climbs" 100k DIY - December 27th 2020
I was scrolling through Ride with GPS looking for routes with 1500m+ of climbing in 100k, with a view to killing 2 metaphorical birds with one stone....to complete a training ride of several hours and to hoover up some AAA points. After all, my main aim right now should be to get stamina into my legs and adapt my body to feeding at a steady speed, which is what I need to prepare for middle and long distance tri in summer 2021. But at the same time I've got an eye on another Audax badge and the most gettable one is the 3xAAA which I'll achieve if I can get my AAA total up to 60 points, each point being 1000m of climbing. Several routes leapt out at me and I saved all the links, but with lockdown putting paid to any rides around the Forest of Dean, Wye Valley or Black Mountains, I was left with a choice of Cotswolds or Mendips. My last Cotswold outing included some savage ascents and scary descents, so the safe option seemed to be a familiar journey into the Mendip gorges. The All The Climbs route boasted 1800m of ascent and a few unfamiliar roads mixed in with the usual suspects. I booked it up for the day after Boxing Day and crossed my fingers for some non-icy weather.
Fortunately the weather turned out OK on the day, but the previous few days of heavy rain and gales - both worthy of yellow warnings - had left the roads in a total state. I started out from home wearing 4 layers on my body, two hats, two pairs of gloves, 2 pairs of socks plus overshoes. I know that sounds pretty pedestrian as opposed to athletic. Well, I was not in good cycling shape having spent months focussed on short distance running (2 miles and 5k flat out in "virtual races").
I picked up the GPS track at Bedminster and followed it out of town past the western gates of Ashton Court and on to steep climb number one - Clarken Combe. That got me warmed up and after a cautious descent of Belmont Hill I found the track leading me back towards town, which was a little disconcerting as I would usually be getting out of the city and into the country roads as soon as possible. Next up though came an old favourite - Yanley Lane. The climb was OK but the way down was downright dangerous with the road resembling a river and plenty of debris washed out from the banks and hedges. I inched my way down then swung up the new Link Road towards Highridge for the slog up to Dundry. This route was living up to its name for sure.
With Dundry's intimidating slopes behind me I descended an even more treacherous lane, surface broken and strewn with mud, gravel and fallen bits of tree pulled down by the gales. Downhill was no quicker than up, so I realised it was going to be a long day in the saddle. I followed an unfamiliar road out through the villages to Butcombe and the edge of Nempnett before descending again, this time to the dam at Blagdon Lake, with lovely views out over the water and quite a few hikers out to enjoy them. A new climb came next, up and out of Blagdon towards the Yeo Valley HQ. A woman out walking her dog cheerily wished me a happy new year, a "better 2021" and I enthusiastically returned the greeting. There's a pepsi ad on the hoardings right now that says "All I want for Christmas is 2021" and I think a lot of people are in tune with that sentiment. Will anyone look back on this year with fondness? Perhaps many of us will once it is firmly in the rear view mirror, but for most it is a case of bring in the new and get rid of the old asap.
Once past the Yeo Valley site the climb went on and on, the road was called Rhodyate and it was one of those straight climbs where you can see the road ahead of you kicking upwards, a shining ramp into the sky. Hard work on unprepared legs. It felt good to be finally up on the roof of the Mendips but soon I was descending to the (closed) cafe and bike shop at Burrington Combe before a u-turn and another ascent, back the same way. I found myself weaving between some long-coated cattle with curved horns, beautiful creatures which I believe are North Devons. They filled the road but made no sudden movements as I navigated my way through the herd - I was glad they were the placid type as my reactions were probably not at optimum, thanks to the freezing temperatures and growing fatigue. I started to dream of coffee in Cheddar Gorge, but would anything be open?
Burrington Combe was followed by a lane route out towards Shipham - a peloton of club riders passed me and I made a pathetic attempt to keep up which soon failed. I was dropped off the back in no time. Later I passed them as they were regrouping near the cafe in Shipham in a hare-and-tortoise scenario, but there was no pretending I could have kept up if they had passed me again. The descent from Shipham was fast and in brilliant winter sunshine which started to strobe through the trees - the flickering effect got so intense that at one point I really couldn't see the road. I was glad when the road flattened out and took me into Cheddar and then up the Gorge where sadly nothing was open at all - I kept munching my flapjacks and sipping the uncomfortably cold electrolyte I was carrying, but a hot drink would have been nice.
In the sunshine the bluffs looking down on Cheddar Gorge were as imposing as ever and the climb was only testing at the steepest, narrowest part. I don't get tired of this road despite the frequency with which I ride it - it's a classic. The long, long drag from the top of the Gorge was helped by a bit of a tailwind and I was soon looking at my last two climbs. By now I was pretty wasted though and my mind was starting to play games, wondering if I had misread the GPS track and would not have to climb Harptree Hill after all. As it happened it was the downhill towards Compton Martin that proved more challenging - it was another rough road with the surface decimated by the weather and in much need of repair, with twigs and leaves and stones strewn right across it and some sections totally covered by coarse gravel that had washed out from the banks. It took forever to tentatively work my way down with my rim brakes at their limit and the reward was a deeply fatigued and slow ascent of Harptree Hill and then a loop around to tackle the same downhill for a second, tortuous time.
The tailwind kicked in again to help me past Chew Valley Lake where a friendly motorist shouted at me for riding on the road not the cyclepath - I glanced over at the shared-use path with it's crowds of hikers, dog-walkers and families with kids on new trikes and bikes and wondered if he seriously thought things would work better with road bikes thrown into that mix as well? I guess in his mind he owns the road. I put all such thoughts out of my mind as they only add to the fatigue, and got myself mentally ready for the sting in the tail of the route. Once more unto Dundry.
Limeburn Hill comes in two parts; the first went fine but the second seemed much steeper than usual and I pretty much winched my way up at walking pace in my lowest gear. By now a strange noise from the bike was making me anxious and I kept stopping to see what it was - whatever I tightened or adjusted it made no difference. The views from Dundry as I descended towards Withywood were awe-inspiring as usual and that lifted my mood as my tired hands gripped the brakes on another wet and twisty descent. I took it slowly through town, riding home on the Concorde Way as if I was commuting home from work. When I finally made it home I had been out for about 6 and a half hours to complete 110km, which seems crazily slow, but the hills had been hard and the descents pretty ugly so I was happy just to have endured. What a great day to be out on the bike and what a great route.
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