"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Avalon Marshes 180k - May 1st, 2021

With the seasons changing in theory (but not in practice) the first day of May saw me back out on the bike aiming to cover 180k. I'd decided to try and cover the full iron- or long-distance six times, then a seventh on race day, which would mean riding 180k every other weekend. That of course leaves alternate weekends for a bike/run session or a 100k at race pace. As far as training plans go this one is pretty much made up on the back of an envelope, but I figure it should get me where I want to be by mid July - that is to say, ready for Iron Distance and not too burned out.

It was another cold start - around 5 degrees - as I headed out under cleark skies following someone's route from RWGPS that led to Bruton and Berrow by way of Glastonbury. I was riding the line in reverse, so as to get the hilly leg to Bruton over and done before I got too tired. I had a few bars stashed in the top tube box but not enough to get me round - which meant I would have to stop here and there to refuel.

I rolled down into Bristol via Ashley Road to pick up the GPS track in the Ashley Down area - then along Stokes Croft and into the deserted city centre. Well there were a handful of ghostly people dragging themselves back from some kind of night out, though with pubs and clubs still closed apart form outdoor areas I wasn't sure quite what nightlife they were coming down from.

I had the usual confusions and frustrations trying to navigate my escape from the city limits, but once I was on the Festival Way all was good. Having opted for the hilly section first I had plenty to keep me occupied, with the ascent of Yanley Lane followed quickly by Dundry Hill.This skyline route had plenty of views back over the city, which I glimpsed through farm gates, low sections of the hedgerow or gaps between the houses on the Dundry climb. After that came Chew Magna and then a road less travelled (at least by me) out to Bishop Sutton and a sinuous, sylvan climb on the edge of the Mendip Massif to Hinton Blewett.

Soon I had my first sightings of wildlife in the shape of a hare legging it down the lane in front of me, then a roebuck leaping over the hedge, landing briefly on the lane before bounding over a gate the other side.

Morning mist was lifting and I was treated to views over the hazy hills and valleys around Emborough and Chilcompton. I crossed the ancient Fosse Way and rolled through more silent villages with their somnolent churches and lanes that tunnelled beneath the overarching trees newly in leaf. At last the green wall of Creech Hill loomed ahead of me and I climbed up and over, past the iron-age ramparts and down into Bruton. I was tired from the hills and had already eaten a lot of the snacks I was carrying so I did a lap of the town looking for coffee. I rode past a succession of centuries-old houses and the mighty abbey walls before finding myself on the High Street where an artisan bakery had an open door offering takeways. I handed over 4 quid for a choux bun which is more than I usually pay but OMG it was worth it - food heaven! The coffee was strong too and set me up for the second side of the triangle - the traverse to the coast at Berrow.

Back on the bike after my coffee stop I was determined to lift the speed a bit as I was averaging only around 12mph - the climbs had been relentless on the first section and I had never been able to get much payback on the descents. Descending through Wyke Champflower I soon found myself on the dead-flat lands that Somerset is famous for and rode through tiny villages filled with memories of my teenage years and early twenties when I lived around the traveller-triangle of Wells, Shepton and Glastonbury. At times I was cruising nicely at 17 or 18 mph and it wasn't long before I was on the A361 heading for Glastonbury Tor. The route detoured down Cinnamon Lane, past the ranks of traveller trailers and into town on Bere Lane. I thought about stopping for lunch but didn't want to get distracted into the Glastonbury crowd and instead I rode through with a vague plan of getting some calories inside me around Mark or Westhay.

The route of of town was on the Avalon Marshes cycleway - a mix of cycle paths and lanes making up a beautifully flat and quiet cycle route that I hadn't previously heard of. It took me out past the site of the most ancient roads in the country - the Sweet Track and the Post Track - but of course you can't cycle those. They were just singletrack footways made of logs that are long since rotted into the marshes. The Levels are a unique cyclescape though, all rhynes and reedbeds, pan-flat and dead-straight lanes leading to nowhere. Tiny villages came and went with no shops or cafes offering food. I added in a loop through Mark to make up the route to 180k all told (it was only 171 on the GPS) and finished all my carried food apart from 3 tiny shortbread bites. I hadn't really planned the fuelling side of this ride that well!

I was definitely being nourished in other ways though - the views, the scenery, the feast for the eyes were more than enough to keep me going. But I knew I would have to get myself some more food and drink pretty soon because a point can come - usually quite suddenly - when hunger knock evicts all inspiration from your mind and limbs and leaves you barely able to turn the pedals.

I found myself riding into a harsh headwind at Berrow and then, thanks to another planning failure, I lost all power in both phone and power bank. That left me guessing a route home from a direction I don't often ride in from. I remembered I was heading for Bleadon then Christon then Banwell and there were just enough signs to get me heading in the right direction (Somerset's lanes are not a place to navigate just by signage usually - it's a recipe for getting hopelessly lost). By the time I dragged myself up Castle Hill to Banwell I was feeling finished and the post office saved me with isotonic drink to refill the bidons and almond slices to fill me with sugar. £1.50 in total - worth that just for the e-numbers. The opposite side of the coin from my luxury artisan cake and coffee in Bruton earlier in the day.

After that it was hard graft on A roads until I came to familiar territory in Backwell Farleigh and found my way down  to the Sue Otty Way, the amazing (by which I mean flat, scenic and well-maintained) cycle path that follows the railway into Bristol. Once home I found I had again spent around 9 hours on what should be a 7 hour ride, but this is training not racing and I'm conditioning myself a little with each attempt at iron distance.

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