CAL Bike Ride, June 2015

Through the Spring I was preparing for a 400k bike ride, twice the distance I'd previously attempted. Unfortunately a nasty flu virus hit me just at the wrong time, a week before the event. When the big day came round on June 5th I was up and about again but in no fit state to attempt an epic ride so I had to sit that one out and think about some alternatives later in the summer. Fortunately I had fixed up the Change a Life Bike Ride at work and it wasn't hard to fine a 200k Audax on a free weekend in July. 400 will have to wait, maybe in 2016?

Last year the CAL event, which is 70 miles or thereabouts, was on the hottest day of the year and the unfamiliar temperatures hit me hard in the last few miles. In 2015 we found ourselves heading off from The Pavilions in warm but pleasant temperatures with a fair forecast - a group of around 10 riders of vaguely the same ability. The route began with some familiar roads through Winford and Chew Magna before heading over the hills to Chewton Mendip. The pace was brisk compared to recent rides, especially as I was very post-viral still, but it felt fine. We were treated to one of the best views of the day coming into Wells from the Horringtons - the tiny city with it's gothic cathedral nestling in the vale before us. This was a fast descent, so no time to take any photos! In fact I didn't get any apart from a quick selfie at the start, but the views are lodged in my memory as they were so familiar. I lived around here about 28 years ago and passing the cedar trees as we approached the cathedral was like catching a glimpse of old friends. We had a quick stop at an aid station and I had to faff around with my chain coming off but after that we were back on the road through the strawberry farms of Draycott with the "climb of the day" looming.

Cheddar Gorge is awesome - a tough but not over-tough climb with just one really steep section after The Narrows and a long drag at the top. It's the views that make it - although you need your eyes on the road you can't help looking up at the towering and majestic crags that line the narrow and winding ascent. It's a real "defile" with steep sides, goats picking their way around the slopes and the occasional cyclist speeding past you on their way down (or dismounting to walk in some cases where the climb has proved too much). I had a good ride up the gorge this time and our group - by now contracted to about 5 - was going well and overtaking some of the earlier riders.

At the top we forked left and enjoyed a tour of some excellent hill country through the west mendips, past Charterhouse and Longbottom Farm (another spot I remember from a couple of decades ago when I worked on the fruit farms round here) before we descended to Shipham and found no visible sign post at the T junction. We must have missed a turning, but with a choice of Exeter or Bristol on the signs we opted for Bristol and eventually found our way, after some changes of mind and backtracking, to Churchill and then the check point near Congresbury.

The organisers had promised no big climbs in the closing stages so we kept up the pace to Clevedon, along the seafront to The Triangle and then back inland to the Kenn Moor road which I've ridden so many times across the levels. Luckily the wind was being kind to us as the Levels are notorious for headwinds. We all felt good enough to sprint for the Pavs at the end, slightly silly as there was a queue of traffic all the way up the A38 for some temporary traffic lights, but it was all fine and we collapsed on the grass contented after about 5 hours on the road - 4.20 riding and the rest faffing at the drink/food stations. A great ride, a gorgeous day.

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