I was aiming to ride a hundred miles on my last day before heading to New York (Where I can't ride much) so I picked Stonehenge as my target and found it was 50 if I took a direct route on quiet roads and cycleways. The weather was cool but mostly dry, with very high winds (headwinds from the west) forecast to hit me at around 3pm so I headed out early hoping to finish before they got too strong. At first it was familiar roads through north bristol into Staple Hill where I found it harder than expected to locate the entry point to the Bristol and Bath Cycle Path - maybe I should have stuck to routes I knew via Fishponds or Shortwood but I was aiming for the most direct line on the map! This meant some extra miles around the streets until a kind sould gave me directions and I was back on the path where I used to do so much running training 10 to 20 years ago. Much has changed but the familiar landmarks are still there - the huge iron structure I always used to use as my 10 mile marker running out from Redcliffe Street (The Eternal Wheel I used to call it, after a line in a song) and then the statue of Gaius Centius drinking from a wineskin - I remember topping up my water from him on my 31 mile run on my 31st birthday 16 odd years ago!
The path was well used, plenty of riders out, both commuters and tourers. I was aiming for Bath in 1 hour but it was a fair bit over that thanks to navigational faffing in Staple Hill. Here again I hit problems as the path was signposted to Bradford on Avon but it was closed and I needed a quick mystery tour of Bath before I found Bathford and got back on the cycleway. It was very picturesque and perfectly flat alongside the canal with its large community of barge and houseboat dwellers - sadly it was no surface for a roadbike! Slow and uncomfortable going got me as far as the awesome Dundas Aqueduct but after crossing that I was sick of the rough ground and headed out on to a lane to try my luck at a road route to Bradford. This meant steep climbs and a reliance on google maps but soon I was rolling down the backstreets and into the centre of the lovely town of B O A where I stopped to consume GO bars and nuun on a bench. Way behind schedule I didn't look for a cafe - in fact I made the stupid decision to just eat a few bars and gels on the way and make stops in the second half of the ride. What was I thinking? Anyway it was fine at first through Trowbridge then on to nice quiet lanes with views of Westbury White Horse, through West Ashton and into Edington, ancient scene of the defeat of the vikings by Alfred.
The roads was hilly along the base of the scarp slope of Salisbury Plain. Turning south I hit headwinds I hadn't been expecting and it was hard going up on to the plain and then along exposed, windy roads where trucks pushed a wall of air before them that hit me with a lot of force each time they passed. I heard the unnerving sound of tank or artillery fire from the ranges. Finally after a long grind over the Plain I came to the Stonehenge visitor centre - as the sign said no cars or motorbikes I headed on to the Stones themselves and rode into the carpark only to get shouted at by an aggressive bus driver. Apparently I should have done my u turn just outside the carpark gate as it's buses only. No sign....so why did he have to be so confrontational? Took me back to the 80s! Turning within sight of the stones I was soon on the gruelling road back with around 5 miles under my belt - predictably I got tired and hungry and when I turned west (I opted for a route that would turn north later to keep me out of the headwinds when they came) I felt very drained on the road to Chitterne.
Then the headwinds came, much earlier than forecast but viciously strong. I was riding into the teeth of sind and rain on a hilly and exposed road across the plain - I was hardly moving and began to feel sick and depleted. It went on and on but eventually I conquered that road and found myself on a more sheltered route (with a nasty mile of A36) into Warminster. Coffee Number 1 rescued me with noodles and tea but I should have eaten more really - it was just enough to get me going again and make the nausea recede - some life came back into my legs too. so From Warminster those revived legs carried me on roads with busy but slow traffic to Trowbridge and thence to Bradford where instead of retracing my steps I chose to climb over the hill to Batheaston - the payoff was a wonderful view over the Avon Valley which the photo fails to do justice to but that's often how it is - you had to be there. The moment when you round a bend or ride over a ridge to see the vista open out in front of you is one of the great joys of running, cycling & hiking. Here I was riding north so the sidewinds were a hassle but better than the relentless headwinds of an hour or two before.
Coming into Bath on the B road from Batheaston I stopped for a twix or two at a shop to get some zest back into my tired body and noticed my tyre was a bit flat - I tried pumping it up and it was clearly a slow puncture but not slow enough to ignore so I popped the back wheel off in a sideroad and found the culprit - a thorn. With brain and body tired it was a slow job fixing and refitting but once on my way again it was the easy and steady grind over the cycleway back to the ringroad and home. All in all about 9 hours, but when I mapped it out online I saw I'd done 110 miles so not bad in those conditions. A day or two later I got confirmation from Audax that I could count my 200k rides from earlier this year towards a RRtY so that's now the goal for 2016....
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