Sea and Levels 200 Audax (Permanent)

As I read back through this blog I notice a common theme through the summer - I'm always tired before I even start the ride! This was certainly the case in September with the last shreds of fatigue from the Bala Triathlon hanging around but, more tellingly, a lot of mental tiredness from work. This was a combination of work being very intense when I'm there in the office (busiest time of the year so a lot of multi-tasking) and the fact that I'm throwing in extra hours every week too. Whatever the reason I was well aware that I'd be up against it completing even a relatively flat ride in 11 hours - which was my target for the day.

The nice thing about Sea and Levels as a permanent route was that I could do it in reverse and start in Clevedon. This meant I was underway by around 7am - with no businesses on The Beach open for business I grabbed a tenner from the nearest cash machine(garage down the road) and set off on familiar roads for Yatton.

Here I was riding on a route I knew well, albeit in the opposite direction to normal. The routesheet seemed a bit vague out of Clevedon but once out of town it was simple. I knew early on that I wasn't in my normal long ride state of mind - there was definitely the residue of lots of "overthinking" hanging around so I decided to press on at a brisk pace and get the job done. Yes, I don't sound very inspired but that's how it was on this particular day!

Yatton came, rush hour just beginning to populate the B road with a smattering of work and school traffic, then Congresbury and on to proper Somerset Levels roadscapes.It wasn't long before I hit the A38 with a dig of a climb past some terraced houses to the garage where I turned off for the proper climb to Shipham. I remembered this well from doing it on Kokila's motorbike years ago when we worked the other side of Shipham on a fruit farm. Wow that's 20+ years ago now! The climb was not too testing as it was early on in the ride but I wondered if I would be seeing it again later - I wasn't sure as I hadn't really studied the route.

After Shipham I descended into Cheddar and turned out across the levels to Wedmore - flat and serene across the marshes then a jiggle and a climb out of Wedmore before more flat roads into Avalon, with the misty morning hiding the Tor from view until I was close to Glastonbury. I had got there in well under 2 hours, but I had only eaten a banana so I sat down at the Wish you were here cafe for beans on toast washed down with a pot of tea. Around me Glastafarians chatted about meditation on Chalice Hill etc. I love it down here :). No time to muse on the spiritual and new age credentials of my fomer home though as I had many KMs left to cross. I was soon out of my chair and back in the saddle heading for Street and Somerton. Once south of Street the silence of the countryside began to filter into my consciousness and I started to enjoy the ride and some proper mental relaxation. I was riding through my own star sign, Gemini, in the Glastonbury Zodiac. That is, of course, if you believe in star signs. And if you believe there is such a thing as the Glastonbury Zodiac. For my part, I believe.....why not?

Somerton is historic and filled with lovely old buildings but I never get a good vibe from this place. A real contrast from Glastonbury. I didn't stop and instead ploughed on under steadily clearing skies and in rising temperatures. Soon I was off the trail of my previous explorations and on to roads I didn't recognise, which freshened up my mind further and I felt the freedom and lightness of being that draws me to these all-day rides across countryside. The road to Martock was closed so I had to ask around for a new route, but this probably only delayed me by 15 minutes. Martock was another historic town, more attractive for me than Somerton, which I passed through swiftly on the way to Stoke sub Hamdon. Here I tackled the second proper ascent of the day - Ham Hill - rewarded by sweeping views over Somerset from the top.

Next came a rough and greasy descent and twisting lanes leading down into Dorset. Soon I was on the B road to Lyme which I followed through a little outlier of Devon before peeling off towards Rocombe for a dramatic descent on lanes into Lyme. A refreshing view of the sea was the reward, along with an egg mayo sandwich and a brief sit down to write a postcard to my folks. The receipt was a bit useless so I hunted around on the way back out of town for something better, eventually buying some vitamins from a chemist just to get a properly dated proof of passage! Those B complex pills rattled all the way home.

The return was an arduous climb back past Rocombe and after half an hour of retracing northwards I headed off into a very hilly but exquisite corner of Dorset. Villages, hamlets, thatched cottages and dubious road surfaced made this classic Audax territory. The lanes led me northwards, the sun beating down now on a gorgeous late summer afternoon, until I finally saw the ridge of Pedwell with its windmills and came to the final control, Sweets Tea Rooms, at ten past four. They had closed, leaving me marooned without proof of passage, but I soldiered on (tired and depleted now but still with enough in the tank to persevere) to Wedmore where I sat on the pavement demolishing a cake from the village stores and decanting the remains of a can of coke into my bike bottles.

Revived by caffeine and sugar I was ready to do the first stage of the ride in reverse, back over Shipham (aargh) with the help of a bottle of glucose solution (triathlon goody bag freeby) and then I was rolling back over the levels to Clevedon. Finish time, 10.57. Finish mood, tired but happy. An unpromising start had blossomed into a lovely ride. 3 to go now, with the tail end of summer offering welcome warmth but a reminder that October might throw just about anything at me.

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