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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Days 5 through 6 of cycling

Day five (26 July) Bridgwater to Monmouth

After the rugged landscape of Cornwall and Devon, the ride from our camp site turned into a pleasant ride across reasonably flat land. The first part took in what was probably once marsh land since one of the places was called Mark Causeway and there were drainage channels alongside one of the roads. After passing Cross on the A38, I joint the Strawberry Line (Cycle Route 26) for a slight downhill almost straight run into Yatton. The Strawberry Line followed the line of a disused railway and included a tunnel and to stations, It was fun racing past the stations where the train would have once run, I had intended to follow cycle route 41 / 410 from Yatton to the Avonhead bridge. Missing a sign meant I did a short detour near the beginning and then a closed part of the track pushed me back to a reasonably busy B road. The roads and tracks where extremely dusty especially around the port area near Bristol. I tried to use the cycle routes when I found them but sometimes this meant cutting the grasses and bushes on other side of the path with the front wheels. One portion of the route, I ignored simply because it was gravel single track (almost walking track). The Severn Bridge (the older bridge had a good wide cycle path across the Severn to Chepstow. I found shade in Chepstow and stopped for lunch knowing that all that remained for the ride was a little over 15 miles up the Wye Valley to Monmouth.

The road up the Wye Valley was fairly easy and very picturesque. I stopped briefly in Tinturn to take photos of the Abbey and village but it was a pleasant ride through trees that caste shade across the road reducing the heat of the day.

I had started at 7:30am so it was nice to arrive at the camp site in Monmouth by 3 pm and then to be able to walk into the town centre to do some exploration. A pleasant change after two days of evening completions.

Day six (27 July) Monmouth to Montford Bridge (Shrewsbury)

Again we made the early start (7:30am) but today's riding followed some very busy roads. I followed the A40 out of Monmouth and then headed across on the A4137 across to the A49. I could have taken some previous roads but the profile told me that there were some serious climbs the earlier options and with the distance that I wanted to cover, I really didn't want an early grind or tricky descents. This day was planned as the longest ride although now it was less than the distance that I rode from Okehampton to Bridgwater.

I detoured into Ludlow looking for a tree covered park to eat my lunch but although I found a picturesque river complete with bridge, weirs, and old mill, I found no suitable park. It was probably just as well as Marilyn meet me just after Ludlow as I took a breather on the side of the A49 under one of the few suitable trees. By my lunch break, I had travelled almost two thirds of the total journey so again I knew that there was little pressure for the afternoon ride to Montford Bridge just to the west of Shrewsbury.

The biggest problem with following a major A road is the volume of traffic. The A49 through this area is the major road north with the M5 and then M6 motorways being almost 20 miles east. The result was that I was often passed by large trucks and queues of cars. This left me covered in road dust by the time that I reached Shrewsbury.

The trike is now performing well although the slightly shorter chain seems to be impacting the chain ring gear change. However, I decided that I really wasn't using anything other than the smallest chain ring. It gave me the hill climbing gear and a gear in which I could cruise on the flat. It also gave me an adequate gear for the down hills were I could hold speeds of around 35 km/hr. The middle chain ring gives me a range that allows me to climb at around 10 km/hr through to around 50 km/hr on down hills. The usual flat cruising gear in the middle chain ring are the second and third lowest gears where on the smaller chain ring, they tend to be more in the middle range. All I was doing was restricting some of my down hill speed to either down hill drift speed of around 35 km/hr. Since this isn't a race and I really want the energy for the next day's riding, I decided this was adequate. Also on this section, there were few places where the hills were steep enough to exceed that speed.


The journey distances and ride times to this point are:

  • Lands End to Newquay: 90kms in 5 hours 42 minutes 20 sec at an average speed of 16.6 km/hr.
  • Newquay to Okehampton: 105.7kms in 7 hours 49 minutes 58 seconds at an average speed of 13.4 km/hr.
  • Okehampton to Bridgwater: 124kms in 8 hours 2 minutes 43 seconds at an average speed of 15.4 km/hr.
  • Bridgwater to Monmouth: 111.1kms in 6 hours 16 minutes 46 seconds at an average speed of 17.7 km/hr.
  • Monmouth to Montford Bridge: 123.2kms in 7 hours 2 minutes 22 seconds at an average speed of 17.5 km/hr.

The difference in average speed primarily relates to the nature of the terrain. The much flatter roads from Tiverton through to here have greatly improved the average speed although negotiating towns and cities and navigating also have an impact.

What would I recommend to others who might want to attempt these types of journeys. So far:

  1. Make sure that you follow clearly identifiable roads (i.e. A or B roads that are well likely to be well signposted) or ensure you know the towns along the route that are likely to appear on road signs. It is likely that you are going to travel through areas where you have no idea of where things are and stopping all the time to consult maps hinders covering the required distance.
  2. Don't rely on road signs to tell you how much further to the next town. Even on some major routes, the mileage is seldom reported. I found this particularly frustrating on the road from Tiverton to Taunton.
  3. Carry good maps that clearly show the expected standard of the road. Don't rely on GPS or other navigation devices. Make sure you know your intended route well preferably on the map that you will carry with you. Preferably, you don't want to consult these when riding but if you think you are lost then being able to identify where you are and changes in routes means these maps are invaluable.
  4. Carry a tool kit that will allow you to fix most things that could go wrong on the road. This includes spare chain links as well as the normal puncture repair kits.

The trike always attracts attention so I have found it good as a way of starting a discussion on a broad range of issues. People always like to see others taking on challenges although I feel a little frustrated that most seem to think you would only do something like this if you are raising money for a charity. I am not supporting a charity but when people ask, I will promote monetary and economic reform.

There are also other solo riders exploring the country in a Lands End to John O'Groats ride often exploring paths or going places that they want to see along the way. Take the time to support each other and to tell stories about where you have been and why.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

LEJOG Days 1 through 4

Although this is the fourth day, I have only completed three days of riding. Today was R&R (repair and rest) but let's catch up on the story so far.

The first photo is the sunset from our first campsite above Senna Cove.

Day one (22 July) Lands End to Newquay

Day one was the journey from Lands End to Newquay. From a ride perspective, it was uneventful. I took the Sustrans route 3 leaving Lands End to Senna Cove. A short stretch along the A30 before joining the B3306 along the northern coast. A pleasant ride with some challenging hill climbs but nothing that hindered progress. No photos remain for this part of the journey as I was using my iPhone to track the journey and to take photos but the phone was destroyed on day two (more on that later). There were some interesting ruins of the mining history of the area but otherwise simple scenic beauty on the first dry day for weeks.

I turned off the B3306 to avoid going down into St Ives but I am not sure that the altered route was really any better. A quick drop into Lelant Downs and Hayle finished the mornings ride. I met up with Marilyn in a car park in Hayle. Her day hadn't been so good with the size of the motorhome proving challenging especially with parking and judging the vehicle width.

Hayle to Newquay proved a little more challenging and showed the dangers of choosing a route that wasn't on easily identifiable roads or to well signposted instructions. The first part following the 3301 wasn't the issue but an instruction said turn left toward some street and of course there was never a sign that indicated the desired street as I approached Redruth. I ended up going for a tour around Redruth and then a detour on exit before simply following the A3075 to Newquay.

Pressure of time (5hours plus ride time) meant that I was looking for a quick way to get to the end of the day. However, the camp site was well equipped and it was good to get in and cleaned up before preparing for the next day.

Day two (23 July) Newquay to Okehampton

Day two was the ride through to Okehampton. I spent the previous night adding place names to the instructions as distance alone was not adequate and time was meaningless (so much for Google maps instructions). The instructions didn't even count the number of left or right turns. Since I had some small Sustrans pocket maps of the areas, these really became my guide rather than the instruction sheets.

The first part of the ride along the A392 went without incident and because I got to Blackcross as expected, my first attempt and unmarked roads seemed to go without problems. I got through to the old A30 and Victoria Station with only one wrong turn. The day however was really warm and I was drinking more than I had on day one. I went along the wrong road just before Bodmin but my map reading skills got me through to Mount on the southern edge of Bodmin Moor. However, I am sure I must have ridden up three or four category something climbs by then. These got added to as I made my way around to St Neot and then climbed again out of St Neot on what was a turn off the main road. This wasn't obvious from the cycle map. A local made sure I was on the right path. The road from here down to a right turn not far from King Doniert Stone was more like a farm track than a road but the Sustrans maps said this was a preferred cycle route so I assumed it should be good for the trike. Never again will I trust a map. A full suspension mountain bike would have been better for this part of the journey. As I came to the end I came across some campers who seemed surprised to see me but confirmed that I was on my intended route. After passing by Common Moor, I headed across the south eastern corner of Bodmin Moor to Minions. There were some interesting old buildings up on top of the moor. Heading down from Minions on a fast down hill, I crossed a cattle stop that vibrated the iPhone loose from its mount bringing to an end its operation. About half an hour was lost locating the shattered phone. However, I was no longer using it for navigation but simply using it to record where I had been.

The journey was supposedly a straight line through to the Route 27 (Granite Way). Up and down through Upton Cross and Rilla Mill went without problems but the signposting never mentioned Bray Shop but did indicate Linkedinhome that should have been south of my route. Not wanting to get lost, I followed the sign posts and ended up going to South Hill and having to back track to Bray Shop. On through Stoke Climsland and Horsebridge to Sydenham Damerel was well signposted even if the hills continued. I then followed sign posts toward Chillaton then Lewdown and finally Bridestowe. None of these did I actually pass through. I turned down into Bridestowe to find the route 27 cycle way and the first of the viaducts. I followed route 27 to an exit just by that evenings camp site.

The journey had taken over 7 hours of cycling and I was out for 11 hours including a pleasant stop for lunch at the top of a hill just out of St Neot and the time searching for the iPhone. A long day but apart from being dry because of the heat, I felt really good. A large coke helped to restore the balance.

Day three (24 July) Okehampton to Bridgwater

Day three started slowly as we needed to get diesel for the motorhome and I had to get a replacement phone so I could communicate with Marilyn. No chance of getting a replacement iPhone in Okehampton and I didn't want to travel all the way to Tiverton without communication.

After getting diesel, I headed back to my exit point form route 27 and followed it across the Medon viaduct into Okehampton. Finding the mobile phone shop proved relatively easy and a new low end Nokia phone was obtained for the rest of the journey.

Heading out of Okehampton was quite a climb and two youths on bikes passed me only for them to stop for a rather while I just cruised on by. I left the A3072 (the road to Crediton) not long after passing the turn off to North Tawton, I headed toward Lapford passing through Zeal Monachorum. One of the tubs through which the chain passed began jamming the chain and being ripped apart by the chain so I ended up holding it which I made my way down to Morchard Road Station. Borrowing a hacksaw, I managed to do a temporary repair on the tube but didn't realise that the resistance I was feeling as the chain passed through the tube was the sign of a link falling apart on the chain.

Being hot and thirsty, I stopped in at the local pub for a large coke and some fries, also taking the opportunity to add some charge to the phone. Leaving the hotel, I headed up a hill toward Morchard Bishop. About half way up on a dusty narrow road with no grass verge, the chain decided to break. I pushed the trike on up the road to a grass patch and went about removing the failed links. I was now a way behind schedule and was still no where near Tiverton but at least everything seemed to be working again. The road through Black Dog, Puddington, and Pennymoor seemed easier riding but still involved some solid climbs. After going through Cruwys Morchard to get to the B3137, it was a fairly straight run into Tiverton but not lacking another couple of climbs. However the down hills were longer and exhilarating.

Reaching Tiverton, I followed the signs to Taunton and got myself onto the A361. A break (5pm) here to update Marilyn on progress and to contact an old NZ school friend, Trevor, who was going to meet me in Taunton before heading off along the A361 and then the A38 to Taunton. English Road signs are not consistent in giving mileage so I was really guessing a lot of the time as to exactly were I was. This route was longer than originally planned but it required none of the map reading and navigating that I needed to get to Tiverton.

Meeting Trevor on the A38 on entry to Tiverton, we headed to the Taunton-Bridgewater canal and followed the route 3 cycle path through to Bridgwater. By this time the sun was setting. Trevor wanted to ensure that I found my camp site but I convinced him I knew where I was going and he turned back for the Bridgwater station as we crossed the M5 on the A49 heading north from Bridgwater.

Just over the bridge was my highlight for the day, being stopped by a police officer whose opening statement was, “There is nothing wrong, I just have to get one of those.” After a brief conversation I was back on the trike to complete the last couple of miles to the camp site. A pleasant end to a long 8 hours of riding and over 12 hours out on the roads in the heat. It was enjoyable to do the final leg with Trevor as the heat went out of the day.

Day four (25 July) Rest and repair

It was time to make sure everything was fine with the trike. The mount for the tube had been destroyed by the chain and I wanted to ensure that all the links in the chain where seated correctly. It was also time to pick up some additional pieces so I could carry more tools with me more easily. A ride into Bridgwater to visit SJS Cycles was my riding activity for the day. Two plastic ties were used to hold the tube in place and I headed back to the camp. The rest of the morning was then spent checking the chain and adding the new components to the trike. The afternoon was spent updating the maps for the next three days of riding. The key from now on is to follow clearly identifiable routes even if these are major A roads.

Writing this blog completed the day. Having brought 24 hour Wifi access, we are able to get it posted. Sorry no photos uploaded yet.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Big Ride Plan - Lands End to John O'Groats (LEJOG)

The day of the big ride is approaching fast. I completed a 30 km ride through the local hills (Lickey Hills and Clent Hills) on Sunday and again today. I am feeling much more comfortable about attacking long and step climbs. I am not sure that the local hills are a good indication of what I am likely to strike. Riding through a valley in the Clent Hills reminded me a little of the Blue Mountains Valley in Upper Hutt, New Zealand.

We head to Andover on Saturday (21 July) to pick up the motorhome and then head to Penzance to stay Saturday night. Sunday sees the start of the ride at Lands End with the goal of being at John O'Groats by 10 August. The plan involves 15 days of riding (triking / reclining) so we have a few days to spare.

Day 1: Lands End to Newquay (81 km / 51 miles). Planned for 22 July.
Day 2: Newquay to Okehampton (97 km / 61 miles)
Day 3: Okehampton to Bridgwater (102 km / 64 miles)
Day 4: Bridgwater to Monmouth (105 km / 66 miles)
Day 5: Monmouth to Shrewsbury (115 km / 72 miles) – longest ride
Day 6: Shrewsbury to north of Wigan (114 km / 72 miles) – second longest ride
Day 7: Wigan to Kendal (90 km / 56 miles))
Day 8: Kendal to Gretna (84 km / 52 miles)
Day 9: Gretna to Lanark (104 km / 65 miles)
Day 10: Lanark to Inveruglas (Loch Lomond) (98 km / 61 miles)
Day 11: Inveruglas to Fort William (107 km / 67 miles)
Day 12: Fort William to Inverness (100 km / 63 miles)
Day 13: Inverness to Dornoch (68 km / 43 miles) – shortest ride
Day 14: Dornoch to Bettyhill (107 km / 67 miles)
Day 15: Bettyhill to John O'Groats (86 km / 54 miles)

The attached maps provide more detail of the route although not clear enough to navigate with without additional instructions. MapMyRide proved the best tool for planning the rides but the site seems unreliable (sometimes refused to update maps or our home address) and it print function simply doesn't provide the required instructions or enough control to say what segments of the maps you want printed.

Trials with maps on local rides suggest that if you are familiar with the area then you can guess what their instructions are saying but if you are not (an I am not going to be) then unless the route is fairly obvious, expect to get lost or take some wrong turns.

Power consumption on the iPhone 3GS is too high to rely on it for anything other than recording the track of the ride. Navigation using it works fine if you have it plugged in to a suitable power supply but although I have a 12000mAh and a 500 mHa backup supply, I am not expecting either to handle the level of screen usage required for navigation. Some segments of the ride will not need much in the way of navigation aids but I expect some especially round the outskirts of cities to cause problems unless I can find a suitable cycle path or signed route.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Preparing for Land End to John O'Groats

My focus over the last few months has been on preparation for an attempt on riding the trike from Lands End to John O'Groats (LEJOG) starting on 22 July. We have a draft route plan that involves 15 days of cycling over 20 days. Each day will be approximately 60 miles (100kms).

In preparation, I have been attempting to increase my daily ride distance. The trike isn't difficult to ride over long distances provided you are prepared not to rush and select gears that allow spinning rather than brute strength on hill climbs. This is reflected in some trial rides like the three rides on 23 May. On this ride, I rode in to work at Aston University and then after work out to the Aldersley Stadium in Wolverhampton and finally home after the track league meeting. A total distance of 70.4km (~44 miles). That was my longest ride on the Trice QNT since purchasing it last year. However, the long breaks and late finish were not really a good indicator of what I might be able to do on the trike and didn't reflect the day on day distances of the LEJOG ride.

As a real test, we planned a weekend of riding over the Queen's Jubilee weekend (2 – 4 June 2012). What we hadn't allowed for was the British summer weather = torrential rain. At least the Saturday was good and I rode from just south of York to Sheffield attempting to follow National Cycle Network routes 6, 62, and 65. Sustrans plans their routes based on the use of conventional two wheel bicycles and with a rider who is able to lift a bicycle over obstacles. A trike doesn't fit the criteria.

From the hotel to the Bishopthorpe where I joint route 65 was reasonable easy along a cycle / foot path. Entry to the cycle route was a little more difficult. Lifting the rear of the trike over the obstructions got me onto the cycle track for an 11 mile almost all traffic and obstacle free run to Selby.. This section had models of the planets along the side of the track that ran a fairly straight line from Bishopthorpe to Riccall. The obstacles designed to keep motorcycles off the cycleways and canal paths almost caused me to look for an alternative route leaving Selby. Fortunately, I was able to lift the trike over but knocking a mirror really loosened its mount on the guard. The other problem was single track which I rode with the front wheels pushing their way through the long grass. Still I was able to push on to meet up with Marilyn for lunch in Snaith. Over 50km of the journey completed.

The cycle route had changed leaving Snaith and I had problems finding the path in a couple of places. One was a detour into a farmer's paddock but when I got back to the route, I discovered it had obstacles across the path which I had to lift the trike over. This even occurred out in the middle of a paddock. I really don't see the point of a cycle path that has obstacles across it that you have to stop and get off for.

Another variation went along a canal path. The entry styles were too narrow for the trike but fortunately the gate next to the styles had no lock. This also applied at the exit. In another variation of the route from the maps took me onto an old airfield. Poor signage nearly had me lost but other cyclists put me on the right path.

There were three interesting railway crossings on this stretch to Bentley. One was manned, another had gates, and the third was open. I really felt like I was getting lost on this section of the route and when I did find some signs, I found them directing me down a path which the trike wouldn't fit. I worked out an alternative using the roads but in Bentley, I had difficulty picking up the route again.

Once I did find the route, I was again on an off road fairly easy route. A couple of the gates on this portion of the ride seemed to be designed for horses and I could just fit the trike through the mechanism but I have to admit that I was getting increasingly frustrated with the obstacles that I had to lift or manipulate the trike around. A train viaduct just by Conisbrough was an interesting attraction but on the dirt track, there wasn't enough traction to ride up the climbs. The route at this point headed west and added a lot to the ride distance as we circled around the north of Sheffield.

After struggling along a very rough gravel road to get to Chapeltown on the north west of Sheffield, I decided that I needed to avoid the further loops in the route and used the Tomtom software on the iPhone to navigate a shorter route to the hotel. The Tomtom wanted to use the motorway (M1) so I had to force it to calculate the shortest distance. An arrival at the hotel after completing a 126km (~78m) ride was very welcome but being told that I had to wait over half an hour for a meal wasn't.

What this did show was that I was capable of covering the distance. This is much further than I had planned for any day on the LEJOG ride. It also taught me that the National Cycle Route is not suitable for a trike. Overnight we planned a road based route to Nottingham that would be about 51 miles (80km). No thought was given to staying on the National Cycle network.

It had started raining not long after arriving in at the hotel on Saturday evening. The next morning, there was still a steady drizzle when I set out for the ride to Nottingham. A puncture not long after leaving the hotel delayed progress but it was really the increasing rain that and dropping temperatures that caused problems. I really hadn't come prepared for such conditions and after missing a turn and finding that I was stopping more frequently than I wanted to stay on track, I had to re-evaluate my plans for the day. Feeling cold, I found a shelter in a bus stop until Marilyn came to pick me up. I had only managed to complete 17.8 km but it wasn't worth pushing on to get colder and wetter.

Monday was again fine so a plan to ride from Hucknall, Nottingham to Swadlincote a journey of 48.7 km (~29 miles). Marilyn stopped at tricky junctions to ensure that I was on track although she went off course near the end of the journey. Knowing the A and B roads that I was to take made it easier to navigate. I did take a possible wrong turn but it proved not too far off course and I made Swadlincote just after midday. With more rain threatening, we packed in and headed for home.