I started day 12 of my ride sitting in the sun in the market square in Salisbury sipping coffee and watching the world go by. This is a lovely way to start any day. Obviously being so close to the finish and being alone put me in a reflective mood. The longer the ride has gone on the more I've enjoyed it, even if the numbers don't suggest that. I've haven’t been fast, in fact I haven’t even kept to my target of 20kph average, mainly because my pace slows dramatically off road. Oh and the thousand meters of climbing every day has had an effect.
My Garmin has a thing that post ride it asks me to confirm the number of calories and bottles of water it thinks I should have had. It combines this with heart rate data to suggest the number of hours recovery I would need before riding again. On day one Garmin suggested I should have consumed 3000 calories and 16 bottles of water. Obviously I did not drink 16 bottles of water - that's a weeks worth. When I confirmed this, Garmin suggested I needed five days recovery. Thankfully my heart rate monitor strap ran out of battery on the second morning so it has failed to terrorise me since. It's amazing what you can push yourself to do though isn't it? I remember being told years ago that whatever your longest ride is to date, you can already do 20% further if you manage your pace, hydration and nutrition. Clearly I've failed at the latter two, but I have learned to ride within myself and mostly avoid being dragged into a faster pace than I should.
I was in this reflective mood for the first hour this morning heading out of Salisbury towards Trowbridge and here's some other things I've observed on this trip.
large parts of this country look very similar, specifically 'the Shires' of the Midlands and the South. There are tons of tiny hamlets connected by B roads. If I plonked you down in one spot you would find it hard to name the county I think. All of them seem to be part of the NCN. So well done Sustrans.
This country is full of thatched buildings. There are bloody loads of them. I thought it was a dying art. Now I bet it's really profitable.
As already mentioned in the blog, our cycling infrastructure is patchy. In some places I experienced, it was excellent, in others, shameful. Any local councillor or planner should be forced to use the painted lanes for a month before deciding if it needs upgrading or not. Better still make them watch their children or grandchildren ride from one side of town to another (this is clearly a joke to make a point, I'm not suggesting you put your kids at risk. Then again if the infrastructure was any good you'd have no worries about doing it)
A huge amount of this country is devoted to farming. Something I think you notice more riding through it or flying over it.
Cyclists in the south of England are largely miserable bastards who never say hello back. Seriously though what's the deal here? I think 1/10 replies. At home in Warwickshire everyone says hello, with the notable exception of people from one local club (you know who you are, so stop it).
I was happily musing on all this when Garmin directed me off road and onto a grass track. There were five cyclists ahead of me and another three behind so I'm guessing it's part of the King Alfred Way cycle route. Once I had crested a hill, there was Stonehenge in front of me. It took me by surprise which is stupid given that planned the route to go past it. The surprise was just, that it appeared with fanfare, save for a little plaque on my route.
I skirted closer still and then away from the monument onto the perimeter roads of Salisbury plains. These were also deserted except for other cyclists, allowing me to switch off and enjoy riding on gravel in the sun. I caught and passed three other bikepackers who refused to engage in conversation ( is it me then?). Then hit a road closed sign. This is a frequent occurrence here as the army uses the area for training. Unlike normal road signs saying 'road closed' which all cyclists ignore ( you know you do) I take these seriously so I found another track heading in vaguely the right direction. Then another and another. I could have just followed the main road to get back on track, but why bother? This was more interesting and more to the point, this is what my Æsir was built for.
After multiple diversions I eventually got back on track near Edington and realised that three hours had already gone past. Just as I was thinking I should find some food a sign for a farm shop appeared and I immediately stopped. They had a cafe with a little garden out the back which was the perfect spot to recharge. Sadly the silence was spoilt by the arrival of two sets of posh couples, one with small loud children. You may think it churlish of me to complain, but let me share a few of the overheard comments I noted down and see if you you still think I'm being unfair.
Table 1 - "stop darling, I warn you if you do that again I'm sending you to boarding school "
Table 2 -"they can get 10 meals for £10 in Iceland and they seem happy with that"
"Peter was shocked at the prices in the Louis Vuitton shop in Hong Kong"
"I've spent ages clearing out my wardrobe to make room for my shopping trip "
"oh come on darling you already own about 50 handbags" "yes but none of them are special "
If I now tell you that the loud bloke was also wearing salmon coloured shorts and deck shoes with no socks, you can picture him for yourself. They got up to leave at the same time as me and I kid you not, loud bloke got into a vintage Bentley - like 1930's or something. He looked at my bike and chuckled. Well I'd rather be able to ride across the country in my 50's than drive across it in a vintage car. I pedalled away safe in the knowledge that these were not my people. They've probably done very well out of the pandemic though (too much politics?).
Anyway on I went through Trowbridge and on to Corsham, with Komoot sending me off road every now and then. I had Rachel's voice in my head as I rode along. Not the helpful motivational coach though, just the one that goes 'ooh look at that hedge'. Which then caused me to laugh out loud. Maybe this is why southern cyclists don't say hello - all they can see is a nutter on the other side of the road. Somewhere on the road the buildings switched from thatched cottages to Cotswold stone, a sure sign I had left Wiltshire and entered Gloucestershire. Living close to the cotswolds, this started to feel close to home.
All highly enjoyable stuff. Until it wasn’t, because around 3pm I started to fade. The enthusiasm of the morning gave way to the inevitable accumulated fatigue of 12 days riding. It stopped being so much fun. I got really tired. Then I hit the A46. God knows why I had included this on my route, but I spent 20 minutes of stressful riding on it being buffeted by cars and lorries at 60mph. My Garmin missed a turn at precisely the wrong moment as I crested a steep hill and there was no way I could turn around. On some days a 3km/5% hill would be great fun, but not when a bloke in an Astra tries to overtake you on every corner. There was nowhere to even pull in and let him past and I was already at 60kph. He was sitting right on my back wheel as I tried to negotiate tight corners I've never seen before. When I eventually got to the bottom in the village of Nailsworth I pulled in to a bus stop for a moment. Here the cycling Gods took pity on me. The route from Nailsworth to Stroud is on a segregated cycle path the whole way. It allowed me to unclench my teeth (and buttocks!) and relax for the final 15km of the day.
Just one more day and 110km left. Assuming the bloke in the Astra isn't heading north at 9am tomorrow morning I should make it home by 5pm.