30 November 2012

Western Scotland and Isles tour day 1: Kilmarnock to Kildonan (Arran)

I had always heard fantastic things about cycle touring in Scotland. Being Spanish, my Scottish friends had always warned me about the rain and the fact that "if it is not raining now, it will soon be". Despite that Western Scotland appears to be the wettest part of Europe, it was not put off but somehow curious about experiencing the promised "changeable" weather.

September 1st finally came. I was up until silly o'clock on Friday night doing last minute prepping. Do I take the front panniers? Do I take extra warm clothes? How about the battery charger? It was nearly 3 am when I got in bed, with a 6 am alarm set.

At 7 am I wheeled my heavy tourer out of the house. When I was about to take the very first picture of the trip, outside the house, I realised I had forgotten the memory card in my laptop. Somehow I still managed to snap a quick shot of the loaded bike and made my way down to Euston for my train.

7 am
My tour started in mainland Scotland, in Kilmarnock, a town some 20 km out of Ardrossan, where I would board on the ferry to Arran. Kilmarnock was a bit of a nightmare to get out of, as the GPS got a little confused with one way directions. For those interested, it took me about four and a half hours from central London to that town, via Carlisle, where I changed to a local train which carried an interesting mix of Northeners and Scots. Guessing and getting used to accents made my train journey very pleasant.

After nearly an hour of pleasant riding, in the sun, through some nice countryside, I made it to the windy town of Ardrossan. I happened to come across a cycle path which took me mostly off-road on route 73 to the seafront, where some strong winds and waves seemed to be the playground for some kids. The little ones enjoyed getting splashed with sea water...and despite my best efforts to avoid the spray (sea salt is the worst thing you can present your bike to!), I got splashed a couple of times.

Quiet country lanes to Ardrossan

Ardrossan sea front
I had been to Ardrossan when I first move to the UK. It was on a trip with University friends, and of course, it rained a lot. But this time, I got a completely different impression of the place, in the sun, and it even looked kind of nice. Without much delay, I was in line for the 14:30 crossing to Arran.

Scotland is a famous destination for cycle touring in the UK, and I could sense that, with a few other cyclists about to board the ferry with me. One of them had a nice Thorn bike, and I soon got into an interesting chat with him. 

Six of us boarded the ferry to Arran
Phil was using his trip of the Western Isles (and Outer Hebrides) as a test for longer adventures. He had food for 6 days in his front panniers, in preparation for the relatively less frequent services found in the Outer Hebrides. He had also been a keen racer for the last 20 years, but was now taking it easier and enjoying touring much more. His plans were to cycle anticlockwise from Brodick (in Arran) to Lochranza, where he would cross over to the mainland, then on to Oban for his ferry to Barra. From there, he would cycle North until eventually catching a ferry back to Ullapool, from where he was planning to pedal back to Fort William. He had a vast amount of knowledge of cycling in the UK, and I enjoyed chatting with him, and got lots of new ideas for the future. In addition, he recommended I did not miss out on Bealach Na Ba pass, apparently the highest pass in the whole of the UK. I was not sure if I had time to do it, as it was not on my initial plans, but the 2000 feet (600 m) climb in 5 miles (8 km) beckoned.

Finally, Arran is visible in the background

Still dry and relatively warm, yet  I had to force the smile due to the winds!

Excitement ahead
Once we landed in Brodick, the rain started. Phil and I parted opposite ways, as I was cycling clockwise, the long way, to Lochranza. After a quick stop at the local Co-op, I started my journey. Rain was falling hard, but I hesitated to put the rain gear on as it was still warm. It was also windy, but with the excitement of the start of the trip, I did not see to care that much. The road out of Brodick was nicely paved and rolling, with dense vegetation on either side, and when the rain allowed, nice views of the coast. 

After Lamlash, the road became super quiet. In Whitting Bay I stopped for my first picture, just as the rained eased down.

After a few more ups and downs I spotted a sign for Kildonan, involving a diversion to the left of the main road and down an steep hill back to sea level. The descent was fantastic, again in the rain, and the town seemed small but rather cute. It was 6:30 pm and light was fading, so I pulled into the campsite. Being my first night, I decided not to rough camp and after a nice conversation with the owner, I set up camp. 

The campsite was nice, yet as it later proved, quite pricey for Scottish standards (£7 per person per night). The next campsite was 20 km and there was no way I was going to make it before dark in the rain and wind.  Three other cyclists had already set their tents right by the seafront, so without much thinking on my side, I went on to pitch the tent near theirs. However, I had not fully realised how windy it was there! It also was the first time I was going to pitch my new tent, so certainly not the best of ideas and I obviously struggled quite a bit. 

Tent pitched in the wind/rain
While preparing dinner, I had the chance to enjoy the Scottish friendliness that everyone talks about. Sam and his wife were two Scots who often come to this part of Arran, on public transport, to enjoy a quiet weekend away from their city life. At first I thought they had an speaking disability, as I could barely understand a word, yet knew they were speaking in English. It then occurred to me they could be from Glasgow. My suspicions were confirmed. Although I initially had a lot of trouble understanding them (for those of you who do not know, Glasgow people's accent is an entire different language!), we managed to keep an interesting conversation. They both were impressed by my cycling plans, even more when I told them that Lucy was ok (if a little jealous!) for me to come by myself. For some people this is outrageous, yet I enjoy a bit of solo travelling every now and then, and truly recommend it to everyone.

View from my camping spot

Sunset at Kildonan
After a quick pasta meal I got in to my sleeping bag to find it was still too warm. It was minutes past 10:30 pm when I fell asleep while being battled by strong winds. I hoped the tent was capable enough of withstanding the night...It was a nice way of finishing a day: the sounds of sea waves, wind, rain and freshness as opposed to a regular night in London.

The stats for the day were as below:

- Odometer: 50 km
- Max speed: 47 km/h
- Moving average: 16.6 km/h
- Overall average: 12.9 km/h

24 November 2012

What an audax is like

It is difficult to explain what and audax is or feels like to other people, especially if they are non-cyclists. The BBC Scotland Adventure Show has put together a fairly decent documentary about a 300 km audax held every year in the Scottish Highlands: The Snow Roads 300

We have enjoyed watching it very much, as it transmits some of the experiences we have been through in the last year of audaxing. And with the Scottish scenery as background, it really looks scenic!

22 November 2012

To Brighton for the sunset

With the days getting shorter and the temperatures dropping, I've had to make an adjustment to my riding patterns. I've learned that I start to get pretty miserable after about six or seven hours in the cold, so my strategy for winter is shorter rides, pushing the pace a bit.

We were looking for a good route this past Sunday that didn't require too much prep work and that we could finish before dark, even with a bit of a late start. When we realised that it's been over a year since we last cycled to Brighton, the decision was easy.

We did get quite a late start, not getting on the road in East Croydon until 11am. It was worth it for the extra sleep in the morning but it did mean we'd need to keep an eye on the clock as it would start to get dark just about five hours later.

Lovely view from the North Downs

It was a gorgeous sunny day, if a bit chilly with a high of about 9 C (48 F). Our route took us out of London over Farthing Downs and into the countryside, where we saw a good number of cyclists out despite the chill in the air.

I had committed to pushing the pace to help keep my fitness up over the winter, but as Alberto had 200km in his legs from the day before, it turned out that our paces were, for basically the  first time in history, pretty well matched. So we went along at a comfortable pace, not taking it easy but not at our absolute limits either.

The main obstacle of the day (besides the North and South Downs of course!) was a very muddy Stubpond Lane which was not very fun to tackle on skinny tires. I nearly slipped several times and ended up walking bits. After making it through that gauntlet I had to stop and remove several inches of mud and leaves from underneath my fork bridge.

Bike operation.
Apart from that we enjoyed a thoroughly pleasant day, though always keeping an eye on the time. I found Ditchling Beacon less difficult than previous times, although still pretty taxing, and we arrived at the seafront in Brighton with the GPS reading "Sunset in 0 hours 8 minutes." We walked onto the beach and enjoyed the sunset, followed by a bacon bap at our favorite, cyclist-friendly establishment in Brighton, the Madeira.

Watching the sunset from Brighton beach.
A great ride revisiting an old favorite, made even better by the fact that the weather continues to smile on us this autumn. If only it would stay this way.

20 November 2012

Ride report: The New Forest 200 audax (Permanent version)

Audax is all about self-sufficiency, and it also involves (or can involve) lonely sections. On calendar events (i.e. rides that are properly organised and attract a good number of people) it is easy to hook up with other riders and have a social ride, if you want to.

One of this years aims (or well, continuation of!) is to get a "Randonneur Round the Year" award. You can get it as long as you register a ride of 200 or more km a month, for twelve consecutive months. Nothing too challenging one might think, but with the winter colder months coming up ahead of us, I am not too sure I will manage.

I could not find a suitable ride for November, so I screened the "permanent" rides on the AUK website. These rides are put up by local people and can be ridden any day of the year. Lucy has already given up on the idea of longer rides in the colder months, so off I was, for the first time on a 200 km ride, on my own.

One of the rides looked appealing: the New Forest 200 km. We've already been in the New Forest, though on mountain bikes, and quite enjoyed the flatness of it. I'd heard good things about the lanes over there, particularly off the busy summer months. At 5:30 am, on a Saturday, I found myself on a quiet train headed for the southwest coast of the UK. To my surprise, there was another audax guy on this service, heading somewhere in the southwest as well.

London, 5:15 am
The weather had been quite promising all week, yet the latest forecasts predicted light rain all morning, clearing up by mid afternoon. Temperatures around 10 degrees C, so not too cold for this time of the year. By 7:20 am I got my receipt and headed East towards Lepe Beach.

The first 20 km of the ride were on quiet lanes, very easy going and helped by an slight tailwind. My stomach had been playing up already, and I was relieved to find a toilet by the deserted beach. The views of the Isle of Wight were quite nice, as was seeing the sea.

Leafy lanes at the start of the ride

The Isle of Wight in the background from Lepe Beach
I ate some snacks and retraced my steps back into the depths of the forest, heading North. The roads were quite nice and still quiet, yet at some point I managed to go on the wrong section of A road (A326) which was not pleasant at that time of the morning, with plenty of white vans and heavy goods vehicles. After I left that road, it all became nice and quiet again, although got busier with the infamous New Forest wild ponies. 

The bloody ponies, although cute and all that, blocked off the roads on a number of occasions, and I had to wait patiently behind them. They did not seem to be bothered at all by either me or other vehicles. I had to go off road a couple of times, and with the muddiness of the autumn, my skinny tyres got clogged up with mud which needed clearing a few times.

Waiting for the ponies to decide what to do and where to go
At Ashurst I went through one of many information controls (i.e. obligatory passing points to prove you did not take shortcuts), and soon afterwards I made my way down South towards Lymington. The roads were very pleasant and had good tarmac, yet appeared a bit more lumpy that I had anticipated.

Nice isn't it?
When going off the main roads, which were quiet past lunch time, you were often presented with not only ponies, but fords (luckily dried!) and plenty of cattle grids. I had read many reports on rides through the forest in heavy rain and massive floods, and I could only imagine how bad that would be when I saw some of the signs by the fords...

Can it actually get that bad?
Once in Lymington, I headed briefly into the High Street for a receipt to use as proof of passage. While having a much needed sugary coffee and cake, in true British style, lots of locals asked me where I was headed, about my GPS, why so many flashing lights and so on. The usual stuff. Luckily no one was asking how many miles I had planned for the day!

From Lymington, it was a long and windy way, first to the West of the park, then up North through Ringwood and eventually Cranborne. It was much more ups and downs here. As I had not had any proper food since I left home, I started to feel tired and hungry and looked forward to eating something hot at Cranborne. I was keeping a close eye on my watch, as I had a train back to London at a fixed time in the evening, that I could not miss. A flat tyre, the first time ever on a audax, added to my frustration and increased the need of getting somewhere with hot food. Just after 2:30 pm I got to Cranborne and headed straight away to the Garden Centre, the suggested control...at 160 km into the ride. Once I got there I had the feeling they were not serving food (everyone was having tea!) and this was confirmed by the waitress. It really was not my place either - it seemed way too overpriced and the crowd was at least twice my age and in nice clothes - not smelly lycra. 

Nice lanes to Cranborne
I retraced back to Cranborne High street and controlled at the local grocery shop, where I got a plain baguette, a can of coke and some gross crisps. It was past 3:30 pm by the time I got back on to the bike. The GPS indicated sunset in less than 45 min, so I turned a few of my lights on for enhanced visibility.

The lanes back through the forest were really nice, and as the sun was coming down, I enjoyed one of the best sunsets I've experienced in the UK. It was still relatively mild, clear skies, and no traffic at all. Just me, the bike and the lights. The colours were spectacular, but the pictures do not do justice. I recommend everyone to cycle at dusk on a clear day - it is the best time of the day for riding in my opinion.

Lights on - into night riding mode

It cannot get much better than this!
With 25 km to the finish, I got my last info control, this time in another post box. I was happy I had filled all the controls now - all I had to do was ride leasurely back to Brockenhurst for my train back to the Smoke, into the night.

Last info control, sunset in the background

Funny sign
I pulled into the finish line with one hour to spare before my train was due, so headed to a pub for some food and a pint of local ale. It had been a superb ride with plenty of nice lanes and light traffic. Much lumpier than I had anticipated, yet by no means hilly.

I may make a return to this area sometime soon - perhaps throwing in a bit of wild-camping as well, with a crossing over to the Isle of Wight maybe?

The stats were as below.

16 November 2012

Review: Vaude Road I Handlebar Bag

Vaude Road I handlebar bag on the mountain bike in Dartmoor.
It was about a year ago that I won a Vaude Road I Handlebar Bag from Travelling Two. I've had the chance now to use it in an incredibly wide variety of circumstances--on a mini-tour in France and Belgium, on a mountain bike on the Camino de Santiago, and on so many audaxes I've lost count--so I figured it was time to finally write a review.

Overall, I've been pleased with its performance, but having never used a handlebag bar before, I don't really have much to compare it to. So I've rated it out of 10 on a variety of characteristics I'd look for in a handlebar bag.

Storage: 8
At 5 litres, the bags capacity is on the low side--not that that's a bad thing. In general I like the smaller size of the bag as it prevents me from adding more weight to the front of my bike and is easier to carry around off the bike on tour.

But despite its small size, I've been incredibly impressed with the bag's storage capacity. The front pocket is great for things like my wallet and phone, where the fact that they're slightly bulky isn't a problem and they're easy to access. The flat compartment at the top of the bag  is great for storing cereal bars and a packet of tissues for audaxes, where again I can easily access them. On our recent camping trip to Dartmoor I also found that it was the pefect size to store a Kindle. But the big advantage of this bag is that with a little careful arrangement, the main compartment fits an incredible amount of stuff. On the Camino, I cycled for two or three days under the impression that the bag was completely full with my camera, waterproof jacket, buff, snacks, its own waterproof cover, and spare batteries. Then we stopped to buy more sunscreen, and I could only buy a full-sized bottle. It needed to go in the handlebar bag for ease of access, and lo and behold--it fit right on top.

Slightly off-kilter rain cover on the Camino de Santiago

Waterproofing: 5
The bag isn't waterproof and doesn't claim to be -- fair enough. It comes with a rain cover, which is a nice gesture, but unfortunately it isn't truly waterproof and is inconvenient to use. The cover goes over the front, top, and bottom of the bag, but not around its back side (facing the bike). Under persistent rain, the cloth on the back side of the bag becomes saturated, and then the water starts seeping to other areas of the bag. I also noticed the zipper on the bag's front pocket has started to wear tiny holes in the cover. Contents inside the bag become damp, though I haven't seen any actual water pool on the inside.

The cover itself is also a bit fiddly to get on correctly. It has a clear plastic panel on the top to facilitate mapreading, but it's hard to get it to line up properly and the cover isn't easy to take on and off. I'd ideally like to be able to take it off without stopping the bike (if it has stopped raining), but this hasn't really felt possible.

Riding in the UK gives one high expectations for waterproofing and I think setup would be perfectly suitable if you weren't planning on riding more than a few hours in the rain. For me, I'm willing to put up with the lack of perfect waterpoofing because I take precautions with the items that would be really damaged anyway; my phone and camera are always ins a ziploc plastic bag or similar, even inside my handlebar bag.

Ease of use: 9

I've found the bag to be incredibly easy to use both on and off the bike. The Klick-fix mounting system is easy to operate meaning that I can easily pop the bag (which usually contains all my valuables) off the bike to take into a shop with me if I'm leaving the bike unattended. The zippers also mean that I can access the main compartment and the flat compartment at the top easily even while riding. This has made a huge difference to my overall average speed as I don't need to stop everytime I want a few M&Ms or a cereal bar.  I can  even use the two zippers to zip up each of the sides and keep the bag unzipped in the middle so that I can snack even more continuously. The map sleeve which attaches to the top of the bag with velcro is also easy to use. The size of the bag means that the viewing area isn't very big, but the map sleeve can be unfolded for a bit of a bigger area for the map if needs be.

Durability: 7
Given that I've used the handlebar bag on the majority of my rides this year, I reckon I've put at least 4,000 km on it. That includes 1200km off-road on the Camino de Santiago. So I must admit it has held up well. However, I can see that the outer cloth is starting to fray at the back near the mounting mechanism. It's entirely possible that this is because I tend to put too much weight in the bag or overstuff it, but it's still worth mentioning that it isn't indestructable.

Handlebar bag on the road bike in the Peak District.

Overall: 8
This gives the bag an average score of 7.25--I'd give it the benefit of the doubt and round up to 8 out of 10. I haven't experienced any major issues with it and it has definitely made a positive contribution to my rides. It's hard to imagine what I would have done without it over this past year!

PS: In case it isn't obvious, we don't get paid for our reviews and we only review products we have bought ourselves unless otherwise stated!

07 November 2012

Cyclo-camping in Dartmoor

We've only had a few opportunities so far to take our tent with us as we head away from London for a weekend of cycling, but we always enjoy it. It makes a more pure getaway than staying in a crappy chain hotel or run-down B&B (which is all we can afford most of the time!).

A few weeks ago we headed to Dartmoor National Park for the weekend after signing up for the Dartmoor Devil 100km audax. Despite our poor showing in the audax, we had a great time.

We took the train to Exeter on Friday afternoon, and by 7pm were pedalling through the darkened countryside lanes towards the campsite in Moretonhampstead. The campsite was actually the field adjoining the village's community and sports centre, and doubled as a football pitch as we learned the next morning! Predictably for late October, we were the only people camping, which meant we had the shower and bathroom facilities to ourselves and didn't have to worry about anyone disturbing our slumber (except the cows in the field nearby!).

Cooking breakfast on the morning of day 1.
We awoke on Saturday morning to a sunny, if chilly, day. After a breakfast of porridge made on our Trangia camp stove, we headed off for a short route exploring the eastern edge of Dartmoor.

We headed up to Drewsteighton and then to Chagford which was such a cute town that we decided to stop for an early lunch. The hills were relentless and I was glad I had decided at the last minute to bring my mountain bike (with newly installed slick tires) to take advantage of the granny gear. I was even more glad when we encoutered a significant section of road that was entirely covered in running water--I guess it had been raining heavily before we arrived. The fat tires on both our bikes meant that we got through this without trouble. I don't know what I would have done on the road bike, given that I would have been scared to go through the water on skinny tires, but couldnt have walked the bike without soaking my feet!

Road or river?
At any rate, we realised we were making much slower progress than usual. Probably down to a combination of the heavier bikes, the very hilly terrain, and our desire to enjoy the scenery in this new part of the country.  We ultimately decided to cut our route a bit short in order to make it back to camp early.  We headed through Widecombe in the Moor and then to Bovey Tracey to scope it out for the following day's start. We took the lanes back up to Moretonhampstead, which was beautiful, but featured some of the most brutal hills of the day -- we decided we'd chance our luck on the A382 the following morning.

Enjoying the views 
Gorgeous conditions on the moor
Some of the lanes up to Moretonhampstead had some extremely posh-looking houses and ridiculously ostentatious cars...but have you ever spotted a helicopter in someone's backyard? We did! Certainly a quick way to get in to town isn't it?

A helicopter in someone's garden
Arriving back to camp with about an hour of daylight left, we (well, mainly Alberto) set to work cooking our dinner of soup followed by cous cous and rice. As the sun set and we sat in the vestibule of the tent, frost began to form on the grass around us. We knew we'd be in for a cold night and were glad for our down jackets, wool socks, and other cold weather attire. Fortunately, having invested in good sleeping bags last year after learning our lesson the hard way, we knew we'd be nice and toasty once we settled in for the night.

Wintry conditions on the morning of day 2.
Sunday's ride was just as beautiful and challenging as the day before, except we had the time limits to contend with. It was disappointing to register our first ever DNF, but overall I still felt the weekend was a roaring success.

We have unfinished business in Dartmoor. Now that we've seen the beautiful scenery, quiet roads, and lovely towns that make up the region, we'll definitely be back.

Dartmoor is enticing us to return!

02 November 2012

Ride report: Dartmoor Devil audax and our first DNF

The main reason for us going to visit Dartmoor National Park was no other than doing the infamous Dartmoor Devil audax ride. The ride has got a well-earned reputation of being a toughie, with about 2500 m of climb in over 100 km. Right in the middle of the autumn, when the clocks go back one hour.

The ride is known to have a considerable amount of DNF-ers, but that did not deter us from joining. We've done plenty of hilly rides here in the UK and down in Spain, and never had a problem or felt unable to carry on. This ride was going to prove us wrong, for the first time!

We woke up to a very frosty morning, with all our camping gear and bikes covered in white stuff. Luckily, soon after 7 am, the soon rose, and with that, all the frost melted. After a quick brew and some breakfast, we were on our way from Moretonhampstead down the A382 to the start, at a pub in Bovey Tracey.

Interesting water formation!
Getting ready, 7 am
The quick bash down the A382 was surprisingly pleasant - that road is beautiful and mostly downhill. Traffic was really light (at least for those of us stuck in the Southeast!) and in less than 30 min we made it to the pub. Gary, the owner, kindly stored all our panniers for the day, until we returned from our ride. The atmosphere, as ever, was good, with people sipping coffee and chatting about bikes. We saw plenty of steel bikes with low gears, and a higher-than-usual number of mountain bikes, all good indicators of what laid ahead of us.

A tandem, yes. And two mtbs, at the Crown Inn, seconds before the off.
At 9:00 sharp, the organiser waved us off. Yet, as it often happens with us, we managed a late start, this time due to Lucy having momentarily lost her glasses! Despite that, we were off shortly after the main peloton and were up against the first wall of the climb. I thought it was a joke, a right turn off of the car park, and the steepest section of road I've done in quite a few months! The organisers were having fun taking pictures of us strugglers! Luckily, Lucy and I had mountain bike gearing, and we did not have much trouble getting up it.... The picture below illustrates this lovely hill.

Image taken from the Dartmoor Devil 2011 website (by Lynda Swayne)
I could see on my GPS that the only purpose of that hill was to warm us up, as we then looped back around Bovey and into some more relaxed lanes. Despite our efforts to catch up with the main group, we only managed to keep them in sight for a while, on the flatter sections, to then loose them completely.

After 10 or so km, we started climbing the hills. Some of the roads were familiar to us as we had been riding some of them (though at touring pace!) the day before. 17 km into the ride, we found our first control, where some nice helpers were delivering great home-made cake as well as stamping our cards. To my surprise, one of them mentioned that we were already out of time by 5 min or so. However, as it appears is the unofficial rule in audaxes, you still get your stamp even if you are out of time. The one that does really matter is the last control, at the finish.

The control was at the top of the hill. The sun was still shining and the roads were quiet, so we went down the descent and into more lanes...trying to catch up on our times. However, the descents proved not to be much faster than the climbs, as they were full of potholes and leaves. Lucy and I agreed it had been a great idea to do this ride on fat tyres, and not the usual skinny 23 mm of our road bikes...and wondered how the rest of the people were getting on?

The route did not get any easier, with very few (if any) flat parts. Our progress was rather slow, and I kept an eye on our speed, being just above the minimum of 13 km/h stated for hilly rides. We were struggling to keep that up, and I could tell Lucy was not enjoying the ride that much. She hates "racing" against the clock, something that does not usually happen when we audax, but it did this time. It was true though, it felt a bit stressful to be out of time and unable to catch up, especially knowing that the weather conditions were about to change for some rain and wind...

We caught up with two of the last riders also, who were experiencing the same problems. Slow progress on the hills, and not enough speed to catch up on the descents. Apparently, the worst of all hills was yet to come. After a brief crossing of the A382, we turned right on to the Pepperdon Hill. Our companions, who were local, immediately advised us to put our lowest gear and take it easy. The road was labelled "unsuitable for motor vehicles", so there was no traffic other than us.

The hill was like no other I've done before, on roads, in the UK. Not only was it steep, but also completely covered in leaves and mud. I was glad I had the tourer, as it was ridiculously slippery (nearly fell twice) and no way I would have made it up on the skinny tyres.

Pepperdon Hill. More cyclocross than road cycling?

It really was steep!
At the top of the hill we met a few other cyclists, who like us, were running behind schedule. Time was tight, so we pressed on. The next control was manned - a guy and his wife were kindly stamping our cards, filling our water bottles, and telling us stories about their rides. They encouraged us to carry on - the worst of the ride was now over, and they reckoned we could still finish on time.

The last 20 km into the intermediate control were not easy. Rolling hills and rain continued for another long hour. We even started to feel cold and I had already given up on the idea of finishing the ride within the time limits, yet the scenery was great and I was still having fun.

We made it to the control with 5 or 6 other struggling cyclists. A hot soup and bread were waiting for us, which was most welcome. I saw a big group of cyclists setting off for the second half of the ride, in the rain and wind. If we had wanted to try and finish the ride, it would have been wise to stick to them, but hot soup sounded better at this point.

Once inside the pub, we had a little rest, got warm again, and chatted to the helpers, who, as usual, were interested in finding out where we both came from and what the hell we were doing in Dartmoor. It all got too comfortable, and the prospect of carrying on slowly disappeared. Once we put all our clothes back on, I saw Lucy still shivering. I would have loved to carry on, enjoy the scenery, hills and atmosphere, despite not being able to finish on time. We had come all the way from London, and it sounded silly to just give up. But it was probably the easiest bail out point, and with dusk fast approaching, we called it a day and shot off down the main road back to the start. It had been our first audax DNF. All the other cyclists who arrived at the control with us, also packed.

The 20 km back to the start went very smoothly. By 3:30 pm we were back at the pub with a pint in hand. Not the finish I would have liked, but it was not too bad after all. 

Our train back to London was 5 hours later, which would have been ok had we finished the ride, but it seemed like a long time now. We eventually headed off to Newton Abbot, and enjoyed seeing one more random English town to add to our list. 

Dartmoor had beat us, but at the same time, impressed us with great lanes and nice scenery. I will certainly try and make it back there soon for a bit of touring, throwing in Exmoor as well. I very much hope that the mud and leaves will be gone by then!

These inclined roads were the norm
All in all, we still managed to get almost a 100 km ride in, with plenty of climb and nice views. At the end of the day, we just enjoy riding, so I was not too bothered about not having finished on time. And yet, it is another excuse to try and beat the Dartmoor Devil next year, if we are still here.