Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Bike Packing Asia: Laos

The second country I visited on my South East Asian adventure was Laos.

I crossed into Laos on the most northern boarder crossing. The checkpoint was high up on a ridge and it took a fair while to fill in all the forms and pay all the USD 'Tourist Fees'.

I dropped down the from the boarder check point and the landscape instantly changed. Tropical jungle covered the mountains and most of the villages were little more than clusters of wooded huts. Laos is the poorest country I have ever visited and one of the friendliest places I have visited. There seems to be a direct correlation between the wealth of a country and kindness to strangers of the locals, the poorer the people the kinder and more welcoming they seem to be. My favorite time of day in Laos was around 3:30 in the afternoon when all the school kids were cycling and walking home. The would all stick their hands out for a high five and every single one would shout 'SABADEE', hello.

I'm a sucker for a good sunset, sometimes when you ride long enough you just happen to end up in the right place at the right time for a moment of magic.

The roads in Laos were very inconsistent. Some were silky smooth, some were gravel and others were little more than thick dust. Guest houses in Asia tend to have wet rooms which are extremely useful for bike cleaning!

Laung Prabang was the first major town on the backpacking route that I stayed in. After 10 days on the road it was nice to meet other travelers and do a few touristy activities. One evening we climbed to the top of the hill in the center of town to sip a beer and watch the sun set. Everyone else in town also had the same idea so i had to que for this photo... not really my thing!

The night market in Laung Prabang was really cool though and there served some fantastic food, perfect after 10 days on the road.

Next stop on my trip was Vang Vien. I cycled up and over a massive dormant volcano which was spectacular and steep. I hung onto the back of trucks to get a cheeky tow up the mountains.

I also met a Japanese cyclist and rode with him for a while. He dropped me eventually but we met for a few beers in Vang Vien that evening.

Vang Vien is a tourist town. Its know as the adventure capital of Laos and offers an array of activities such a tubing and rock climbing. It rained the whole time so I spent my time in the bars and partying!

My final stop in Laos was the capital city, Vientienne. I spent the afternoon looking around the tourists attractions. This arch was built to mimic the Arc de Triumph in Paris. Vientienne sits on the Mekong river which acts as the boarder with Thailand which was next on my agenda.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Bikepacking Asia: Vietnam

I was lucky enough to spend the first 3 months of 2015 travelling around Asia and New Zealand on my bike. I was a little scared having given up a good job and leaping into the unknown. It was an incredible experience and now I have some free time I would like to share some images and stories from my trip and hopefully inspire someone else to pick up their bike and explore the world.

My first destination was Vietnam.

I flew into Hanoi on the 30th of December. This was my first introduction to Asia and the craziness of the cities. The lake in the center of Hanoi looks quiet and tranquil, a welcome break from the craziness!

I was very unsettled for the first few days of my trip, consumed by self doubt and a few pangs of loneliness. I left Hanoi on new years day, earlier than planned but i needed to escape and find my own space. That evening I went to buy a bottle of water from the shop opposite my guesthouse. The shop owner invited me to eat with his family and neighbors and from that moment onward all my doubts about my trip disappeared and I knew everything would be ok. The warmth, kindness and generosity of the Vietnamise people is incredible.

After our meal and copious shots of a mysterious red drink I was dragged next door to the motorbike repair mans house for Karaoke and tea. I turns out that I am better at Karaoke in Vietnamese than English!

I cycled north west through Vietnam towards the Laos boarder. I was travelling light on my mountain bike. 

Vietnamese food is incredible. I survived on Pho for most of my trip. I finally worked out how to ask for rice on my last day in Vietnam but had probably lost a bit of weight by then!

I stopped in a Cafe to buy some water. The owner wanted to look at all my kit and equipment and insisted that he tried on my helmet... it was a bit sweaty!

The driving in Vietnam is a little crazy. People ride motorbikes with out helmets, ride on the wrong side of the road and drive too fast for the roads. I came across this truck that had tipped over driving down a mountain road. Luckily no one was hurt, however this was not the only accident I saw in Vietnam. I saw enough to remind me that I needed to be incredibly careful and be alert and aware at all times for my own safety

I love contrast between the paddy field and the bright red sign. Vietnam is still a communist country and signs like these are abundant.

I was in Vietnam for a little over a week. It was a fantastic country and I would love to return to explore properly.


Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Telegraph: Transcontinetal 2015 interview

I've recently done an interview with The Telegraph about the 2015 Transcontinetal race. You can read it here

The Transcontinetal Race 2015: report part 2

I could sense them watching me, I was surrounded in the dark and I lay dead still frozen with fear for what seemed like hours. Then they came for me. I struggled to escape but was trapped, trapped in my bivvi bag and unable to find the zip to escape. I writhed around in the long grass in terror, my hands unable to locate the zip for what seemed like eternity before finally I found it and ripped it open to escape. The night air was fresh and snapped me from my nightmare. The mosquitoes were still buzzing around me but were somewhat less intimidating now that I was awake and alert. Finding a bivvi spot had proven tricky, tiredness had overcome me and pushing through the night to chase down the race lead was becoming dangerous as my self-awareness and self-control was beginning to deteriorate. The Croatian village that I had chosen to find shelter in seemed to have a barking dog guarding every house and they had sensed the presence of a stranger and were barking and howling loudly whenever I moved. I carried on riding through the village and the road turned to gravel with high hedges either side and eventually the dogs settled down into silence.  I found a small grassy track leading through the hedge row and decided this would have to do as a place to sleep for the night. It was far from ideal but I was tired enough not to care and despite being on edge about being discovered I quickly fell into a shallow sleep. I slept less than 2 hours before the nightmare woke me. I was dripping with sweat and had mosquito bites on my face so decided the best thing to do was to carry on riding towards Vukovar.

Haribo’s are a fantastic breakfast for a Transcontinental racer and soon the sugar had filtered into my muscles and was powering me onwards. Around dawn a huge wave of fatigue washed over my body. My eyes began to lose focus whenever I looked down to check my GPS and eventually my vision became so blurred I could barely see the road stretching out ahead of me. Through the haze I spotted a bench so pulled to a stop, set my watch alarm and then fell into a deep sleep. Ten minutes later I was awake again, a little dazed but able to see so I remounted and carried on hunting the lead of the race.

With relief I reached check point 3 in Vukovar. The concentration of the hard chase had taken its toll and I was mentally fatigued and craving some social interaction. As I pulled up to hotel Lav I was delighted to see Anna, Tori and Red waiting for me on the steps. “Congratulations you are the first rider to CP 3” said Anna. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, I was sure that I would catch James at the checkpoint but was equally as sure that he would leave as soon as I arrived. The plan to crack him in Bosnia was now out the window after he stopped in a hotel for the night while I battled the wild Croatian mosquitoes. The race was now mine to lose, I had gone from second place a few hours behind to suddenly leading by 6 hours. I couldn’t hold in my smile and this was the single happiest moment of the whole race. I had pushed myself hard the whole of the previous day and the relief of being in front was immense.

After a relaxed breakfast and a quick wash in the sink I decided to reward myself for my efforts. I had carried a fresh pair of socks with me from Belgium and now was the time change them. Never in my entire life have I appreciated a clean pair of as much as I did that day in Vukovar.

I left checkpoint 3 happy, relaxed and very much aware of my surroundings. In 1991 Vukovar was the site of a major battle and siege during the Croatian war. The vastly out gunned Croatian National Guard held the city for 87 days against the Yugoslav People’s Army before finally being overcome by the sheer firepower used against them. The city was predominantly destroyed and large numbers of civilians were massacred. It was sobering riding through the city nearly 25 years later, passing by both derelict and inhabited buildings riddled with bullet holes. I remember reports on the news as a child mentioning the wars in the former Yugoslavia so seeing these places for myself really brought home the damage that war can do to people’s lives. The fact that I had just cycled there reinforced how small the world really is and how close to home many of the troubles we see on the news really are.

Bosnia is an incredibly beautiful country. The mysterious misty mountains reminded me of cycling through Laos earlier in the year and this particular stretch of the race satisfied my need to see the world and explore new places. The traffic north of Sarajevo was particularly heavy and it did wear down on my already fatigued mind but generally they were very respectful of cyclists, especially compared to the aggressive nature of Croatian drivers. As far as my race plan went I just needed to maintain by gap. The hard push through Slovenia down to CP3 was beginning to tell and I had to stop more times than I would have liked to stock up on food. I reached Sarajevo as the night closed in and despite my fatigue I decided that I should push on a little further before I slept. I made it to the top of the next climb before the haze of tiredness began to affect my vision and co-ordination so I began to search for a bivvi spot. As luck would have it about 5 minutes later I passed a small café and hostel so pulled up and staggered in. The old man was charming and insisted I take a seat and have a drink. He spoke no English and I spoke no Bosnian but somehow I managed to explain what I was doing and that I needed some where to sleep for the night. 6 Euros later and I had a large dormitory room to myself. I was too tired to shower but managed to rinse my kit, plug in my charger and set the alarm on my watch before falling instantly into a deep sleep.

It was daylight and I was inside. Both these facts set alarm bells ringing as I slowly regained consciousness from my slumber. I took a moment before I realised what I had done. It was nearly 6am and I wasn’t moving. I had slept so deeply that my alarm had failed to wake me and I had wasted 3 hours of my lead. After the initial panic I regained my composure and quickly dressed and prepared my bike to leave. I was angry at myself, over sleeping is a schoolboy error and although it didn’t affect my race situation drastically I was aware throughout the ride that the race winner from the first two editions of the race, Kristof Allegaert, was not present. If I was to win the event I knew I would not be satisfied unless I could post a time comparable to Kristof’s and sleeping for 6 hours is not a mistake that would have gone unpunished had Kristof been present.

A ham sandwich and orange juice for breakfast helped ease the frustration but none the less I decided that under no circumstances would I allow myself to stop for more than ten minutes that day as my lead was now under three hours.  I felt physically strong and was comfortable that the gap couldn’t be closed. However three hours, as I had demonstrated with my unplanned lie in, could be lost with ease. I was climbing again and the weather was moody as high level thunder and lightning rumbled above and a light drizzle fell. The climb I had just crested left me on a high plateau covered in what looked like giant craters. It was a unique landscape which had a mysterious beauty to it. This was a magical moment and is the reason I love touring by bike, you never know what might be round the corner.

I soon found out what was round the corner; gravel. This was genuine gravel unlike the boulders of the Alps but I still had an uneasy feeling. I stopped to check my GPS and phone map as the thunder continued to rumble above. The next high point on my GPS was 5 miles ahead and the road I had found myself on stretched for a further 30 miles. At this point I was glad for my long nights sleep as my mind was fresh and able to make a reasoned decision about the next course of action. If I continued along the gravel road then it certainly wouldn’t turn to tarmac again before the summit. In fact the chances of it turning to tarmac again in the next 30 miles were slim and for all I knew the road might be climbing right up into the thunder storm above. I turned back. The valley road may be longer but was less risky, I had already wasted nearly another 2 hours with this error and if I continued on the gravel this could have been double.

I didn’t know at the time but I came perilously close to losing the lead, 5km in actual fact. I’m glad I didn’t know as it would have spoilt the ride. In some ways I’m even glad that I made the route planning error that led me to the gravel road in the first place. If I hadn’t made that mistake I would never have experienced the mysterious plateau and I may have chosen a totally different route through Bosnia altogether. My diversion took me through some of the most stunning and imposing landscape I have ever experienced. I cycled down a deep, steep sided gorge and the road cut through tunnels in the great walls of rock. Its moments like these that I realise how insignificant humans are in the grand scheme of things. These huge natural rock formations have existed for billions of years and will last for billions more, we are just a speck on the timeline of their existence. My thoughts were deep and focussed on anything but the race as I cycled through the imposing landscape. My emotions from visiting Vukovar were rekindled as I passed by signs warning of land-mines at the side of the road, a stark reminder of the recently history of Bosnia and surrounding countries.

The magically misty mountains of Bosnia ended abruptly. The road led into a long tunnel through a mountain and when I was fired out the other end it was down a long fast descent to the scorched wind swept plains below. I stopped at a petrol station in the town of Gacko, to replenish my food supplies and apply sunscreen. The border with Montenegro was close and the final check point of the race was reachable by sunset. Check point 4 was perched atop Mount Lovcen overlooking the spectacular Kotor bay. This was familiar ground for me having ridden through the same check point in last year’s race, so it was comforting to know exactly what was coming up for the remainder of the race.
I reached Kotor at sunset, happy to be close to the checkpoint and social interaction it entailed. I remembered the climb to mount Lovcen well and especially enjoyed the hair pins on the lower slopes. It’s a climb that suits me, not too steep, fairly long and some nice views. The checkpoint was located in a restaurant a few kilometres below the summit so I decided that I would be able to order a proper meal at the top. I was feeling good and fancied riding fast, so had a quick pit stop at a petrol station and filled up on some high octane fuel; a can of coke, an ice cream and two bags of Haribo. I was also aware that there was a fairly good chance of the cameras rolling on the climb so decided that it would have to be a big ring climb… I wanted to send a message to anyone that might see me climbing that I was feeling strong, fast and wasn’t going to be caught!

Buzzing on caffeine and sugar I rode the lower slopes of the climb at a good tempo, conscious to save some energy to attack the hairpins further up the climb. As I exited a small village around a kilometre up the road four small boys playing in the street spotted me coming. Laughing they linked arms across the road to try and stop me passing. I chuckled to myself and stood up and sprinted towards them in a game of chicken. They broke apart at the last minute screaming and laughing with joy as they ran alongside me, racing me and trying to give me a push.

A little further on I picked up the checkpoint staff who had driven down the mountain in the Volvo support car. I had a brief chat with Mike as he drove alongside while Camille and Barney took photos and filmed, but the adrenaline was pumping and all I wanted to do was race up the climb as fast as I could. I attacked the hairpins as the sun sunk behind the mountains and as darkness finally fell I was left alone in the darkness for the final few kilometres to the restaurant. I arrived at checkpoint 4 just in time for last orders in the restaurant.

Since my mishaps earlier in the day my mind had wandered away from the race situation. I was busy just enjoying the ride and the landscape so it was a sharp snap back to reality when I was sat eating a large bowl of pasta only to be informed that James Hayden had dropped into the bay of Kotor. It was around a two hour ride around the bay and up to the check point but none the less I was on edge again all too aware of how quickly time could be lost. I struggled to finish my meal, after days of constant small meals it was a shock to try and fit in a large one. I had boosted my lead back up to 2 hours since lunch time so was aware that I was riding much faster than James but was still keen to maintain and grow my advantage. I wanted to stay and chat at the check point but I knew I needed to push on so left as soon as I could. I climbed the remained of the mountain the dark and enjoyed the long descent to sea level and the town of Podgorica.

Experience played into my hands over the last few days of the race. I knew there was a 24-hour petrol station on the run in to Podgorica and sure enough I was able to top up my water and sugar levels when I reached it. I had hoped to reach Albania that night but at this stage in the race it was becoming harder and harder to stay awake late into the night. The petrol station attendant told me that there was a hotel 5 km down the road so I decided that this should be my stop for the night. It would only be a short sleep, punishment for oversleeping and aimed at keeping the pressure on James as rumours had begun to surface that he was nursing an injury. I just about managed to stay awake on the descent to the hotel but when I arrived outside it looked shut. It was a warm evening and I spotted a nice shadowed spot in the garden next to the hotel, perfect for a passing transcontinental hobo. I set my alarm for 3 am, 2 hours’ time, and made sure that I slept with my watch next to my ear. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

Albania seems to have a bit of a bad reputation but personally I really don’t understand why. I love Albania, yes it’s a bit rough around the edges in places but has a certain charm to it. I passed through the border just after dawn and made good time along the flat plains that run parallel to the mountains. I knew that the mountains ahead would be tough so stopped for a large breakfast of an omelette and some kind of meat stew with rice. I’m not quite sure what the meat was but it tasted good and didn’t look like it came from a dog so I was content. A quick wifi check showed me that James hadn’t actually made it to CP4 yet and was obviously enjoying a cheeky lie-in in Kotor.

I entered the mountains in a more relaxed state of mind, my race lead back to an acceptable gap should any further mishaps occur. In actual fact I was so relaxed that when I saw the large brown bear in a cage at the side of the road I had to turn round and take a closer look. I don’t condone animal cruelty but it’s not often you get a chance to see a creature this big up close. It was a hot day and the keeper of the bear was hosing him down to keep him cool. I lent my bike up against the step in front of the cage, a good gap between it and the cage bars. The bear was obviously bored and wandered over to look at me while I took a quick photo on my phone. It was particularly hot and I wasn’t sure anyone would actually believe what I was telling them if I didn’t have some evidence. Mr Bear was obviously quite taken by my bike and before I knew it had reached through the bars and had his claws around my rear wheel. I managed to topple the bike forward before it was pulled into the cage and decided that was probably karma for photographing the poor animal. Luckily my bike was unscathed so I sheepishly set off on my way, it was my race to loose and I could have just lost it in a bear attack!

The mountains of Albania were tough. In last year’s race my gear cable snapped forcing me to ride single speed through this section but this year even with gears it was so hard. The heat was unbearable (no pun intended!) and I had to refill my bottles once an hour. The extra 200 miles of mountains through Bosnia had taken the spring out of my legs and it felt substantially harder than the 2014 race. Energy levels were particularly low as I crested the summit of the mountains and my mind was spinning after such exertion in the heat. I was aware that I probably looked especially dishevelled by this point and I was aware of my own stench. I needed food so stopped in a nice airy restaurant. I managed to order a large tray of bread and some meat and despite my waning appetite forced it down. I needed a quick break half way through so took the opportunity to wash my shorts in the toilet sink. I had been suffering with a saddle sore since Italy and the heat and salt had started to make it especially painful and I was concerned that it may get infected if I didn’t pay close attention to hygiene. I scrubbed my shorts as best as I could and hung them to dry over my aero-bars, applied some alcohol hand wash to the afflicted area, stifled a yelp, donned my gore tex shorts and then returned to my table to finish my meal. The restaurant owner probably thought I was a bit strange.

The Macedonian border marks the high point of the mountains. From now on it would be almost all downhill to Skopje and this was in my mind. I say almost all downhill, that is apart from a long draggy false flat through the Mavrovo national park. Last year it went on for what seemed like hours, this year was no different. I finally made the start of the descent, a fast 25 km of downhill, on treacherously pot holed roads. It was dark again and I struggled to pick out the holes under the white lights of my lights. My eyelids were drooping again and I kept rattling through rough sections on the edge of control. With relief I made it to the valley floor with my bike intact but as the time approached midnight I began to realise that my target of making Skopje was unrealistic. I felt especially disgusting after a day of heavy sweating and dusty roads and my saddle sores were at the point where I need Ibrobrufen to be able to sit in comfort. Mentally I was at a bit of a low point so I stopped in the nearest town and found shelter in the first hotel I came across. My phone charger had broken so I had limited contact with the outside world and felt particularly alone and isolated. I needed a good sleep, a good clean and to hit the re set button for the final push to Istanbul.
4 hours of sleep and clean dry kit makes the word of difference. The sun was rising as I cycled through a deserted Skopje feeling fresh and energised. It was nice to cycle across Macedonia in the daylight. In last year’s race I rode most of the way through Macedonia in the dark so was unable to appreciate the rolling hills. The heat was unbearable again but I knew that there wasn’t too much hard climbing before I’d reach the Bulgarian boarder. I also knew that there was a very fast very straight descent down from the border crossing so this was an incentive to keep pushing on.

I didn’t quite make 50 mph as I tore downhill into Bulgaria, I wasn’t far off though. This was the final leg for me and I wanted to finish the ride as soon as I could. Bulgaria treated me to a vicious headwind and eventually I took shelter in a petrol station for a ham sandwich dinner. Miraculously I managed to buy a new phone charger and make contact to the outside world. I also managed to check the race tracker and to my surprise was now leading by an entire country! It turns out that James had pulled out due to injury and second spot was now filled by Alexander, the same Alexander from France who had attacked me in the hills outside Dijon on the first day of the race.

Now I knew I had the race won and had just over a day’s worth of riding left. For some reason upon realising this I decided that trying to cycle the remaining distance to Istanbul without sleeping might be a cool thing to do. That idea lasted until around midnight before I spotted a patch of rough grass next to the Bulgarian equivalent of B&Q. My double vision had returned so I decided that safety was preferable over heroics and curled up in my bivvi bag for my last sleep of the race. Two hours later I was rolling again, keen to cover the next section of road, the notorious E80 trunk road, before the traffic was too bad. My plan worked and, despite a short 10 minute power nap when my eyes started to lose focus, the ride was relatively traffic free. I reached the Turkish border around 10am and cycled to the front of the queue, whacked my passport on the desk and was through in 2 minutes. Its amazing how far a bit of cheek can get you!

As any Transcontinental rider will tell you the final run into Istanbul sucks. Heavy roads, strong winds, lots of traffic, a ridiculous temperature and general fatigue from 2500 miles of riding all add up to make it an unenjoyable experience. I was miserable. It’s a good job I was now on schedule to arrive much later that anticipated as I was in a foul mood and would have made particularly bad company at the finish line. It even crossed my mind to not even bother with the finish line and just find a hotel in the centre of Istanbul and sleep away my temper. I was tired and hungry so decided to stop for one last fuel stop. I brought a carrier bag full of cakes, a can of coke and an iced coffee and was busy consuming an ice cream when two Turkish cyclists turned up. They were a father and son out for an evening ride and the brief conversation I had with them was enough to snap me back to my senses and out of my mood. I was being childish and stroppy and had become self-obsessed over the course of the afternoon. I knew I was nearly done and would be missing life on the road in a few days’ time so made sure I enjoyed the last few hours of my journey.

The final push into the city itself through the Belgrad Forrest sapped the rest of my energy. The short sharp climbs were a struggle but I knew I was nearly there so pushed on regardless. Hitting the Bosphorus was a relief and my body finally shut down. The final 5km to the finish line were a surreal experience. The past 10 days had gone by in a bit of a blur and I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready to be back in the real world. My mind was beginning to spin with hunger and tiredness and I had to stop to eat my final two cakes 2 km from the finish line.

I reached Café Hisar in Istanbul in first position after 9 days 23hours and 54minutes. I’d like to say it was the most fantastic moment of my entire life but in all honesty I was too tired to feel any emotion. Ending an adventure like the Trans-Continental race is always a bit of a disappointment. The real magic of the event is the journey itself, the people you meet and the experiences you have along the way so ending always feels a little bit sad.

After a few days of reflection and recovery the achievement of winning began to settle in. Overall I am happy with the way my race went. Compared to last year’s edition I was mentally much tougher, avoided injury, mechanical issues and equipment failure. I have learnt some lessons from this edition which will hopefully make me stronger in future editions of the race. Currently I am unsure if I will race the Transcontinental Race in 2016. There are plenty of other races on the calendar and many more areas of the world to explore, however I do have a soft spot for this event and will definitely be back again soon.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Transcontinental race 2015: Part 1

Thwack! I didn’t see it coming until it was too late and now it was spiraling towards the ground in a cloud of feathers. This was not the start to the Transcontinental Race that I had imagined but in this race you have to be prepared for anything, even Kamikaze pigeons at one in the morning.

Its cruel to start a race a midnight, the waiting is unbearable. Trying to sleep is futile. How can you sleep when you know that you have to ride over 2500miles unsupported across a continent? I obviously didn’t learn my lesson last year as I was back waiting to go, waiting to ride off into the dark Belgian night on this adventure thinly veiled as a race.

The 2015 Transcontinental Race began in Gerradsbergen in the heart of Flanders. Cycling here is almost a religion so it was fitting that our race began with an ascent of the Kapel Muur, the hallowed cobbled climb to the chapel made so famous by the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.

Dive bombing pigeons aside, the first few hours of the race went to plan. I was anxious at the start, I’m impatient at the best of times and hate waiting so for me a midnight start just works me up. I just wanted to go, I wanted to ride, I wanted to begin this journey, to be alone in the night pedaling to Istanbul. I had used my experience from the 2014 edition of the race to form a clear plan in my head, I didn’t want company or outside influence for this race. Race is the wrong term for this event, this is an adventure and a challenge, a challenge against your mind, a challenge physically, a challenge to finish. For me racing too early on in a race this long is a mental distraction, for now my primary focus was to finish without problems or mistakes. Only later in the race would I worry about the other riders and so with this in mind I rode the Kapel Muur flat out! I probably rode it too hard but there was method in the madness, I wanted to escape alone and settle into my own rhythm.

The first night of the race was a little wild with strong crosswinds and the odd rain shower battering northern France. The Transcontinental race uses a series of checkpoints to guide racers on their route to Istanbul, the rest is self-navigated. For 2015 the first checkpoint was atop an icon of the cycling world, Mont Ventoux, so as dawn broke on the first day the 200 riders of the Transcontinental race were cycling south down France. During the night I felt very alone. I saw no lights from fellow riders and had no communication with the outside world. For all I knew I could have been the only cyclist in France so it was somewhat of a surprise when I passed a fellow rider diving into a boulangerie for an early morning pastry raid. I had no idea which competitors maybe fast in this edition of the race and didn’t recognise the rider but he shouted my name and there was a temptation to stop, however there was still a pack of Belgian waffles bungeed to my handlebars so I judged it a bit too early in the race to stop for extravagances like gossiping over a croissant.

The weather settled and temperature rose as I made my way south and escaped the approaching storm front. I encountered the first significant climbs of the ride as I approached Dijon, not massive in the grand scheme of things but enough to hint at things to come. It was approaching Dijon that I had my only significant meeting with a fellow rider. I stopped to attend a call of nature and as I remounted a cyclist on a loaded bike came into view. I knew this must be a racer, it seemed too much of a coincidence that there would be two riders on the same road at the same time with similar bike setup so I made sure I rode as hard as possible whilst looking like I wasn’t trying.

The sight of another rider must have spurred Alexander on as soon he cruised up next to me with a similar forced relaxed face on. We rode together and exchanged pleasantries, comparing notes and complaining about the wind and rain of the first 24 hours. Alexander Bourgeonnier, a Frenchman from Annecy, was on his first Trans Continental race and seemed to relish the opportunity to cause some discomfort to a passing Englishman. The pleasantries continued as the half wheeling began and before I knew it we were tearing down the short descents as if the finish line in Istanbul was at the bottom. We hit the next climb and I moved alongside Alex doing my very best to continue the conversation and subdue my heavy breathing but he was having none of it and cranked the pace up a notch. Who was this guy? I prayed that he couldn’t keep this pace to Istanbul and calculated in my head weather the single soggy Pain Aux Chocolate in my rear pocket contained enough energy to fuel me to Dijon. I decided it did and reached into my pocket. Alex sensed my weakness and took off up the climb in a full on road racing attack. There was nothing I could do apart from sit back and refuel. If I rode any harder I would blow so I stuck to my own pace and counted the stars that were beginning to spin around my head.

France is not renowned for its convenience food so it was with disbelief that I pulled up at the mobile pizza van. Chasing Alexander had taken its toll and I was running on fumes so the thought of a nice big pizza was comforting and I ordered the biggest one on the menu and sat on a bench stuffing my face as a crowd of locals stood around discussing the disheveled stranger in their midst. Refueled and content I set off once more and a quick supermarket sweep in Dijon left me fueled up and ready for my second night of the race.

Thwack! Tonight’s wildlife was a low flying bat deflecting off the side of my head as dusk fell. No harm done, just a gentle reminder to expect the unexpected. Southern France was lovely and peaceful. The wind had settled and I was settling into the rhythm of the ride. In my mind I had the target of riding 400 miles before my first sleep but as midnight approached so did the weariness. I called it a day after 370 miles non-stop riding and I didn't feel too guilty, that’s the furthest distance I’ve ever cycled non-stop on a bike. As reward for such effort I treated myself to a 3 hour sleep on a concrete floor under a car port.

The alarm rang at 3 am, I had already been awake for 5 minutes, a good sign that my mind was in race mode and was focused on forward momentum. Within ten minutes I was up and riding straight through a massive party. It seems the small sleepy French village I had chosen for my sleep was having a Fete so the first challenge of the day was to dodge the drunken revellers staggering home. I have to admit I was extra careful after my run-ins with wildlife so far and made it through unscathed.

A fast flat run down the Rhone valley took me into my second afternoon of racing and the beautiful Provence region, home to Ventoux. The temperature was in the mid-thirties and I was resorting to garden hose pipes to keep hydrated and ice creams to keep cool. My Pain Aux Chocolate supplies had begun to run low as I approached the shadow of Mont Ventoux so I decided an unscheduled food stop was in order. Beumes-de-Vinese was the town I stumbled into searching for food, it’s a beautiful ancient town which attracts tourists from all over the world. I’m not entirely sure the sweaty half cut cyclist image fits in too well with their visitor demographic, but I did buy enough food for a small army so at least the local economy has been boosted!

Fed and watered once more I began my approach to the first checkpoint of the race atop Mont Ventoux. I was pleased with my timing, the heat of the day was beginning to subside and the sun would be setting as I reached the summit. As a cycling fan it’s always a bit surreal to be riding the same roads that host the biggest bike races in the world and I was very aware of the history and significance of this particular road whilst I struggled up the steep lower gradients. I was thankful when the batteries died on the GPS, it gave me a genuine excuse to stop at the side of the road and have a rest while I replaced them. Eventually I made it out of the tree-line and onto the iconic moonscape for the final six km to the summit where the official race support car came into view. It was nice to have a conversation with someone for the first time in two days, even if it was an interview with race director Mike Hall driving alongside in the car as I desperately tried to stop the flow of blood from a nose bleed. Not quite what I had imagined from my TV début but maybe the blood made the whole scene a bit more heroic, or maybe it just made it look like I’d picked my nose.

I sumitted Ventoux around 7:30 pm and after a quick restock of water in the gift shop was able to take stock of the race situation. Until that point I hadn't really had much information regarding the race situation, so I was nice to hear that I was third to check point 1. First was James Hayden, who it turns out was the mystery croissant raider from the previous morning, and second was the German Bernd Paul who unfortunately was forced to retire after suffering from an allergic reaction to the intense sun. This effectively left me in second position some 3 hours off the lead. However the curve ball was that I had slept for 3 hours and James had stopped for nothing more than a few power naps. I was confident that James would not be able to continue with his race strategy without cracking eventually so decided to ignore him and focus on my own game. More concerning to me was Ultan Coyle, the Irish rider on the full time trial setup with the funky carbon aero luggage who was rapid on good roads. I knew he was faster in a straight line, I just had to hope that the aerodynamic advantages offered by his bike were nullified when the going got rough in southern Europe.

Provence is an incredibly beautiful part of France and I couldn't help but stop for a quick food break to watch the sun set over the lavender fields surrounding the giant of Provence. The next challenge was the Alps and my aim was to clear them the next day. That night I slept for 3 hours in an apple Orchard and it was probably the best night’s sleep of the entire race, hotel stops included, and I woke up feeling fresh and strong, a good sign for the looming mountains.

Check point 2 was an Alpine affair located in the ski resort of Sestriere, this check point came with added ‘Parcours’. Not content with just giving us the challenge of cycling all the way across Europe unsupported, race director Mike had decided to send all the riders of the TransContinental along the Strada dell Assietta, a 45 km gravel road at 2000 meters altitude. As a mountain biker at heart I wasn’t too phased by this additional challenge, if anything I was relishing it, confident in my off road ability and more importantly my equipment. Overnight I had maintained my second position in the race and reached CP2 around an hour and a half behind James the race leader. My mind was still focussed on my own game plan but I was still very much aware that James had had no significant sleep and that Ultan would have an advantage on the other side of the mountains once we hit the fast flat roads of northern Italy. After a quick can of coke and a wash in the sink at the checkpoint I set out to conquer the gravel.

My pre-race plan was to attack this section hard to try and gain as much as a buffer as possible over Ultan Coyle before the flat. The first part of plan ‘gravel attack’ was to let some air out my tyres for extra grip and comfort. Running tubeless tyres meant that I could run low pressures with no risk of pinch punctures. My bike selection was based around the fact that some of the roads I would encounter wouldn’t necessarily be silky smooth tarmac. The phrase ‘to finish first, first you must finish’ is particularly relevant to the Transcontinental race and with that in mind my bike setup was tough; 28mm tubeless tyres, Hunt 4 season disc wheels, a Mason frame, hydraulic disc brakes and plenty of frame clearance.

I was keen to make amends for my rather dismal TV debut on Ventoux and the Assietta offered the perfect opportunity. The climb up to the ridge went smoothly, I felt strong despite the 2000 m+ altitude and the bike was performing faultlessly; I even managed a race face for the camera. Thwack buzzzzzzzzzzzzz! The illusion was broken as I tore down the first short downhill section only to experience my third wildlife encounter in as many days. This time a bee had inadvertently flown into my ear. Cue the comedy head shaking and arm waving as I struggled to control my bike on the loose gravel corners as it stung the inside of my ear. Of course all this was captured on camera so now my TV career has been put on hold for a few more years.

Wildlife encounters aside the Assietta ridge was good to me. I pushed hard on the climbs and rode smoothly on the descents using my years of mountain biking experience to pick the smoothest and fastest lines. The final descent off the ridge was another story all together. The gravel track gave way to a super rocky loose broken cobbled road. At this stage I was wishing I was on a mountain bike not a road bike and the best way to proceed was slowly and with caution. Speed only increased the risk of punctures and crashes and the vibrations through my carbon soled race shoes and rigid forks required frequent stops to ease the pain of my cramping muscles. I made it down in one piece though and when I saw Mike later on in the race I put it to him that he had a rather skewed perspective on what constituted a gravel road. ‘I didn't actually ride it before the race’ he replied, thanks Mike!

The Po valley, “a major geographical feature of Italy extending approximately 400 miles in an east to west direction” according to the internet. Hell on earth according to any Transcontinental rider. The next phase of the race could be considered as more of a transitional stage however it proved tougher than Google maps may have suggested. Long straight flat roads in 35 degree heat with a nice cross headwind to boot isn't a pleasing formula for a tired cyclist. For me the challenge was more mental than physical, my body was feeling strong enough despite the heat but mentally I was really bored. The novelty of large trucks overtaking at speed and a monotonous agricultural landscape numbed my brain so I convinced myself that stopping regularly at McDonald's and every open café en route would A) help refuel me and B) give me some mental stimulation. In fact the most mental stimulation I received on this particular segment of the ride was working out the best way to avoid mosquitoes when bivviing at night. The answer to this is that you can’t, as I found out when I shared my bivvi bag with a number of the blood lusting beasts. I consoled myself that at least there were less inside my bivvi bag than outside and that I would be forced to make a quick getaway in the morning after my 3 hour sleep.

Even passing Venice was disappointing. I had imagined that I may catch a passing glimpse of the floating city but all I encountered were busy roads, traffic jams and prostitutes lurking around traffic lights. However I did meet the first road side supporters, those crazy dot watching fanatics who hunt down passing riders to take photos and offer encouragement. This was a welcome turn of events and it snapped my mind back into focus after the tedium of the past day and a half. I had lost a bit of time to James over northern Italy, no doubt because I had spent too much time slacking, but I was feeling strong and well fed. My concerns over Ultan Coyle had also disappeared after Strada dell Assietta took its toll on his sleek time trial machine forcing a long walk and an overnight stop. Now the race had settled and the overall picture was much clearer, it was now a two horse race to the finish and one of the horses still needed to sleep!

That night I treated myself to a hotel near the Slovenian border, more by luck than judgement it must be said. It was approaching bed time and I happened to pass a large hotel on the edge of town. On the off chance I staggered in looking for a room much to the bemusement of the night porter, especially when I told him that I would be leaving again at 3:30 am. There was space though so I settled in and slept deeply, enjoying comfortable bed, a lack of mosquitoes and my first shower and kit wash of the race.

By 3:30 am I was up and riding again. Today was a big day in my mind, time for my big push. I knew that I had stopped too much in northern Italy so my game plan was to keep the pressure on James for the next couple of days. I knew he hadn’t slept properly yet and knew that his leading gap was essentially time that I had been asleep, in my mind I was already in a race winning position and all I needed to do was wait until James cracked and I was going to do everything I could to accelerate the process.

Slovenia was wonderful to cycle through. The roads were smooth, the drivers considerate and the service stations stocked with good food and wifi. The terrain was also more to my liking; nice steady big ring climbs and gently rolling roads. The temperature had dropped and I felt as though my body was firing on all cylinders. Concentration was key today, no soft pedaling, no wrong turns, no day dreaming, no sitting up out of the aero position just pure focus on forward momentum. The plan almost went perfectly, a small detour around a road where cycling was banned the only mishap. I crossed the Croatian border in the early evening, the day had disappeared in what seemed like a few hours as my concept of time was distorted. A quick check a few hours previously had shown James to be at the border of Croatia so I was confident that my focus was paying off and that the gap was closing.
Vukovar was now in my sights and my plan was to keep the pressure on all the way to the checkpoint located there. I figured that James would reach the checkpoint before me but I really wanted him to see me. I wanted him to see me pull in as he left the check point so that he was running scared and under pressure. I knew that I could crack him in the mountains, I just needed to be in range to attack and so I pushed on into the Croatian sunset.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Transcontinetal Rcae 2015: My bike and kit setup

HuntBikeWheels brand manager Josh Ibbett has recently won the 2600mile TransContinetal race, an unsupported race from Gerradsbergen in Belgium to Istanbul in Turkey. In the following article Josh runs through his equipment choices and the reasons behind them:

The Bike
I am lucky enough to be supported by Dom at Mason Cycles and have chosen to ride the fantastic Definition Aluminium frame. The frame is disc specific which makes perfect sense to me for this type of race. Last year by the end of the race my pads were particularly worn due to the bad weather and the cable were gritty and hard to pull. When exhaustion is setting in after a week of nonstop riding being able to pull the brakes fast is essential. The other benefit of using disc brakes is that I am able to run 28mm Schwalbe One Tubeless tyres with plenty of clearance and if I do have any wheel issues I will be able to ride easier with a buckle. Tubeless tyres are a huge benefit in terms of comfort and puncture protection especially as there are 40km worth of gravel road to CP2. The geometry is super stable and comfortable which essential for the Paris-Roubaix smooth roads across Albania and Bulgaria towards the end of the race.

The running gear is a Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc group set. Last year I had issues with snapped gear cables, stiff cables and also sore fingers from all the shifting. I’m hoping that the switch to Di2 will eliminate this but I am carrying the battery charger just in case. I’ve chosen a mid-compact 52/36 chain set and 12-25 cassette, this seems to work for me, I don’t want to make things too easy and slow in the mountains! A small bottle of Juice Lubes Viking Juice keeps things running smoothly in the chain department.

Finishing kit is a stock Mason alloy Deda affair with a carbon post. Alloy is fine for me, carbon would be nice but the reality is that I’m probably going to clatter a few potholes and unceremoniously dumb the bike on the floor when I’m tired so alloy should hold up well.
As Hunt Bike Wheels brand manager it is only right that I use Hunt wheels. Our Mason x Hunt 4 season disc wheels are actually spec’d as standard on Mason bikes and are perfect for long haul journeys. Brass nipples, a disc brake specific rim with a wide rim bed and tubeless readiness means that these wheels tick a lot of boxes in terms of durability and light weight and have proven to be strong, fast and reliable during training.
A comfortable position is important for riding long distance and my setup works for me. When I break down the race in my head a large proportion of the distance is on rolling or flat terrain with the mountains only making up a relatively small percentage. For these reasons I have set my bike up in more of a time trial position. I have fitted Profile carbon clip on aero bars and have a Prologo time trial saddle and am able to hold a nice low aero position in comfort, hopefully this will help keep up my average speed.

The unsupported nature of the Transcontinental race means that I need to be self-sufficient and carry any tools I may need to repair by bike. Lezyne have supplied me with a rather fancy Carbon Road Drive mini pump, M Caddy saddle bag, Carbon 10 mulit tool and the excellent smart tyre patches and tyre boot. In addition to this I will take my trusty pen knife (the same one I used as a boy scout when I was a kid), a section of old milk bottle as a tyre boot, electrical tape (mainly to tape my gps to my bars!), the Di2 charger (just in case), 1 x quicklink, plus assorted zip ties and 2 spare inner tubes.

Lighting, navigation, power and gadgets
Last year I relied on a dynamo hub to power my lighting and gadgets. I had issues which led to my gps running out of power a number of times and being unable to charge my phone and i-pod. This year I am running the trust AA battery Garmin Etrex 30. It’s not as sleek or flashy as the bike specific GPS units but it just works and when it runs out I can just pop in some new batteries. With the GPS issue resolved the Dynamo isn’t as necessary so I have chosen to run a stock Hunt disc hub instead of a dynamo. Lighting is taken care of by Exposure lights in the form of a Toro light mounted under the bars, a Joystick helmet light and a Blaze rear light. Each light is used on the 34hour setting which provided more than enough light for road use and should see me to Istanbul, although I do have the usb charging cable just in case!

I am also carrying my I-pod loaded with some pumping house and drumnbass tunes for a late night biking rave or two and also my phone which doubles up as emergency navigation and camera. Gadget charging is taken care of by two USB wall plugs. I will be stopping for food so will be topping up these gadgets daily. I am also running a cateye cycle computer to record my daily mileage, ride time and average speeds. Finally I am using a set of Lezyne Femton LED lights as back up and safety lights. These run forever and use easily replaceable batteries if they were to run out, I tend to use these on flash at dusk and dawn to save my main lights batteries and keep myself visible.

I use the term hygiene loosely as I probably won’t wash very much! However I will take a toothbrush, toothpaste, P20 waterproof sunscreen and Sudocrem for the more sensitive areas. Some people like to cut down their tooth brush to ‘save weight’. Personally I feel that riding 2500miles with minimal sleep is hard enough without making the more simple tasks difficult by using half a toothbrush! I will also take a small pot of Nuun electrolyte tablets and a few sachets of Dyralite to rehydrate after really hot days and look after my body. Its amazing the difference it can make and I relied on it when touring Asia this winter. I also carry 2 x 750ml Lezyne water bottles and replenish these at shops and petrol stations or even streams if I’m desperate.

I am lucky to be supported by MissGrape, a relatively new Italian company who make excellent bike packing luggage, who have supplies me with an Internode frame bag. I used MissGrape bags in a particular wet and muddy Highland trail 550 race in Scotland earlier in the year without issue. Being rather lanky and riding a bike size which some have referred to as a ‘gate’ does have its benefits. I am able to fit the large size bag inside my frame which carries all my sleeping gear and extra kit. No saddle bag for me this year, just the sleek aero frame bag and a nice centre of gravity. Lezyne Carbon SL side entry bottle cages aid bottle clearance and a top tube bag houses small items that I may need to access on the move. A patent pending croissant holder (some elastic cord) is attached to my tri bars for easily accessible fuel storage.

Part of the ‘charm’ of a self supported race is the sleeping rough aspect. I actually quite enjoy this, maybe it’s some prehistoric caveman instinct in me. In last year’s race I travelled ‘light’ only taking a bivvi bag, sleeping mat and sleeping bag. After 2 nights I was bored of blowing up my airmat and packing away my sleeping bag so didn’t bother using them. Effectively I carried them all the way to Istanbul for nothing! This year I am actually travelling light just taking a bivvi bag and a silk sleeping bag liner. I camped in this way for 2 months in New Zealand and have dialled the most comfortable method of sleeping in what is a very uncomfortable setup. The benefits are that it is very light and quick to setup and put away. My theory is that if you’re trying hard enough and are tired enough you will sleep anywhere anyway! Some riders prefer to sleep in hotels and I will probably spend a night or two in one, but after all this is a race and if you are uncomfortable when you wake up the motivation to stay in bed and snooze is somewhat diminished so you get up and start riding quicker.

The main items I will be wearing are my Hunt Bike Wheels cycling shorts, socks and Jersey by Mobel. If I stop in a hotel I might take them off but if not I’ll be wearing them for around 10 days straight so it’s a good job they are comfortable. I may take an extra pair of socks as the stench can be particularly embarrassing after a while, the old pair will be sacrificed to the TCR gods half way through. I also have a super light mesh base layer, the incredible Defeet Merino arm warmers (my all-time favourite piece of kit), a pair of light weight knee warmers and a super light windbreaker Gillet.
If the weather turns for the worse support from Gore Bike Wear should keep me warm and comfortable. I will be using a GoreBike Wear 30th Aniversery Oxygen Gore-Tex rain Jacket, Gore-Tex cycling cap and Gore-Tex Active shorts. These also double up as my ‘casual’ clothes and sleeping clothes as they keep the heat in and help warm up my muscles when I begin riding before dawn. Gore Bike Wear mitts keep my hands protected and a Giro Synthe helmet provides a good mix between comfort, cooling and aerodynamics plus a set of Oakley Jawbreaker sunglasses satisfy my inner sunglasses snob and ensure some ridiculous facial tan lines. I am using Northwave shoes again, the same model as last year but a half size up to account for swollen feet in the heat and Speedplay zero pedals. Finally I carry a PHD designs down Gillet to sleep in and use as my last resort ‘its really bloody cold’ layer. They key for me is multi use items of clothing for a variety of situations that also fold down small and are light.

Overall I am very happy with my setup. It’s a light fast setup fine tuned during my bike packing experiences over the past couple of years. It could probably be lighter if I really tried but I have chosen reliability and familiarity over ultimate light weight. I know and trust all my equipment and that peace of mind is worth its weight in gold when the going gets tough.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Cycling to Lands End (and back)

My name is Josh and I like bike riding. That’s pretty much what I said in my job interview for Hunt Bike wheels. I did already know Tom (he used to be my manager at a previous job) and his brother Pete, who own Hunt Bike wheels, so I guess that may have helped me get the job but whatever reason it was here I am! My job is to represent the Hunt Bike wheels brand, develop new and exciting products and most importantly make sure that our customers receive great service and are happy.

I am quite fortunate that my first big task in my role as Hunt Bike Wheels brand wheels does in actual fact involve bike riding. Last year I took part in the Trans Continental race, a 2300mile self-supported race across Europe from London to Istanbul. I had a few issues along the way, both mechanical and physical, but made it to Istanbul and even managed to finish in second place, albeit quite a long way of first.

This year the race starts in Belgium, and is a further 200 miles longer taking the total distance to 2500 miles. I am once again taking part in the race which starts next Friday (July 24th) at midnight and I will be representing Hunt Bike Wheels and Mason Cycles. With that in mind I was determined to be more prepared than my interview so decided to go on a long weekend training ride to test all my equipment and prepare myself for days in the saddle.

The ride began after work on Thursday evening. Around 6pm I headed west in the shadow of the South Downs along with ‘the boss’, Tom, co-founder of Hunt Bike Wheels. After around 20 miles Tom peeled off and headed back home and I continued on my way, happy at last that I could relax and not have to try and look like I wasn’t trying or breathing hard whilst riding hard!

I rode on into the fantastic South Downs sunset and eventually, after a sandwich stop at a petrol station, reached the New Forest around midnight. One aspect of long distance riding that I particularly enjoy is finding an interesting spot to sleep. Traveling light is key to riding fast on a long distance race so the easiest way to cut down on weight to limit sleeping equipment carried. Tonight was the first big test of all the kit I planned to take, or more importantly the kit I decided not to take. Thankfully the new Forest is a suitably soft sleeping location so I slipped off the road and bedded down for the night behind a hedge, a handily placed tree root providing a suitable pillow.

As this is more of a training ride the aim was to test everything, cover some distance and not totally destroy myself so I granted myself a whooping 5 hours sleep per night, that’s almost as much sleep in 3 days as I will have in the entire Transcontinental race, luxury!

I set my alarm for 5:30am and was rolling by 6am after a chicken sandwich for breakfast. The New Forrest was peaceful in the speckled morning light and I was soon warmed up and feeling good. The Transcontinental race contains a section of untarmacked road this year so with this in mind I took in a few sections of gravel track through the Forrest to test out the tyres and made sure nothing rattled loose. I made it through with no punctures and was soon heading towards Bournemouth on the increasing heat of the morning. My route took me along Bournemouth seafront towards the Swanage chain ferry, which was loading as I arrived, perfect!

After the ferry crossing I headed west past Corfe Castle and further on into Dorset following the coast road. The heat of the day had really ramped up now so keeping hydrated was key. Dorset rolled by without issue and I made it into Devon just after lunchtime. It turns out there aren’t actually any flat roads in Devon so progress was somewhat hindered. After escaping the delights of Exeter it was nice to climb up and over Dartmoor although the exposed windswept moorland did see a significant drop in temperature. I was happy to reach the far side of Dartmoor, as energy levels were dropping and my head was beginning to spin.

I staggered into a local Co-op in search of sugar and emerged clutching a box of cereal bars (there was a £1 special offer on!), a can of coke and an ice cream, much to the bemusement of the locals who were obviously on their way home from work and had stopped to buy beer on wine to numb themselves on a Friday night. I find that riding all day has a very similar affect and they probably thought I was drunk as I staggered about in my sweaty lycra.

Post sugar top up things began to look up, then down again, then up again quite steeply. I’m talking about the road rather than my mental state here as I lost count of the number of 10%, 15%, 20% and even 25% gradient warning signs on the roads. The climbs killed any speed instantly and the descents were twisty and had to be ridden with care which made for a tough few hours. Eventually I decided that dinner was in order so stopped in the small town of Lostwitheil to order a delicious homemade Pizza.

It’s incredible how the body responds to a bit of food and I set off again just before 9pm feeling strong and full of energy. The aim was to get as close to Lands End as possible so that I could do a dawn raid in the morning. Eventually I made it to around 5miles outside Penzance, 230miles for the day, before deciding that it was time for bed. There had been a couple of showers floating around so I was keen to find a covered bivvi spot if possible and fortunately I happened to pass a Primary School complete with activity playground and a covered wooded gazebo. Before I bedded down for the night I did run through the ethical issues involved with sleeping in a primary school playground but decided that as it was a Friday the school would be closed in the morning eliminating the potential to scare pupils or parents if I overslept!

The decision to sleep under cover was justified by a massive downpour during the night so I was happy to wake up dry and rested. Once again I was rolling by 6 and was keen to reach Lands End before the tourists arrived.

I passed through Penzance, stopping for the opportunity to take a couple of photos of the harbour in the wonderful morning light, before heading on towards Lands End. The wind was blowing in from the Atlantic which made the last couple of mile to Lands End pretty tough but I made it by around 7:30am and had the place to myself. After the obligatory photos by the Lands End sign post I stripped off, sun screened up set my sail and course North East and enjoyed the tailwind to a nice fried breakfast in St Ives. By this point the tourists were well and truly awake and were enjoying a beautiful sunny morning sitting in traffic jams.

The next few hours were on nice enough rolling roads however the traffic was fairly heavy and inconsiderate at times, but unfortunately there are not many roads in that part of the world so it is to be expected. The afternoon passed relatively easily, although I did begin to feel the sections of my body that I missed with the sunscreen and began to feel a bit crispy by the time I hit Exmoor in the evening.

By this time my body had well and truly adapted to spending all day in the saddle and was enjoying the climbs in Exmoor. I stopped for a quick Pub Lasagne before continuing north towards the Quantock hills. I hit the Quantocks as dusk fell and was immediately riding through tiny lanes with high hedges that cut across steep valleys. Night fell as I hit the climb up to Quantock Common, a half mile 25% average climb. That one certainly stung the legs after more than 200 miles but I was keen to continue riding until midnight.

Midnight passed on the approach to Cheddar, home of the cheese, in the Mendip hills. Once again there were showers around so a covered bivvi spot was my main priority and I found a good spot relatively quickly. A derelict barn at the side of the road was home for the night and once I’d established that it wasn’t going to fall on me in the night I settled in for a cold night on the concrete floor after another 230mile day. Although it was not the most comfortable night’s sleep ever I did make a very important discovery, my cycling shoes make and extremely comfortable pillow!

The alarm sounded at 5:30 for the last time and by now I was well into routine. I was awake, fed and ready to go in 15minutes and the first task of the day was to ride up Cheddar Gorge. I was feeling particularly sunburnt after the past few days so was almost glad that the cloud had rolled in for the day. It then started to rain so I changed my mind and wished for sunburn but the plus side was that there was a healthy South Westerly giving me a helping hand home.

When the end is in sight all you want to do is finish and as there was 140miles to cover I was keen to crack on. I didn’t really stop for breakfast or lunch today, only quick pit stops to top up on cereal bars. The rain was miserable and moving kept me warm and helped me cover ground so I just pushed on. I crossed Wiltshire and on into Hampshire where I had a brilliant half hour as I picked up the route of a sportive. I found it very amusing big ringing past everyone on the climbs with 600 miles in my legs, until I was forced into an emergency petrol station pit stop soon after when the world began to spin and my legs stopped working. Two rather large cherry bakewells and a cappuccino later I was off on the final 50 mile stretch along the South Downs home to Brighton buzzing on my caffeine and sugar hit. I made it home around 4pm, a handy 695 miles in the legs. All my bike and equipment was faultless and my body seemed to cope without issue. Now all there is to do is rest and recover ready for the start of the Transcontinental race for real. I can’t wait!