Today I rode the Exmoor Beauty a sportive on my doorstep, seventy miles around Exmoor, no getting up at silly o'clock to drive to it and being able to register on the Saturday was a bonus to, no need to get down to Butlins early to queue and faff. I got up early anyway to make sure breakfast was consumed and stretching done then headed down to Butlins for the 8.00am start. It was chilly and sunny but the big dark clouds were looming overhead, even had a rainbow as we all waited to start.
I was determined to keep a steady pace and not get caught up in the testicle competition that always seem to happen at the start of an event like this, seventy miles around Exmoor is a long way. I can't keep up with the quick boys and girls anyway I'm more of a pootler than a rouleur. The route headed out of Butlins and along the main road out of town and onto the A39 past Dunster turning off in Carhampton and heading up the hill to Blue Anchor and then up the hill out of Blue Anchor down to Watchet and through to Williton. I was feeling ok but had that Star Wars feeling of my hyperdrive not working, everyone else seemed to be whizzing past me whilst I felt I was slowly going nowhere. It was off the main roads now and through the back lanes to Monksilver and past Combe Sydenham, this bits undulating and I was feeling a bit slow and useless as people whizzed by, the road then took us to Elworthy Cross and the first big challenge of the day Elworthy Hill. This definitely brought all the riders back together, its a 17% gradient in places, I really admire the people who rode up it because I walked half of it, I wasn't the only one though. As we reached the top and got on top of the Brendon Hills the rain and wind came, the roads were a bit flatter but the headwind put pay to that luxury.
The undulating theme continued as the route headed past Wimbleball Lake and through the village of Brompton Regis, handily the organisers had put up signs counting down to the feed station which was nice. Time for a nice descent, but I took it steady, it was raining and there was a bit of crosswind but it was still fun and it wasn't all up today. Up the hill into Dulverton, I was feeling better now, think it took me this long to warm up but I was soaked as I got to the feed station in Dulverton. Luckily the sun came out but it was chilly as I helped myself to some hot soup, flapjack and malt loaf, I didn't fancy hanging around to get cold and soon set off on the second leg of the event. The route soon took us up another steep climb out of Dulverton and up to the moors, I had to bail out again and walk a bit, slow, can't ride uphill, why do I do this.
Exmoor unleashed driving rain and a driving headwind once on top of the moors and it was slow going for everyone up here. The puncture fairy was lurking up here, I don't know if it was because we had entered Devon but rider after rider seemed to be suffering. I just kept plodding along, it was quite a nice road with great views, on nice a summers day I'm sure it's lovely. After a while I noticed I had a bit of a chain gang forming behind me, I kept on spinning and they kept sitting behind and chatting and I started to get a little annoyed, then we got to a sheltered stretch and one of the riders emerged from behind me, he commended me on my pace making abilities and informed me he would of helped but the wind was too strong for him to get around me. At least I now know my true calling, mobile windbreak. Finally we turned towards Simonsbath and a tailwind and a puncture, blinkin flip, time to change the tube. As I was on my own I had several kind offers of help but I managed to change the tube but it was a struggle getting the tyre back on with cold hands. After getting back on the road it was a quick descent down Simonsbath then up the hill and onto the nice straight flat road to Exford with added tailwind, time for big ring spinning and rapid progress, even with the puncture I was feeling really good, the legs ached but I was enjoying the challenge.
A quick stop in Exford where the organisers had put up a drinks stop outside the tea rooms, I think the tea rooms were doing a roaring trade by the look of things. Up the hill out of Exford, I was determined to keep going and not bail out, I know these roads and I know I can get up the hills but with fifty odd miles in my legs something I'd not done before. I just kept spinning, down to Luckwell Bridge and back up, still spinning and still pacing others and onto the road that takes you up to Dunkery Hill. I stopped at Dunkery gate for a drink then hit the climb over the hill, its nice and steady and chatted to a couple of other riders and admired the view, the sun was out and the wind was at my back, good times. Down the cracking descent off Dunkery, took it a bit steady with the wind now hitting me, and down to Luccombe and through the back lanes through Wootton Courtenay and onto Dunster. A quick up out the back of Dunster then downhill to the main road and back to Butlins, the finish being inside the ride hq, a round of applause and your name announced on the pa system and a very polite youngster handed me a complimentary t-shirt, nice touch.
Well my legs and back ache now but I'm really chuffed I finished, you can't do anything about the weather and the elements add to the challenge, a great event well organised and a friendly bunch of riders. My cycling gps computer thing seems to be playing up, I was moving for about seven hours and it took me just short of eight hours with the stops and the puncture, time to put the kettle on.