By Ambassador Tim Wiggins
Sometimes it is fun to throw a ball and see where it lands. To drop a pin on the map and see if you can get there under your own steam. It has been a while since I have done a real long ride, but the ‘Long Road North’ – from Portsmouth to Manchester was designed to be a bit of fun, with a healthy dose of trepidation.
The planned route totalled 377 kilometres, from the South Coast to The North. On my previous multi-week tours, I have known that 240 kilometres a day on a fully loaded touring bike is about my max; but that I have done 500+ in one hit on a lightweight setup on several occasions (check out the #BlackForest400 and #RideTheTrafalgarWay). This ride was on the Kona Rove tourer, with panniers full of clothes and a laptop; that all made it a bit of an unknown on the timings and speed, but I thought I would give it a shot as a long day out…
The maths and planning were simple. 04:30 wake up. 05:45 ferry. 06:15am start. Pedal for 16 hours. Hopefully, finish around 22:00. I plotted the route to take me far away from the various cities and built-up areas, and instead through some of the most scenic counties such as the Cotswolds, Warwickshire, and the North Wessex Downs.
Rolling off the ferry, I was soon out of Portsmouth and into dark and frosty Hampshire hills, looking up at the stars on a clear January sky. The sun began to rise as I pedalled through the quiet lanes towards Winchester, revealing a stunning winter day.
By mid-morning I was into the North Wessex Downs AONB and loving the rolling lanes through sleepy hamlets and grand manor house farms. A particular highlight was the climb up Combe Hill—revealing the stunning outlook shown on the lead photo of this post.
By mid-day I had made it to Cirencester – the most quaint and picturesque of Cotswolds town. I stopped for a coffee and bun from the local bakery and browsed over the remaining route for the day: 150 kilometres down, still 200+ to go…
From Cirencester I kept tracking north, past Cheltenham and around the edge of the Malvern Hills. The riding continued to be idyllic country lanes winding through quiet country farms.
As the clock ticked over 16:00 and 240 kilometres, the dark was beginning to creep back in.
I had slipped a bit on nutrition and hydration (a little out of practice) and was developing a thumping headache—likely due to falling blood sugar levels and dehydration. My classic tell-tale sign of losing feeling in my fingertips also suggested that my body was beginning to complain. The early start, sub-zero temperatures, and weighted bike all seemed to be catching up on me…
I am getting better at listening to my body, and knowing when it has had enough. Now seemed to be one of those moments; the fun side of the ride was beginning to wane too. I reassessed and calculated I could sprint into Wolverhampton and catch a train a few stops north to reduce the load.
Riding into Wolverhampton was a sharp contrast to the quiet hills of the previous ten hours, and it culminated with a 35 kph sprint along a meter wide towpath on the canal side as I raced to catch the 18:15 train. I made it, by 20 seconds, and slumped on the floor—the now pitch-black countryside zipping past the window at five times the speed I could ride it.
Arriving in Stockport, I had a simple 10 kilometres spin into the city to finish off the day. I arrived in time for a home cooked meal and a warm shower. Bliss.
Bike riding is meant to be fun, even this endurance stuff. The Long Road North was definitely a fun and a grand day out, without straying into the territory of chronic and potentially dangerous fatigue. This is something I am learning to focus on: “Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride” (Eddy Merckx).
I finished the day with 277 kilometres on the screen (including the bits either end), which is a lengthy day out on a fully loaded bike, in January. I enjoyed the route so much that I think I will definitely give it another crack in the summer months, on a stripped back lightweight road bike set-up. Until then, happy riding…