Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Day 3: Alveston to Stonehenge

The day started out in pretty much the same as the day before. Check the bikes and throw your bags into the back of the van. Get a brief from Ross and away we go. My only concern were that my legs were now aching, but just in a very tired way. I had taken some re-hydration sachets the night before and took another before the ride started. So the rest of my body felt fine. Those re-hydration sachets really are that good. I spent the next 30-40 minutes with Jason, there were a lot of winding country lanes and not by way of a challenge, but my pump falling out of my back pocket left me behind so I decided to potter along with Zoe who was close for 5-10 minutes. Zoe was supported by Dean, because she had broken Gavin (sorry Gavin, but nobody appears to be arguing with that assessment). It was only until about an hour into the ride, that I felt my legs start to recover, so at the next hill I bid my goodbyes to Zoe and started to clock up some distance. I had Igor in my sights in the distance and anted to catch, him being ultra fit (and 26 years old) he was difficult to catch. I got my bearings again as I crossed the M4 towards Castle Combe, I descended down a small hill and could see Igor even further in the distance, with one of the group at a junction looking on. As I approached it became clear that Igor had not seen the sign to go left an no amount of shouting or wolf whistling was going to get his attention. Rather than chase him and get lost ourselves, we rang Ross and carried on. About a dozen or so of the group had caught up with us. I chatted with Liz for about 5 minutes until we hit a gravel track. Everybody slowed down on their road bikes, but I was on a cyclocross and my bike was built for this sort of terrain, so I shot off and really enjoyed the exhilaration of the ride for the next mile or so. My legs now felt good, the rain and gales that were forecast, were holding off and I just wanted to chew up the next couple of miles to the first water stop as quickly as I could.

The water stop was outside a pub that was closed, so there were no toilets. I didn't want to hang around for too long as my legs were beginning to stiffen again. Gavin arrived and I could see the news was not good by the look on his face. He had literally pedaled the last five miles on one leg as his knee had finally given up the ghost. He packed his bike into the van and joined Lynn. Igor had managed to get a lift to the water stop with Ross who went out in the support car to find him. I set off with Jason once again, despite it only being a short stop, my legs were stiff again and I had resigned myself to the fact that this would continue through the day. The miles seemed to roll by quite easily, we criss-crossed the M4 a few times and saw some fantastic country-side a few hills got in the way, but nothing substantial, until the final hill before the lunch stop. The air was beginning to cool and I knew it would not be long before the rain came, the hill was a challenge, but I managed to get all the way to the top, which felt like an achievement after the drama the day before and the pub was literally a couple of hundred yards after the summit. We had arrived at the pub in very good time and lunch was far from ready, but at least we had somewhere to shelter as the rain started to lash down outside.

After lunch, the rain had cleared somewhat and the next water stop was after a town called Marlborough. We had a hill to climb onto the 'Marlborough flats', where a white horse had been etched into the hill. The wind was up and it appeared to be coming straight off the hill and from the bottom it looked very steep indeed. As soon as I hit the hill, it turned to the left and was fairly sheltered from the wind right to the top, I had my legs back quite quickly and found myself passing quite a few other cyclists. As I reached the summit there was a long descent down the other side, but the wind had whipped up again. I held off going all out on the descent as a sudden gust would have had me off my bike quite easily, but others were less apprehensive, and quite a few who I had passed on the hill zipped past me. I think they were either very lucky, or just better at descents than me.

It did not seem like long before we entered Marlborough, I realised that I had visited Marlborough previously with my sister-in-law and her family who lived close by in Chippenham. Just after Marlborough there was a hill, not steep, but very long. I was chasing Igor and Owen (our Wales HASSRA representative) and the traffic was busy. A van and a car were behind them and I found myself drafting behind the car. As the car accelerated I managed to keep pace for a hundred yards or so as I passed both Igor and Owen at a pace. As the car accelerated away, I was inspired, my legs felt good and and I was spinning very fast in a high gear with no sign of tiring, so I decided to carry on attacking the hill. It really did feel good and I'm still surprised now where it came from. With every ascent comes a descent, and this one was special too, after the hill I really wanted to enjoy the descent too, so got myself into the drops for the first time that day and just went for it like a man possessed, partly because I could, but also partly for the satisfaction after holding back on the previous hill. It was not long before I was at the 2nd water stop. This was a nice, warm and friendly country pub, that served lovely coffee, which was very welcome considering it was now quite damp outside. We stayed in the pub for a while as we were now riding to strict timings to get to Stonehenge at 6.00pm, which was good for the banter. We had really some together as a group. Dean finally arrived with Zoe. She had broken him too. So I decided to ride with Zoe for the rest of way.

Zoe was concerned that she might break me. I ankle was aching a little by now, but that was my only complaint from the 3 days remarkably, so we just pootled along. We had a 3rd Water stop at an army base, but I couldn't remember how far away, but it seemed to last an age as we went down country lanes and the occassional A-road. The rides consisted of a number of small hills, which were a challenge for Zoe, but I kept telling her to attack the hill and drop her heels to find a different position and more power in her stroke. I don't know if it helped her much, but I'd like to think it might have passed the time for her a little better listen to me harping on.

By the time we reached the 3rd Water stop the rain and wind was howling. The traffic appeared to be getting busier and we were glad to reach the comfort of the pub at last. Another coffee was just what the doctor ordered. the banter continued and at 5:15 we set off on the final push towards Stonehenge. It felt like ages, and I'm certain it was more than the 2 miles that Ross had announced, but I had gotten used to not believing him by now. Zoe and I set off, we were spurred on by the company of Gavin and Dean for the last bit and we tried to stick together as a bunch. I had lost my bearing again and we appeared to go all the points of the compass, but eventually we reached a descent where we could see Stonehenge in the distance. I'd like to say that I felt ecstatic as I crossed the finish line, but to be honest I was glad it was over. I was wet and cold and the slow ride as a bunch had not allowed me to get the blood flowing again. There were a few people cheering us across the finish line and we were beckoned towards a small event shelter were we were provided with a t-shirt and some drinks and snacks. The HASSRA group had a team photo and we were then beckoned towards the entrance in order to enter the Stonehenge site.

After some waiting we were allowed into the site, where we were pictured riding across a finish line just by the side of the stones. We were also surprised wen they asked us to place our bikes on the grass and wander around the stones freely. This, to me, was an absolute privilege. We saw some visitors who were walking around an outer path, so be on the inner path and then able to wander freely was unbelievable. We had a couple of minutes of wandering a taking pictures of ourselves, when I found myself in the center of the stones, and someone beckoning us to the edge for a group photo. I had my phone set up for a panoramic photo and everybody just disappeared to the edge of the stones, I was there alone for a few seconds and took the opportunity for a 360 degree panoramic photo. I felt like the cat that had got the cream. Fantastic. I have published the photo in a separate blog entry. After the group photo we were allowed to wander for a while longer. A lady called Carolyn from the wider group was an archaeologist and new quite a few things about the site, so listening to her whilst she provided some interesting bits of knowledge was a pleasure.

To get to our hotel, we have to cross a field, or add a couple of miles by going back up the road were had just come down. The field was a no-brainer, but it was a walk for the road bikers (who ended up with a ton of mud in their cleats) or a rid for the mountain bikers and the one who had a cyclocross (guess who that was). Ambling across the field with Igor and Dean ahead of everyone else was fulfilling, but also very nervous. I could feel the rest of the group watching as they walked and I'm sure one or two were hoping that I would fall off, but in a comedy way. Anyway, I didn't fall off and the gamble payed off. Despite my wheel being caked with mud I was able the clip back into my pedals... something that not everyone was able to do, which made pedaling the rest of the way twice as difficult. We followed a dual carriage way for a short while to the hotel. As we came over a fly-over at the junction to the hotel, we were met by the most glorious sunset I have seen in a very long time. I could have stopped to take a photo, but I just couldn't be bothered at that point, so that will have to stay in my memory.

Once at the hotel, we loaded the bikes into the back of the van for the return trip to South Wales and checked into the hotel. After a shower and a freshen up we went down to the bar for a couple of well earned beers and a meal. The night was a fantastic finale to a fantastic weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, including the hardship and feel really honored to have taken part. I volunteered for this challenge because I wanted to push new boundaries. I have pushed these boundaries much further than I expected. As I move on, I am committed to riding more endurance type events and will look at doing self supported expeditions. I would like to thank everybody who has supported me in raising money for the Stonehenge cycle challenge, at the time of writing this last blog, I had raised £210.

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