Letter from Exmoor: The Exmoor Beast

Gary’s account of the popular cycling event, which took place this weekend, was first published on his blog here.

Exmoor Beast 2013…………or “In the darkness at the dances in the school canteen”

I’m normally only awake at 5.00am when I’m at work or getting ready to go to work but this Sunday I was eating my Weetabix and getting ready to drive to the Exmoor Beast sportive which was starting in Tiverton this year. I for one liked it when it was based in Minehead because it meant a five minute roll down to the start. At least driving over the moors gave me an idea on what condition the roads were in which was covered in debris, apparently there was a storm, I slept through it, other aspects of my life resulted in no sleep the night before.

It was very dark when I got parked up at the school in Tiverton, the last time I was hanging around a high school in the dark was back in my schooldays lurking around the school disco. We never had proms in my day mainly because I lived in a northern industrial city and we weren’t the kids in America. I registered in the gym were they told me the start was delayed until 7.15 due to the gloom, checked my helmet tag and bumped into Andrew who was doing some photography for The Western Morning news. I then bumped into Chris and Jennifer who said Guy was also there as I made my way back to the car, Chris cheerily reminded me what fun it must be to drive thirty miles to ride back past my house, yeah, cheers! As I thought I had some time to kill I sat in the car and considered going back to sleep only to hear the PA calling the riders to the start and starting the briefing. So a I quickly threw on my  far too warm should have left at home jacket and made my way to the start. I shuffled into the second pen but couldn’t see anyone else I knew except Guy who was in the first pen and set off before I could say hello, he was wearing shades though so I doubt he would have seen me.

So just after 7.00am I set off into the dark which was quite a novelty for me, I was glad some people had really good lights so I sat behind them. This first half of the ride was pretty new to me and I quite enjoyed the gentle climbs up around Bampton and Morebath and past Wimbleball Lake. It was warm, I was warm and overdressed for the occasion and with just one heavy shower was a bit annoyed with myself for my poor choice of cyclewear. Perhaps I should of worn a shirt, jeans and wellies like one bloke and ridden my mtb for one hundred miles, well done to you for putting us Lycra lovies to shame.

I like the descent down to Timberscombe but I knew what to expect as I normally ride up it (?) I was slightly worried by the over confidence of one rider in front of me who insisted on riding down no-handed, bloody show off. I was soon in Dunster and the first feed stop, I only had a banana and I probably should of had more and was about to get on my way when Chris and Jennifer rolled in. I thought it rude not to say hello and also bumped into one of my workmates, Carl, who was doing his first sportive although he is a seasoned cyclist. Off we went again, past my house, sort of, without first nearly becoming victim of a water bottle incident and it was my mates bottle!

We were soon at the foot of the climb up and over Dunkery. I’ve tried it before and failed miserably and guess what I did again. It doesn’t matter what gearing or bike you have it’s about your head, heart and lungs and I had none, nothing there I even felt like turning tail and going home. I limply persevered and did the hill by instalment, ride, stop, ride a bit more until I got over the thing. I didn’t think anyone would wait for me as I was taking so long and quite rightly they didn’t. They got over it though and was quite rightly happy and they deserve to be in a happy place once in a while 🙂 It was very busy on Dunkery with horsey types and weekend warrior downhillers getting a lift up with a Land Rover and trailer. Note to driver of said Landy, don’t beep your horn at cyclists struggling up a hill you should know better! So I carried on alone again but not after blowing up big time as I rode up from Luckwell Bridge, if I was a car they would probably say my big end had gone. The legs were turning but not a lot happening, I just told myself to get to the split point and have a breather and eat something. I nearly missed the split point I was in such a stupor, another sixty hilly miles would not be a good idea.

I stopped, ate something and got on my way, twenty odd miles to the finish, head down and just get it done. I passed the odd cyclist and many passed me all far too quick for me to jump on with. I finally managed to jump onto the back of a little group in the last few miles and got a tow to the finish. I like the finish, inside the gym, name announced and a free tankard to fill with ale and a friendly face as Carl said hello. I chucked the bike back in the car and grabbed my change of clothes and made my way back to the gym where Chris and Jennifer were enjoying their ale after a good ride around Exmoor. We sat and chatted and I got changed in lovely warm changing rooms before heading off home the way I had just ridden, at least I beat the rain if little else.

I think I might have preferred last year’s route but I’m probably only saying that because I could ride most of it. Last year I took over six hours for sixty two miles this year albeit a different route I did sixty six in five and a half. I should be pleased with that but I feel slightly disappointed with myself, just one of those days……