I didn’t have a very good night. Temperatures had been dropping below freezing most nights anyway, but I was really wishing that the Thermarest I’d ordered had arrived on time. Jules, my partner, was going to meet me at Embercombe and bring this and various other extras, but in the meantime I was having to make do with a patchwork of mat pieces. It had originally been one mat, but mice in our loft had started making a nest of it and I’d cut it into ‘sit mats’ for use on my permaculture courses. I hadn’t expected to need to sleep on it again, but here I was trying to do just that. It was far from ideal and I awoke a few times in the night shivering.
Today though we were under less pressure, the proposed distance being 25 miles, so the group was treated to a tour of Landmatters by Charlotte. Normally I would have tagged along, but wasn’t feeling so good and was moving more slowly than usual. I also knew the site well, so didn’t feel I was missing too much.
This gave me more time to get packed up and ready for the day, but despite this I still didn’t find much time to eat porridge, or was it just that I struggled to eat it? It was a very different morning routine from the one I’m used to, which at home involves two pints of water, followed by around three pints of fruit and greens smoothie. I wasn’t adjusting to the heavy breakfast well, that said I knew I had to get fuel inside me for later in the day so I did what I could.
The Landy arrived and we loaded our kit up before heading off across country to Totnes. We were fortunate to have a guide who knew the route, though I was concerned that he thought it was actually 35 miles to Embercombe. The route into Totnes was mainly downhill, much of it quite steep, though it did include another of those steep coombes and a long steep ascent. I was pleased I’d upgraded my brake blocks to Koolstops before the ride, even if they cost me £11 a pair! Anyway, we arrived in the town much sooner than I’d expected, which boosted my morale. Unfortunately we then spent quite a lot of time waiting around and I got cold again.
We clustered in a big group at the top of town seeking shelter as a few flakes of snow fell threateningly around us. It was Easter Sunday, but there were still enough shops open to provide distractions for most of the group. Once more I wished I could just pop into a shop to refuel like most of my colleagues were able to do.
After what seemed like a long time we headed off towards Newton Abbot. Our route was to take us along the main A381, but at least the surface was good and progress was fairly swift. At one point it started hailing, but thankfully not for long. It was cold though and I was experiencing a lot of pain in my upper back, brought on I suspected from getting chilled the day before on those long descents west of Plymouth. Beyond Newton Abbot we passed through another alien-like area of clay pits, before crossing the A38 and heading up into some more tree-filled countryside. Turning off towards Trusham we climbed until we eventually reached our destination at Embercombe. It was still only mid-afternoon and thankfully it had only been 28 miles, not the 35 our guide had suggested.
I’d visited Embercombe before, but not for eight years or so. Things had moved on, for one the entrance was now at the top of the hill. It was still high up though and our camping area was exposed to the chill wind. I made my way into the dining yurt, a fine large structure with low lighting. Perfect for the way I was feeling. 28 miles shouldn’t have been much of a deal today – tomorrow we were promised 80. I couldn’t possibly imagine how I could manage that. I sat with my head on my arms, with a hot herb tea for a companion and finding it hard to communicate. Then Jules arrived and looking at me suggested she take me home for the night. It was an offer too good to refuse.
And this is where my ride ended. At the time I knew I wasn’t feeling well, but I hadn’t realised that I was going down with a viral infection. I spent the next four days running a temperature and even now that’s dissipated, the days since blowing out mucus and coughing up gunge. Jules now has it too. What I had assumed was simply fatigue from riding was much more.
The rest of the group are now long gone, pedaling their way up through the north of England. It’s very frustrating, but I know now that there’s no way I could have stayed with the bus and been anything other than a liability. Despite this I feel I’ve got many gifts from the ride, from the great feeling of mutual support within the group, to gratitude for things I’ve previously taken for granted, like my clothing and my bike and of course for my general good health. As a result of taking on the training I’m much fitter than I was a few short months ago and I’ve fallen in love with my bike again.
Yes, this ride has been a great blessing…