I’m always in awe of those who chew through big miles or battle across continents. Ultra-distance and Audax have made a bit of comeback lately, and I fancied a challenge for myself. The Trans Devon is a multi-checkpoint, self-sufficient ride (not a race) across… well you guessed it, Devon; the perfect stepping stone to bigger things but definitely enough of a challenge to push me out of my comfort zone.
The ride starts and ends at Rockets and Rascals in Plymouth, the first checkpoint being Lynmouth (for the geography nerds out there, you’re right, that’s on the other side of the county). Then over to Dunkeswell, up onto Dartmoor for Princetown and back into Plymouth. You create the route but you have to hit all the checkpoints, get your brevet card stamped, and not use any A roads. My route ended up being 205 miles (330km) long with 20,000 feet of climbing (my body stills hurts just writing those stats).
The ride had been postponed because of the current situation and, as lockdown lifted and the rules were eased, it was pushed back to the August bank holiday weekend. Unsupported long-distance rides naturally lend themselves to social distancing and I’m glad it went ahead; with everything else shutting down for the year, it was great to have an event to look forward to. This did mean fewer people took part and there was almost no fanfare at the beginning, but all this added to the fun and personal feel of such an event.
5 pm on Friday rolled by, I had stowed my tracker in my handlebar bag and downed the last dregs of coffee. It was time to start moving. I was a mix of excitement and nerves… all right I was mainly nervous, but once I got going that all slipped into nothing and the constant rhythm of the pedalling soon took over. Riding through the night came with a certain level of apprehension but, with quiet roads and Dartmoor sunsets, I soon forgot about the beasts lurking in the bushes. If you don’t remember Friday 28 August 2020… it rained… a lot. The first leg of the trip was met by frequent rain showers and cold crisp air. This was made worse by poor route planning that took in a Dartmoor bridleway where I had to wade through a shin-high bog (or river). Knowing I had hours of riding ahead and no chance of drying off couldn’t dampen my spirits. Once back onto the Granite Way, I was flying into Okehampton.
Okehampton’s late-night pizza takeaway was the first of many guilt-free pit-stops. After munching down some chips and a doing a quick check on everyone’s spot tracker, I realised I had managed to acquire a flat rear tyre – not something I wanted this close to the start. After fixing it and having a brief chat with another rider, I was back out onto my bike and into the cold dark night. Ten minutes out of Okehampton, yet again the tyre gods had it in for me. I hadn’t managed to find the culprit for the last flat and had just put it down to a pinch or a rock. Under the power of my head torch and with closer inspection I spotted a small piece of flint poking through the tread. This time I was joined by another rider called Tom (tracker 10, I believe) and it’s amazing how just having a brief chat with someone can take your mind off the annoyance of yet another flat tyre in the rain. Tom sped off into the night (and by the looks of things, he never stopped as he finished in around 16 hours! Chapeau!). I was left to gather my kit and get going again. Shortly afterwards, I was joined by the chap I had met in Okehampton ( If you are reading this, sorry I forgot your name!!) and we rode for a bit before our routes no longer went the same way, maybe I’d see him later on maybe not… that’s the beauty of this style of riding.
Hills, hills, hills, and then up and over Exmoor… the first leg took its toll. But the sweeping descent into Lynmouth with my dynamo leading the way kept me awake for those final few kms. After getting my brevet card stamped I spent a while in a warm toilet block sheltering from the wind and stuffing myself with vegan jerky and samosas (middle class to the bitter end). Braving the cold once more to find my bivvy spot for the night led me to a little lay-by on the way back up and out of Lynmouth.
Three hours’ sleep… that’s enough, right? Well, that’s all I got, so I hoped it would be. In bed at 3 and back on the bike around 6, waking in between to find that a new slug friend had joined me in my bivvy bag, In an attempt to get that final bit of rest I decided to not disturb the fella but just roll my sleeping bag down a bit and get 20 more winks. Climbing out of Lynmouth in the morning was amazing; the sun was coming up over Exmoor, and I could finally soak in the views that I had missed the night before. This went some way to make up of the disgustingly steep and long hills I was bumbling over. Once over Exmoor I sailed into Dulverton for breakfast. I’m not sure what locals thought of a grubby cyclist who’d just slept in a bush stuffing his face with a full English, extra toast, two coffees, and one custard tart for now and one to go. I enjoyed it though, and that’s all I cared about.
With breakfast done and 106 miles behind me, I was set for a big day ahead on the bike. The next checkpoint was Dunkeswell airfield. Perhaps the “easiest” section of the route, the next 30 miles or so were undulating hills with very little respite. Just when you get into your stride, you turn a corner to see yet another short 20% incline. Fuelled by coffee and a sense of adventure, I was cruising through the lanes. Dunkeswell was situated at the top of yet another hill, but was a welcome place marker as to how much riding I had left. Card stamped, third coffee and custard tart smashed, it was time to shoot off for the final stretch.
I had called the last section of the ride “final push” on my GPS, this lulled me into a false sense of security. 70 miles suddenly didn’t feel like a final push, and I was annoyed with the past me who though I would find that amusing. The next leg took me down and around Exeter, then back up onto Dartmoor, over the top to Princetown and on the final stretch back to Plymouth. On the first section I was flying, wind blowing, birds calling, all the clichés. Somewhere outside Exeter, things took a turn for the worse. Flat number three struck. I’m still proud of my decision to fix the puncture rather than replacing the tube. I had only one tube left, and knew that if I had to fix that closer to the end I would be too tired and grumpy to get the job done. So, with a repaired inner and a beaten-up tyre, I set off back up into the hills in search of Dartmoor ponies. What amounted to a bit of a slog up onto Dartmoor soon became my favourite section of the ride. I was cruising over its consistent ups and downs, transfixed by the golden hour with the sun setting around me. At times like these, I would use music to distract myself in an attempt to keep the legs spinning. I opted for Jack Johnson’s Curious George Soundtrack, It’s a banger, give it a listen!
Once in Princetown, it was all downhill from there… literally all downhill. I had spotted it on my Wahoo earlier that morning so couldn’t wait for the final section. By this point, the tin foil I had taken from my food wrapping and put around my toes in some attempt to keep them warm in the morning had fallen further down my feet. Although I would normally stop to sort out this kind of issue, I was determined to get this ride done with, so I just pushed through for the last 20 miles. A solid pace back into Plymouth meant I was done in no time. Obviously, I got lost trying to find the café, but that happens almost every time I have to use my GPS in a city.
I finished just in time to get my final stamp and a free beer (well, “free” beer: I had to cycle 200 miles to get it, so it came at some cost). I chatted with the other riders who had also made it in that day, Lots of questions over my route planning, so that’s something to look into next time! Everyone seemed equally exhausted and elated. I believe I was the last of the bunch to get in Saturday and many other people had (wisely) chosen to stay out for another night of adventure and make it in the next day. With my card stamped and tracker handed back, the only thing to do now was ride five miles back to my parents’ camper van (with a Big M stop on route of course) and collapse on the sofa for some well-earned rest.
Would I do it again? If you had asked me that during the 3rd puncture and the endless hills I would have sworn back at you. Now… Yes, yes of course! I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the next big adventure, so if you have any recommendations, please do fire them over. Bit of time off the bike now to help recover, but I’m determined to not let bad weather and the ever-pressing threat of winter get in the way of more long rides.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.