Exmouth Exodus 2016

I’ve done this overnight ride half a dozen times but was very undecided about whether to participate in this one because of the dire weather forecast. Wonderful summer weather was due to be interrupted by an unseasonably deep depression coming in from the Atlantic bringing with it strong winds and rain particularly to western areas. I knew that 107 miles including significant hills would be a challenge for a 72 year-old even in benign conditions, but finally decided to give it a go.
I had planned to use my faster Focus road bike but given the forecast opted for the heavier Thorn and took additional clothing in a pannier. I ended up with more than I needed to carry but annoyingly failed to pack my cycling shoes! This meant doing the ride in trainers which didn’t help my progress.
My wife dropped me off at Salisbury en route to our destination for a three night break in Sidmouth and I took the train to Bath for the start on Saturday evening. By the time I arrived there the rain was teeming down and the wind picking up so I decided to make a slightly early start at about 9pm.
The cycle path to Wellow is a very enjoyable ride including two long former railway tunnels which have been adapted really well. This year they also provided a welcome mile or two in the dry! After Wellow some lumpy sections lead to a long slow climb to the top of the Mendip Hills above Cheddar Gorge. I found this quite hard not just due to the rain but the stiff wind was a south-westerly, ie a persistent headwind. The wind conditions in the Gorge itself were very tricky, gusting from all directions as it funnelled up this famous topographical feature.
The brilliant Cheddar Scouts fed and watered us in their hut before we headed out across the Somerset levels (which aren’t really level at all). Here there was little shelter from the wind and it was quite a grind to the next stop at Fivehead village hall. Here volunteers had prepared hot food for us and I am very appreciative of the commitment of the helpers who had given up a night’s sleep for us.
I spoke to my wife from here and said I was feeling very tired and doubted whether I would finish the ride. However I was very reluctant to give up and carried on, heading for the big climb up Blagdon Hill on to the Blackdowns. Day had broken by then and the rain had virtually stopped. The headwind was still there however and was especially hard-going across the open terrain at Smeatharpe aerodrome.
A short tea stop at Luppitt Common was followed by the steep descent to Broadhembury and onwards through Ottery St Mary to Otterton where my wife met me before the final climb through Yettington. With support available I jettisoned much of the raingear, tools and spares to help me on this climb.
I was greatly relieved to arrive in Exmouth after my slowest Exodus yet. I had met some great people over the 107 miles and (in hindsight!) really enjoyed the event. The weather was a challenge to say the least but they are guaranteeing good weather next year, so I just might be back for one more. I slept for most of the rest of Sunday.
I gather well over 200 people registered in advance for the event but only 120 did it. I guess the weather put a lot of people off turning out. Quite sensible, but it is sometimes nice to feel you’ve done something despite the conditions.
Here is a link to my Strava record: https://www.strava.com/activities/686268300

Martin

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