I woke up early on the Tuesday morning excited for the ride ahead and excited to see my friend Phil, at Exeter University. I packed my lunch of sausage sandwiches, porkpie and mars bars, pumped up the tyre (I think the uni might have a slow puncture) and headed off down the road. I was impressed with the makeshift panniers I had made the night before.
The rear bag was a 20 litre backpack which I had tied to the unicycle with paracord and bungees with only millimetres of clearance from the 36’’ wheel. This bag held clean clothes (in order not to stink out my friend’s flatmates), a thin jumper and 500ml of water. On the back of that I had bungeed a coat, for easy access, and a bike lock. On the front, connected to KH T-Bar, was 750ml of water, a old wash bag (which held lunch), a little first aid bag for my phone and on the top a little green bag to house my GoPro. In total the whole setup (including the unicycle) was 15kg. I was determined not to be wearing a backpack for the 100 mile ride, and this setup allowed me to achieve this. The extra weight was noticeable, but it was a small price to pay for reduced saddle sores and a non-sweaty back.
Not even a mile in and it started to tip it down! My route was to head in the direction of Taunton, onto Wellington and then drop down south to Exeter. I missed a turning before Taunton and came to a main road that I knew would take me the direction I needed to go. However, getting onto it would have been almost impossible due to the heavy traffic. I decided to head back to try and find the original turning I had missed. About a 2 miles back I found it and that took me under the busy road I had encountered earlier. It was at about this time that I noticed my legs rubbing on the wash bag full of lunch. It wasn’t a problem then, but I knew, in time, my legs would start to chafe! Ahh well, after all it was only a couple of days I was cycling for, it wouldn’t become much of a problem. And to be honest there wasn’t much I could do about it.
The ride was pretty pleasant all the way to Wellington. A few more showers but overall quite sunny. The headwinds were a bit annoying, but if I’d known what I was going to face the next day I wouldn’t have complained one bit! I was starting to get hungry coming out of Wellington, but decided to push to Cullompton to eat. Soon after this I stupidly dropped the GoPro. It got snagged and I lost grip. I jumped of the uni and quickly grabbed it before I was squashed by an oncoming lorry! A huge scratch appeared on the lens casing, but as long as I held it in the right way when filming it didn’t matter too much. The winds were quite strong when entering Cullompton so I was on the look out for anywhere to shelter from it.
Annoyingly all of the bus shelters had open sides, but in the end I found a bench in what I think was a doctors surgery. After refuelling I walked into the surgery and asked someone working in the cafe there to fill up my water. He kindly did and I got back on the road. After lunch I definitely felt reenergised. And with only another 20 miles to go, I was determined to make Exeter in good time. Most of that distance was on a wide, but quiet, main road with a fantastic surface. I flew along this for 15 odd miles. I went a little bit wrong on the last stretch, but eventually made it to Exeter Cathedral. It was only about 4 o’clock! I was planning to get there for 5.
Phil met me at 5, once I had eaten a couple of mars bars and found a toilet in M&S. We stopped to buy food on the way back to his flat. Phil carried the food in his busting 65litre backpack (not to mention 2 cans of cider in his water bottle holders of his mountain bike) while I carried a measly box of own-brand cornflakes. We must have looked quite a sight riding back through the town centre! When we got back to his flat Phil kindly cooked up a delicacy of 2 day old pasta and charred fish fingers. Yes it looked questionable, but at the time nothing would have tasted better.
The next day I left at 9. The climb out of Exeter was awful. I cycled the majority of it, but there was a section in the middle that I had to walk (little did I know ‘walking’ would be a theme for the day!). After that initial killer hill the gradient levelled out and I started to look forward to my first glimpse across Dartmoor. This came after a short be steep hill climb to the top of a ridge. The peaks and valleys looked endless! At this point I was definitely questioning my choice of route.
My previous concerns of chafing were realised soon after entering Dartmoor. Red spotty patched were starting to appear on my legs. However this pain was quickly replaced by the strain the gradient and incessant headwinds were putting on me. The wind and rain continued to get stronger all the way to the top of Dartmoor. I was thoroughly soaked by the time I made it to the Inn where I had planned to be over 2 hours ago. I took shelter behind a wall and ate my sodden lunch. I was running low on water so filled up there. After lunch I entered back into the energy sapping headwinds, hopped back on the uni (after a couple of attempts) and was on my way again. I was starting to get a bit cold at this point so it felt good to be moving again.
I hadn’t been riding very long when I woman took a couple of photos of me. I gave her my email but I still haven’t received anything from her (the photos might turn up at some point). By this time I was over half way through the moor and the weather was definitely at its worst. I spent most of the time off the saddle, pushing. I was soaked through and little bit miserable. “Why did I choose to go across the moors and not around?”, was something I kept asking myself (The answer was that it looked like good fun when I was looking on a map at home. In the warm). Eventually I started to drop in height and the wind died down a little. I saw a barn by the side of the road and decided to take refuge in there for a few minutes. I warmed myself up and ate the last of my food, a fun size mars bar! I was still about 22 miles away at that point from Plymouth University and my friend Harry’s warm flat. I’m pretty sure that if I had had a tent and sleeping bag with me I would have spent the night in that barn. As it was, if I wanted warmth I needed to keep going. I once again entered into the elements and continued to pedal. It was amazing how quickly the wind dropped with every mile I rode. The sun even came out for a (very) brief moment!
I made it out the other side of Dartmoor cold and wet, but determined and with only one more obstacle between me and a warm shower: a 9 mile section on the A386. This is definitely the busiest road I have ever cycled on and to tell the truth, it was damn scary! To make matters worst, it was absolutely chucking down! Halfway along this stretch some kind soul, as he passed me, rolled down his passenger side window and delivered me a word of encouragement. I won’t repeat it here, but I will say it starts with a ‘W’ and rhymes with anchor! I arrived in Plymouth as it started to get dark. I got a bit lost down housing estates, but eventually sighted the ‘Plymouth University’ sign. I had made it!
Thank you Phil and Harry for putting me up and feeding me. It was really appreciated!
Check out the full video of the ride here: