As drives go, Guildford to Portsmouth down the A3 on a Sunday morning is as good as it gets and with the help of the web I discovered a car park that is £4 for 24 hours (Crasswell Street) a short distance to the Portsmouth to Ryde Ferry terminal. On arriving a breakaway’s worth of friendly faces greeted me and soon we were being boarded onto the ferry.
Last year the Isle of Wight greeted Clive and me with rain and mist/fog and I found cycling along Ryde Pier on slippery wooden planks with a side wind quite scary enough thank you very much. This year how different, blue skies sunshine and a chill wind. As we set out from Ryde there was much discussion between those who wanted to get to Wootton to register and start the route proper and those who just wanted to cut across to the route and get on with it. The Wootton faction won so anticlockwise we headed to start our clockwise circumnavigation of the island.
Many more riders and views that I didn’t see last year. Miles more fresh, smooth, glistening tarmac that looked like it had been laid the day before yesterday. And such a pleasure it is to ride along – a strong lazy peddling speed generating a fast ride with the road almost giving you energy, the wind in your ears and the hum of rubber on the tarmac – you feel you could ride all day like that and nothing can stop you – bliss. (Other councils, highway authorities please take note!)
Bembridge was too crowded, we hurried on; Alveston, a quick drink and a postcard purchase by Clive. Thankfully just after Alveston the 50km riders peel off and we can enjoy a bit more room on the road. Matt and I chain-ganged a few hills and it’s a blast. There is satisfaction overtaking those who have seriously expensive bikes but not the fitness to get the most out of them. Whitwell had run out of cake and only had chocolate bars. Mars Bars are a shadow of their former size – most unsatisfactory. But the mug of tea, well two actually, were most welcome.
There are so many views that were just lost in the fog last year, it is such a different ride. I have failed to learn the art of taking pictures while riding and I am just enjoying myself too much to stop – the view will be there another day and I am riding for the here and now. (Official photographer said he would add some pics later.) It is extraordinary which bits of the ride I remember – there are two horrible right turns just before Whitwell (I think) which stick in my mind as it was almost a leap of faith or good hearing that got you across, this year there was a marshal at one calling “clear” as we came by. I don’t remember many of the hills, but I do remember Military Road, lovely climbs up the southwest coast and a fabulous view which was totally missing last year. I am definitely getting fitter and stronger.
We arrived at Yarmouth after 2pm to a serious issue – they had run out of rolls and weren’t really sure how long it would take to get some more. I for one needed food. They had sent out a raiding party to the stores to find some but the noises were that they were struggling to find any. Thankfully they did and some extra cake. I do understand how difficult it must be to predict how many riders are going to turn up but there has to be some pointers in terms of ferry bookings, the weather forecast, the pre-registrations and they have been running this for a few years.
Refreshed, reinvigorated and with the wind behind us we speed onto Cowes. The ride along Prince’s Esplanade, Egypt Esplanade and Queen’s Road is lovely but it is seriously perverse to make us climb up Ward Avenue only to drop down Mill Hill Road to the ferry. The wait for the ferry allowed for a debate on the merits of different frame materials – the Luxo Cruiser having been given some envious glances. They allowed about 5 or 6 cars on the ferry the rest of the space was taken up by a peleton’s worth of bikes – sorry car drivers, it is a day for cyclists. At some point, no idea when Clive had written his postcard and must have come equipped with a stamp as we were told to look for a post box. Matt obliged. Back to Wootton, get the final stamp, certificate and medal, well perhaps. And down to Ryde – plenty of time before the ferry to have a cup of tea. Once on board we save a seat just in case Mark makes it as we left him at Bembridge and low and behold he did. Must have gone like the wind on the last leg or is an accomplished actor as he gave the impression of having had to work really hard to make it.
According to the wonders of text messaging we were aware that there was a breakaway group who caught the 8am ferry to not Ryde Pier. The only way we would have ever caught you up was if you had taken a four course Sunday lunch and afternoon 40 winks. Somehow I can’t imagine that you would do such a thing. Hope you had as good a ride as we did.
Huge thanks to the organisers, the volunteers at the stops, the PTA’s for doing the food, the islanders for letting us take over all the roads and letting us through on the narrow roads.
And a big thumbs down to the huge man in the bright orange tights – they were truly terrible.
….. and from the pen of the worried looking chap in the bright orange top (see pic above)…
Yet another cold, plus about a fortnight from the last time I rode a bike in anger, there was nothing for it but to try and get round the IOW in a last minute bid to gain a modicum of fitness prior to Manche to Med-ing in five days time…..
I was in no way ready to ride with the Sunday Riders, but I had a get-out in the form of Russian Steve who I can usually manage to keep up with: as it turned out, I ended up riding in the middle, enjoying my own company, or to put it another way, suffering alone. The weather was great but the niggling headwind didn’t help. And oh, the hills, the hills….. come on Omega Tit, help me for goodness sakes! First time out on said wonderbike for about two years, and what a beauty she is to ride, so life could have been harder – but not much.
The ‘Military Road’, as Clive called it, loomed large on the horizon for what seemed like forever as I crept along the south side of the island – it never seemed to get any closer. Supposedly the longest drag on the island, it was actually a relief to reach it and the wind seemed to be veering round a bit so it wasn’t straight in the face. Never was there a happier man than me to reach Freshwater Bay, and how good it would have been to have relaxed there for a while, but it was already fairly late and I was eagerly anticipating getting a bit of a wiggle since the next couple of sections I knew from experience weren’t so hilly. So my rest consisted solely of a visit to the public facilities and a gnaw on a blueberry muffin.
By the time I reached Yarmouth, they’d managed to find some more rolls and make them up, so one of them went down well and I was ready for the next leg to Cowes.
What I wasn’t expecting were the stiff little climbs in Cowes and just before. The legs were really struggling at this stage and I knew there was still more to come, so a brief stop at the ferry came as a blessed relief, followed by the gentler-than-expected climb up out of the town. More miles of gentle drags dragged me down even more, so it was a forlorn figure who decided that he might just have time to stop at Wooton for the final stamp and certificate.
Why did I bother – I just don’t know! Veer off the main road, grind up the slight rise, then down into the camp site, over the new bit of soft shingle, then ride half way across a grassy field, queue for the stamp, retrace, heed the urge to pee and return to the main road… that lot must have taken ten minutes and I knew that I had about 20 minutes to catch the 5.47 ferry – or wait an hour till the next. I did not want to miss it, but felt I had little chance of making it.
There are three bastard hills on that main road before you reach Ryde and my tank was running on empty. It was sheer torture but I reached the top of Ryde with about seven minutes to spare. I screeched down the hill, sent people running for their lives as I weaved through the barriers on to the pier and hared, as fast as my knackered legs would take me, over the woodwork. 50ft short of the station entrance my rear light decided to fall off, so of course I turned round to retrieve it and then scooted to the entrance, leapt off the bike and ran for the barrier. I was the last person to board – they closed the barrier 20 seconds after I passed through.
I was too knackered to feel any elation. I leant the bike against some others and went in search of Clive, Julian and Pat: had they taken an earlier ferry or were they here? They were here and I sank into the seat next to Julian in a very collapsed state. How I made it I shall never know.
Such is the body’s ability to recover, I felt much more my usual self by the time I’d downed a banana, another blueberry muffin and a very large latte and was sitting with Clive in the station caff waiting for our train. What a day! My thighs killed, but I knew what I’d done was the right thing to do: I might just be OK for the Manch to Med now, given that my job was to take up the rear of the group.
To cap it all, how wonderful to meet a number of old friends on the ride – old audax friend Tony Willard, my old mate Davin of Middleburn fame, Debbie from my tour of Holland in 2014 and Steve, who was marshalling at Yarmouth for the IOW Wayfarers, who was on last year’s Sicily tour, not to mention making some new ones – supreme audaxers Martin Malins and Anne Marshall.
One day I shall actually enjoy my ride around the wonderful IOW! Today was just an ordeal, but still very nice.