Day 17: Le Jog (Taunton to Plymouth 80 miles)

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Nothing wakes you up like the racist on the table in the B&B in Taunton sat across from you. It happened at 8am with a mouthful of muesli. What began as a perfectly straightforward conversation regarding the make of cars on the road descended into casual xenophobia. “These days they’re all made by the Japs aren’t they?” quipped the elderly American man to a nearby couple. Rafe Watson and I exchanged wary looks as the uninformed bigotry continued.

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Taunton to Plymouth had been pitched as a difficult day and we had anticipated an ordeal from the outset. What we hadn’t expected, were the devastating ascents just past Ide and Dunchideock. The first segment of our journey, traversing Taunton to Exeter passed easily enough. We lunched early outside Exeter cathedral discussing the lively topics of mortality and wider existentialism, but not before a brisk stroll down the worlds narrowest street which hung heavy with stench of Ammonia.

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As we left Exeter seeking the hills of Ide and Dunchideock, we were not expecting the rapid fire punches we were about to stomach. We rose over agonisingly steep climbs for extended periods, interspersed by insignificant recovery periods of 20-30 seconds, followed rapidly by a succeeding ascent. Our clothes were drenched, our bikes refused to cooperate and we were forcefully exhaling so hard our cries could be heard for miles. At the top (eventually) we paused to debrief. “Endurance sports are a metaphor for life,” I ventured. Rafe Watson acquiesced and continued. “Will Smith put it best..” and paraphrased the following:

“The keys to life are running and reading. When you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you and says, “Oh I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. I’m so hurt. There’s no way I can possibly continue.” You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running. You will how to not quit when things get hard in your life. For reading: there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.”

He paused at the end and added – “Except I tell my students it’s about cycling and cinema. It’s pretty much the same thing.”

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The ride from there onwards was something of a blur. We rode hard on the A38 for longer than perhaps was necessary but made our way into Plymouth in good time, some 80 miles later. Some manner of warship heaved itself painfully across the port and the docile English Channel and looking at its creaking metal frame in the distance, I empathised exactly with what it must feel.

Aldercy Manning

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Day 16: The Daffyd Garrick Chronicles (Bristol to Taunton)

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0600 and the alarm bell rings. An early start is the name of the game as I prepare to meet up with the chainlube lejoggers for their Bristol to Taunton leg, bolstering the team compliment to a grand total of three. Parker Johnson is not in attendance as he is away on a 2 week training camp in Mallorca, getting in some much needed altitude training. He will be missed for his powerful locomotive engine on the flats but there will be other days when team chainlube is able to ride at full strength.

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A train journey is required before our scheduled rendzvous can take place. Arriving at the platform with plenty of time, I find that the train’s bike spaces are already fully booked. This comes as no surprise as my own efforts to reserve a bike space the day previously had resulted in the same outcome as I spoke to the First Great Western call centre operative somewhere in India. A nervous fifteen minutes are spent waiting on the platform to see if the bike reservists show their face and more importantly, their wheels. A Helen Wyman lookalike shows up. Also a large Australian man with a spesh allez (the TCL official bike as it happens)…none of us bookings. Things aren’t looking good but at least I have the element of first come first served in my favour. I briefly comtemplate whether it is possible to cycle to Bristol but before I can seriously entertain the thought, the train manager decides that the reservists are a no show and so grants us access to the hallowed bike compartment. Relief all round. “I’ll be in Coach A if you need me” I say to the train manager as I head to my seat. He looks somewhat nonplussed and I then realise it is probably because he won’t have much trouble finding me given my lavish choice of cycling attire today. And by lavish I mean a garish mixture of unco-ordinated team kits.

Our route today looks easy on paper: 55 miles. A few minor climbs. A town called Westonzoyland. In theory it should be a doddle. However, it remains to be seen how the ravages of the previous two weeks have taken their toll on young Rafe Watson and Aldercy Manning. Do they have anything left in the tank? And will they be saving themselves for the last few ardous days through Devon & Cornwall, renowned for their energy sapping nature. Only time will tell.

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In my bag I bring copious amounts of gold bullion aka homemade flapjack which I hope will see them through the next few days (though it later arises that Aldercy eats his all in one day). I dish out the rations on arrival as we are greeted by the charming Beatrice Charity and it goes down a treat. After a brief catch up over a coffee we get the TCL show on the road.

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We set off fairly cautiously, following the shared cycle path out of Bristol and into the surrounding countryside. Before long we are barelling along at a heady rate of knots. Not quite full gas but close. Some big turns are put in on the flat sections although the peloton becomes more fragmented during the day’s climbs as we each climb at our own pace. Two of the climbs in particular stand out as being particularly challenging; one at the start of the ride and another near the end, forming the ride into some sort of hill sandwich.

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During the last climb through Enmore, the sun and humidity increases creating a claustrophobic atmosphere on the narrow roads. The flies seem to sense our weakness and begin to circle and hum like vultures around our head which only serves to exacerbate the difficulty of the conditions. Aldercy in particular was troubled by these insect tormentors and looks rather flustered as he crests the top of the hill.
We happily leave the ascent behind us and then enjoy a fast and decent descent down into Taunton, allowing our sweat soaked clothes to gain much needed ventilation.

Reaching Taunton, we immediately set about locating the nearest beer serving, bike friendly establishment with outdoor seating. Not the most demanding list of requirements but it does take some time. After relaxing for a few minutes I realise that its actually taken quite a lot out of me today. Perhaps my showboating at times wasn’t the most energy conservative way to ride but if I feel like this after one day how must my felow team members be coping? Granted, I could quite happily get on the bike again tomorrow but the day after that? And the day after that? I’m not so sure. A chapeau is definitely in order.

Post dinner, I make my way to the train station and board the world’s quietest train back to London. Not a single bike in the bike compartment this time. Just as well that I actually have a reservation this time then.

Daffyd Garrick

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Day 15: The Rafe Watson Chronicles (Pontypridd to Bristol)

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Today, for the first time, I set off alone from Pontypridd to Bristol. Without maps, an iPhone or much organisation – I decide to rely entirely on Sustrans route 4: The Celtic Trail and a vague notion that my route is Caerphilly, Newport, Chepstow and finally Bristol. With the aid of two tourist information offices, one Sustrans centre and several strangers I meet; I arrive into a sweltering Friday night in Bristol 70 miles later, booking into a swanky hotel with Beatrice Charity who has arrived by train.

The Sustrans routes have been brilliant wherever we’ve used them, particularly in the highlands; but today the circuitous route and bewildering signposting around Pontypridd found me getting off to an incredibly slow start. I arrive in Newport, 15 miles down the road, having clocked up 30 miles on my milometer. This slow progress led me to jump onto A roads and try my luck with more informative signposts and directions.

On the whole, the plan works but as I come fizzing into Bristol along winding B roads where the sun had caused the Tarmac to melt and cling to my tyres, I am longing for some confirmation as to how much longer I have left. I also feel something mechanical and joyless about pushing over the Severn bridge through the West Country scenery with no one to discuss it with.

Tomorrow I reunite with Aldercy Manning and mystery guest Daffyd Garrick for a shorter ride to Taunton. The heat has followed us to the West Country and I fully expect it to be declared the hottest day in the year. Again,

Rafe Watson

Ps. Some cheeky photographic previews of Daffyd Garrick’s entry tomorrow.

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Day 15: Le Jog (Bristol/Graduation)

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And sun and photographs and feigned smiles and recognised academia and unfettered sentiment and speeches and heat and the heat and shirts and suits and ties and the heavy saturation of perfume and hour and hour and hour and steps and stairs and handshakes from people you will never know and the fear and lassitude and tedium and the miserable boredom and smile (again) and smile (once more) and conferred responsibility and the love of the bike and Rafe Watson cycles to Bristol.

Aldercy Manning

Day 14: Le Jog (Resté)

Day 14 unravelled itself as something of an administrative event. There were bikes but they were not for riding. As Cardiff burned in the 28 degrees of sun, we absconded pedalling duties in favour of attending a short film premiere at Chapter cinema in Cardiff courtesy of Beatrice Charity, detailing the disenfranchisement of the Karaayu tribe in Ethiopia and the ever increasing threat to their pastoralist way of life. The film itself was a compassionate warm documentary of the relative lives of these traditionalists in the contemporary unforgiving world. Much more information can be sought here.

The bike of Rafe Watson had been playing up somewhat, you will recall on our most recent entries and so efforts were made to address the problem of the stubborn gear rings on the front cassette and their refusal to flick between gears. We left the bike in the trusted hands of a bike mechanic in the local shop who later diagnosed a bent derailleur. Before we left we made note of the beautiful yellow and green Bianchi machine sitting proudly in the shop window. It was the Marco Pantani bike ridden to victory in both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour in 1998. We salivated some more and then left, safe in the knowledge that we had appreciated one of the finest riders in tour history.

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Besides this, the day passed unremarkably to say the least. Back in Chapter we descended into the local paparazzi as a local musical icon spent the day with his family. “Is that him do you think?” “Yeah, it must be.” “What’s he doing here?” “Watching a film perhaps?” Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals was of course, none the wiser to our conversation and the more reasonable of you will wonder if perhaps we spoke to him or asked for an autograph but alas we did not. What we did do however, was point and stare from afar.

Day 13: Le Jog (Reste)

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Team ChainLUBE were temporarily disbanded for a morning as our second rest day took place. A large part of me would like to tell you how much the freedom of rubber on road was yearned for; the industrious purr of chains and cogs was craved and the need to feel the wind howling beside our ears was sought but this was far from the case. The rest was met with open and welcome arms. Not quite for myself as I was required to make the short 13 mile journey from Pontypridd to Cardiff and besides almost pulling onto the M4 motorway, it passed without incident. I had intended to make use of the Taff trail – an off road route which skirted along beside the A470, quite possibly a safer alternative but its route remained obscure in the depths of concrete flyovers and underpasses. I didn’t take it.

Cardiff however, was a pleasant surprise. Hidden in the southern Welsh recesses of Glamorgan the old port was positively luminescent in the July sun. Having ascended and descended seemingly at every turn in Wales, the Capital relented to our demands of convalescence and lay prostrate and flat. Most surprising for myself, particularly as a Londoner, was the cosmopolitan and multicultural pride of the city – certainly more so than had been anticipated.

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We ate lunch in a boisterous Italian establishment, adorned with monochrome photographs of previous contended diners and celebrities. As I entered, my eye caught the photo of a youthful Barbara Windsor; smiling gleefully into the melee. I felt slightly unsettled, particularly with my back towards her. We all ate pasta accompanied by a sizeable jug of water. That this was the first appropriate meal in our tour on a day of rest without cycling was some delicious irony and we ate on. In time, when the presumed manager lurked about our table, gently enquiring as to the appropriateness of our food, my mind drifted back to the Sopranos, the myriad references to the marriage of italian cuisine and organised crime, and the calamitous Artie Bucco. “You know better than the New Jersey Zagat? ‘Artie Bucco, warm and convivial host’.”

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Day 12: Le Jog (Llandegely to Pontypridd 68 miles)

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The Valleys. The term conjures images of rolling effortlessly down lush hillsides into Welsh countryside. Cycling alongside free flowing rivers. Hillsides overflowing with opulent shrubbery. What any aspiring geographer will tell you, however, is that for this geographical feature to exist there must also be a hill either side of it. River deep and mountain high as Ike and Tina might put it.

Tired and groggy from a huge day yesterday we start slowly out of Llandrindod Wells. We had hoped for an easy 60 mile day but what we ended up with was some of the longest and steepest climbs we have encountered on a blisteringly hot afternoon in South Wales. We head South to Brecon before climbing our way through the Brecon Beacons and down through Merthyr Tydfil arriving in Pontypridd in a tired sweaty mess.

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It is some of the most breathtaking scenery since the highlands but we are in no state to enjoy it as we come creaking slowly over the gradual climb of the A470. For the first time in the trip I consider getting off of my bicycle and pushing it. In fact I consider getting off and throwing it into the nearest hedge such is the power of the midday sun beating down on my head. When my gears fail and I am stuck in the big ring for the second half of the ride I seriously consider some bicycle abuse. But we manage to slowly grind down the miles and somehow arrive in Pontypridd in one piece.

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Here we part ways as Aldercy Manning heads southwards for a graduation ceremony while I Rafe Watson, arrive to meet my girlfriend’s (Beatrice Chastity) parents in one of the most physically degraded states of my life. We collapse onto a pub bench and grasp our icy cold beverages with delight. Two full days of rest to come…

Rafe Watson

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