Distance: 141.5 miles. Elevation: 8104 ft
Me and Al decided to do the Exmouth Exodus again this year, reasoning that it couldn’t possibly be wetter than last year’s edition. This time, I didn’t want the bother of waiting for the coach, so I booked a train from Exeter back to Bristol. Also I decided to ride from Bristol to Bath for the start of the event.
I had arranged to use a friend’s house in Bristol as a base – they were away for the weekend. I got there about 6:30, had a cup of tea, a twenty-minute snooze, got ready, then left at ten past eight. The light was already beginning to fade, but it was a fairly mild and dry evening. Cycling through Bristol was a bit frustrating as I caught the red at virtually every set of lights. Once clear of the city, things were easier. I made it to Bath in about an hour.
I met Al at Green Park Station in Bath. It looked like most riders had already left. We set off at about twenty past nine with a handful of other cyclists. The first part of the ride took us from Bath to Cheddar for the first food stop. Near the start we once again rode through the disused railway tunnels that cut under the hills. Just after these is a steep climb that we remembered from last time. It’s one of those that can catch you by surprise, so you need to change down before the road ramps up. Several riders were caught by surprise and ended up struggling or getting off. I just about managed to weave my way between them without stopping. If I had been forced to stop it would have been almost impossible to get going again. It reaches 17% in places. That climb went on for much longer than we had remembered from last year.
The following 20 miles climb to the top of the Mendips. During this section we had some fine rain. The descent into Cheddar Gorge seemed just as hairy as last year, even though it was raining heavily before. In fact I did the descent slower this time. The food stop in Cheddar gave us a chance to recover our senses.
The distance to the main food stop was a relatively easy 26 miles, over the flat terrain of the Somerset Levels. During this period the almost full moon made some appearances and really lit up the fields and caused us to have moon shadows following us. After that, I couldn’t get that song out of my head.
Once fuelled-up, we left Fivehead and continued into the night. Eight miles further on we began the climb up Blagdon Hill to the top of the Blackdown Hills. I managed to climb it over a minute quicker than I had last year. We lost sight of the moon for most of the eleven-mile ride across the top of the Blackdown Hills. In fact we were in low cloud. Visibility was very low at times and we got slightly damp! There’s a three-mile straight section of road up there that looks flat but you can tell that it isn’t because you’re not going as fast as you should be. It’s less than 1% gradient. The descent from the Blackdown Hills was via the steep and twisty Stafford Hill. Somewhere around this point, another rider joined us, a younger guy who knew the area well.
A couple of miles later we were thinking about stopping when we spotted a suitable bus shelter. So the three of us stopped, stretched our legs and had an energy bar. It was getting light by now. We pressed on after a few minutes. As the day got lighter I began to recognise some of the scenery from last year’s ride. We were soon riding through Ottery St. Mary, but this time the church was not floodlit, so we felt no need to stop.
The next ten miles consist of a couple of lovely lanes via Tipton St. John, along by the RIver Otter to Otterton and then Yettington. It was around this point that we lost our third man. We knew he lived somewhere in the area so maybe he just went home! Five miles later we were in Exmouth. With much better conditions than last year’s storm, we enjoyed the empty early-morning roads and the lovely conditions. We reached the café earlier than last year. As before, there were only a dozen or so riders already there so we easily found a table and tucked-in to a full English breakfast.
Last year, I promised myself I wouldn’t get the coach again, so this time I had booked a seat (and bike space) on a train from Exeter. I had plenty of time to spare, so I kipped in Al’s car for about an hour before setting off towards Exeter. There is a really nice, flat route that follows the River Exe all the way from Exmouth to Exeter, most of it on well-made bike paths. It was a lovely ride in the early morning sun.
When I arrived at the station, it wasn’t clear where I needed to wait so that I could get my bike on the train. I asked a couple of other cyclists who were waiting but they didn’t know either. When the train arrived, I asked the guard and, typically, the coach I needed to board was at the other end of the train, so I walked my bike quickly through the crowds boarding the train. When I found the door to board at, there was further confusion as there were only 3 bike places on this train and a couple of other cyclists were asked to get off as they hadn’t pre-booked a place for their bikes. So I got my space. The lesson here is to book in advance! Even though I had booked a seat as well I spent the whole 90-minute journey standing by the doors, looking after my bike on the packed train.
Once I arrived in Bristol, I had a bit of a problem because I had forgotten to upload the route from the station back to my friend’s house. I tried using my phone to plan a route, but that wasn’t useful. Luckily the sun was out and I knew I had to head roughly NNW, So I just rode in the general direction. At one point I saw a sign to Clifton, so I followed that and then I saw a sign to Westbury-On-Trim, which is where I was going. So you don’t need GPS after all! It was only a five-mile ride, the only challenge being Park Street, a very steep shopping street with a gradient of 11%. It looked worse than it felt.
Once back at my friends’ (still empty) house I had a shower, a cup of tea, a short snooze, and then drove back to Kent. Another Exmouth Exodus under my belt!