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DAY 3 - Moretonhamstead to Bridgewater (62 miles 175 total)

PhotoDay three was a day of the unexpected!

Breakfast at Mr Gigglies turned out to be a very silent affair! We felt we had to tip toe around and when I asked for half musili, half granola for breakfast I think they thought I'd arrived from another world!

We knew that the climb out of M.H.Stead would be tough and it was. Di had a bit of a moment and came off her bike on a steep uphill, fortunately she managed to get a foot down before her arse. The yelp she let out stopped Nige and I in our tracks, after finding she was ok we had a job to get going again - standing starts on a steep hill with loaded panniers aren't much fun. I had to walk about 50 steps to a point that I could start from and I must admit feeling a smidgeon of failure of not cycling the 'whole' way. Think I'm a bit obsessed!

So that was the expected bit out of the way - the rest of the day was a complete surprise.

A really steep downhill next shook Di up, especially with her well worn brakes making some unerving noises all the way. Next came a MEGA steep hill that saw Nige and I wretching and heaving our way up. At the top Nige punched me on the shoulder and breathlessly pointed to the 20 p/c incline sign and we both burst into exhausted and delerious laughter. Not really a funny moment but anything would be funny with so little oxygen!

A series of fast downhills came next. At one point we were wizzing down anothe steep hill when Nige braked for a car comming up the other way. A couple of bike-lengths behind I pulled my brakes but the bike didn't slow enough and I was just wondering if run into the back of him when something caught my eye - it was my back wheel catching me up - sideways! God knows how I didn't fall off (doing about 30mph at this stage) but I was suddenly back in-line, bit of a 'tank-slapper' but back in control just in time to give a cheery nod to the car driver with her dinner plate eyes out on storks!

The rain was hacking down by now. Another couple of hills and we were at Crediton. The bikes were in a pretty poor state by now so we opted to find a bike shop. Bike Shed in Crediton comes highly recommended. They changed the brake blocks on my bike and Di's and replaced the broken front mech that was giving Nige some gear changing issues. All the while they kept us topped up with tea and chat. Perfect!

By the time we'd finished in Bike Shed the rain had stopped and the sun came out. It is impossible to put into writing what a difference it makes to feel the sun on your shoulders after a long morning of rain. But unfortunately it didn't last long enough.

Another couple of climbs away from Crediton and a steep alpine descent (new brakes work!). And we got to a place called Bickleigh which signalled the end of the moorland hills. A great stretch along a river into Tiverton and out the other side. We stopped for lunch at a chocolate box village of Bampton. To be honest we'd left it too long and were pretty exhausted when we arrived.

After a brief map check we headed out towards Taunton. On the way we had some fantastic riding along fast smooth roads - and the it happened - our first crash!

We were slogging up a hill and we were aware of a faint smell of diesel. Over the crest, Nige was in front and I was just overtaking Di on her inside through a steep right hand bend when I came across Nige lying in the road. I braked and shielded him from the following traffic and when I went over to help I saw the river of diesel running down the gutter. Nige was a bit shook up - quite understandibly and has a great graze on his right thigh and elbow. His bike was okay. Within about 2min of the accident a Fire Engine arrived with its blue lights on. They pulled in next to us and Huw Pugh and Barney McGrew hopped out. They'd been called out to the diesel spill. One of the Firefighters cleaned Nige's grazes and gave him a gauze bandage. We then set off with Di giving them an especially 'girlie' cheerio and wave!

Nige, bless him, then cranked out the remaining miles to Taunton. We got a bit lost in the town (Jim-must try harder) and found a supermarket where Nige was able to get some creams and dressings. We then banged out along the A38 to Bridgewater and I think we were all glad to see the sign for the services. For some reason we attracted some abuse from a passing van of young travellers and I found myself hoping that the lights ahead would turn to red so I could drag the little yob out of his van and batter him to death with my spd shoe - he picked the wrong cyclist and the wrong end of the wrong day.........!

So I'm shattered. We've just been through the guide book and realised that this is a really tough challenge! Tomorrow should be an easy day and we hope to be at home by lunchtime. A good long rest and we should be raring to go again. Being at home will be a bit weird but definitely worth it for the rest we'll get.


DAY 4 - Bridgewater to Bristol (55 miles 15 mph average)

PhotoA nice short mile-munching day.

After yesterday's toughie, the Travelodge at Bridgewater was a welcome rest stop. The thing with B&B's is that each has its own personality, which takes an effort to get into and enjoy. Whereas Travelodges are faceless and take no effort – cheap 'n' cheerful won the day last night.

We were all up early and on the road by 8am, keen to get home I think. Much of the route along the A38 to Bristol was flat with a bit of a headwind. Nige led for most of the first hour – I think he was eager to get settled into a pace and was still feeling a little shaken from his off yesterday. There are a couple of challenging hills up towards Bristol Airport and we all found these hard to get into. It feels like our legs have two modes – spinning and climbing. We can spin along at a nice pace forever and once we are climbing we can climb forever, but the thing that seems to be most tiring is the switchover from one mode to another. Climbing a hill after a long flat stretch is really hard to start with, but then gets a little easier as the hill legs kick-in!

Jim Poulton took a detour from his trip to Plymouth today and drove down the A38 to see if he could find us. We met up with him at Highbridge and its was great to see a friendly face and quite humbling that we were on his thoughts enough for him to go so far out of his way. It's amazing how the smallest gesture goes so far.

Nige found us a better route through Bristol than following the A38 through the city and we were able to follow the Portway down Avon Gorge and under Clifton Suspension Bridge – a big hill up and around Blaise Castle, shimmy around Cribbs Causway, through the back of Almondsbury and we were back on the A38 heading home.

I'm a bit concerned about my own pace at the moment. There were times where I was spinning and leaving the guys behind – which means they weren't getting any benefit of me being at the front and there are times when I seem to just want to push hard and enjoy being ‘on the rivet'. We've still got a long way to go and it's important that we all look after our legs as well as take a share of towing the group. So today I'm going to try harder to keep with the others when they are behind me. I don't want to be called ‘Lance' again…….

We were all home by 12:30 and it was a bit weird! I left Nige and Di at Thornbury and did the last 30min on my own (they will catch up in the morning) and it was odd to ride a road that I've ridden so much while preparing for this and be actually riding along it today. But an afternoon at home has been worth its weight in gold – unfortunately my princess is away in Nottingham (somebody has got to do the work!!) So I've washed all my kit, cleaned my bike, popped to a bike shop and got more energy bars and juice and packed the van as the support vehicle for Chris to collect. The afternoon seemed to fade away and then I was invited for tea with Tracey and Mandy and a VERY welcome plate of chicken, pasta and tomatoes – yummy!

Tomorrow is our longest day to Telford. We have got some of Di's spinning classmates joining us for the early part and it will be nice to have a change of dynamic for a while. We are all getting along brilliantly, but anything we can do to break up some of the monotony is a good thing.

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