Am I Completely Bonkers?
It’s 6:00am on Sunday morning, it’s still dark and I’m driving through torrential rain on my way to Bovey Tracey for the 9 o’clock start of the Dartmoor Devil. I am really questioning whether this is a sensible thing to be doing!
I’ve been preparing for this ride for over a week and have decided on using my trusty Thorn “Brevet”. It has mudguards, a front and rear rack and small tt bars. (These are an absolute joy on the flat sections and provide a secure perch for my old phone in its waterproof case that has the route installed on the Ordnance Survey App.) I also have a saddle bag for my spare inner tube, levers and gloves, and a small Topeak “Alien” multi tool complete with chain extractor in it’s own case which fits neatly on the steerer tube next to the bell. I have a new powerful front light and two rear lights ( plus two small spares, front and rear). Oh, and a pump and two water bottles. And a small top tube bag that I’m trying for the first time in which I have another spare tube and some food. I have every eventuality covered, but at a price – my bike now weighs nearly 20kg!
As dawn approaches the rain eases and, as I enter Devon, the skies begin to clear. I arrive early and find a parking space just in time to watch the 8 o’clock start. I see and chat to John Morse and Roger Eaves, who I suspect are going to blast around in double quick time, and also Paul Crudgington. I shout some words of encouragement – he reckons I might catch up with him later – though I’m not so sure. Then all is quiet.
It’s positively balmy now and I ditch the idea of the heavy rain jacket. I know that many of the earlier starters will be now stopping to take off layers so I am happy to start in just my base layer and jersey. I ditch the idea of the pannier too but pack a change of clothing and spare gloves into a waterproof sac that fits neatly to the rear rack.
There are far fewer of us in the second wave and the first hill out of the village thins us out further. Though my bike is extremely heavy it has a wide range of gears so it’s relatively easy spinning up the next tortuous hill to Kennick reservoir. I end up riding with two others and we gradually catch a few over exuberant starters and settle into a comfortable pace. I’m shocked to see a large group of the earlier wave waiting for someone to fix a puncture, and so early into the ride – if you carry on doing that in a group you might never finish! In fact the number of people puncturing is alarming as is the choice of bikes for the event. I can understand “lightweight” because of all the hills but what on earth do you want deep section carbon wheels for? Maybe that’s all they have? Race tyres are good for grip but are always going to vulnerable to punctures. My Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres weigh as much as a light frame – but I rarely puncture.
The most unexpected thing about this ride now is the glorious sunshine! It illuminates the startlingly beautiful autumn landscape – so different to the Dartmoor we know in summer. Thankfully the organisers have posted far better photos than I could ever take on their Facebook page. Photos of the insanely steep climbs and the lakes of water we were to ride through – and capturing the picture postcard beauty of the quilted landscape.
There are over 2,500 metres of climb on this ride and I reckon we have done half of it before we reach Hemsworthy Gate. Once there it’s mostly down hill to Ashburton with the promise of delicious hot soup – and I can finally use my tt bars to good effect. But progress is hampered by the amount of water coming off the moors – the roads are quite literally rivers and, were the water gathers, the pools can be deep. We have sufficient speed to unclip and keep our feet dry, conscious that it could all go badly wrong if we encounter a submerged pothole! My feet are dry until, not far the control, we encounter a pond so large we are forced to pedal! Everyone now has wet feet for the lunch stop.
After lunch we continue to make steady progress but I’m a little surprised when my riding buddy dismounts for the climb out of Holne. And I don’t see him again. The relentless climbing makes cramping a constant problem and the Devil takes another victim! The triple groupset is a godsend!
I’m riding on my own now and as I near Princetown the skies begin to darken. At Foxes Cafe it’s spotting with rain as I see Paul setting off. I hope to catch him for the final run in to home and make my stop brief- just time to fill water bottles, don inspection gloves under my mits, put my fluorescent gilet on and eat a “Marathon” bar. Even in those ten minutes I’ve cooled enough to feel chilled heading back down the hill – and it is properly raining now. For the first time ever I’m looking forward to the long haul out of Postbridge to get fully warmed up again! I don’t see Paul and check to see if there is a bike leaning against the “Warren House Inn” – I’m very tempted to have a look inside but I know the roaring fire will weaken what little resolve I have – so I press on. At Jurston Cross I hook up again with a rider we lost contact with earlier in the day when we absent mindedly missed a turning after North Bovey and ended up at the Kestle Inn, the eventual finish. ( I forgot to mention those extra kms and the consequent climb back up! ) It was good having company again. It is the homeward stretch but we still have one more challenge – the brutal climb out of Widecombe. I drop into the lowest gear immediately so that I don’t allow myself any fanciful ideas that I can reduce the pain on the climb. It is what it is. Half way up my new buddy dismounts with cramp but my pace is so slow he catches me before we finally crest the top. And that is it! The instructions say we could take the longer “scenic” route through Haytor Vale or the quicker route, part of which we rode in the morning. It’s not a difficult question to answer in the driving rain.
The pub is a welcome sight but I can barely hold a pen my hands are now so cold ( I must remember to sign brevet cards at the beginning in future! ) I ask after Paul but he’s not yet back. Somewhere on the ride back I must have missed him. I go to the toilets and make good use of hot water and the hand dryer after removing my sodden jersey and base layer. I change into my dry kit and have a shell jacket and some thick gloves for the short ride back to the car. I’ve stopped shivering ( a little ) and order the roast from the carvery – a delicious meal that is washed down with a pint. Another rider joins me and we reflect on the day – he had ridden the Devil a staggering nine times! It must all have taken longer than expected as, when I leave, I discover that Paul has since been and gone.
The ride back to Bovey is mostly downhill and I almost enjoy it. But it’s good to be back at the car and have a proper change of clothing and the promise of some real heat! Driving home I’m able to reflect on what a wonderful day it has been – and I’m pleased I prepared so well for it.
Falmouth Wheelers “never regret going”!