After some weeks of planning and prepping, the day finally dawned. I set off with two friends who were documenting the ride. The start was an early one from Land’s End, on the bike and ready to go at 05:30 am. The moon was still out, but I planned everything in a way to make the most of the daylight.
Early rise ride
I knew that the South West was going to be brutal in terms of climbing. There are many stabby climbs that are pretty relentless and steep. They started to sap my legs from the beginning of the ride.
Short(ish) and sweet
I plotted the route mainly on A-Roads but occasionally had to cut through little bits of parks and cycle lanes. Although annoying in terms of a slower speed it was great to mix it up a bit as opposed to just dealing with traffic. To keep things manageable I choose to make the route ‘as the crow flies’ and didn’t bother too much with adding highlights as I wouldn’t have much time to stop and enjoy them.
After the first kilometers in brisk conditions, the temperature didn’t really warm up much. I definitely felt the chill on some of the descents. It was a continual juggling act with what was the appropriate amount to wear. I stopped multiple times to find the right amount of layers.
During the route, I realised I had to ride up a climb I did last year on my 107TDF project, which was sketchy, steep and just plain nasty to go up and go down. I saw the turn onto it and instantly swore out loud. I tried to laugh it off as best I could. Things like this are in the end all part of the challenge, even if you set it yourself.
The bigger picture
At points I ended up stuck behind a slow tractor in the South West. It massively slowed down the effort. Similarly there was a huge section of roadworks. The road was being resurfaced and had turned into a slippy gravely trail with loose chippings. I looked at diversion options and thought that the best bet was actually to persist with it, and jump onto the pavement when approaching the workmen. During long rides like these even these apparently insignificant little disruptions can take you out of your rhythm and mess with your head a bit. I always try to tell myself to keep focused on what I am doing, what is the bigger picture here.
As the sun started lowering, lights and layers came on. Continually making sure everything had battery power seems to be the continual battle I have on these challenges. I still don’t think I have nailed it, but I learn with every long ride I undertake.
It’s all about the bike
The bike: I rode the same bike I used for the 107TDF challenge: a Cervelo R3 with Di2. I used a semi-compact Dura Ace crankset with power meter and an 11-30 cassette. I added on a top tube bag to hold battery packs and food as well as clip on bars. Eventually I found I hardly used the bars when it came to the second attempt at this ride… wait, what?
Best laid plans...
As much as I tried to avoid this being a feature, it’s part of the story so here goes. I was riding through a park in Andover in the dark, looking for a place to have a wee. Unfortunately I got attacked by a bunch of guys with some dogs, one of them attempted to push me off my bike. It was either an attempt to steal the bike or just drunken stupidity, I wasn’t hanging around to find out. I escaped as quickly as I could with a wave of adrenaline taking over.
It took some time for the crew to catch up with me. We talked about what happened and decided to rest and see how I felt in the morning. After waking up, my head was all over the place, I simply didn’t want to ride my bike anymore. So we made the decision as a crew to cut short the attempt. In the spirit of Movember, I chose to share my experience on social media and talk about how I had been made to feel about the size of a small pebble. The outpouring of support was incredible.
So take two.. Things were a little different this time. We started later, around 8:00 am, and I changed bikes too. This time I opted for the Cervélo Aspero 5, equipped with the same wheels as last time but with a Shimano GRX Di2 groupset. The big reason for this change was gear ratios. The GRX groupset had a 48/31 on the front and an 11-34 on the rear. My thinking behind it was that these wider ratios would be somewhat kinder to my legs with the steep, sharp climbs in the South West still in the back of my mind.
It was a brilliant decision with the bike proving much more capable with some of the beasts that I had to tackle. For take two of the Nuts & Bolts ride I changed the route slightly. Instead of going north of Dartmoor National Park, for the second attempt I went straight through the middle. Heading north was shorter but it was slower being on single track and cycle lanes the whole way. So the additional climb going through the middle of Dartmoor ultimately meant a lovely long old descent.
The weather conditions for this second attempt were also quite different from the first one. Almost from the start it was scorching. Looking at the photos, salt marks were clear on my kit for most of the ride. Keeping on top of hydration was so important this time. It did mean I was stopping more often for a water refill and a fresh layer of sunscreen instead of wardrobe changes this time around.
I intentionally made sure the route passed through Andover, where the incident happened on the first attempt. For me, I wanted to do it so I would have a better experience going through the town. Ultimately the actions of a few and some bad timing shouldn’t be the reason for never visiting somewhere again. It was just a case of wrong place wrong time in hindsight. So in the end I was happy to revisit Andover and even have a power nap of two hours in the exact same spot where we stopped the last time.
The further I got into this challenge, the more of a huge mental and physical struggle it became. I was thinking it might be one of those ones that I never manage to finish. I was struggling physically with niggles, aches and pains while I was clocking the miles. But I was determined to finish, to make it to the end and complete the monkey that was sitting on my back.
The goal was to finish in under 30 hours moving time, which was just about doable. Passing through London and parts of Essex were considerably slower because of all the traffic. It was frustrating because it broke up my rhythm but there wasn’t another option. I just kept plugging away and broke up the last 300 kilometers in chunks of 100 which makes riding distances like these way more manageable.
Into the dark
I rode on into the night as we got closer and closer to Lowestoft and Ness Point. It’s weird how you gain a new level of energy when you know you are almost finished. Sprinting up the climbs to get there sooner rather than later. I finally arrived. It was cold, dark and windy when I got to Ness Point. But it was finished. The monkey was gone. I managed to beat my 30 hours limit even while the actual ride added almost 2000 metres of climbing compared to the first route. I felt exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.
For me, this challenge was initially about raising awareness during testicular cancer awareness month. It changed into being an opportunity to open up about my vulnerability during a situation which left me mentally drained and battered. I was able to show how important it is to be open and understand how that can help others close to you. Then finally it was about raising funds for the incredible work carried out by Movember a charity literally changing the face of men's health. Thanks to all who followed the Nuts & Bolts ride, everyone who donated to Movember, to my crew for being there along the way and SHIMANO for their support along the way.