The Trafalgar Way 2018 - 'A Ride of History and Heat'

It begins with an orange mist. Orange jerseys assemble at the ancient naval fort of Pendennis Point Falmouth, as the dawn sunshine creates a complementing haze over the Atlantic Ocean behind.

This platoon of riders is here for a cycling event like no other. The Trafalgar Way Ride is a sportive event; running point-to-point from the western tip of England to the nation's Capital. The route follows a path that holds historic significance; it was the passage taken by a horse messenger in 1805 to alert the Admiralty of the British victory over the French, as well as the tragic death of Admiral Lord Nelson. This is not your average Saturday Sportive: 500 kilometres, across 8 British counties makes this a mammoth undertaking, and historic both in its theme and as an achievement.

I first rode the Trafalgar Way in 2014, over 24 hours on a stormy October day. Returning to Falmouth for a second time, I want to experience the route in the summer sunshine, and see if a sub-20 finish is accomplishable with my greater recent experience in endurance riding.




There is no cannon to start our ride, but as we roll out of Falmouth in trepidation and excitement, a definite feeling of 'going to battle' hangs in the air. A battle against the challenge of long miles and hot conditions, which will push all the riders in the field to their own individual limits.

We head north and then east: through Cornwall, over Bodmin Moor, and onwards towards Dartmoor. This early part of the route is a baptism of fire in profile, but fortunately in the early hours of dawn the heat of the sun is yet to beat down.

I form a small group with two other riders. We work together and help share the load into the light easterly wind. At the second feed station we make the collective call to stop for a second breakfast of porridge and coffee, freshly prepared for us in the village hall.

I roll out from the feed stop a little earlier than the other two, and soon find myself alone up the road. Settling into a rhythm, I turn the gear and push onwards as the sunshine and heat begins to build.

By noon I have already made it out of Cornwall, over Dartmoor and onto the western edge of Exmoor. Before descending down into the city of Exeter - a point that marks 1/3rd of the route complete, I stop for a welcome lunch of salad and sweet potato in another friendly feed station (If you are looking for an easy approach to 'endurance riding fuel' then this event's support is as good as it comes).

Through Exeter, and out into the hills north of Lyme Bay. The sun is hot and strong now in the early afternoon, and whilst the legs feel okay, I can feel the heat draining the fluid and strength from my body. I call into another feed station mid-afternoon for a quick coffee and sandwich. Fuel for the ride, to bring some life back into my engine.

As far as beauty and the beast routes come, the Dorset Coast Road is the epitome. 17 percent gradients with unrelenting undulation; it saps the life from your legs, whilst rewarding you with stunning vistas out over the Jurassic Coast.

By 18:00 the worst of the hills are behind me, and I head into the town of Blandford Forum eager for some sustenance. A plate of pasta and an ice cold drink awaits, and I have a job not to eat too much, knowing that many hills still remain before the finish line.

The heat and an overfull stomach make me suffer on the final hills of Dorset. Yet, by 20:00 I have reached the town of Salisbury - the 2/3rd marker on the route. Flicking over to the final leg on my GPS unit, it is pleasing to see that only 150 kilometres remain. I refill my bottles, stuff a flapjack into my pocket, and head out into the fading light.

From Dorset into Wiltshire, the route takes me through winding back-roads and deserted lanes. The setting sun creating a stunning colour scheme as I head into the night.

With lights ablaze, and the temperature now appreciably cooler, the roads empty and I am left alone turning the gear.

The heat of the day has left its mark though, and I am struggling to replace lost fluids at the rate required. With 100 kilometres still left to ride I have finished both my bottles, and look out for the penultimate feed station…

I miss it. A combination of the darkness and over enthusiastic GPS following means that I don't see the 'Pit Stop' sign.

I battle on, mouth dry and legs empty. The next one is 'only' 50 kilometres ahead, but I desperately need some fluid and fuel for this final assault.

Then, I miss that stop too. A sickening feeling rises in my stomach, as I realise that I must have pedalled straight past.

On the outskirts of London I pull into a Surrey petrol station and grab a can of drink and a bottle of water; something to calm my parched throat. I am thankful that Greater London is as flat as a pancake in comparison to the earlier segments of the route, but still it is a struggle to keep the legs turning, as my batteries wane.

Relief is the overwhelming emotion when I spot the iconic arches of Hyde Park Corner. I take a left, coast down The Mall, and pull up outside The Admiralty. I am welcomed into the historic parliamentary building, struggling to stand.

501 kilometres. 6350 metres of climbing. 19 hours and 40 minutes have passed since I rolled out from Pendennis Point.

I have set a new course record, and a new personal record for distance riding at speed.

Collapsing onto a sleeping matt on the carpeted floors of the Admiralty, I quickly fall asleep; my eyes just catching glimpses of the vivid portraits of past Admirals that adorn the walls; each of them great leaders of historic battles; battles that I feel I have commemorated with today's personal battle and victory.

Find out more about Ride The Trafalgar Way at ridethetrafalgarway.com












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