Sunday, 7 October 2012

After the Dark Side Ride

Last night's Dark Side Ride was quite a break in format, in that it took place at a sensible hour, and the weather co-operated completely. The two previous rides took place during torrential downpours and gale-force winds driving the rain almost horizontally, so having a light breeze and perfectly clear skies was a very nice change.

The ride started in Yelverton, and continued to Tavistock along the newly opened section of Drake's Trail (NCN27, Devon Coast-to-Coast, Velodyssy and EuroVelo1 - the amount of names simply keep growing!) that passes through Grenofen tunnel.

I decided to cycle out to Yelverton, along the Plym Valley section of Drake's Trail, and set off at dusk, with the aim to get to Yelverton by no later that 8pm. This meant I only had an hour to get there, so upon leaving Plymouth I opted to ride out on Embankment Road as that's a bit quicker than going through Saltram Estate. The tide was going out as I cycled past the folly, but there was enough water to mirror the folly, as you can see:
Saltram Folly reflected in the outbound tide of the Plym estuary

Light was fading fast and by the time I got to Marsh Mills I switched on my head torch, for which I had brought spare batteries. Riding towards Plym Bridge I was surprised to find the path flooded shortly before the car park area. It was only 10 or 15 cm deep and I simply cycled through, but I do feel sorry for people who were walking as there simply seemed to be no way of getting past the flooding without getting wet.

Especially under the trees it was well dark by now, with occasional slightly brighter patches when I cycled over a viaduct. I was quite surprised when I noticed the approaching light of another cyclist travelling the other way, but he didn't seem to want to return my greeting.

By the time I made it over the Bickleigh viaduct it was completely dark, and I passed a second cyclist going the other way. The path was getting crowded for the time of day! We exchanged greetings and both expressed surprise at seeing another cyclist out in the dark on the Plym Valley path, before going our separate ways.

The lights in Shaugh tunnel were long switched off, as they only stay on during daylight hours, but as my head torch outputs 1000 lumen I could see quite clearly where I was going. Where the tar ends and the path splits, as usual I opted to ride on the road, up the thankfully fairly short but still very steep hill. In the dark it seemed steeper than ever, and also longer, and I was relieved by the time I finally rode over the cattle grid at the top and the incline started to become much gentler.

Just as I got the the Clearbook road junction, I encountered even more cyclists! There were four of them, carrying luggage, and they asked me how much further they had to go. Not knowing their destination, I asked if they were heading to Plymouth, which they confirmed they were, so I told them it was roughly 8 miles. As they cycled off I could hear them deciding that 8 miles was too far, and that it was 6 miles instead!

I have no problem with them disputing the distance to Plymouth - after all, it does depend where in Plymouth they wanted to go, but I do have quite a major problem with that group.
Further along the path there are two sets of double gates  These gates exist for very good reasons: they control the movement of sheep and Dartmoor ponies, and importantly prevent the animals from being able to wander onto roads like the busy A386.

These are easy to open, even without dismounting your bike, and typically gravity-close behind you. However, if you open them too wide, the off-set hinges that allows the gravity-closure to work then prevent the gates from closing by themselves. When I cycled through, I found both sets of double-gates had been left wide open, and given that only a few minutes before the group of four cyclists had ridden through here, I can only surmise that they obviously didn't bother to close the gates behind themselves.

If you were one of those cyclists, please consider what could have happened if a pony wandered onto the A386 and caused a car, or cars, to crash. Would you be happy with that? Seriously - just close the blinking gate behind yourself! It only takes a second.

Needless to say, I closed the gates and in next to no time was riding through Yelverton to Simon's house to get there by 8 pm. Simon was ready to go, so very soon were were heading to the roundabout, from where we veered off towards Tavistock along NCN27.

Aside from my toes already starting to go numb, it was quite an uneventful ride, except for one thing: Simon's new torch! I've always felt I have a decent head-torch that gives off plenty sufficient light for me to safely cycle at 25 mph in total darkness. Simon's new handle-bar mounted torch outputs 3000 lumen, and when he switches it in it is like daylight!

On the bright side (forgive the pun) at least my torch will last longer - he expects only around an hour at full brightness from the new torch. But, my of my, what brightness! Mostly we rode just using his and my head torches, and occasionally on more iffy bits he'd switch on the light sabre. 

From Yelverton it is mostly downhill to Gem Bridge, followed by a short, mild uphill to get to Grenofen tunnel, whereafter it is mostly downhill again to Tavistock. Inside the tunnel it was raining, as it always does, but in one place in particular there was a small waterfall gushing down. Surprisingly, the lights inside the tunnel were switched on.

In no time at all we were cycling along the new, and poorly signed NCN27 route through Tavistock, and we discovered that the local boy racers gather right next to the Morrison's car park, as the cycle path skirts where they convene. 

We rode into Tavistock itself, where I put on my coat as I was starting to feel decidedly chilly, and then we turned around and headed back the way we came. We were soon at Horabridge, facing the uphill back to Yelverton. As we were approaching the top, we surprised a group of young people who seemed to be having a party in the middle of the path! Wishing them well, we set off again, only to stop at the main parking in Yelverton as I had to take my shoes off and try to massage some life back into my feet!

Simon cycled with me as far as Clearbrook, where he turned back to go home, and I set off for Plymouth, but not before changing the battery on my torch. Ahead of me I had roughly 8 miles on mostly gentle downhill, and I knew I'd soon be home.

There were several fallen branches on the path that I passed on the way up, and with the exception of where a large branch was mostly blocking the path, I was able to maintain a mellow 18mph almost to Plym Bridge. Both on my way to and from Yelverton, I managed to miss the ghosts that are said to haunt Shaugh tunnel.

From Plym Bridge, aside from riding through the flooded areas that has since grown in size, it was a simple ride to get home, where I was happy to warm up a bit.

All in all it was a rather nice ride, all 46 miles of it, and it is also the furthest I've ever ridden in the dark. Roll on the next time!