Thursday, 19 June 2014

Darkmoor 2014

Darkmoor is by its very nature unpredictable. It is a semi-organised bike ride over Dartmoor, through the night and there's NO registration. As a result, there is simply no way to know beforehand how many people will turn up.

When Simon and I started talking about setting up Darkmoor, we deliberately wanted to emulate the model followed by the Dunwich Dynamo and the Exmouth Exodus, both of which are light on organisation and have no registration process.

Originally, Darkmoor was simply going to be a ride of 52 miles from Okehampton to Plymouth. And then I realised I didn't have a reasonable and realistic way of getting to the start, other than cycling there. Besides, at only 52 miles, Darkmoor isn't exactly the longest ride ever.

As a result, I added the pre-ride, from Cap'n Jaspers on the Plymouth Barbican to the official start in Okehampton. I thought I'd set off at 17h00, as that would give even slow riders plenty of time to get to Okehampton before the official start at 23h55. Additionally, it meant riding up in daylight, so saving battery power.

On the 14th, I cycled the 15 miles from home to Cap'n Jaspers. Of course, as per Sod's Law, the swing bridge by the Barbican was closed for repairs and the Barbican Jazz Festival was in full swing, while there was also an international yacht race taking place. Predictably, the Barbican was PACKED. None of this featured in my planning!

I arrived early enough to have a coffee at Rockets & Rascals, where I met two Canadians who were cycle-touring the UK. I organised them a Plymouth cycle map from the friendly staff at Rockets & Rascals, and drew a line on the map, showing them the quickets way to the Torpoint ferry, as that's where they were heading.

Having made my way round to Cap'n Jaspers, I had another coffee as I stood around wondering if anybody else would turn up. As it happens, one other cyclist did turn up. He's called Dave and he was absolutely brilliant on the ride, as you'll find out.

My co-conspirator, Simon, was cycling down from north of Plymouth, but sadly due to family comitments he wasn't able to do the whole ride. We met him along the way and followed NCN 27 to Coypool Park and Ride, where another rider joined us.

Suddenly, Darkmoor was real! It wasn't just me and my crazy ideas anymore - here was a few total strangers, ready to do the ride. That felt good!

Simon, Dave Nr 2 & Dave Nr1 in the background
Simon rode with us as far as Yelverton, then had to turn back. By this stage it had just gone 6 pm, and it was painfully obvious to the three of us riding on that we were going to be WAY too early to Okehampton.

Tavistock disappointed by having nothing other than pubs open at 18h00, when we were hoping for a coffee and cake stop, so we continued on to Lydford. As Lydford was effectively the last place to stop before Okehampton, we went into the pub and had a leisurely beer each.

The Castle Inn in Lydford was very busy, and it took some time to get service, but despite this we were riding again all too soon. The one good thing is the new traffic-free cycle path between the old Bridestowe station and Bearslake viaduct. Before long we cycled over Meldon viaduct and into Okehampton, with some two and a half hours on our hands.

Quite surprisingly, a car pulled up shortly after we got there, and two more cyclists got out to join us, while yet another came walking up the hill with his bike. Suddenly there were six of us! I also knew two more cyclists were riding up from Plymouth, having had the good sense to set off much later. One of the cyclists was Plymouth city councillor Philippa Davey, who was the only woman on the ride.

Before long, those two riders joined us, followed by three more riders being dropped by different cars. Finally, another rider (named Alex) appeared, having cycled up from Plymouth in 1 hour and 40 minutes! And he didn't even have the common decency to *pretend* to be tired or out of breath!

We set off at 23h55 and the first bit of a climb out of Okehampton made it obvious that we'd never stay together as a group. Some riders zoomed up the hill, led by Luke on his 29" mountain bike with chunky tyres. He established that rather quickly as a model for the rest of the ride, and was way out in front the entire time, shaming all the roadies in the process.

Soon after Moretonhampstead we started encountering quite a number of cyclists going the other way. They were competitors in another event that was taking place at the same time - the Dartmoor Ghost audax (http://www.aukweb.net/events/detail/14-253/#more). Some shouted "You're going the wrong way" at us, presumably thinking we were part of their event.

We regrouped at major junctions, and before long we hit the climb after Moretonhampstead. This really spread the group out, with some riders zooming up the climb, while others were doing a steady-Eddy instead.

The rider I met at Cap'n Jaspers, Dave (Nr 1, because there were two Daves on the ride) from the outset was a great help to me, and often turned back to check on stragglers. We stopped regularly to wait for everyone else, and counted the riders past.
Some of the riders didn't seem to have spare tubes, or pumps, and I wasn't happy to just leave them to it. Once satisfied that the stragglers were OK, I set off trying to catch the leaders. After Postbridge I caught the riders in 2nd and 3rd place and some distance after I saw another rider up ahead. When I caught up with him I found it wasn't Luke on his MTB, as I had hoped, but rather a Dartmoor Ghost competitor (with race number 44 on his back). I never saw Luke again - he was that far ahead!

As I reached the junction just up from the Two Bridges hotel, I stopped again and counted riders as they were going past. Dave Nr 1 stopped with me, as did another rider, Tony, who was a bit concerned about his friend, Harry. Some of the riders told us that a Dartmoor Ghost rider crashed into a sheep lying on the road and was taken to hospital, but they weren't sure whether or not it actually was a Dartmoor Ghost cyclist, or one of the cyclists on our ride.

The three of us turned back and went looking for Harry. We found him, safe and well, quite some distance on the other side of Postbridge, where he was dealing with his second puncture. Tony gave him an inner tube and I contributed a CO2 cartridge, but before we even set off again the wheel was flat again. It turned out that he has a gash through the tyre. Dave Nr 1 did the old empty-gel-packet-inside-the-tyre trick, and gave him another inner tube, and soon after we were off again.

By now it was visibly getting lighter and Dartmoor was simply stunning.

One other rider, Mark, waited for us in Princetown and not long after we rolled into Yelverton. Tony convinced Harry to take the shorter route into Plymouth, via the Plym Valley cycle path, with Mark to accompany him. This was because we were all wondering how much longer Harry's tyre would last.

Dave Nr 1, Tony and I set off along the "official" route. By now I was starting a lag a bit, and again Dave showed what a great guy he was by waiting for me, but without making it obvious that he was waiting for me.

After the climb out of the valley where Imerys' china clay is, I knew I was starting to bonk, but I had nothing left to eat. Tony offered me a bag of raisins, which worked a treat and by the time we rode into Plympton I was feeling much better again.
All too soon we arrived at Cap'n Jaspers, who true to their word had opened up at 5am just for us. What nice people! They even had free coffee going, as a reward (they said) for being "nutters". Apparently that is coded Jasper-speak for "highly respected and much-valued customers".

I left Cap'n Jaspers at 06h00, with a choice of either 15 miles or 12 miles home, depending on my route choice. I figured (correctly) that at that time of day the normally unpleasant A379 would be quiet and as I was rather tired by then, I just rode up the A379.

The twelve people on the first ever Darkmoor ride are pioneers. Darkmoor will be an annual event, and these riders will forever be able to say they were there when it started. Thanks a bunch for coming along, and see you all next year!