It was my initial intention to take on four climbs on Dartmoor; Rundlestone, Dartmeet, Widecombe and Haytor Vale. As it turned out I only managed the first three. My knee started hurting on the Widecombe climb and I thought it was better to end the days riding on a high rather than grovelling my way up to Haytor Vale with a knackered knee.
I started out early and was on the base of the first climb up to Rundlestone by 8am. The weather was a bit chilly but otherwise perfect for a days riding on Dartmoor. There was a bit of a breeze but nothing too strong. I figured Rundlestone would be the longest climb of the day so it was good to get it out of the way first.
The gradients encountered on the road up to the top of Rundlestone aren't necessarily that steep. I think they top out at around 13% This is a long climb however and the steeper sections go on for long enough to start sapping your energy the further you climb.
The views up the top were spectacular and unlike my last attempt when low cloud obscured the view of pretty much everything I was able to spot the transmission mast that marked the top of the climb pretty early on. I could also spot the long stretch of road snaking its way up to it as well unfortunately which was a bit off putting. I've never ridden up Mount Ventoux but I reckon Rundlestone may be the South West equivalent.
Apart from being passed by some ultra fit roadies on carbon fibre road bikes I was the only cyclist on the hill and there weren't any pensioners on shopping bikes to over take me this time around. There was only the sound of bird song, the wind, my gasping for breath and a squeaky pedal cleat to distract me from the task at hand.
As I reached the top the gradient slackened off and with a final click up a couple of gears I was at the summit of the climb which is marked by the start of a private road leading to the communications mast. It took me much longer than the twenty eight minutes Simon Warren managed it in but that came as no surprise. I get the impression he is fitter and ligher than me.
I didn't film much of the descent as I wanted to conserve the battery in my helmet camera for later in the day so you'll just have to take my word for it when I say the views on the way back down to Tavistock were stunning, especially at high speed.
Starting off early meant I could get back to the car in Tavistock and make a move towards the second climb of the day at Dartmeet before the traffic in Tavistock got too bad. Don't get me wrong, I like the place but there are so many pedestrian crossings it sometimes seems to be down to luck as to whether you can actually escape the place.
The drive across Dartmoor to Dartmeet was great fun. It was such a clear day you could see for miles and blanket speed limit of 40mph suits my underpowered little Fiat. Not sure some of the impatient motorists who passed me would agree. It was good to see lots of other cyclists out on Dartmoor as my drive to Dartmeet went on. It was also good to see most of them were struggling with the gradients as well.
Dartmeet is an ancient little place on a crossing of the River Dart. You descend into Dartmeet via a steep road, cross over a little stone bridge and the climb starts straight away. There is a car park at the bottom but I thought I would try the tactic of driving to the car park at the top. It would give me a chance to recce the climb and have something to aim at up top, namely my lunch.
The climb up from Dartmeet is only short. It starts off at a 20% and stays there but there are plenty of bends in the road to help you break up the climb into manageable chunks. After parking up and rolling down the hill I tried to warm up a bit in a big car park in the bottom. As soon as I rumbled over the cattle grid at the foot of the climb it became apparent it hadn't done much to help. I was soon in bottom gear and gurning like a fool as I span my way up to the top.
Having the car parked at the top proved to be a real advantage. It meant I knew exactly how far I had to go and psychologically it gave me a bit of a boost as the only way I could get to my car and move on to the next climb was to get to the top of the hill. It is a tactic I'll be using on other climbs where it is possible.
The climb up from Dartmeet was over relatively quickly. It isn't that long a climb and after a brief rest and a look at the scenery at the top it was back into the car and onto Widecombe-in-the-Moor for climb number three.
Widecombe in the Moor is a pretty little place seemingly populated exclusively by coffee shop staff as I don't think I saw a single building there that wasn't used to sell hot drinks and cream teas. I can't imagine they all commute there as Widecombe is hardly easy to get to. The climb out of the village is slightly less appealing on the eye and rises up in plain site as you drive through the village. In fact it is a rather daunting site. Having covered a few miles in the car after an early morning start I was starting to feel a bit knackered and the Widecombe climb had last hill of the day written all over it. It was another 20% gradient hill and as I got my bike out of the car at the top of the hill I realised I would be pushing my luck, and my knee, if I tried to tackle the Haytor Vale climb as well.
A high speed ride down the hill into the village was followed by a quick turnaround where I stopped briefly to turn on my helmet camera and then straight back up again. Well, straight back up with a bit of zigzagging thrown in. Maybe its just me but some hills with a gradient of 20% seem steeper than others. The fact that the whole climb is there for you to see as you attempt to winch your way up it is also slightly off putting. At least on Dartmeet I had a pleasant valley to ride up through with lots of bends to hide some of the gradient. On the Widecombe climb there is no hiding place and as I reached the top I was going so slowly I was only technically a cyclist because I was on a bike. Walking would have been faster. Knowing my car was parked just over the final rise did help keep me going but it didn't help me go any faster. Chris Boardman when he was at the height of his powers climbed Widecombe in four minutes ten seconds according to the little black book of pain. I don't think the local buses that were going up and down the hill could manage that time. I certainly couldn't (not that I was trying). My knee had started throbbing half way up and as I reached the car I decided that Haytor Vale had better wait for another day. Best not to push my knee too far too soon.
Still, three climbs ticked off the list in one day and some fantastic weather and scenery to ride through means I'm pretty pleased with how the day went. The Dartmeet and Widecombe videos will be up in the next couple of days once I can get my video editing software to stop crashing.